I have been constantly either gaining weight or dieting since I was a teenager. I tried several different diets over the years. Most were quite healthy, but I do admit to a few ridiculous ones. Do any of you remember the Sweet Tooth Diet where you could have a lollipop every day and seven scoops of ice cream for dinner on Sundays? Or the Three Day Diet where you ate whatever you wanted four days a week and ate almost nothing the other three? I lost weight on all of these diets and gained it all back plus more. Sometimes it seemed the weight didn’t stay off five minutes!
My First Place journey began way back in 1995 when my church hosted one session. I had some success, losing about 15 pounds, and after the birth of our sixth child, I used some of what I had learned in First Place to continue losing on my own. About 20 years ago, I reached a healthy weight, but again the weight piled back on. The problem was that I was sticking to those diets by sheer self-effort (white knuckling). It seemed that the effort of sticking to a diet kept me from enjoying any other aspect of my life.
My path back to First Place started with a death in my family. My Dad died in September 2015, leaving me a small inheritance that made me ask myself, “What do I really want?” I realized money couldn’t buy what I really wanted—to lose weight and keep it off. I was online researching for some kind of Fat Camp or Spa. I considered a program at Duke University Hospital where you attend full time for weeks on end, but I wanted something with Christian teaching. That search led me back to First Place 4 Health. There was no group meeting in my area, so I ordered some First Place resources and signed up for the Restore: Emotional Health and Wellness Weekend in Pittsburgh.
I was very nervous about attending the retreat because I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was anxious about the long drive by myself to an unfamiliar city. I didn’t know a soul there. I am not an introspective person, and come from a long line of folks who deny emotions and sweep any conflict under the rug. So the thought of purposefully going to an event about emotions was scary. It turned out to be an amazing weekend! I felt warmly welcomed from the moment I stepped through the door. It was wonderful to be surrounded by women who understood my painful journey through decades of dieting and obesity. The time away from my responsibilities at home, and the teaching and self-assessment assignments helped me take an honest look at my emotional history with food. I began to understand myself a bit better. Best of all, the worship and prayer times strengthened my faith and renewed my awareness of just how much God loves even me. It was a wonderful start to this wellness journey.
Gari Meacham, one of the speakers at the retreat and author of Truly Fed, Finding Freedom from Disordered Eating. Working through this book after the retreat helped me continue the work of shedding God’s light of truth on my relationship with food and my eating habits. I had been blind to just how twisted my thoughts and behaviors were about food. I used to make light of my food issues saying “I know I’m overweight; I just enjoy eating more than I enjoy exercise.” But I came to understand that my issues were about more than just consuming a few too many calories a day. I was trying to use food in ways God never intended—entertainment, companionship, comfort and even worship. It was a way to reward myself because “I deserve a break today.” In the video Emotions and Eating, Cindy Schirle reminds us of the scene in the musical Oliver where he sings “Food, glorious food!” That was me! I thought about food all the time!
I often woke up looking forward to what I could eat that day, and went to sleep at night planning what I could eat the next day. I ate the healthy meals I fixed for the family, but also too much food when no one was watching. I often picked up fast food when I was out running errands; I was careful to throw away the wrappers before I came home. I kept stashes of candy hidden at home to eat in private. I was able to hide the wrappers, but I certainly couldn’t hide the pounds piling on or hide from the guilt.
After the retreat I joined an online group. It has been a joy to meet each week with ladies from around the country and even one from Australia. The Bible studies have taught me life-changing biblical truth and helped me apply it to my daily life. The accountability of turning in my weight and Tracker each week has helped me stay disciplined. I appreciate how the frequent goal-setting assignments have helped me make small, manageable changes that add up to big lifestyle changes.
You may be asking yourself why I am sharing my story as a success story when I just keep gaining back the weight I lose. I have hope this time that I have truly changed because I am no longer “white knuckling” it. I pray that someone can learn from my mistakes. I now recognize three things: First, I more fully understand that I have an enemy who delights in my failure and would love to see me stuck again in food struggles with no new spiritual growth. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). I know that God is greater than he is. Second, I didn’t acknowledge back then that I had let food become an idol. Now I understand that if there is anything other than God I think I need to be happy, it has become an idol. Ephesians 4:22- 24 says You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Finally, I was trying to lose the weight by my own strength, without surrendering control to God or having the support of a group. It is God’s power that allows us to change. 2 Peter 1:3 says that His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness. I am now convinced that I need the support and encouragement of a group to continue on this path to wellness. Hebrews 3:13 says, But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
I have always been a food-focused person. I really enjoy food! I like to cook, experiment with recipes, try food from other cultures, grow my own fruits and vegetables, and even forage for wild food in the woods. God isn’t asking me to give up any of that! I can still enjoy food! But He is asking me to keep my focus on Him and to keep food in its proper place. It is fuel that He, in His goodness and generosity, created to be delicious with a wonderful variety of tastes, textures and colors. It is not to be an object of worship, my friend or even my enemy.
One of the assignments Gari Meacham gave us at the Restore retreat was to write a Vision Prayer. It was to be a prayer of courage and faith, a prayer of hope in a big God, a prayer that excitedly looked toward the fruit and that was gutsy, tenacious, and expectant. Here is the prayer I wrote that weekend:
Lord, I am convinced that with You I can have victory in my food struggles. I am convinced that with Your help I will have a new physical body in 18 months. AND that today is the first day of this new chapter in my life – free from the power of food. Lord, I am open to your touch to change me – Bend me! Amen
I am so thankful for the way God is answering that prayer and look forward with hope to Him continuing His work in my soul, my mind, my heart and my body for the rest of my days.