Elizabeth Perry’s evangelical upbringing caused her to loathe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. An eating disorder she developed in college helped soften her heart. An LDS boy from her high school introduced her to the Church; she later embraced the gospel, then married that boy.
Tell me about your upbringing.
I grew up in the Bay Area in California. My parents were very involved in different Christian evangelical churches and involved my brother and me in them as well. Some of the churches we went to offered classes on how to preach to people of other faiths. So I read a lot of anti-Mormon material. I learned what tactics to use to prove to Mormons that they were wrong.
Why was your family so opposed to the Church?
Mormonism is very powerful. I grew up thinking it was dangerous because it is so close to the truth, but at the same time so far from it. I knew Mormons believed in God, but it was wrong to me because it was a different God. So I essentially thought Mormons were devil worshippers.
So you grew up with a strong belief that Mormonism was evil. Did you know any Mormons at the time?
The first Mormon I knew well was a boy in my high school named Daniel. He and I liked each other and even dated on and off some, but the whole religion thing was a problem, so we never pursued anything serious. Plus he wanted to follow the prophet’s counsel to not date seriously before a mission. There were other Mormons as well; I could pick them out of the crowd because there was something unique about them. I would recognize that now as the Spirit, but at the time that feeling scared me because it was powerful but unfamiliar. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, these are nice people. It’s too bad they are going to hell!”
Tell me about what happened when you went to college.
I graduated from high school in 2006 and went to UC Davis. I still felt very passionately about the importance of preaching against the Mormon Church. I became involved in a Christian group on campus and wanted to start a class to teach about the dangers of Mormonism. I was very prepared and had lots of material to teach. But at this time I developed a severe eating disorder that changed my plans.
Can you explain about the eating disorder?
I come from a long line of people who struggle with eating disorders, and the problem started early for me. When I was in third grade I started thinking I was fat. This continued as I grew up, but my freshman year of college it really took hold of me. I was depressed and on medication, but still, some days were so hard that I didn’t want to get out of bed. Then I would binge and purge to take away the pain I felt. Both my eating disorder and my depression spiraled out of control. I was failing almost all my classes and considered dropping out of school. Thankfully I got help early; I saw a psychiatrist and also was in group therapy. So I never ended up teaching that class on Mormonism.
So it seems that your eating disorder helped you in the long run, although I would never want to say it was a good thing…
I would! If I hadn’t had an eating disorder, I wouldn’t have joined the Church. Just as the Nephites and the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon were humbled by their trials, I was humbled by my trial. It stripped me of my pride. I was so angry at God; I felt like He had abandoned me, so I decided to abandon Him. But in order to heal I had to soften my heart and let go of any anger I had, including my anger about the Mormon Church. So my eating disorder removed my vendetta and caused me to give up my hatred.
Tell me about how your thoughts on the Church began to further change and how you eventually joined.
The turn-around: it was wild! So Daniel, my Mormon friend from high school, had just gotten back from serving a mission in Germany. He felt inspired to come pay me a visit, although he had reservations because he didn’t want me to think that he was just trying to convert me. I was dating another guy at the time who was also doing a lot of soul-searching. When Daniel and I met up again, I was so impressed by the change in him. He was a good person before but still there was such a profound change in him after his mission. I was so curious as to what had brought this about. And he had such a peace and confidence that I was lacking. I wanted that peace for myself. He was reluctant to answer my questions because he didn’t want to seem too preachy, but he eventually did ask me to come to church with him. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a picture of Christ. I broke down and started sobbing. There was this indescribable feeling of love and peace that I was experiencing for the first time. It was like being an orphan my whole life, looking for my parents but being rejected and turned away, and then finally coming home. It’s pretty amazing that I felt all these things just the first time I came to an LDS church meeting. And then through attending church more I was able to learn about the Savior and about Heavenly Father’s plan for me. I broke up with the guy I was dating, and Daniel baptized me on November 1, 2008. A few months later we started dating. We got married in the Oakland Temple on May 1, 2010. And now we’re expecting our first baby!
How did your family react to your joining the Church?
My parents were very, very angry. They were initially going to disown me. My brother respected my decision, but it still upset him. But I can’t blame them because I understand the mindset they are coming from. Things have gotten better, though. My family is beginning to understand that Mormons are real people. My mom tells me that I am still saved because I was once a member of a “true Christian” church. I think it’s a coping mechanism for her because she still can’t accept that, according to her beliefs, I’m going to hell. So things are definitely still hard sometimes. My Mormonism is sort of the elephant in the room. It’s still something we don’t talk about a lot.
You say you are working daily to maintain a recovered state from your disorder. Explain that to me.
Everyday I wake up and don’t allow myself to give in. When you have an eating disorder, food, calories, and exercise take over your life. They consume your thought patterns. And you can begin to think that you are not worthy of happiness or worthy of love. So I fight to actively resist those kinds of thoughts. Every time something like that comes into my head I evaluate if it is true or false. Like, if I catch myself thinking badly about my body, then I realize those thoughts are lies and are not from God.
What advice would you give someone who is struggling or has struggled with an eating disorder?
I would tell them to hold on. And to tell someone about it, tell anyone who cares about them. That person you tell can help you and also help hold you accountable to yourself. Also, I would encourage someone to evaluate the source of those negative self-thoughts and try to identify the root of the problem. If you have an eating disorder, there is hope for you.
You were Christian before joining the LDS church. Will you describe your spirituality now?
I have a very personal and close relationship with Christ that I didn’t have before. It’s not emotionally based; it’s more of a knowledge. I feel steadfast. I feel stable. I didn’t feel those things before. Our brains are so small, but our spirits are capable of so much more. It’s good to think and not be a blind sheep, but there’s such a need for a spiritual connection. So I am trying to do the best I can to maintain my spirituality and my relationship with God, including attending the temple regularly. I also want to help other women who are struggling to come to the Savior and be healed.
At A Glance
Location: Livermore, CA
Marital status: Married (with baby #1 on the way!)
Schools Attended: UC Davis (BA in Linguistics), Brigham Young University (Masters of Communications)
Convert: November 2008
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”
Interview by Katherine Wilkinson. Photos used with permission.
At A Glance