I spent much of my teenage years and early adulthood battling an eating disorder. Not eating and later purging when I felt like I’d eaten a “bad” food made me feel powerful. Sometimes I even thought I was happy, but it was a fleeting happiness that hinged on how “good” I was about not eating and what number happened to show up on the scale the 10, 15 times I weighed myself daily. What I hadn’t yet discovered was that my disordered eating and unhealthy body image weren’t about me not liking my body. I didn’t like myself.
I hit my rock bottom in college. I stopped menstruating. I was depressed. One morning I woke up – throat raw from vomiting, feeling exhausted and scared. I was tired of smiling and pretending everything was fine while living an empty, rote life that was whittled down to how many calories I’d eaten and how much I weighed.
So I sought help. I worked for over two years to overcome my clinical eating disorder first at my university’s multidisciplinary treatment center and then with a therapist.
Again, I thought I was better. And in many ways I was. But, first off, any struggle that has to do with food is very, very difficult to overcome. Imagine telling an alcoholic they can have three drinks a day but they just can’t get drunk. Essentially, that’s what many of us have to do with food. We can’t take the all or nothing approach. We have to learn to approach food with temperance and a healthy spirit of self-control. That’s not easy.
However, I no longer was starving myself or making myself throw up or taking laxatives. I exercised to focus on health not a slimmer physique. And, in many ways, I was physically cured, but I still wasn’t healed. A priest that’s a family friend of ours shared with us once that there’s a difference between being cured and healed. Being cured is sometimes the easier part, but healing takes place on a deeper spiritual level. It takes place in your soul. Jesus came to HEAL – not necessarily cure the sick. So yeah, I was cured, but I still wasn’t healed because I hadn’t fully turned myself over to the Great Physician. I still felt the need to constantly be tweaking myself. The body barbs of my past haunted me. If it wasn’t my appearance, it was something else I was afraid of being rejected.
I know now – because hindsight really is 20-20 – that the problem was none of my healing and recovery or my plans to get better involved God. Because I wanted to come up with a way to be healed that didn’t require me to trust anyone else – not even my real Savior. I may have not been controlling my weight any longer – at least not in radically unhealthy ways – but I still was trying to control my world because I thought that if I had total jurisdiction over everything that happened to me, I would not be so vulnerable. I could inoculate myself against angst.
What years of turning the scale into the ultimate barometer of my self-worth really taught me is that the fantasy of losing weight was far more alluring than the reality of it. Suffering isn’t just for overweight people. It’s not just for average or thin people either. It’s for people period.
It also taught me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me for wanting to feel beautiful. When I blossomed into a young woman, I felt shame at first for my beauty. Then when I was deemed “physically” recovered from my eating disorder, I was tempted to relegate anything related to beauty – makeup, wanting to wear pretty clothes, even wanting to be at a health weight – as vanity.
It’s taken a lot of prayer to help me to see that women are meant to portray God’s design for beauty. If we are truly made in His image and likeness, then we are visible reminders of the invisible God. A God who is Love itself, and Love is indeed beautiful.
A draft of this post may have popped up in your inbox if you subscribe via email or in your reader, but it was a glitch. This is the real thing. Sorry about that!
A beautiful, ambitious friend of mine started an amazing online ministry called SHINE Girls that encourages women to savor the Word and to be radiant with the love of Christ. Her site includes a Bible reading plan, prayer requests, scripture reflections, and also highlights women from all walks of life who share personal stories of love, loss, redemption, hope, and faith. She invited me to share a SHINE post for this week.
Regular readers know bits and pieces of my past. So does anyone who has read Weightless: Making Peace With Your Body. However, I gave a sneak peek into my soul again over at SHINE Girls and as always, I’m praying that some of my words might have been Spirit-led and will touch someone out there.
Here’s an excerpt of what I shared: