I had an epiphany on the way home from church a couple weeks ago. I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things and left with a full cart and a peanut butter Snickers bar. After I devoured the candy bar, I felt guilty. (Doesn’t everyone feel guilty after they eat a candy bar?)
Since it was Sunday, I started planning my diet for the week ahead. At which time a still, small voice spoke up on the inside…
You’ll never be skinny enough to satisfy yourself.
I know that’s true. Ten years ago I starved myself down to a point where my doctor told me she was concerned. (Don’t worry, I’m not at that weight now!) Even at that size, I wasn’t happy with my body. I wanted to be skinnier. I viewed anorexic women, chemo patients, meth addicts, and pre-pubescent teens with secret, shameful envy.
Today I run into people who haven’t seen me since the super-skinny phase and their response is, invariably, “WOW! You look great! You look so healthy!” The first few times it happened I shrugged it off, but after enough people said it, I started to wonder… Did I look THAT unhealthy when I was in my super-thin mode? I recall a few comments from acquaintances who asked if I well at the time, but I was so caught up in the rush of finally being SKINNY I didn’t examine their questions. I liked being a size 2-on-my-way-to-negative-numbers, even if my friends and family described me as “skeletal” and “bird-like.” Darn it. If that was “skeletal,” I liked it.
That’s because you wanted to disappear.
OUCH. I had to think about that. When I went on my 1200-calorie a day diet (or less… a 900-calorie day was a good day, a righteous day, a day for celebration), and started exercising like a maniac six days a week, I was in a state of what I now recognize as clinical depression. The church my husband and I planted was struggling, money stress was a daily fact of life, I was homeschooling four children, I’d cut off contact with my parents because we had doctrinal disagreements, I loathed where I lived, and my best friend had just moved halfway across the country. Starving myself (I called it a diet, but when peanut butter starts to play a major role in your fantasy life, something’s wrong) was a way to take control of my life, which felt completely out of control. In truth, I didn’t want to be IN my life at the time.
So you tried to shrink yourself out of existence.
Yes, I suppose I did. If it weren’t for a concerned husband who noticed my disappearing boobs, I might have fallen headlong into a full-fledged case of anorexia/bulimia. Oh, I wasn’t throwing up after meals like I did in high school and college, but I had discovered the trick of chewing and spitting… take a bite, chew it up, then spit it into the trash without swallowing. I was taking ephedrine daily, and sucking back enough espresso that when I exercised my sweat smelled like Starbucks. I spent hours every day perusing fitness and diet websites for validation and wrote down every single thing that crossed my lips.
At the same time, I was proud of myself. I praised God for the dropping numbers on the scale, even while I stifled the voice of my conscience. My whole life was wrapped up in what I ate and what I weighed. I counted the number of chocolate chips I could eat without going over my calorie limit, weighed my raisins in a kitchen scale, and had a running tally in my head of calories in vs. calories out. For someone who dislikes math on principle, those years were YEARS of mental calculations. You could ask me the calorie count of almost any food and I could tell you, without looking it up, its caloric value by weight.
Fast forward a few years, a major life change, a total hysterectomy due to undiagnosed endometriosis, and now, packing an extra 10-15 pounds around and feeling “fluffy,” I find myself struggling. I no longer want to escape from my own life, and I’m no longer depressed (most of the time), but I’m still not “skinny enough,” and, I have to admit, I never will be. It’s like I have the wrong eyes in my head. Or the wrong body… Whose body IS this, anyway? I’ve never been at peace with it, not since I was 5 years old and my ballet teacher pointed out my “jiggly” thighs to the class during plies. Maybe not even before that.
I could put myself back on the high-intensity physical training program I was on, except that my post-surgery body won’t allow it. I’m limited to yoga, Pilates, and isometrics for the foreseeable future, or endure debilitating pain. I could starve myself again… except I’ve discovered the joys of a glass or two (or sometimes three) of red wine in the evening, and I’m not willing to give it up, even for the sake of those extra pounds. As I told a dear friend recently, my “drinking problem” has trumped my eating disorder.
6 Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
7 let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Prov 31:6-7 NIV
So now I’m 44, and I have an adult daughter who struggles with her own body image issues, and a granddaughter who is, as yet, thankfully too young to get the whole concept. I’ve wasted enough of my life hating what I see in the mirror (or only looking in the “skinny” mirrors, and fearing the scale at the doctor’s office more than the outcome of any test). It’s time to make a change.
Wish me well, I’m not sure what this is going to entail, but WHEN I come out on the other side I will be the first person to share the story of my journey, in hopes of encouraging and inspiring others.
Meanwhile, if you’re battling with food issues, battling with body image, battling with some other unseen problem, may the mercy and grace of God be with you, and may you hear His voice in those dark places, revealing truth and showing you the way out of the darkness and into the light. Even when you don’t love yourself, God loves you unconditionally.