The Food Dilemma by Amber Thiel
I believe it is time to put food back in its proper place. Food is not inherently good or bad. Food is not the issue. Never was and never will be. As a matter of fact, I thank God (often) for the good stuff in life like chocolate, ice cream and tortilla chips as well as figs and goat cheese, perfectly seasoned salmon, asparagus on the grill and roasted sweet potatoes with a dollop of homemade guacamole. I love that God gave us taste buds!
But as with many things in life, food has deviated from its intended purpose of nourishment, fuel and enjoyment to fulfilling purposes it was never designed for. For example in my own life, food got inserted into a lot of roles, but underneath them all were a feeble and desperate attempt for control.
- I used food to manipulate and change my body so I could be someone else.
- I used food to punish myself for bad choices and failed willpower.
- I used food to reward myself for being a “good girl” and hitting a standard of success.
- I used food to escape what was too painful to look at within myself.
- I used food to comfort what was uncomfortable about myself.
- I used food to numb the emptiness that disappointments and losses had left inside of me.
- I used food to avoid deep, intimate and vulnerable relationships.
I controlled food to make up for the lack of control I felt in every other area of my life. I believed it was the gateway to perfection – perfect body, perfect life and perfect marriage. I used it as a shield. Through controlling my food (and exercise), I believed I could achieve a body and toughness that rejection and the “not good enoughness” that had plagued me my whole life couldn’t permeate. Food (and often alcohol) had always been my go-to if I got too close to something that didn’t feel comfortable. Can you relate?
Where we place our trust, is where we worship. I trusted that the gateway to what I desired was through achieving the perfect body or at least damn near close. Most of my thoughts and actions focused on my looks, my weight, my clothes, whether or not my thighs were rubbing together, how my stomach was folding over my jeans, how I looked in the mirror when I was naked, how I looked compared to my friends or that girl on the treadmill over there, how men were looking at me, etc. Me, me, me.
- I believed the perfect body was the gateway to success and acceptance.
- I believed how I looked was my ticket to love.
- I believed perfection was my full-proof plan against rejection.
- I believed if I wasn’t thin and put together, people would realize something really was wrong with me.
- I believed someone could only love me (and not leave me) if I looked a certain way.
- I believed I could only love me when I looked a certain way.
I lived in this chaos and craziness for years. Only now, as I sit in freedom do I realize just how all consuming, destructive, exhausting and hopeless that place was. It’s why I do what I do now – walk with other women who are ready to leave the darkness and walk into the light. We were created for freedom, so anything less in any area of my life is unacceptable.
I want to be clear on this next point. There is nothing inherently wrong with desiring to have a healthy body. God created our earthly bodies and just like every gift He gives us, it is good. I believe we have a responsibility to be good stewards of the gifts we have been given. The key is knowing that the giver is more important than the gift. It is also important to note that the giver gives us everything we need to enjoy, care for and share the gift!
Ladies, we need a revelation in redefining love. I believe that many women who struggle with body image struggle to love themselves unconditionally – I did. There is a lie that weaves its way into our lives that says that we have to do more (perform and please) and be more (perfect and conform) to receive acceptance and validation from others and the world. The lie tells us that we are broken – we are not enough and not worthy of love as we are. The lie fuels a fear that if we aren’t more, different or enough then we will be alone, so we start the journey of hating ourselves and commit to striving, controlling, obsessing and manipulating to avoid those fears.
I had certain standards I felt I needed to achieve to love myself. I didn’t feel right or entitled to love an imperfect version of myself because if I did then I had a fear that I would just “settle” and never achieve my idea of perfection. And well, that just wasn’t acceptable so I set out for a destination that I eventually discovered doesn’t exist. I was never going to arrive at a place to love my superficial exterior if I didn’t deal with the unseen parts of me that I resented, hated and felt shameful about. I couldn’t use hate to drive results. I needed love to release transformation.
When God met me at the bottom of my murky pit of self-destruction – exhausted and desperate, He showed me who I really was – through His eyes. He showed me that his love was not contingent on what I had done or what my body looked like, he loved all of me because he created ALL of me. I actually felt like the parts of me that were most broken and ugly were the pieces he loved and tended to the most, because it was in those places he has done and continues to do the greatest work in me.
This is not a fast process. I didn’t instantly love myself. I began to notice that the love I had been looking for (in all the wrong places) was perhaps not a sustainable love. Love from the world has many standards and contingencies. I had to go to a different source. God is love. And as I began to read the bible in search of a different definition of love and a different path to acceptance, peace and control, I found God’s promises and his crazy good, passionate and grace-filled love. If I am deserving enough for a love like this, from God, how could I not explore more of what it would be like to love myself and others this way? It felt right. For the first time, something felt right. For the first time, there was a sense of hope.
But here’s what happens when you start a journey to love yourself. What was once very easy to do to yourself, becomes more difficult to stomach (no pun intended). I could no longer try to use hate or discontent towards my body or self to fuel my attempts to change my body. I was loved EXACTLY how I was – even if the world would label me flawed, imperfect and a hot mess. So what do you do with that? I struggled with how to motivate myself if I wasn’t fueled by comparison, judgement and a need to control.
This is when my journey went from “I’m going to control, manipulate and punish you (my body) so I can make you into something worthy and loveable” to “I’m going to love you, nourish you and listen to you because you are worthy and loved – my God says so”. Believing our bodies are good feels different, but right and it fuels different choices.
Let’s take exercise for example. Exercise was once a way to punish myself for what I ate the earlier in the day or the day before. It was a tool of control, punishment and manipulation. Even when I was enjoying the sweat and the burn, those underlying motives were always there. But when you come from a place of respect, acceptance, gratitude and love for the life you have been given, exercise is a form of worship. I can say that over the last twelve years, I have seen this slowly evolve within me. God has filled me with the most amazing sense of joy and peace when I workout. Hear me. The very place that was so broken and twisted and a tool of control and punishment, has become the very altar I worship my Creator and the gift he has given me. Whoa. Only God.
My pattern was to not eat much throughout the day (to save calories) and function hopped up on coffee and diet sodas to make it through. This was my test of self-control that I would pride myself on during the day. Then at night, the bingeing would start and it wouldn’t end until I was so uncomfortable and disgusted with myself that I would purge and go to bed. These evening escapades were when I came to terms with just how out of control I really was. It didn’t matter how much willpower I had exerted throughout the day, my day ended with raping my insides and then reminding myself of just how pathetic and weak I really was. At the height of my struggle, I was doing this daily, if not multiple times a day. It was a living hell.
But when you come from love, there is a nurture and a care that enters in. It made sense to eat breakfast and consume real, fresh, whole foods. It felt right to spend a little time preparing to take care of myself throughout the day instead of telling myself, “I don’t have time.” Don’t have time for what? To fuel the vehicle that I am going to drive around in all day? Nonsense! It felt comforting to not live in the discomfort of hunger and obsession. It also felt completely terrifying to let go and let God.
It also became more difficult to eat the sleeve of cookies or box of crackers because underneath the behavior was something deeper and it wasn’t love. I wasn’t doing it because I was hungry (well, initially I might have been hungry) or because I wanted to nourish my body, it was something more. The food was a shield. I didn’t want to tend to my pain, my fears and my discomfort – so I redirected my thoughts and energy to something outside of myself. I detached from me. I think part of it was I didn’t know what to do with what was under the food – what if it consumed me? I didn’t want to feel or appear weak because that just left me vulnerable to rejection, criticism and judgement. I didn’t want to look at the parts of me that I felt were unlovable so I hid the real me behind my quest to create a worldly version of myself that was loveable and acceptable.
What a deception.
I now know the pathway to strength, love and acceptance is to face these hidden places not avoid them. I now know that the only way to experience love is to show up as the real you and love her hard.
Same thing with alcohol. Alcohol was a means by which I would absolutely check-out and numb my feelings of being lonely, out-of-control and inadequate in the world. It was also what I felt I needed to do to “show up” in social situations and be who I thought I needed to be for people to like me and accept me. But as I continued to walk with Jesus and seek comfort through Him, these behaviors no longer had a purpose. When you find out who you are, you can take off the masks, stop acting and start living!
If you address the deep stuff ladies and get the right remedy, you find the old ways no longer work and are no longer needed.
So the problem is not that we eat the ice cream, the problem is partnering with the lie that the ice cream has a power or ability to do something about the big gaping hold inside of us. The problem is believing the lie that our body is a measure of our worth and inherent value and that every bite we take is evidence that we are fat, unlovable and not good enough.
These thoughts then fuel the temptation to give more glory to the world’s standards of beauty and success than God’s standards. Then we find ourselves sliding down the slippery slope of trying to use control and fear taught to us by the world versus the love and trust we are hardwired for. When we lead with control and fear, we will be more committed to results than the transformation we desire.
Without proper alignment of the truth of who we are, we are vulnerable to spending the precious breath and life we have been given obsessively pursuing that which fades and dies. We are not here on this earth walk for the purpose of manipulating and controlling our lives or our bodies so we can be something in the eyes of others or ourselves. And at the same time, we are not here to make our body perfect so we can “do more for the Lord.” I believe this life is about becoming. Becoming more and more of who we have always been before the world told us we needed to be something different.
It would be a privilege to journey with you toward the freedom and fulfillment THAT IS POSSIBLE—FOR YOU!!