I distinctly remember the day I stopped eating lunch in 7th grade. I had just gotten back my yearbook picture proof, and for the first time ever, I didn’t like what I saw there. I had entered the glorious gawky stage of adolescence. My body was starting to develop into a woman, but instead of celebrating this as a natural and necessary rite of passage, my instinct was to do everything I could to fight against it. Skinny. Slim. Small. Flat, and not an ounce of fat. That’s what “beauty” looked like in my mind, so I resolved to use my willpower to do whatever it took to look different by spring pictures. I was already active. I played basketball every day of the week, and so I decided I would start bringing my lunch with the intention of not actually eating it.
My home economics teacher actually caught onto this scheme rather quickly. “Laura K., I’ve noticed that you haven’t been eating your lunch. What’s going on?” I don’t remember exactly what I said to her, but I certainly remember how I felt. Caught. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t let go of this new found control I had discovered. I made up excuses and played it off. I kept up my plan, and wouldn’t you know it, by spring pictures I was indeed skinny, slim, and small just like I had dreamed. However, great damage had been done in the process. Over those months, I had developed an unhealthy relationship with food that labeled so much of it as “bad”, and I had settled into a pattern of eating that was either feast or famine…with nothing much in between. I was either eating nothing or everything in sight, which led to an endless cycle of shame.
That shame was amplified by my religious understanding of my body. The message (at least as I received it) was that women are supposed to be modest and not really care about their bodies. Bodies are earthly things that will pass away. We should be focused on heavenly, eternal things, so shame was heaped on top of shame. I did care about my body, but felt that I shouldn’t…so I learned to not really to listen to it. I learned to ignore the signals it was giving me about hunger and pain, about the need for rest or movement.
My entire adult life I have struggled to heal my relationship with food and my body. So often I have wanted to get back to “7th Grade Spring Picture Laura K.”, which has brought on more cycles of feast and famine. I have continued to ignore my body, regularly pushing it beyond its limits and not giving it what it has screamed at me it needed in that moment. It is a daily battle, but I am learning that healing is possible.
As a 40-year-old woman, I am just now learning how to eat a balanced meal. I am just now learning how to feed my body what it needs to thrive rather than to reach some arbitrary number on a scale. I am just now learning how to eat to have more energy, get stronger, and run longer rather than restricting to try to look a certain way the world around me has deemed “preferred”. I am re-learning how to listen to my body and to do the simplest of things—to eat when I am hungry, to stop when I am full, to rest when I am tired.
Slowly but surely, I am coming to see my body as a gift rather than a source of guilt. The more I learn about the human body and the way it all works together, the more blown away I am at by this treasure God has given us. The Bible paints a picture of God forming us from the dust in His own image and breathing the breath of life into our lungs. He knits us together in our mother’s womb, and every time a human being is born, He releases yet another masterpiece into the world. These earthly bodies, while temporary, are the very place where God’s Holy Spirit makes His home right now…today. Our bodies are not bad, nor is paying attention to them. Our bodies are one of the beautiful gifts God has given us to experience His love and grace in this life. So…what would it look like to appreciate, respect, and honor my body rather than ignoring, loathing, and constantly trying to change it?
I know I am not the only person who finds herself caught in an unhealthy relationship with food and her body, but I want freedom for all of us stuck wanting to go back to our 7th grade bodies. It is New Year’s Eve, which means we are about to be bombarded with every restrictive diet plan and “get fit fast” ploy under the sun. If I am honest, I suspect that’s why I am sharing these thoughts with the world—as an accountability of sorts to not fall victim yet again to the old familiar tactics that lure me in with grand promises but just leave me more broken on the other side. If that’s you as well, then two things I want you to know as we walk into 2023 together:
- You are not alone. That’s just one of the lies shame tells us to keep us trapped and silent. Find someone safe to share your struggle with, who can walk beside you as you move toward peace and freedom.
- You are already completely loved by your Maker, so I can with 100% certainty say this: dropping X number of pounds is not going to add to that love one bit. Care for and enjoy the body He has given you, knowing that when you honor your body, you honor Him.