My one-year-old investigates the world with a pair of sparkling, joyful eyes. She pulls spices off the rack, books off the shelf, and hair off the dog. But her favorite thing in life is her belly. She often lifts her shirt so she can see it, always pushing her palms into it and grinning, as if saying, “I can’t believe this is mine!” She scrambles away from me while I try to dress her, reveling in the feel of her own skin. She loves her body. And she also loves food. Her first (made-up) word was “baba,” with which she referenced all food – bottles, baby food, the food on our plates. Not long after she started using “baba,” she also designed a way to tell us she wanted more: she pointed at “it” and clapped.
This must be the way God designed it for all of us – to love our bodies and the food we fill them with. Our bodies jump, twirl, sprint, chase, hug, and explore. What’s not to love? And why would food be any different? In Genesis 1, God lavishly offers Adam and Eve “every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for food” (v. 29, NLT). Surely he meant for us to relish it. Everything God has created is good (1 Timothy 4:4), which includes food and our bodies. My job was simply to reorient myself from body-hate and food-anxiety to pure love and compassion.
- I came to terms with slow progress. As I gradually implemented changes in my lifestyle, I truly owned who I was becoming. I was compassionate with myself and never demanded more than I could conceivably do. For example, it was hard to cut ties with soda. I know some people can drink it and still lose weight, but those people are not me. For two or three weeks, avoiding soda was my only goal. But eventually it became second nature and allowed me to move on to building another victory. The slower the progress, the less likely you are to give up all your hard work for a momentary buzz.
- I celebrated all success. Celebration empowers: it draws attention to your triumphs and gives you an answer for the mean uglies that sneer, “Overweight is who you are, honey. Give it a rest.” So, I winked and smiled at myself in the mirror on days I liked what I saw. I celebrated with a little kitchen-dance each time my hand passed the Pringles and in favor of the strawberries. When you stop mistreating yourself, you discover that celebration is your birthright and victory is your destiny.
- I asked myself “Is that true?” My counselor’s favorite question as we processed my relationship with food was, “Is that true?” I told him, for example, that I simply couldn’t stop myself from overeating. I knew it because I’d tried and failed so often. I also told him that no matter what I did, it would be impossible for me to lose weight, due to genetics and PCOS. But whenever I made such statements, he would ask, “Is that true?” I was often forced to say, “No, I guess not.” The Bible tells us to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and I quickly learned most of my thoughts needed to become POWs.
- I didn’t wait for the strength to make the right decision. If I had, I never would’ve put a single new habit into action. Instead, I tentatively, haltingly, started making changes. I didn’t know if I could go to a restaurant and make a healthy choice. The first several times, I didn’t: I was waiting on some supernatural erasure of my desire to binge, I suppose. It never came. What I found, however, is that when I made the right choice, the strength to keep doing it followed. When I started fighting, I always received the grace to keep fighting.
- I discovered my weaknesses and attacked them. I always thought I was overweight because I really liked the taste of food. And I do, but so does everyone else. Instead, I was overweight primarily because I love convenience and comfort. It was easy to drive through at a fast food restaurant. It was easy to get lunch out. It was comforting to buy warm food “because it’s so cold today” or junk food “because I had a bad day” or ice cream “because today was awesome” or an appetizer and dessert “because it’s the weekend.” Nothing is inherently wrong with that, but you can’t lose weight if you make “exceptions” every day. I went with my own flow of convenience and comfort by preparing in advance: I always had the ingredients for healthy pizza on hand, I experimented with protein shakes until I had some concoctions that supported my weight loss efforts and were also sinfully delicious, and I made lots of portable snacks to grab when leaving the house.
- I stopped sacrificing joy on the altar of happiness. The problem with donuts is that they make you happy. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t eat them. But that happiness lasts exactly as long as the donut is in your hand and sometimes even less. Joy – the knowledge that you’re closer to Jesus as a result of your struggle, the ability to make healthy decisions, the feeling of slipping into a sleek outfit – doesn’t go away. And you never regret the actions you took to cultivate it (unlike the donut). Joy does not result from deprivation. Joy does not result from shame and self-loathing. But it will bloom when you treat yourself compassionately, with the same love and awe you have for any little sweethearts you may have in your life. Joy comes from knowing you are cared for, so you must care for yourself.
Of course, even if you learn to love your body and the process, weight loss is not easy. It is sacrifice, it is frustration, and sometimes it is unsuccessful. But here is the beautiful part: in the battle, you find Great Love. As hard as it was to drop 102 pounds – in all that white-knuckling, teeth-gritting, cookie-avoiding journey – I ended up finding joy, loads of it, pouring over the edges of my soul. I was no longer a slave to substance abuse as I learned how to approach the substance itself. Jesus fought for me, and alongside me, and I became free.