A dancer’s healing of an eating disorder
I’ve been a dancer all my life. As much as I love it, dancing often requires being surrounded by mirrors and by people who have a certain body type or who want to be thinner. Dancers’ bodies, much like athletes’, are under constant scrutiny by the industry, social media, friends, and themselves. A general belief is that the way one looks directly correlates to one’s career success. I’ve succumbed to this thinking many times.
In high school, I had a string of bad body-image experiences in the dance studio—things teachers said, audition experiences, and my deep desire to measure up to my super-skinny friends—that led to a three-day experiment of eating nothing but lettuce with a little ranch dressing once a day. I lived in a mind-set of desperation and inadequacy. This later led to overexercising and a strict diet in college.
After college, I began my professional dancing and teaching career in New York City. It was a dream come true, right? In many ways, I was having the time of my life. But I knew that my eating habits were unhealthy—they weren’t making me happy or getting me jobs. Things needed to change.
I lived in a mindset of desperation and inadequacy.
I’d grown up practicing Christian Science and was familiar with the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. I’d also had many healings through the prayers of a Christian Science practitioner. However, this was the first time I felt I needed to do a spiritual deep-dive on my own.
During my daily commute on the Staten Island Ferry, I read the chapter “Christian Science Practice” in Science and Health. In the first two pages, Eddy talks about the Bible story featuring a woman—a sinner—who approached Jesus at a Pharisee’s house. Jesus uses this as a teaching moment, as his kindness toward the woman is questioned by the Pharisee, who sees her as inferior (see Luke 7:37–50). After reading this section of the chapter, I thought, “OK, the healing in this story happened because Jesus loved someone, protected someone, and forgave someone. Is that what I need to do for healing?”
On the very next page, I found the answer I needed to jump-start my change of thought: “If the Scientist reaches his patient through divine Love, the healing work will be accomplished at one visit, and the disease will vanish into its native nothingness like dew before the morning sunshine” (p. 365). I put the book down in my lap, looked out at the bay, and thought, “If I’m going to be my own practitioner, I’d better start loving myself.”
It was a revolutionary moment for me. Right then, I made the choice to pray specifically about my issues with my body and to “reach” myself through divine Love. I knew the first thing I needed to do was change the way I thought about myself. But how?
I remembered a book I’d read in Christian Science Sunday School called Filled Up Full by Joy V. Dueland. The book mentions several animals and how silly it is, for example, for a squirrel to think bunny thoughts, because the squirrel can only be filled up full with squirrel thoughts. I felt a little ridiculous thinking of it. But that, I recognized, was part of the problem—I needed to understand that thoughts of inadequacy aren’t my thoughts, because I’m an expression of God, who is divine Love. Any thoughts that aren’t loving are suggestions—not thoughts from God—and so I don’t have to listen to or accept them.
As I worked on speaking kindly to myself and thinking more kindly about myself, I continued reading the chapter “Christian Science Practice.” Over the next few months, I filled my thoughts up full with healing ideas from that chapter and saw myself as my most receptive patient. I read slowly, pondered, and prayed to discover how each idea applied directly to my situation. As a result, my spiritual fitness increased: I got better at recognizing and dismissing negative thoughts disguised as my own thinking and replacing them with what I knew to be true about me as God’s expression.
I also needed to change how I thought about my body. Rather than being consumed with thoughts of size, shape, weight, and so on, I started thinking about spiritual qualities of God that I reflect and how these qualities—like grace, harmony, beauty, and strength—really define me. It took a long time for me to see each God-given quality as present and necessary for right functioning, but eventually I saw myself as whole and free.
I got better at recognizing and dismissing negative thoughts disguised as my own thinking and replacing them with what I knew to be true about me as God’s expression.
As I grew spiritually and continued to put what I was learning into practice, I gradually and naturally dropped the destructive eating and exercising habits. I have felt freer and more joyful as a dancer ever since.
This experience changed my life and the way I think about my relation to God. I understand that God is all around me, always telling me of my wholeness. My identity is from, and cared for by, God.
So no matter what you’re going through—whether your self-talk seems unkind or you’re struggling with what to eat for dinner or crying on the bathroom floor—you’re not alone. God is always with you, loving you, and showing you the way forward—just like God showed me.