In a lavender journal with bears holding on to pink balloons, my 9 year-old self wrote to God, asking for His help to eat better so I wouldn’t be fat anymore. In journal after journal as I grew in age and size, my prayers about my weight were always the same. Help me eat better. Help me lose weight. Help me not to be fat.
There were very few healthy habits taught to me growing up on how to nourish and strengthen my body. My mom would eat Lucky Charms and instead, I had to pour myself a bowl of Wheaties. She packed my lunch with carrot sticks, string cheese and fruit so I would have a lighter lunch at school, but I would end up trashing my healthy lunch and using my allowance to buy a slice of pizza and a sticky bun instead.
Perhaps she was trying to teach me about healthy choices, but it felt more like punishment and restriction because it came with little communication or encouragement about my overall health. What felt true then, was that I had to follow a different set of rules because I was fat. It felt more important to look a certain way than it was to make healthy choices and to take care of my body. By the time I was a teenager I concluded that my appearance was more valuable than my heart.
As an adult, my disordered eating escalated into overeating and binging. Some of the lowest, darkest times in my life were spent sitting in my car with two or three meals from a fast food restaurant, inhaling chicken strips and fries like air, only to go inside for another meal.
For a long time, I ate like I did because I was hurting. I would eat until the pain I felt in my stomach was stronger than whatever emotional pain I was trying to push down.
And I ate because I felt pleasure in it – food felt like the only good and happy thing I had in my life, especially as a young adult. I read in a book once where the author explained that people who struggled with food with the intensity that I did, believe that food is their only real pleasure. Food becomes more pleasurable than intimacy, relationships, activities or hobbies.
Getting sick the way that I was earlier this year was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. For the months I couldn’t eat solid food, the time I spent in the hospital and recovering at home, undergoing major surgery, not able to care for my family, and not able to get outside and live my life, I realized all of the pleasures I was missing out on. Because the real pleasure is living: Dancing in a rain shower, water gun fights in the back yard, going for a walk, cuddling on a cold, cozy night, looking for lightening bugs in summertime, having sex with your hot husband, the satisfaction that comes from cleaning your house, sitting in the sunshine, laughing with your friends, and taking your kids on adventures to new places.
Or, paying $6 for a ride on a large stuffed animal in the mall with your sister-in-law and having the best time ever.
Pleasure is often found in the moments we live and laugh and don’t care that others are watching us be ridiculous, because we are alive and it feels really, really good to be living.
It took a major illness and a very costly experience for me to get to this new place, but I couldn’t be more grateful for all of it. By God’s grace as I move forward in health and wholeness, I hope I can encourage my children to make healthy choices and be a good example of self care for my body in a way that is inviting and encouraging and even fun.
Sometimes I feel a little like the blind leading the blind as I communicate healthy habits to my boys. In those moments, I am not just talking to them. I am talking to my six year-old self too, teaching her how to take care of her body without shaming her physical appearance or even her desire to eat certain things.
“Have some water instead. Water is the best thing to drink when we are thirsty.”
“Finish the meat and vegetables on your plate first – those are the foods our bodies need the most.”
“Come take a walk with me – exercise is so good for our bodies!”
“It’s my job as your mommy to teach you how to take care of your body. I want you to stay strong and healthy!”
I will always have to be mindful about what I put into my body. I know I will always struggle here – with what goes on in my head when I step on the scale, when I look in the mirror, and every single day of my life that I’m faced with a choice about how to nourish and care for my body. And I will always need God’s grace, strength and mercy in this place. Thankfully, He is always faithful to show up with those very things.
Deeply rooted in South Texas, Jennifer Stamness is a sunshine-lover, wife and mother to two young boys. She enjoys creating beauty in places like writing, music, decorating and throwing parties. She desires to follow Jesus into the unknown places He invites her to and is thankful for His abundant and amazing grace. Jennifer writes, dreams and shares pieces of her story here.