Spiritual Snacking: Taking Your Eating Disorder On Retreat

I love retreats, and I’ve been to a lot of them. There’s just something about getting away from the usual faces and the usual routine in order to meet others who are drawn to God in the same way I am. There’s also one feature that just about every retreat has that can be a pitfall for a recovering food addict like myself.

Every retreat has an all-you-care-to-eat buffet. Most have snack tables and coffee corners that are kept stocked and open all day and all night, just in case.

Well, in some of our cases, that much-unfettered access to food can be triggering. The wonderful thing about recovery from disordered eating is that part of our program must include ways to get through those triggers safely and with abstinence or balance in place.

At its heart, any addiction, including food addiction, is about using material stuff as protective isolation from the potential pain of personal relationship. This is why recovery offers tools like meetings, sponsorship, outreach calls, and prayer: because we only break that pattern of isolation when we stop relying on that stuff to get us through our struggles and start relying on a new network of people who show us God’s love in real-time.

How can a retreat experience with its abundance of food help us grow skills that see us through our triggers in new ways? Retreats work on our needy hearts in this way by their very nature—their nature of encouraging the very relationships that pull us out of our isolation with food.

Relationship with Others on Retreat

Retreats are a special way to live out Christ’s promise that, where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there with us. Whether you are at a silent retreat that offers instruction in the faith or a large conference with massive praise and worship sessions, retreats always include some level of connection with other human persons here in real-time. 

CIR retreats especially are designed to help us connect with our Catholic fellows in particular ways: each retreat offers talks specifically geared towards the needs of addicts and their loved ones, and multiple recovery meetings are held throughout each weekend. With this shared context, there is space to step out of your comfort zone and ask for help, especially if you need someone to talk to you while you walk away from the buffet table. If you’re feeling so shy that you’re still having trouble staying the course on your food plan, you can always step aside to text or call your sponsor or another recovery fellow.

Relationship with the Interior

Retreats offer that rare, concentrated chance for us to step aside for the deep self-reflection that, when done with surrender and humility rather than morbid rumination, can bring us new insights into God’s will for us. When the voice of the hospitality table sounds louder than the still, small voice of God’s spirit inside of us, we are free to retreat from the retreat. 

We can take moments to walk away from whatever trigger we have and ask God to show us inside of ourselves what has us so uncomfortable that we want to soothe with food we don’t need. Then we are freed to discover what we really need in order to get well and stay well.

Relationship with Christ

Relationship with Christ is the center of all Christian relationships. Catholic retreats, especially our CIR retreats, offer us ways to encounter Christ not just through our fellows or inside the quiet chapels of our hearts, but in real-time and real presence through the sacraments. 

In addition to talks, meetings, and times of quiet reflection, CIR retreats offer Mass, confession, and Eucharistic adoration, where we can see Jesus with our eyes and hear His forgiveness with our ears. When our eating-disordered bodies experience that confusion between our need for spiritual nourishment rather than physical, a CIR retreat is the ideal place to show our bodies that we listen to what they really need and that we can be trusted to meet those needs well in recovery.

A relationship with our fellows, ourselves, and Christ does not make the hospitality corner or the buffet table disappear, but it does offer us the other dimensions of food we need as whole persons—the dimensions of nourishment we spent too long neglecting when we were lost in our disease.

Through recovery, we are found and we are truly fed. So while even a Catholic in Recovery retreat may challenge us food addicts with triggers we’d just as soon avoid, it’s also perhaps one of the best ways to get a concentrated shot of program power in exactly the ways we need it, especially after we go back home to those usual faces and our usual routines.

Looking for more ways to experience your Savior in those places where two or three are gathered in His name? Sign up for a CIR retreat today.


Erin McCole Cupp is grateful to be recovering from compulsive overeating, binge eating behaviors, and developmental and betrayal trauma. She writes and speaks about mental health and addiction recovery from a Catholic perspective. Check out her course “Filled With Good: Theology of the Body for Food Addicts” at erinmccolecupp.com.