I have been composing this post in my mind for a long while now, and still, I have no idea where to start or where to go. It is a post about myself and a struggle.
Like most women, I have faced my share of issues with self-image and weight and confidence. I have memories of comparing butt sizes with a friend in junior high, and that awareness of “skinniest is best” has plagued me ever since. We all know it: one glimpse of a magazine cover or a roadside billboard and we know exactly what is valued in our culture.
But that really isn’t what my struggle is about anymore. Back then, yes — I wanted to be thin. And it really wasn’t an issue because I was involved in enough sports and activities to keep my body moving. After high school, however, I realized that I have a very real weakness. That I am not immune to weight gain. And that as I get bigger and my clothes get tighter, I feel less and less like myself. This has almost nothing to do with cultural expectations, and everything to do with my heart.
I experienced a few ups and downs with my weight in college and early marriage, but nothing drastic enough that the world would notice. Toward the end of our few years in Vancouver, our first baby was born. The weight dropped off quickly, most of my clothes were fitting again, and I was almost ready to proclaim my body “back to normal.”
Then we moved to Chicago.
That first year in suburban Chicago was one of the loneliest, isolating, and emotionally challenging periods of my life. I was a new stay-at-home mom, I didn’t know a soul, my husband was making friends at work, and I was gaining weight. I felt out of control with my eating and desperate to make some changes in my life. It was during this time that I recognized the seriousness of my tendency to overeat. Food was now something that had control over me, and I thought about it constantly. When can I eat again? What am I craving? How can I satisfy that craving right now? I thought I “deserved” a special treat every day, sometimes more than once a day. I finally did manage to drop a few pounds and feel better through workouts at the gym, but I knew in the back of my mind that the issue went deeper than that. My heart needed an adjustment. My issue wasn’t really about weight; it was about idolatry. Sin! I was using food as a source of comfort and identity, a role that only God is meant to fulfill.
In Chicago, I became pregnant for the second time. This pregnancy was a sort of turning point for me — downward. I thought I was obsessed with food before I got pregnant, but my struggle only multiplied. (Once the nausea of the first trimester was over with, my appetite returned with a vengeance.)
I expected the struggle to wane once our daughter was born. But I never was able to shake the constant need for food. And when she was a tiny 2 1/2 months old, we moved again. To Kansas. To our families. Home.
Again my expectations were high. This time, I wouldn’t feel so isolated. I could focus on this new life, and these wonderful people, rather than food. But the desperate cravings only grew worse. Even among people I love, I felt out of place and uncertain of our future. And stressed to an extreme degree. My clothes didn’t fit comfortably and I was embarrassed. Not because I was large — I wasn’t. But because my body was completely unfamiliar to me. I didn’t feel confident. I felt the very heavy and dark burden of being in bondage to something — being controlled and shaped by something other than God. I tried to commit to various workout routines, but I knew that the real issue was not my lack of activity. Sure, a daily habit of exercise couldn’t hurt (and Jillian did indeed help me lose about five pounds!), but I knew deep down that I had to address the food issue if I hoped to lose any more weight and feel like myself again.
In early September, I signed up for Weight Watchers online. Within a week, I could tell a difference — in my clothes, in my attitude toward food, in my whole outlook on the struggle. I felt hopeful! And excited! And maybe, just maybe, a little bit less obsessed, a little more in control, a little more like the me I want to be.
Today, I am ten pounds lighter than when I started Weight Watchers. That’s twenty pounds smaller than my peak non-pregnancy weight. And I feel pretty great. I love that I can step on the scale with anticipation and not with fear. I love that I can pull out a pair of pants from the depths of the basement storage bin and button them easily. I love that I can look in the mirror and not grimace at my love handles.
But even more importantly, I feel more free than I have felt in several years. I admit, though, that I feel like a failure after most weekends, but as a general rule, I’m convinced that food’s grip on me is weakening. And this is not at all by my strength. I tried for years to free myself by my own strength, and I always ended up disappointed. And this “success” is not even by the strength of the Weight Watchers program. Weight Watchers is not my savior. God has given me a Savior in Jesus, and he has graciously used Weight Watchers as a tool in my life — to get my attention, to open my eyes to my weakness, and to deal with it. In a very practical way.
I am not completely free of this struggle, and I may never be. But regardless of my size, regardless of the intensity of the battle, God, not food, deserves my loyalty and my love and my energy. And his grace, not my own weak self and not a weight-loss program, will be what empowers me to give him all these things and more.
“Our insatiable need or craving for too much of anything is symptomatic of unmet needs. . . . Either Christ can satisfy us and meet our deepest needs, or God’s Word is deceptive” (Beth Moore, Breaking Free, p. 203-4).
“We all worship something. . . . The focus of our worship can be determined by the gaze of our eyes — what or who is the object of our primary focus. Don’t miss this: whatever we worship, we will also obey” (Breaking Free, p. 229-30).