One time when I was little, my older brother and I measured our weights together in the bathroom. I looked at his number and at mine and thought, I am so close to catching up to him. Even at that young age, I somehow began to attach my weight to my value. That connection set me down a difficult and unhealthy road, which I have never truly shared until now. But the Bible says in James 5:16 to “confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” So here is my story, my struggles, and how God has brought about healing in my life.
From a young age, I had really unhealthy thoughts about food and eating. First, I had my set list of foods that I could eat, which was pretty much limited to kid foods like chicken nuggets, cheese pizza, and mac and cheese. As I got older, I felt deprived, and I used food to fill that void in my life. I even got to the point of stealing sweets out of our pantry because I could not ever satisfy my need to eat. Food was something I could attempt to control when other parts of my life were out of my ability to change.
By junior high, my eating habits and the fact that I hit puberty early led me to have different body proportions than the other girls. By medical standards, I was never overweight, but I definitely did not have sticks for legs or a flat chest. I began to look at a scale and beat myself up for how much I weighed. I would make changes to my diet to help me lose weight. For example, I would stop drinking sodas and lose ten pounds, but those changes never solved the problem. I would still look at myself in the mirror and note how certain jeans made my thighs look bigger. I would try to figure out if my butt was too big by taking shampoo bottles and measuring the width when I sat down. Did I ever compare it to anything? No, but somehow I felt in control by constantly monitoring how I looked.
And my bad eating habits, no longer monitored by mom, did not go away. I would have moments where I would eat sweets until I got sick. And it’s a funny conundrum too, because even though I was not satisfied, I was still ashamed of how much I ate. I got pretty good at hiding candy wrappers in the trash or knowing which foods to eat that could not be so easily noticed by others. But no matter how much I tried to hide what I ate, it would not change anything inside of me. I only saw things in terms of numbers on a scale and how I looked in a mirror. I never tried to find the actual problem.
My bad eating habits are related to a need to control and a lack of trust in God. Good food in my house disappeared quickly and often, so if you wanted your portion, you had to eat it fast. From that (and other non-food related issues), came my desire to control everything to protect myself. I did not trust God to satisfy my needs, so I would either hoard food to make sure I had enough or eat all the sweets to satisfy my own needs.
But I had to identify the problem myself before I could look for the solution. That moment came when I had a really rough weekend where I wanted some queso and we did not have any tortilla chips. I was certain that my family ate all the tortilla chips, and I never got a chance to get any out of the bag. The next day, I walked into church and suddenly started sobbing. I knew the whole situation sounded so stupid; I don’t even really like tortilla chips and we ended up finding the bag hidden in the pantry. But in that moment, I realized that I was afraid of the things I wanted would be taken away from me. I was afraid that I am so insignificant that what I wanted would not get taken into consideration. That day, Pa offered me a solution. He gave me $40 to buy whatever I wanted for my own food at the grocery store. At first, I thought he was a little crazy– $40 will buy a lot of snacks when I already eat from my parent’s groceries. But as I shopped at HEB, I got this new feeling. I felt like I had enough. I realized I would have the special food I normally would have to guard, and I did not have to protect it. No one was going to take it. It was this ginormous relief. And because that feeling of being out of control was gone, I got to enjoy every dollar’s worth of food. Every snack was eaten in its own time in moderation.
There was another moment that really helped me to understand and start to solve my control issues. It was in Sunday School with Pa, and I do not really remember how we got there, but we were talking about the extent of Pa’s love. We went through all the possibilities. When it came down to it, there was nothing I could do—not lying, stealing, or even becoming an ax murderer—that would change the fact that Pa loves me. I never understood the extent of unconditional love until I tested it. All of the sudden, I had a concrete example for God’s love. I could see that I could do all those things, and more, and that God has, is currently, and will continue to love me. And once I realized and believed I am loved, I no longer had a reason to fear and to control. I am significant to God. And is there anything else that matters?
Having the faith that God loves me and is going to take care of me is the key to resolving my control issues. I can bring so many Scriptures to mind when I think of God’s love. A powerful one is Psalms 139:14, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” When I attach my weight and how I think my body looks to my value, I deprive myself of the fact that God has made me according to His perfect plan. When I truly believe and am confident in God’s love and His role as my protector, I no longer try to protect myself or try to eat like the food is going to get taken from me. I lose the need for the food to become my healer when I am stressed or sad. Psalms 44:6-7 says “For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.” My way of protecting myself is less than nothing; it only leads to a life of complete misery and shame. God’s way, on the other hand, leads to confidence and peace and complete freedom from the methods I use to protect myself.
The next question that comes is, “what do I do when I feel afraid and out of control and insignificant?” Let’s say I am having a craving for some chocolate right before I take a test. The first thing I do is I ask myself why do I want to eat the chocolate. If it is not a meal time and the answer has nothing to do with my hunger, then I know the problem has to do with my control issues. In this case, it is most likely my feelings of being out of control regarding the test (I am not as prepared as I want to be, I have no clue what is going to be on the test, I am afraid of failing the test, etc.). Acknowledging the problem is key to resolving the craving. After I have narrowed down the problem to the big test, then I can apply the faith to the situation. I will say true statements about God out loud. I do not need to eat this chocolate because God loves me and He will help me on this test. God is in control. I do not need to worry. This can often resolve the issue. If it does not, then I start to recite Scripture, like Psalms 23, over and over again. Getting my mind off what my emotions tell me I lack and reminding myself of God’s promises is so important to stop the temptation of emotional eating.
And yes, it can get tedious to constantly stop myself from the negative thoughts about food or otherwise, but it does work. That’s because reminding myself of God’s promises and of his love pulls me back into His presence and His peace. But, for this to work, I have to truly believe that His promises and His love are true.
The last part of James 5:16 says that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” I would be so grateful if you prayed for me as I continue to choose to believe that God loving me gives me no need to control. And if you want to share your struggles, with body image, a need to control, or anything else, please do. I want to and will pray for you as well.
Written by Erin