The past couple of months I have been mindful of a small but pervasive victory in my life that I feel important to share. It is not a new leap and it is not due to my own problem solving. It is extremely ordinary and normal but it is not commonly spoken of, at least in clear terms, and so I hope that in sharing my departure, maybe others can feel hope or companionship or compassion towards others who resemble this journey.
I am not very willing to get emotionally involved in food regulations and rules. I understand basics about healthy eating and it totally seems like I would be the type of person to become passionately indignant about certain ingredients, treatment and modifications of our food. Lord knows that I could certainly use a few diet changes and I do try to implement some improvements as a mom and wife. I just exhausted myself long ago when it came to thinking about what I ate and I am reluctant to focus much on it again, no matter how valid the cause.
I turned 18 in the first weeks of college. I found myself surrounded by a new and exciting environment in which I would soon be thriving in almost every way. I also found myself attending social events that centered around food, living on a very limited budget, eating off a meal plan a hemisphere away from the fresh foods of Kenya and, as you may have guessed, gaining weight. I reeled when things did not fit the way they should. I truly had little point of reference for moderating what I ate in a healthy way. I had always been thin but I had also always been ridiculous about how thin I should be. It was convenient that my metabolism accommodated, for the most part, my expectations and my neglect of caloric restraint. Until the perfect storm of moving countries, turning 18, and starting college.
To briefly describe the next couple of years, I will just say this: I was in a mental war with food. I lived under the tyranny of enough or not enough, disgusted with my body and yet able to compartmentalize the battle effectively for a while so that only I knew the captivity I had become wrapped up in. The pendulum of depriving myself and then overeating to somehow try to overcome the enemy in my mind led to significant damage on my hormones and metabolism. While I was never actually anorexic or bulimic, it has since been described to me that I was had adopted disordered eating as a mode. It’s a catchall phrase that, for me, describes feverishly trying all sorts of unhealthy methods to lose and manage weight. I had never known the power and privacy of the mind until I was under an oppressive, fearful relationship with food. Eventually, the sense of damage and desperation could not help but interfere with my prayers, my reading, and my faith.
Truth and Grace helped me realize at one point in a chapel service that I would not be able to go farther with the Lord, that I could not fill a soul hunger while I entertained a vain and futile battle with all its barbs and traps about bodily hunger, until I acknowledge that this internal battle was not separate from but part of me. I could not entertain two choruses in my mind any longer, and still expect to hear His clearly. One was estranging me from the other. The battle was not isolated. It was a part of my heart. It was a part of my body. It was a part of my soul. And I could not neglect it or try to manage it anymore. My greatest fear at this time, even as the Spirit gave me a moment of enough space to back up and plan to speak with a couple of friends about my pain, was of course that I would start gaining weight rapidly. Coming to a crossroads in no way meant that my impulses were any different. If I sought to slow the panic, how would my body respond? How would I stop the guilt and endless thoughts about the last meal? Even if it meant that I was morbidly obese, would I believe that this was the way to life? That this was the way to Truth and Healing? Now, this greatest fear seems absurd at the point of Hope and yet another Love Invitation–but that is truly where I was then. I could not be certain that what was healthy for my soul would also be healthy for all of me. It still felt that striving and controlling and despising and differing were the only way to deal with food.
My friends and family responded gracefully. One of them was blessedly unimpressed with my struggle, my antics, and somehow knew how to ask me about how I was doing before we went to an event or after leaving a party only occasionally. I was not treated as someone to be tip toed around or someone to babysit. And slowly, one bite, one “no thanks,” and one laugh at a time, I slipped away from a gripping, bi-polar, panicky relationship with food. By God’s slow, pulling grace, I was able to shyly reacquaint, or perhaps learn for the first time really, what it felt like to be hungry, to need food so that my muscles and mind could work. And then, to know when I was physically full–when I had had enough to live that day well, and put down the fork or walk away from the buffet. Eventually I was even able to enjoy food without recklessly indulging and I can usually have it around without distraction. After years, my metabolism and then, after another year or two, my hormones, seemed to timidly start working again. I was surprised and thankful that during my pregnancies, I was able to gain weight happily, without obsessiveness or fear; it was truly not my doing. I have moments where I am overly distraught over a morsel or disturbed by a picture, but they are passing and not overpowering.
This is my story of flailing with food and weight. I am continuously grateful for the freedom and space the Provider has offered me in this area now. I know now the power of lies and the mind left unchecked. I know the suffering to which ordinary pressures and practices can lead. I know how sneaky corruption can be–of good food, good bodies, and good minds. This is one meadow I now enjoy–a space that is a testament to how some ugly holes in my faith and heart were accommodated for at Calvary and how others gathered there helped untangle me from my self. It is not only my story.
“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog…He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart. O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me. For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; there are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me. I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.” – verses from Psalm 40