Let Go of Control
Freedom from Eating Disorders, LLC
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Christian Eating Disorder Recovery Course
Let Go of Control
After completing this lesson, you’ll have principles and tips to help you change your perspective about control and start releasing that desire for control into God’s hands.
I initially thought the eating disorder put me in control, but I soon realized that it was just the opposite: the eating disorder controlled me. May you break free of the lie that you are in control when you practice food-related behaviors. May you also find and resolve what’s underneath your desire for control.
Is there something in your life you wish you could control? Is there trouble in a relationship or a job situation that has gotten out of hand? Do you feel stifled in your life because of unmet goals or unrealized dreams? Maybe there are life circumstances that have turned out much different than you planned for or expected. So many things can happen that you have no say about. Even so, you’re left to deal with situations whether you had a part in how they turned out or not. But then what happens?
Feeling out of control can lead to food-related behaviors. Maybe it seems that if you restrict your food intake, you’re in control of something. Perhaps you overeat, and as you do, it’s a statement that you’re going to eat as much as you want and won’t be controlled when it comes to your food intake. Either way, you’ve probably realized that even though it seems you should be in control, you aren’t. Instead, your food-related behaviors control you.
The desire to control food is usually a symptom of a desire to rule other things or people. Perhaps you want to control your job, schedule, family members, emotions, health, or any number of other things. But please know that restricting, bingeing, or purging isn’t going to change the person who hurt you, provide the answer to a complicated situation, remove what has caused your inner pain, or give you control of anything. In reality, these behaviors just keep you in a destructive cycle. But you can break that cycle! Start by recognizing what you’re truly trying to control and then take steps to let go of that strong need for control.
Insights about Control
There are several things you may be trying to control.
- Maybe you are trying to control your food intake. Even though it seems like you’re in control if you deprive yourself of food or have rigid rules about your food intake, it’s just an illusion. That’s a deception of the eating disorder. If it seems you’re in control by overeating and asserting you’ll eat what you want regardless of what anyone else says, realize that isn’t control, either. Ultimately, it’s healthy to be able to say both “yes” and “no” to food – to say “yes” to healthy choices and “no” to unhealthy ones. The longer you believe the eating disorder puts you in control in some way, the more it can harm you. But you can choose to start letting go of control so the eating disorder can’t hold you in its grasp any longer.
- You might try to control your emotions through food-related behaviors. While you may attempt to bury your emotions, you may have noticed that the more you try to control your feelings, the more you turn to unhealthy behaviors and the worse you feel. This drives you to these behaviors even more. If you’re trying to control your emotions, find healthy ways to deal with them.
- It isn’t all about food. Examine what circumstances you may be striving to control. This may be related to your job, living situation, church events, or something else. There are numerous possibilities, so be honest with yourself and explore what you might be trying to control.
- You may attempt to control people. Maybe you want to steer your adult child in a different direction, get a co-worker to act differently, or soften the attitude of a church leader. There are all kinds of ways a person might feel the need to control others.
- You may feel the need to control relationships in order to protect yourself. If you get close to someone, that person might see something unlikeable in you. Then what if that person doesn’t want to be your friend anymore? You’ve been through abandonment in the past, and you dread going through that pain again. So you keep people at a distance to prevent this from happening. You may even do something to hamper the relationship before the other person can do it to you. It’s possible that you don’t even realize you’re doing this. Take a close look at your relationships to see if you recognize this in yourself.
- It may be important to you to appear competent and in control at all times. You may think you don’t dare let anyone see any of your weaknesses. You can’t make a mistake or commit an oversight for fear someone might notice and think less of you. You may also feel you must never show any negative emotion, or much emotion at all. It may scare you to think of others seeing any of your true feelings. What if they saw you angry, confused, or sad? What would they think of you? Questions like these plague you and drive you to keep yourself under strict control in front of others.
- You may feel the need to control anything from your appearance to your performance to your emotions to your food intake. It may seem you need to meet unrealistically high expectations in everything you do because you think you need to be perfect. Those perfectionistic tendencies, however, are only hurting you. You can’t be perfect, God doesn’t expect you to be perfect, and trying to be perfect will only drive you deeper into the eating disorder.
- You might endeavor to control your needs. Maybe you feel that it’s okay for others to have needs, but not for you, so you try to deny it. Besides, you might feel you should be above that. But having needs doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. Perhaps you put everyone else’s needs first. While it’s great to be concerned about others’ needs, that doesn’t mean you have to ignore your own.
- You may feel you must control your weight in order to protect yourself. For example, if you’ve been sexually abused, you may want to be thin, reasoning that if you don’t have curves, you won’t be as appealing to men. If you’re overweight, you may want to hold onto those extra pounds because you think being heavy will make you less attractive to men. In either case, controlling your weight is a protective measure. It’s certainly understandable that you would feel this way after what you’ve been through. If you haven’t already, seek help for healing from the abuse. You’ve been through so much already. You don’t need to also abuse yourself through food-related behaviors. Whether you’re too thin or too heavy, you’re putting your health in jeopardy, and you don’t deserve that.
- Underneath your desire for control, you may have fear. You might be afraid that if you don’t control your food, performance, relationships, weight, needs, emotions, or circumstances, you’ll go to the opposite extreme. The thought of gaining weight, letting up on your expectations, having needs, feeling your emotions, or letting go of relationships or circumstances terrifies you. It seems that with everything out of your control, your life will be a shambles, full of chaos, and not at all what you want. This “all or nothing” thinking is dangerous, and it keeps you bound so tightly to the desire for control that it can ultimately destroy you.
Examine your motives and be honest with yourself about what you are trying to control. Discuss what you uncover with your counselor or mentor. Then move forward and endeavor to leave the intense need for control behind you. Here are some suggestions to help you start.
Tips to Let Go of Control
- Realize that letting go of control is a process, and this journey has its ups and downs. You may desire to relinquish control one minute, but snatch it back the next. It may take many attempts. You may need to break down the changes necessary for letting go into smaller steps. For example, if you feel reluctant to let God take the lead in your recovery, start by asking him to lead in one area, such as finding a dietitian. Once you’ve done that, you can ask him to strengthen you in following your meal plan, and so on. This way you can let go of control one step at a time.
- Concentrate on God’s love and view it as more than an attribute you read about in the Bible, but something real and personal between the two of you. This can build your trust in him to help you. You can feel more comfortable knowing he wants the best for you and isn’t there to force you into things. As you focus on his love, you can feel more assured about him leading your recovery. Fill your mind with verses about God’s love. You may want to memorize them, meditate on them, write them on note cards to carry with you, or pray them back to the Lord. Here are a few to start.
“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul” (Ps. 94:18-19).
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (Ps. 145:8).
“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).
- Keep in mind that God’s love is abundant. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8). Look for evidence of God’s love in your life. It might be difficult to see at first, but if you look diligently, you’re sure to find it. You might see his love in his protection from something that came close to hurting you but didn’t. You may notice it in the way he’s led you to others who genuinely care for you and support you. There are countless possibilities if you just look. Jot down what comes to mind, and go to that list when you need reminders of his love. The point is, as you embrace his love, you’ll become willing to trust him more. God’s love is the greatest antidote for fear, so by focusing on God’s love, you’re combating the fear that drives you to the desire for control. For more on this topic, see the Let Go of Fear lesson.
- Remember that God’s love never changes and never ends. You can’t do anything to make him love you more or less. If you have a hard time truly believing he loves you, remember this: he may not always love what you do, but he will always love who you are. It may be hard to believe, but doubting he loves you doesn’t make it less true.
- Hold on to God’s promises. The eating disorder makes promises: you’ll be happy at a certain weight, you’ll be in control if you deny yourself of food, or you’ll be in control if you eat what you want regardless of what it will do to your body. In other words, the eating disorder doesn’t keep its word. Friends, family members, or others may have also made commitments to you that they didn’t keep. After experiencing unfulfilled promises, it may be hard to believe anyone would keep a promise, but God is the one person you can trust in that regard. Search the Scriptures for promises and cling to them. Here are a few to begin.
“…The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Ps. 145:13b-14).
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh. 1:5b).
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
- Pray the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” Honestly examine what you can and can’t change and go from there. List what comes to mind. Then, in the Lord’s strength, you can learn to accept what’s beyond your control and discern what you can and can’t do regarding your circumstances. Remind yourself to change what you can and let go of what you can’t.
- Give food its proper place. Eating doesn’t put you in control. Depriving yourself of food doesn’t put you in control. Eating too much or too little puts the eating disorder in control. It doesn’t deserve to have you. The lesson Address Your Relationship with Food has more on this subject.
- Accept that you have needs and learn to be okay with that. Having needs doesn’t mean you aren’t in control. It just means you’re human.
- Let people go. This may be especially hard if you want to protect someone. Sometimes, though, that isn’t your job. As heart-wrenching as it is, sometimes it’s best to let others learn from their own mistakes. Certainly, you need discernment because there are times you may legitimately need to step in and protect someone. But when your main objective is to control that person, you may need to let go instead. Be honest with yourself, pray for wisdom, step aside when appropriate, and place the person in God’s hands.
- Relinquish control of circumstances. Be honest with yourself and explore what you wish you could be in charge of and change. Then consider that there are things you can’t possibly know or see that God can. Think back to other instances that seemed a mess at the time, but good things ultimately came out of them. Acknowledge that there are some things you simply aren’t going to understand. God can see the whole picture, the hearts of the people involved, and the future ramifications of events. You don’t have the benefit of all that knowledge, so look at it like this: with the all-knowing God in charge, it takes the burden of control off your shoulders. You don’t have to steer people or circumstances in the midst of so many unknowns. Instead, you can rest, knowing it’s in the hands of the God who loves you and loves everyone involved. Trust that he knows best.
- Withdraw from perfectionism. The intense need to control everything, set unrealistic expectations, strive for perfection, and condemn yourself for missing the mark is only going to hurt you. It’s a process to let go of such strict thoughts and behaviors, but you can have divine help to do it. For more on this, examine the lesson Let Go of Perfectionism.
- Dismiss what others think of you. It’s understandable that the opinions of others may be important to you. But try to remember that they didn’t create you, they don’t know everything about you, and they don’t provide your identity. Ultimately, it’s what God thinks of you that matters, so try to focus on that instead. For more on this topic, explore the lesson See Yourself through God’s Eyes inside and Out.
- Surrender the need to control relationships. Be careful not to rob yourself of the connection with people who will love and care for you. It’s okay to be cautious, but it’s also important to be open. You may need to open yourself up slowly. You might get hurt again. There are no guarantees. But pray for discernment in relationships and ask God to connect you with healthy people who will enrich your life.
- Release emotions that are buried inside. It may seem that if you stifle them, you’re in control of them, but that isn’t so. Unreleased and festering, they control you. It’s by releasing your feelings and managing them in healthy ways that you break free of their control. For more on this subject, go through the Learn to Deal with Emotions lesson.
- Cling to God’s healing and protection. If you control your weight in an attempt to protect yourself from anyone violating you again, get help to work through what was done to you. This is a serious issue to heal from, and you should get the best help and support available to you. And remember that there’s no hurt so deep, no violation so horrific that God can’t heal it. Cling to verses like 2 Cor. 1:3-4a that have a healing quality to them. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.”
Find other healing verses, keep them handy, and hold them in your heart. They apply to you. Here are some to start your list.
“You are my hiding place, you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” (Ps. 32:7).
“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Ps. 63:7-8).
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him” (Isa. 30:18)!
“’…Peace, peace, to those far and near;’ says the Lord. ‘And I will heal them’” (Isa. 57:19).
For more on this subject, look into the Experience Inner Healing lesson.
- Put your recovery in God’s hands. As scary as it is to let go of something that is so familiar to you and has been such a big part of your life, it’s one of the best things you could ever do for yourself. See the eating disorder for the enemy that it is and send it on its way. You’re better off without it. Ask God to lead your recovery. You couldn’t be in safer hands. See the Invite God’s Power into Your Recovery lesson for more on this subject.
Don’t wait! Take one step today toward letting go of control. You’ve lived under the control of the eating disorder for too long already. It doesn’t deserve any more of your time, energy, or attention. Refocus on what is healthy and true.
God knows you, understands you, loves you, and has a better life waiting for you. He keeps his promises. There’s no one better to lead your journey. Relinquish control to him today. Is there anyone you could trust more with your recovery?
Dear Heavenly Father,
I struggle with the desire for control, but I know you would rather I allow you to lead me. I understand you know what is best for me, and I surrender control to you. Specifically, I give you the area of ________________________, and I trust that you will do a better job being in charge of this than I will. You can see the future, and I can’t. You love me beyond what I can comprehend, so I know I can trust you. Thank you for loving me and for leading me in the right direction.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.1
Listening to His Voice
Despairing woman, so convinced,
is taken in by dreadful lies.
She must be thin no matter what.
Her greatest worth is in her size.
Afraid of food and gaining weight,
she’s paralyzed and can’t let go,
won’t let herself enjoy a meal
although restricting hurts her so.
Conflicting thoughts run rampantly.
It feels so good and yet so wrong.
She turns her back on what is best –
desire for control so strong.
She bottles up down deep within,
her anger, sadness, and despair.
Dark secrets safely locked away.
Her guilt and shame won’t let her share.
She thinks so little of herself.
Degrading thoughts bombard her mind.
To others she gives only grace,
but to herself is so unkind.
She hears God say she’s beautiful,
– so hard to honestly believe –
but on her own she can’t break free.
She struggles to his truths receive.
“A shadow of your former self,
I will not let you waste away.
Please listen now with all your heart,
and hear the truth I have to say.
“Confused, depressed and all alone,
distorted thoughts won’t let you see
how beautiful you really are
or your identity in me.
“It truly does begin inside,
this freedom journey you’ve begun.
Express yourself and lean on me.
This road is not an easy one.
“When feeling anxious and afraid,
invite me to your table then.
I’ll strengthen you and calm your fears,
will sit beside you as your friend.
“When lies and doubts are taunting you,
turn then to me and take my hand,
and know I made you as you are
so I can use you as I’ve planned.
“Reject the lies, embrace the truth,
and let yourself through my eyes see.
You’ll get a glimpse, my precious one,
how beautiful you are to me.”1
Write a Letter to the Eating Disorder
The purpose of this letter is to tell the eating disorder that you won’t let it control you anymore, along with anything else you’d like to say to it. This is your letter, so it’s important to include whatever you want. But if you’d like some help to start, here are some suggestions on what you might include.
- What it has taken from you and what you plan to reclaim.
- Off. For example, tell it to take a long walk off a short pier, or tell it you’re kicking it to the curb.
- You’re onto its schemes. You understand its lies and deception, but you aren’t going to believe any of it anymore.
- You don’t need it any longer. You are replacing it with healthy coping mechanisms.
- You won’t be under its control anymore. It can no longer lead you into self-destructive behaviors.
- You’re going to trust God in your recovery now.
Those are just some ideas. It may take several attempts to write a letter that best describes what you think and feel. That’s okay. You might even choose to write a series of letters. Do what fits you best.
The remaining features for this lesson, as listed below, are printable. You may download the PDF file here.
Answer Key for Quiz
1Laurie Glass, Inspiration for Eating Disorder Recovery, 2015.
All Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Find out about other lessons on the Recovery Course page.
Change Your Thoughts
Learn to Deal with Emotions
See Yourself through God’s Eyes Inside and Out
Address Your Relationship with Food
Invite God into Your Recovery
Let Go of Control
Face Your Fears
Experience Inner Healing
Let Go of Perfectionism
Let Go of Guilt
Let Go of Shame
Deal with Relapses