When I was eleven years old, I went on my first diet. I don’t even remember what it was exactly, but I do remember feeling the need to cut back on my eating. The discovery of a seven-day diet plan had opened my eyes to society’s standards of beauty and body size, and my prepubescent self was sucked into its lies.
Was I overweight? No. But for the first time, I was made aware that there was a “right” body size to have and that I could control it with food. And as someone with a perfectionist personality, this was like pouring gas on the fire to be better… to be right… to be perfect. Because anything less than perfect was unacceptable in my mind.
As I grew up, food and body image remained an area of bondage for me. I hated the way my body looked and was always trying to change it. In junior high, I struggled with cycles of restriction that would often leading to overeating later. And once I reached high school, the desire to draw the attention of the opposite sex drove me to limit my eating even more. I remember reading food labels and limiting fat grams. Sometimes the only thing I would eat during a school day was an apple and a diet soda. I was an athlete that was involved in sports year around, but that was not enough for me. The negative thoughts about my body drove me to also get up early before school and sweat to Jane Fonda videos to burn more calories.
As I headed into college, I was introduced to the all-you-can-eat buffet in student dining and quickly put on the dreaded “freshmen fifteen”. I found ways to work it off that following summer by restricting my intake and overexercising again.
As I obtained my degree in nutrition, got married, and had babies, I continued to try different fad diets that would result in minimal weight loss. Looking back, all of that restricting didn’t really change my body that much. The effort I put into controlling my weight was much more than the results I got from it. The stress of counting calories and daily weighing took a toll on me. It kept me in a state of constant striving, but it never improved my body image.
In fact, it made it worse. It kept my body in the forefront of my mind, continuously reminding me of my imperfections and causing me to want to try harder.
So how did I stop dieting?
I think there were multiple factors that played a role, but I can pin point a shift in my thought processes when I learned about Intuitive Eating. For the first time, eating and food and weight made sense to me. There wasn’t a magic formula that I needed to discover to control my body using external forces. I needed to learn to rely on my internal cues as a guide for eating and accept my body as it was. It was life changing.
I also came to the realization that looks and weight and body size aren’t that important. And because I’m a Christian, I wanted nothing more than to keep my mind focused on kingdom matters and not meaningless things like a number on a scale. Life became more important than my body. Others became more important than myself. Time became more precious to me. God had changed my heart and my priorities.
So, I don’t know if my story will resonate with any of you. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But having worked with countless women who share a similar story, I know that many of you are stuck in this place. I want you to know that you are not alone. I’ve been there. It is possible to find freedom from food and body image struggles.
I have put together a body image toolkit to help you get started. You can purchase it here. Or if you need someone to talk to about your food and/or body image issues, I’d love to visit with you. You can contact me about a free consultation here.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Thank you for writing this article. I feel my struggle with eating and body image has been very similar. I wish I would have known this sooner. I still have moments when I don’t like what I see in the mirror and feel the need to control what I eat. I need to stop and remind myself of how God views me and how critical I am. How I view myself can be a model to others. Having two daughters of my own I hope to instill these good thoughts your describing in them so each listen to their body, love their body for how God made them, and trust in God most importantly.
Darcie – Thank you for honest response. I think as long as we are on this earth, we will always struggle with body image in some way. But the goal is to not let it control or consume us. The fact that you see how it has affected you, and that you are now choosing to be intentional about how you raise your daughters to see their bodies will be a huge blessing in their lives. I’ll be praying for you.