Disordered Eating: Failure, Faith, Grace, & Balance

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food…?”

Matthew 6:25, ESV

The verse above is something I’ve meditated on and prayed to be true for me for a long time. My relationship with food has always been one of complexity. I love it, I hate it, I want it, I need it, I enjoy it, I reject it. I’ve used food as comfort, as punishment, as a reward, as a mechanism for connection and community, as a means of celebration, as fuel for my body, and as a source of my worth. Some of these things are normal and healthy and absolutely good, and some of them are terrible things that God never designed food to be. Alas, this has been my journey.  

For some reason, as a child, food always felt like a scarcity, or good food, anyway. I grew up with a working single mom who always made sure there was food on the table for my sister and I, but often times we ate meals that consisted of pinto beans, instant ramen noodles, TV dinners, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Rich, luxurious, or even healthy foods weren’t always affordable or accessible, so we made due with what we had. I didn’t realize that our diets were less than ideal, but what I did know is that this lifestyle made me REALLY enjoy and appreciate what I thought was “good” food, so when I had access to it, I indulged until my little body could indulge no more. At restaurants, I ate every bit of the yummy and special food on my plate, and at buffets, I was known in my family for being able to down plates and plates of food even as a young child. When I visited the homes of my friends, I remember struggling not to eat their entire cabinet of fun snacks that we never seemed to have at my house simply because they weren’t a necessity. At school, I would ask every classmate who seemed to have leftovers at lunch or snack time if I could have their excess, and this sometimes got me in a little bit of trouble. As a teenager, when I began taking babysitting jobs and my employers would tell me to “make myself at home” in their pantries and fridges, I always took full advantage. All this to say I had a wonky relationship with food that probably stemmed from the way I was raised. Again, my mama never, ever let us go hungry, we just didn’t always have a lot of fun variety in our meals.  

Fastforward to college when I had to take more responsibility for my eating habits, I really struggled with cravings and healthy food boundaries, especially when it came to social outings and the all-you-can-eat dining halls on my university’s campus. I also took a health course my freshman year that required me to track my eating and calorie intake for several weeks, and I remember this overwhelming feeling of failure and defeat when I realized just how much and how poorly I was eating. As someone who also struggled with body image (check out my previous post, “Shunning Shame: Finding Balance in Healthy Exercise” if you haven’t already), I really battled with how my eating was contributing to the way I looked in the mirror. I would cycle between serious restriction and binging and major guilt as a result. My freshman year I struggled to figure out how to eat healthily when I had every food option imaginable at my fingertips in the dining hall, including every variety of cereal under the sun and an entire case of fresh cookies at every meal. I successfully avoided the dreaded “freshman 15”, but the summer after my freshman year, something within me snapped. After seeing some photos of myself where I felt particularly embarrassed about my figure, I basically stopped eating except when others were around and it would look suspicious if I abstained. In the span of only a few weeks, I got down to my lowest weight as an adult, losing about 15 pounds. I wasn’t noticeably “too thin” or unhealthy looking, necessarily, and in fact got lots of positive feedback about my “new look”, but I became overly prideful and obsessive about my weight loss. Unfortunately, the human body isn’t designed to sustain this kind of eating, or not eating, so eventually, I was just so HUNGRY that I couldn’t resist any more and I flew to the opposite end of the spectrum. Suddenly, I was eating EVERYTHING in sight and doing it until I was sick. I would eat thousands of calories a day, binging on whatever sounded good or was available, including entire boxes of graham crackers and loaves of bread and tubs of cookie dough. I went to bed every night absolutely miserable because I was so full and so guilty because of what I had done. Every morning I woke up promising myself that I would do better that day, but unfortunately, I never really did. In two months, I had gained back all the weight that I had lost plus and additional 15 pounds. In one summer, I had gone from my lowest weight as an adult to my highest. None of my clothes fit, my skin was stretching, it was difficult for me to exercise, and I of course felt terrible about myself. When I returned to campus that fall, I even had a friend pull me aside and ask me if everything was okay because I had gained so much weight so quickly.  

I spent the next three years of college and beyond continuing to struggle with my relationship with food and trying to find a healthy balance in my eating. Eventually, after a lot of hard work, I lost the weight I had gained that summer and got back down to a healthier place. It was still difficult for me to resist certain kinds of foods sometimes, and when I became stressed or overwhelmed, my balanced eating was usually the first area of my life to slip. Through a lot of prayer, discipline, and accountability from loving friends and family, including my husband, I finally seemed to conquer my seriously unhealthy eating habits. Today, I’m able to embrace a more balanced view of eating and food than I think I ever have before. I still struggle with cravings, with eating healthfully, with temptations to restrict, but I have encouragers and coping skills that help me avoid the extremes of those issues. Today, I’m better at viewing food as fuel for my body that is good and necessary, of giving myself grace when I relax my eating habits a bit, of allowing myself to enjoy food as a means of connection and fellowship with others even if that food is pizza and brownies. I’m also able to say that one cookie is enough, that a good salad is its own kind of treat, and that one day of unbalanced eating doesn’t mean that the next one has to be unbalanced also. Just like almost everything in life, food and eating require discipline, grace, and balance.

This has been an area of my life in which God has really had to deliver me from my demons, because after years of trying to conquer it myself, it was clear that I was never going to defeat it in my own power. I had to fail time and time again before I could understand that I would have to lean on the Lord’s strength for power over my disordered eating, and that my eating habits, no matter their state of balance, do not define my self-worth. It has been a long and hard battle, and one that I still fight every now and again, but something the Lord has really used to teach and prune and refine me, as well as help me appreciate the amazing community He’s placed around me to help me push back against this struggle when it creeps up on me. It’s a failure that is honestly still a little fresh in a lot of ways, but that God has absolutely used to show me His immense power and endless grace.  

If you struggle with disordered eating or a damaging relationship with food, please don’t struggle through that alone. Reach out to someone you love and trust for prayer, encouragement, and accountability. Your health, mental, spiritual, and physical, is so important, and eating is an integral part of how we manage those areas of our lives. God is BIGGER than this struggle, and your self-worth is far beyond what you do or don’t put into your body. If I can be praying for you through your personal battle, please don’t hesitate to let me know.  

Thanks for allowing me to be vulnerable and transparent with you all about something difficult and personal, friends. It has been such a privilege to share my heart, and my bumbles, with you all over these past weeks, and I’m looking forward to the journey that’s ahead.  

Here’s to beautiful bumbles this week, I’ll talk to you soon.  

Lovingly Yours,  

Melisa 

2 thoughts on “Disordered Eating: Failure, Faith, Grace, & Balance

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