I have spent the majority of my life unhappy with my weight and trying to fix it. When I was 11 or so, a short, buck-toothed boy informed me that I was fat (it didn’t occur to me to inform him that he was short and buck-toothed). Until that moment, standing in my friend’s kitchen with her aforementioned older brother, my body was just a body, but there I was suddenly and inexplicably standing in an inferior one. When I got home I stood in front of a full-length mirror in my parents’ room hoping, “maybe my back just bows in and makes my stomach stick out further than it should?” (Because of course I would rather have a deformed spine than be chubby!) But no matter how straight I tried to stand or how hard I tried to suck it in, my reflection transformed before me from that of a carefree little girl to an insecure prepubescent one.
Mine isn’t a story about traumatic bullying or name-calling, there were definitely girls in my grade who fared worse than me. My ability to draw well earned me a modest amount of respect, even from the “cool” kids. My story is more subtle. Sometimes people would poke fun at my weight – one boy in particular decided that “Baby Beluga” should be my theme song and he thought it was funny to sing it whenever I walked by. What bothered me more were the things like never being picked in gym class, never being “asked out” by a boy, and never being very popular in general. I attributed it all to being overweight. I would plod away on my mom’s treadmill, telling myself that a certain boy would finally like me if I was skinny. I would go to sleep at night picturing how much better my life would be if only I had an ideal body like my friends’. I developed a habit of soothing my loneliness and dissatisfaction by sneaking into the pantry for treats when no one was around.
I always lived with one foot in the future
where a better, thinner version of myself was thriving.
I took the same thoughts and beliefs with me into adulthood. I lived each day believing that I would never be able to fully enjoy my life or fulfill any sort of purpose until I was smaller. I carried around a dissatisfaction within myself that sucked some of the joy out of anything happy or beautiful that happened to me. I always lived with one foot in the future where a better, thinner version of myself was thriving. I can still picture a brightly coloured cover of the Oprah magazine with the phrase “How to Live Your Best Life” boldly splashed across it. Inside there were lists and steps to follow, promising that my “best life” could be mine if I just worked hard enough for it. The article put words to a deep longing inside of me that I knew all too well – somewhere in another reality there was an ideal life that I was missing out on. If only I could live in that “best life”: if only I could try hard enough and be the most perfect, lean version of myself then I would be truly happy and the rest of my life would fall into place.
Trapped in Perfectionism
Ironically (and not lost on me), all that dissatisfaction and perfectionism kept driving me to seek release and comfort by bingeing on food (my old friend) until I felt too numb and stuffed to feel anything else. I would go to the convenience store on my lunch break, hit up the drive-through on the way home, dig through the fridge for anything sugary and off-limits late at night – always in secret and always destroying any evidence so I was never found out. For years I lived like this, having small successes with various weight-loss schemes, but inevitably putting the weight back on and then some. I felt deeply ashamed and hopelessly trapped in a self-destructive cycle. Food was my biggest enemy and my biggest comfort. I felt like I was sinking into a dark pit and every time I tried to climb out, the walls would give way and take me even deeper. My inner-critic would lash out at me, trying to shame and chastise me into conforming to the person I thought I “should” be. But it was painfully clear that no matter how many steps or checklists I had, I would never be able to “fix” myself on my own. I desperately needed to be rescued.
I had been raised in church and “accepted Jesus into my heart” as a child. I did my best to live right and play the part of a good Christian. I truly loved God and knew He offered me freedom from bondage to food – but I had NO IDEA how to walk it out or make it a reality in my life.
“But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”
Even though I knew I was free from the law of the Old Testament, I had set up new laws in my life:
- Thou shalt follow an exemplary diet
- Thou shalt exercise for at least an hour every day
- Thou shalt never take second helpings
- Thou shalt always say no to dessert
- Thou shalt drink 8 cups of water every day
- Thou shalt take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Thou shalt wash thy face religiously each morning and night
- Thou shalt always keep a ‘positive’ mindset
- Thou shalt sleep at least 8 hours every night
- Thou shalt read thy bible and pray for an hour every morning
I’m sure you can add some of your own laws to the list. I was desperately trying to conform myself to an internal list of expectations. I had set up a new religion for myself and I had left Jesus completely out of the equation. I was trying so hard to “do it” when it had in fact been “done.”
“With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.”
Stop Striving and Start Accepting
Because of Jesus, instead of redoubling my own efforts I can simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in me. I can stop striving and start accepting. I had fought against accepting myself so hard, thinking that accepting myself as I was, was synonymous with giving up. But to be honest, I was exhausted and ready to give up. I decided to do something crazy. I decided to just go ahead and accept it all. I stopped believing I could change anything about my body or my faulty eating habits on my own and handed my whole mess over to Jesus. I started to call myself free even though I didn’t feel it yet.
I began to see how beating myself up was misguided and only pushed me further into the pit. Instead, defeat and self-condemnation must be exposed to the truth. In another version, Romans 8:1 says “therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I had heard this verse so many times but for some reason I allowed condemnation from myself to be exempt. Somehow it seemed “holy” to punish myself with anger and shame when I messed up. But God showed me that hating on myself would never get me where I wanted to go – it would only hold me back, beaten up, bruised and discouraged. He showed me that even though I felt I was at the bottom of a pit, it was the most fertile place to grow and learn from because I had exhausted all other options. I had no choice but to simply embrace what He wanted to do in me. He asked me to stop striving and simply accept the normal, imperfect woman I was – He wasn’t asking for my “best” self – just my “whole” self. Living my “best life” is an attractive thought, but it’s a trap that keeps my eyes on myself and my own performance and off of Jesus, the One Who was perfect in my place.
Because Jesus loves and accepts me fully, as I am right now,
I am free to love and accept myself too.
I invite you to hand your inner list of expectations over to Him too. The next time you see yourself in the mirror and the familiar thoughts of disappointment and disgust flood your mind, silence them. You can’t listen to two things at once. Override the voices in your head by saying something out loud. You can say something like “because Jesus loves and accepts me fully, as I am right now, I am free to love and accept myself too.” Say what feels right to you, what you know you need to hear – what you’ve always longed to hear. Say it even if you don’t believe it and ask God to make it real for you. Begin to read the Bible and discover the truth about who you are in Christ – a cherished daughter that He sacrificed everything to rescue from the pit of despair. Here is a great place to start.
And even if you don’t really know God or believe in Him, the good news is He still loves you and accepts you exactly as you are. He’s all in. He’s not disappointed in you or judging you. There is absolutely nothing about you that He would change, but He wants so much more for you. He wants you to taste a freedom and a joy that you never imagined possible. All you have to say is “yes.”
The life God offers me far surpasses the “best life”
I could have ever imagined.
I have tasted that freedom. I’m becoming freer day by day. The healthy practices that I was trying to shame myself into adopting are happening naturally as the Holy Spirit transforms me from the inside out. I have thrown off bondage to food, crippling insecurity, guilt, shame, self-condemnation – and even the excess weight is coming off over time. God has shown me new paths to freedom, taught me so much about my mental and physical health, led me to a new pattern of eating and given me a future with so much hope. The life He offers me far surpasses the “best life” I could have ever imagined or accomplished for myself. It’s my hope that through this blog I can encourage you to embrace all that He offers you as well.