Writing those words even now feels like a fresh wound. They were words I overheard spoken by a girl with whom I attended high school and with whom I had previously been best friends. She uttered them to a mutual friend of ours not knowing I was just a few steps away and could overhear. Only, that evening, I didn’t just overhear them. The moment those words crossed her lips I took ownership of them, put them on and wore them as my identity. The truth is, they were just one more layer to a wardrobe of self-deprecation and worthlessness I had donned for years.
From the time I was in junior high, I cannot recall ever not feeling less than, fat, unwanted and certainly not beautiful. As many teenage girls do, I compared myself to the images in the magazines and on television and quickly surmised that I did not measure up. As early as my sophomore year of high school I began skipping meals and avoiding certain “bad” foods to keep my weight under control. Despite my disordered eating, my weight remained steady and in a healthy range until my senior of high school. The summer before my senior year my parents divorced, I quit playing softball and I broke up with my boyfriend of two years. I began to spend a lot of time alone and turned to food for comfort and began to eat in secret thinking no one would notice. By the time I graduated high school I gained 20 pounds.
I met my husband my senior year of high school. Although we’d known each other since junior high, we did not begin dating until the January before we graduated. He was (and is!) an amazing, loving and encouraging man. I was completely smitten and stopped obsessing over my weight for a brief period. For our senior trip after high school, we drove from Arizona to Rhode Island so I could meet and spend time with his family. It was an incredible trip and made me realize I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. However, after weeks in the car and plenty of culinary splurges, I returned home from our vacation with an unwanted souvenir: an additional ten pounds.
I knew I needed to get healthy and lose some weight. Unsure of how to do that, I returned to my old bag of tricks. I began skipping meals and this time, to help speed things up, I began to exercise compulsively. During this dark time my restricted eating turned into a full blown eating disorder and exercise addiction. I began skipping family functions if I knew there would be food, I ditched my classes at Arizona State to stay home and workout and I would weigh myself three or four times a day. My weight plummeted to just 90 pounds on my 5’4” frame.
While many family members noticed my drastic weight loss and were concerned, my brave, sweet husband was the only one in my life who had enough courage to confront me. With his encouragement and the help of a counselor, I did make small improvements and would go through longer periods of healthy eating. However, I would eventually relapse into disordered eating and obsessive, compulsive behaviors. The biggest piece of the puzzle was still missing and, without this, I would never make a full recovery.
After the birth of our daughters, we began to attend church together for the first time in our married life. It felt like coming home and I knew this was the void I’d been trying to fill. We accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior in 2007 and it was at that point that I truly began to experience freedom and restoration. When I finally began to seek my identity in Christ, I understood that I was valuable because I was a child of God, not because of how I looked or the things I did or didn’t do. When I traded the world’s standard for beauty and value and turned to God’s word I understood that real beauty is found in my “inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” ( 1 Peter 3:4) Rather than cursing my body and focusing on my perceived physical flaws, I praised God “because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” ( Psalm 139:14)
Now, truly, everything has changed. God has given me victory and I am a “new creation...The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) As I raise my daughters, now teenagers themselves, I see our bodies as gifts to be used for God’s purpose and our health as a blessing to be stewarded. Recently we discovered my oldest daughter is gluten and lactose intolerant. Katie and Dashing Dish have been a tremendous blessing as we try out fun new recipes.
No longer a form of punishment or a mechanism for control, being healthy and active has become fun and enjoyable. Taking care of ourselves, making smart food choices and exercising are ways we honor and give glory to God by maintaining the bodies He has blessed us with to do the work He has called us to do.