Somebody once said that loving other people well starts with loving ourselves. I’m pretty sure most of my life has been spent trying to love others while hating myself, if I’m being honest. Much of that self hatred has revealed itself through my abuse of food – on both ends of the spectrum. My sophomore year of high school I started starving myself. I was friends with a girl who was starving herself and made it a point not to ever eat more than her.
Then in college I started putting on weight until I was healthy by the time of my wedding.
But by a few years into my marriage I started putting on pounds.
And I have qualified as obese for the past ten years.
Imagine my embarrassment walking through Ethiopia for the past three years incredibly overweight as I held the hands and hugged the necks of people who were literally starving. I felt like a fraud.
The embarrassment of putting on the weight in the first place has been a source of really deep shame for me. I have felt like people must look at me and wonder how I could let myself get so out of control. It has caused me to not even be able to really look people in the eye because I’m just so ashamed of who I am.
I’ll never forget being in Ethiopia with my sweet, petite friend, Abbey, and having a random stranger come up to us on the street and ask me why I was so big while she was so small. He asked me if I ate different food than her even though we lived in the same country. I laughed it off, while wanting to absolutely die on the inside. He hit a nerve because he asked me the question I had been so afraid to ask myself – why? I haven’t wanted to think about the deeper things that have made me get so out of control. I haven’t wanted to admit that food is where I go for comfort. It’s where I go to hide. I haven’t wanted to admit that I have thrived on the instant gratification that comes from eating whatever whenever. I haven’t wanted to admit that on my best day, I am a complete glutton, covering up my pain and insecurity with food.
My issues with my weight and with food have robbed me. I live in a beautiful state where the mountains beckon for a hike or a bike ride, but I don’t go because I become exhausted too quickly from being out of shape and overweight. My kids want to go to the park or do something active outside but I make up a lame excuse because what mom wants to say to their kid “Mommy’s too fat to play outside with you”?
But most notably, as my body has gotten bigger, who I am on the inside has shrunk – I have allowed myself to disappear in many ways. It has been brutal mentally to be smothered by my weight. I battle thoughts daily of “Well, I couldn’t possibly do that – look at me.” The gifts that God has given me have been squelched because the beast of being overweight has completely overwhelmed me. I feel like I will catch glimpses sometimes of the person God has created me to be on the inside and I think “just maybe I can actually BE that person”, but it’s never long before doubt and insecurity take over any glimmer of hope. I literally hide behind people in pictures – doing my best to only let my face show. My smile really is just masking my insecurity.
If someone tags me in a picture on FaceBook that shows more than just my face, I delete it. I don’t want to be seen. It’s just so heart-breaking.
I have been on so many diets only to watch any pound lost come back. Failure after failure after failure. It has been a very long battle that I have not won. The sense of failure and despair every time has honestly been too much to bear, and has caused me to settle into the mentality that this is just how it is for me – I’ll always be bound by this.
This past year or so has been a process of internal transformation and realization for me about the good and beauty that exists in me. I was brought to the lowest place of my life so that God could help me realize who I really am as His beloved, and that He longs for me to dream again and fully embrace who He’s created me to be. I have spent hours and hours in counseling and have done the brutal, beautiful work of unpacking lies I’ve believed about myself and ultimately, discovering that I have had a bogus view of God all my life, which has made me feel so much less than. There is some sort of stark raving mad idea being spread around that we should live our lives with our heads hanging all the time because of how bad we are and how much we fail. And so we stay small and ashamed instead of living in the reality that “God is a wild man who is knocked out by who we are”. As I started to realize what this means for my life, things started changing inside of me and I began to hope. As I have gotten “healthy” emotionally and spiritually, I have begun to realize that Maryann Williamson was oh so very right when she said:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is
that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our
darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be
brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not
to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the
world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people
won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the
glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in
all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our
own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I think I’ve used my weight issues as an excuse to keep myself “small” on the inside and to hide from the responsibility I have to live out who I am to the fullest. I haven’t feared my weight issues – I’ve embraced them far too fast and too easily accepted them as just part of my life. But what I have feared is the power and the beauty of who God has created me to be. I have been unable to embrace that and have hidden myself away in excess pounds so that I wouldn’t have to be courageous enough to be myself. Who I was on the outside was a reflection of the sickness inside of me. It wasn’t until I took this past year to look inward and figure out just what it was I trying to hide from that I finally found some peace. Nobody likes to take the time to deal with the muck inside of us, but it’s so very necessary; otherwise, we just stay sick. Being on a journey of loving, valuing and embracing who I am caused me immediate discomfort with my food struggle.
In September, I decided I was done being a prisoner to food. Physical health was the next logical step on my path to living free. And it was terrifying, people! But the possibility that I could be free, caused me to take a step of faith and just beg God to help me do it this time. I was tired of shrinking back and saying no to life. Inwardly, I was new, and it was time to reflect that outwardly by the grace of God and a whole lot of belief that I was indeed worth it.
Four and a half months ago, when I decided I was going to try to break free from this food addiction, I only told a hand full of people because I was scared to death this would just be “one more thing” I tried and failed miserably at. At age 38, I weighed 215 pounds and was wearing a size 18W. (How’s that for vulnerability?!) I had 80 pounds to lose to get to a healthy weight. 80 POUNDS. It might as well have been 500, it seemed so out of reach. It’s practically a whole person!
Before I go on, please hear me – it does not matter one iota what you look like or how much or little you weigh. What matters is that you are free and fully alive. I am sure that somewhere out there are women who are 215 pounds and free as a bird. Good for them!! That is not my story. For me, my abuse of food has taken away my joy and fullness of life. For you, it might be something else. The important thing here is that we break free from whatever prison we might find ourselves in. I have said for years and years that this is just how my life is and that I don’t have any power to change it. I call bulls***. That’s a helpless, victim mentality that is ultimately rooted in fear. It was with a whole lot of fear of failure, a whole lot of prayer and a whole lot of encouragement that I started my journey to health and wholeness.
In the past four and a half months I have lost over half the weight I need to lose and have gone down 4 sizes. You guys. I just wish I could convey the power of it all. Food has lost its hold on me. God’s grace has been absolutely overwhelming to me on this journey. I am humbled and in awe. But most importantly, I am free. Even though I have more weight to lose to be healthy according to my doctor, if I never lost another pound I’d still feel free. It’s not about a number on the scale – my quality of life is better, my energy is better, and I find myself dreaming again about my life. It’s such a gift.
You might be expecting an “after” picture, given all the “before” shots above. But the point of this post isn’t for you to look at my body and tell me what a great job I’ve done. I have debated even publishing this post because I haven’t wanted people to get the idea that I’m looking for accolades – I’m not. I am very aware that people’s struggle with food is a very sensitive one (on either end of the spectrum), and I pray that nothing has been said here that rubs salt in any wound. I’m simply hoping that something about my journey might touch some of you in some way to aspire for freedom, whatever that looks like for you.
It would have been easier and far less embarrassing for me not to address this issue at all here on my blog. But, I believe in the power of sharing our stories. I believe in vulnerability and letting people into our struggle. I share it because my friend shared her struggle and then her victory with me – she made me hope and then take action for myself. I share it because Maryann is right when she says “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” I share it with you because I have always been that person who watches other people lose weight and get healthy – it has never been for me. But here’s the deal – freedom IS for me. It’s for all of us. It doesn’t matter if it’s weight issues, crushing anxiety, relational problems, guilt, shame or feelings that you’re not enough – you CAN be free. You are worth getting free. Your loved ones deserve you finding freedom. You are not an observer of your own life – you get to choose how to respond to circumstances, problems and addictions. You are worthy of health and freedom. And there’s a God who believes that about you too. And He WILL help you.
Psalm 10:17 says “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you
encourage them, and you listen to their cry.”
So, be bold and brave, friends. This life is too short to stay small and imprisoned. You have so much to offer the world. When we let our light shine, we do, indeed give others the permission to do the same. So, shine! And may your own freedom inspire the freedom of others.
the free me