A four-year-old asked me a few weeks ago if I was pregnant. I’m not.
Years ago—back when I was much thinner—just imagining a scenario where someone thought I was pregnant when I wasn’t would have crushed me. Now, not only was I not crushed, I was unfazed.
For many years, I suffered from an undiagnosed eating disorder because I believed that trying to make my body smaller was “healthy.” In truth, I didn’t just believe pursuing thinness was healthy—I believed it was godly. After all, aren’t our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit? Aren’t we supposed to glorify God with our bodies? The syncretism of American evangelical beliefs about bodies with worldly health-and-wellness culture was so complete that I didn’t even realize I was trapped by a pernicious lie.
“I am honoring God with my body,” I thought, as I ignored my rumbling stomach, ashamed that I even felt hunger. Had I no self-control?
“I am honoring God with my body,” I thought, as I painstakingly counted calories and dreaded eating with friends in an environment full of numbers I couldn’t know or control.
“I am honoring God with my body,” I thought, as I exercised unrelentingly to earn the right to eat or to punish myself for eating at all.
“I am honoring God with my body,” I thought, when my body couldn’t sustain a monthly cycle and it disappeared.
If I ate broccoli, I was morally righteous. If I ate a cookie, I had committed a grave sin. It got to the point where eating anything at all often felt morally wrong. Each day was fraught with hundreds of opportunities for self-condemnation.
Ironically, I felt disembodied.
For all the focus on my body I, ironically, felt disembodied—like a brain floating through the world. I was trying to control my body with my rational mind and my body felt like a separate entity. Me and yet not me—an object that I should be able to control and bend to my will. My mind was distracted and divided—one part aware of my immediate surroundings, one part always replaying, judging, exulting, despairing over what I had eaten or not eaten and how I had moved or not moved my body. I was exhausted.
Cyclic dieting had the effect that all the research shows that it has—with each successive effort, my size increased. Every mechanism in my body that was designed to save me from famine was triggered. My body turned all its efforts towards preparing me for the next famine of my own making, and the next, and the next. As my body grew in size, the guilt and shame followed suit. For nearly two decades, my internal monologue told me that I was failing God—and everyone could see it.
We don’t get to decide how our bodies are created to function
A few years ago, I first learned that denying my hunger cues was not, in fact, the path to health that I believed it was. I also learned that a person’s size is not a particularly useful metric for determining their health. At the time, that seemed impossible and almost offensive. How could I have been so misled? God, don’t you understand how much time, energy, and emotion I have expended trying to manipulate my body size because I wanted to glorify You? Don’t you understand that if this is true, most of the things that I thought were healthy and good are actually unhealthy and dangerous? How could I accept my now-fat body in a world that saw fatness as an unforgivable sin?
The idea that my body had internal wisdom built into its DNA was antithetical to everything I had believed to be true about what it meant to nourish and cherish your body. Trust my bodily intuition when it comes to eating? You might as well ask me to scale Everest. I couldn’t remember a time when I had made eating decisions based on internal cues.
The evidence supporting intuitive eating, as it turns out, is undeniable. We don’t get to decide how our bodies are created to function—we only get to accept it or reject it. My body had cared for me exactly as it had been created to do, and I hated it for that. I believed the lie that the true me was a disembodied brain that should be able to bend my body to its will. It turns out that the true me was an embodied soul with creaturely limits and realities designed by a good creator.
“I am honoring God with my body,” I think, as I learn to connect to the God-given wisdom he knit into the cells of my body, as I eat and move in a way that feels good in my body and leads to true wellness and overall health, as I care for myself as a whole person, as I model for my daughters what it means to honor your body while not being a slave to your physical aesthetic, as I cry out to the church to consider that there is a better, truer way to think and teach about our bodies.
Cover photo by Jennifer Burk.