I was sixteen when my mom decided to put me and my sisters on a “diet.” She had struggled with her weight when she was a teenager, and wanted to spare her girls. None of us were overweight – but we weren’t “thin” by America’s standards. Mom went by a Weight Watchers diet guide. Years later we would realize it was a diet for women aged 60+, and not growing, thriving teenagers.
I am a perfectionist and a rule follower so I was determined to be successful at this weight loss thing. Up to that point, I had not really cared how I looked. As the weight slowly started to drop off, I became more preoccupied with how much I ate, and how much I exercised. And I learned how to go hungry. I would lie in bed during the night, unable to sleep because I was so hungry. I learned to eat the cores of my apples and pears, just get a few more bites. I even ate cantaloupe peels one time.
I managed to keep the weight off through high school. Then my college years began. I moved into a dormitory, which was quite the culture shock for this sheltered Christian girl. I was scared, and felt out of control — so I controlled the one area of my life I knew I could — food and exercise. I ran every day, rain or shine. Miles around the stadium, finishing with wind sprints. When stress fractures finally stopped the running, I swam, every day. And I counted calories. I was probably eating 300 calories a day.
I had to move home at the end of my freshman year. I weighed 88 lbs. I was miserable at school so the worst part was not moving home. It was facing the disapproval and anger of my parents. They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t eat, or stop exercising. And I couldn’t tell them, because I didn’t know.
I started several long years of therapy, and battling my mind. I knew God called me to treat my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and I knew my focus on my appearance wasn’t honoring to Him. However, knowing those things did not change my irrational fear of gaining weight. I learned eating disorders are addictions, and addictions take on a life of their own.
In my late 20s, I finally decided I’d had enough of going hungry. Allowing my body to gain weight was extremely hard. I hated how I looked, and loathed the weight. I was eating the proper amount but I still had an anorexic’s mindset: I was disgusted with my body and fixated on my appearance. I still believed thinness meant happiness.
I had always been an exercise addict, mostly to control the weight. I didn’t know if I liked exercise. Then I discovered the sports of cycling and triathlon. For the first time, I was around people who looked at food as fuel. Looking back, I can see how God used fellow athletes, my coach, and my sports nutritionist to slowly free me from the grips of the eating disorder. I came to appreciate what my body could do and to value food as fuel for training.
Freedom from an addiction is often a long, hard process. At least, it was for me. It makes me sad to think back over the decade I spent struggling to make it through each day. At the same time, I am grateful for my Savior’s intervention in my life, and that He never gave up on me, even when I was angry at Him for not taking away the eating disorder. If I could change things I would – but I also know that God has promised to work all things together for good. I am looking forward to seeing how He uses that period in my life for His glory.
*Note: The name is a pseudonym.