Stepping Toward Recovery: Part One

Confession:

I wrote my blog post about my struggle with food addition last Sunday evening. I read over it once, scheduled it, and then went to bed. On Monday morning I decided to save the post as a draft instead so that I change some of the wording and also add in a paragraph about how I had been struggling with binge eating as I wrote. That was my plan…but apparently I didn’t actually change the status of the post from “scheduled” to “draft” even though I thought it did. I was very busy last week, so I decided to leave the post as it was and add the details here. Especially the bit about overeating while writing about overeating! Fighting sin is hard, and I think the more actively you fight it, the harder it seems.

maxresdefaultLast week I wrote about my addiction to food and how isolating that felt. Since then I’ve heard from a lot of people who also struggle. That makes me wonder if maybe the reason I felt so alone was because I didn’t talk about it. Thank you for the kind e-mails, text messages, and Facebook comments. It was very encouraging.

Today I want to start talking about the steps that have brought me to this place of owning my sins, both of being addicted to food and in finding worth in my physical appearance. In 2012 I went on a very strict diet to help me with acid reflux. I lost a lot of weight, at one point dipping below what was healthy for my body type. I balanced out to 130. Even though I missed some of the fullness of my previous figure, I was very happy with my new trim figure. I felt empowered in my size 6 pants (a huge accomplishment for someone who wore size 12-14 most of my teenage and adult life). I felt beautiful. I felt worthy. For a time, one idol in my life was satisfied.

Everything was fine until the holiday season of 2013 when I was allowed to eat more regularly. I had gone so long without eating “normal” foods, that I binged my heart out. My idol of food was tired of being dormant and demanded worship. I’ve gained almost all the weight back since then.

In 2014 I started freaking out about all the weight gain. I tried some starvation and extreme exercising to lose the weight I had gained, but in my battle between the god of the figure and the god of food, food has always won. I knew something had to be done, or I was going to end up reaching what I weighed back in 2011!

My mother gave me a book called “The Weight of Grace” by Paula Neall Coleman. I had trouble getting through this book for several reasons: one, I didn’t want to do the hard work of understanding why I was controlled by food and conformity to a specific figure; two, I didn’t really want to give either idol up; three, I didn’t like her perspective on gluttony.

She believes gluttony isn’t a sin. In my case, I know that my pattern of overeating is sinful. I’m sinning because I am believing the lie that food is what satisfies the longings of my heart. I am sinning because I am not glorifying God in whatever I eat, or drink or do. I am sinning because I am more concerned about worshiping my body and my stomach then I am concerned about worshiping God.

On the other hand, Mrs. Coleman’s perspective of gluttony had a refreshing aspect as well: rejecting the label. She talked a lot about how Christians aren’t “gluttons”. Christians are saints. Rejecting the identity of your sin helps overthrow some of its power. She compared it to smokers who have to give up the “smoker” label as apart of their recovery. Even though I disagree with her understanding of gluttony, I have tried to embrace that truth of identifying ourselves in Christ, not in our sins. Last week I said I am a food addict, but it would be truer to say “I am a saint, sanctified, redeemed, loved by Christ, and I struggle with food addiction.” It doesn’t deny the sin, but it takes away some part of the control.

I got about halfway through the book before I gave up. I may try to go through it again, now that I am more willing to fight this issue. Here is the concept that helped me realize there was a deeper issue going on in my struggle.

The Desire to Stay Overweight

In her book, Mrs. Coleman talks about how sometimes women who are overweight want to stay overweight. She gave example after example of women- most of whom had been abused- who found safety, comfort, and peace in being overweight. They wanted to lose weight, but they also didn’t. Being overweight served them in some way and they couldn’t give that up.

At first I didn’t think that related to me at all. I greatly desired to lose weight! I had to get back to my 135 goal (I soon gave up ever reaching 130 again) or I would hate myself forever.  But I soon started seeing a pattern. I would lose three to five pounds, be excited, gain it back, be angry, and repeat. I realized that there was a part of me that would sabotage losing weight.

One reason was that it was a way for me to distract myself. I struggle with a lot of shame and I deal with that by making my shame about my weight. Being able to have a perpetual “weight problem” kept me from having to deal with the real shame of the wounds and sins that I carry. Instead of focusing on heart issues and finding freedom in Christ I could focus on trying a new diet and new weight loss program.

Another reason was punishing myself. If I was angry with something I did, or failed to do, or even for losing control and binge eating, sometimes I would purposely seek to gain weight as a way to discipline myself and make it more unlikely that I would ever reach my goal. I struggled with self-contempt and it manifested itself in my eating. I hated that I had gained the weight that I had lost, but instead of turning to Christ for liberty and worth I would actively seek to deepen my contempt.

Which brings me to the last reason I would sabotage my weight loss: control. It gave me a very twisted feeling of being in control. It was far from true, but I felt as though I could control my weight. I could decide whether I was going to loss weight by starving myself (which I sometimes did), or by over eating. For a while I was able to keep my weight controlled within an acceptable range: high enough to be very angry with myself, but not so high that I was unhealthy.

It’s all very twisted reasoning, but I think they point to the fact that I didn’t want to believe that I was accepted in Christ. I tenaciously grasped for a way to control my own worth. I wanted to be able to determine whether I was doing well or not instead of resting in Christ’s perfect righteousness. Since I had idols of both a fine figure and fine food it made sense (at the time) to seek measure myself against the scale.

Realizing my struggle with self-contempt and control through the “Weight of Grace” was a huge first step in moving towards recovery. It exposed my shame, my resistance to grace, and my rebellion against my dependence on God for everything, including my significance. I still struggle with being afraid of actually reaching my goal weight. I find comfort being able to be upset about something that’s not the core problem. It’s a very convenient distraction from the real issues in my life. It gives me a sense of control. Thankfully, I can say that the struggle has lessened as I’ve grown in accepting that Jesus defines me not my weight.

I still would like to lose the weight that I’ve gained through overeating. But I am moving towards a place where I can work on being healthier, stronger, and more while accepting that Jesus may not ever give me the body I so desire. I’d love to think that as I mature, I can be the ideal 135 pounds without worshiping my body, but I think I can say that I would rather be a little pudgy and have that pudge move me towards Jesus than to look like a supermodel and find worth in my body.

I am working on being obedient to God’s command to not be enslaved to anything, and that means fighting food addiction, which in an ideal world would mean weight loss, but I’m striving to leave that up to Jesus, trusting in His love more than I trust in my scale.

That’s what I got out of “Weight of Grace”. It’s a good book that asks very deep questions and seeks to expose the psychological, emotional and spiritual reasons behind overeating. It emphasizes freedom, a relationship with Christ, and relying on the Holy Spirit to aid you. I recommend it, which means I really should finish going through it sometime….

Next week, I’ll talk about step two of recovery: joining Celebrate Recovery. Thanks for letting me share.

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