When I was in college, I heard a rumor that the cute girls who worked in the cafeteria would take all the leftover slices of pie from the food line and eat as much as they could hold; then, they would force themselves to vomit. I was so jealous. I tried, yes, but my body refused. So the pie I ate was turned into nutrients, and the excess into the fat that enveloped my body.
Dieting is hard; ignoring hunger signals is hard; and refusing to eat what I really want to eat is hard. I have done it, over and over, in order to make my body into a shape that is pleasing to those around me, and so to myself.
When I look at my wedding pictures, I see a lovely young woman in a lovely shape. Yet I was ashamed of my appearance, of my excess flesh. Soon after my wedding, I discovered a diet combined with a Bible study. The author asked how I could say that God was the Lord of my life when it was crystal-clear that He was not the Lord of my food intake. I was shamed even more, and I embarked on a journey of hunger, exercise, and calorie-counting.
I lost the weight I wanted to lose. I was pleased, so pleased, with what I saw in the mirror and with the comments of admiration I received from those who saw the difference. Not one person mentioned that God must now be the Lord of my appetite, and I didn’t think too much of it either, other than being pleased with my newfound discipline.
A few months later, a friend off-handedly mentioned to me that she thought I had gotten pregnant just so I could eat. I was hungry all the time, so I ate. And ate. After I gave birth, I found that dieting while breastfeeding was another level of difficulty, but I demanded it of myself.
I started my next serious diet in order to save my marriage. It was not enough that I had produced two healthy babies from my rounded body. I knew I was not enough, or rather too much, to keep my unfaithful husband satisfied with my shape, and so with me.
My doctor offered me an extreme diet. I ate no food for six weeks, drinking meal replacement shakes that totaled 600 calories a day. All day I thought about food. I prepared my family’s food and tried not to watch them eat it. My hair fell out, and my resting pulse dropped below 50. I didn’t care. I was thin again. I had tried to control my husband’s affections by controlling my food intake. It didn’t work.
I know they exist, but I don’t know a woman who does not want to lose weight. Even my thin friends reminisce about their wedding dresses or their high school cheerleading uniforms. If only. They may not be actively dieting, but the shame is still strong. They watch themselves in store windows, and they wonder what those behind them are thinking as they stand to worship God.
It’s not a surprise that a common joke involves a woman asking her husband, “Does this dress make my butt look big?”
My last diet, a few years ago, was more difficult. It seems my body held the memory of starvation and rebelled. But I prevailed, and I got noticeable results. Instead of feeling proud and accomplished, though, I was uneasy. When my friends raved about how “good” I looked, I knew that, implicitly, they were saying I had looked “bad” before. Somehow that made me resentful. Was I not good enough? Is there a gauge for good-looking on my scale?
Friends began asking my advice, confessing their dietary sins. One explained to me, “I was good until lunch today, and then…” Good? Are we “good” when we are hungry and “naughty” when we eat what we crave? Are we children? It was time for me to grow up.
I have questioned all my preconceived ideas about eating, about weight, about worth. I am churning with discontent about the time I have wasted obsessing, planning, counting, distracting.
I have begun looking at my body, this body that has been the object of my contempt, and I have woken to her strength. She has carried me through so much, bore and fed my lovely children, recovered from illnesses and surgeries, allowed me to work hard, rest well, be strong. And yes, all this through the abuse I have inflicted on her by starving and hating her. This is my shame–not my eating, not my fat, but my disregard for my body’s health for the sake of my appearance.
Lovely friends, let us treasure the gifts of food and the strong vehicle God has provided for us to love others and to do His work. It may be hard to look in the mirror and love what you see. Can you make a friend out of an innocent enemy? Can you look at your body and thank her for her faithfulness? Can you start there?
This Red Tent woman has requested to remain anonymous. We applaud her courage to risk sharing this part of her story with our community, it is our privilege to honor and protect her identity.