Fifth grade was when it happened. Ten or eleven years old. One sentence changed everything. A hurtful one. One that I really wish I could un-hear.
That sentence marked me as other, made me believe in my little heart that there was something unlovely and unlovable about me.
And that thing was my body. My own physical self.
And even though I’ve experienced a ton of healing and improvement in the way I see myself and the way I believe that others see me, it is still a daily battle in my mind that I have to walk through. It’s hard to share because so much of our world is surrounded by food. I mean, we were created to eat. We need food for fuel. We need food to survive. But my desire for food was so shamed at an early age that now it’s hard to even have a healthy perspective. Food tends to have two attachments for me: good food and bad food. The good food, healthy food, is something to pride myself in. Look how healthy I eat. Look how much control I have. And the bad food is that food we tend to eat and then get wrecked with shame over after the fact. This is food I feel like I need to have an excuse and explanation for to give to others as to why I am eating it. I can’t believe I ate that, I shouldn’t have even eaten one doughnut and I just ate four, I feel terrible, I’m so embarrassed you saw that, etc. And the truthful thing is that you likely don’t even care what I’m eating, you probably don’t even notice, but I have. Because sometimes others’ love for me feels conditional on the food that I eat. I eat good, therefore I am good, and others are proud of me. Others love me now. I ate bad, and now I am unworthy, because that was a bad thing I did. And now I have to fix myself, and make myself lovable again. This is known as Shame. And Shame is the worst.
This shame wrecked so much of my adolescence. I spent so much of my time doing one of two things that people tend to do when shame is tied to food. I binged. I hid food, literally shoving handfuls of food into my pockets or into my mouth as fast as I could and then trying to sneak up the stairs so my family wouldn’t see, so I wouldn’t have to hear the questions that haunt me and wounded me deep; “Are you really that hungry?” “Put that down, you can’t possibly be hungry again,” “Do you really want to eat that?” Then, due to the overwhelming shame I was feeling, I would restrict. Never purging because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, but immediately grabbing a pen and pencil and writing down my promises to try harder tomorrow. Less calories, more exercise, restrict, restrict, restrict.
This cycle went on for about ten years, peaking in high school. I got down to the smallest I had been since I started weighing.
I have some pictures to show you, just to give you an idea into my thought world.
This was the day I got down to 125 lbs. The smallest I got. I wasn’t eating very much, exercising more than ever, and I was pretty darn proud of it. I still remember it vividly. Climbing on the scale, seeing the number, and relief flooding to my eyes. That was a huge accomplishment for my heart. I did it. I got to where I wanted to be.
These pictures break my heart because looking at them not, it’s alarming to see that I thought I was fat, or even looked different from my friends. But you know what I’m doing in those pictures? Hiding. Literally, I was so uncomfortable in my own skin. That arm placement and the fact that I’m the only one whose body is not showing was incredibly intentional. I hid the parts of me that had been called unlovable. I did not want to be seen.
And as I write all this out (I have stories and pictures that could fill an entire novel), it’s taking everything in me to stay in my seat and not run right out of Wild Love as I bawl my eyes out, because this is so hard for me to write. I pride myself of being vulnerable, but this, this is vulnerable for me. This is one of those things hidden deep in the closet of my heart. It’s locked up. I don’t want people to see. Because it’s hard to be so full of love for others and then turn and fill yourself with hate for the flaws that stare right back at you. I was the Christian girl who did everything right. I loved the Lord and other people, but most of the time was absolutely filled with hatred for myself. I just wanted to be different, and I would try anything to get to that place. I’ve spent most of my life letting this shame wreck me, ruin things for me. I’ve wasted so much time punishing myself, countless hours and dollars trying to diet, exercise, restrict myself to fit into the body type that I deemed worthy.
It reminds me of John 10:10. Jesus says it best that, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they might have life and life to the full.”
This really does all come in waves for me, I will experience months of freedom, where I am able to eat healthy (or not so healthy) with no shame attached. I get into a swing of exercise that actually feels good. I’m able to rest. But the second I make it about me, the minute I take my eyes off the Father, and these old familiar feelings creep back in.
And can you guess why they’re flaring up more these past few months than they have in a while? Anybody else hearing the wedding bells? Admit it or not, there’s so much attached to the way you look on your wedding day. The “LGN diet” (Look Good Naked), the bridal boot camps, you get my point. And unfortunately, I’ve fallen into that, way more than I thought I would. Before I got engaged, I was in a place where I would say, “I’m just working on being loved” instead of feeling the need to try so hard, but I let myself start playing the body-shaming game again. I let others’ opinions and ideas fracture the solid foundation that I was deeply loved. “Oh, you have time [to lose those extra pounds]” “Oh, you look fine, don’t worry about it” (also not helpful). I started restricting. And it worked. I felt better and looked better that I had in a while. And again, I took my eyes of Jesus, started taking my body into my owns, proving my worth by doing what I could do.
But the Lord is so gracious to me, and last week as I was walking to class, I heard this subtle voice in my heart whisper: Why am I so adamant about making myself smaller? Why am I so convinced that I will be more loved when I take up less space? Those questions just stopped my in my tracks. Because I didn’t see what my actions were communicating before that moment. That’s the crazy thing about eating disorders; you can whittle yourself into nothing. And it doesn’t just cut away pounds or inches, but all of your thought-life, all of your energy, your personality, and your joy. I’ve let myself be convinced. And most of the time, we can’t see it because we’ve let our minds get warped into believing an incredible lie.
I don’t share all of this so you can pity me, or call my mother or sit me down and talk to me about how you are worried. I don’t share this to stand as a martyr or camp in either of the camps of eat extremely healthy or bust, or just love your curves and eat whatever you want. I really don’t know what’s right. I want to eat healthy because it really does help me feel better, but I also want to be at peace and be kind to my body even when it doesn’t look “ideal.” I really just want to be free, want us all to be free from the body shaming cycle, and to be thankful that God has given us a good body to carry us through this life. Your body works? You are blessed. It’s time to stop trying to punish yourself so adamantly.
I share this because I want to scream that God is GRACIOUS and His love is quick to meet us in our darkest corners. We really do not have to bend to body shaming, because His love covers every ounce of sin. And He is gracious to walk with us the whole way home, through every triumph, every setback, every moment of fear.
This is my brave thing today, probably the bravest thing I’ve done in a while. I’m praying it would speak to you, praying that God would start to open up your heart to talk with Him about the hurts that you carry, the lies you believe about yourself. Hope is coming again and again for you, God’s beloved and my dear friend. His love for you will not run out, no matter what you weigh.
“Though the earth may try, to satisfy my heart
Though the earth may try, to tell me you’re not faithful
Though the earth may try, to blind me from your goodness
You shine through
You’re the only one who
Fills me up”
-“You’re the Only One by Chris Renzema
If this subject is something that speaks to your heart, or if you are a woman who just is longing for community and vulnerability (not just with eating/body image, but anything!) my incredible roommate Peggy and several others are starting a woman’s ministry that will meet at our house once a month. The first meeting is coming up soon, so click here to learn more about it! It’s going to be a sweet time of sharing and hope for one another. See you there! You can also read Peggy’s story here. She is such a woman of hope. We’ve struggled through similar stories with body image, food, etc. and I can’t tell you of the hope she has brought me just by opening up her heart and listening to me too.