Vulnerability time: in this post I'm opening up about some stories that have been a part of my everyday thoughts for far too long. I’m not really sure where to begin writing this blog. This is a massive topic, and really who am I to write about it when I’m still struggling with it, but I’m going to write about it anyway because I don’t think it can wait. I’ve struggled with body image issues and my relationship with food basically my whole life. For as long as I can remember, I have defined myself as “fat.”
When I was in middle school I was terrified to change in the locker room for gym class for fear that the other girls would see my fat body. In seventh grade, a guy in my class said, "Julia you should really do something about your double chin. If you take your hand and quickly tap under your chin every day, you'll eventually make it go away." No joke, I was so embarrassed and desperate to change my body that I've been tapping my chin since then (l as I write this I'm thinking maybe I should have googled that a long time ago hahaha).
When I went to high school I ran track and gained a lot of muscle (and with it a few pounds) which only made me think I was more fat because I was only getting bigger. My track coach called me “Pillsbury-dough-girl,” because I was never able to lose the fat that sat on top of all of my muscle no matter how much I worked out. Days would pass after these comments where I was very strict about what I put into my body, making sure that I added it into my food diary on my phone and counting the calories before consuming to see if I had enough left for the day. Eventually, I wouldn't be able to keep up this strict limit or someone would do something to upset me and I would gorge myself on whatever food I could find.
When I got to college I stopped working out as frequently because I didn’t have practice every day and of course I gained weight. When I finally saw my family over thanksgiving break the first comment I heard was, "My Julia, they must be feeding you pretty good over there at Virginia Tech." I was so ashamed of myself, I dreaded seeing my family after that. Also in that year, I had a “friend” that would always make comments about my body verses hers (all the while knowing the depths of my body image issues). She would say things like,
“Let's go to my house.”
“I don’t have clothes to change for later, but I’ll just borrow some of your clothes if that’s fine?”
“I mean you can borrow a shirt, but there’s no way you’d fit into my jeans.”
“Thank you so much for these earrings! I love them!”
“Yeah I tried them on, but decided they’d look better on someone with chubby ears.”
Of course, these comments only added to the poor mental image I had of myself, except this time, I looked back on the photos of high school me. I wished to be her. I wished to be that “thin” again. I wished to be something other than what I was. Anything other than what I was.
This isn’t a post so much about body image (but don’t worry, that’s cooking), but rather my relationship with food.
When I look back on all these tiny encounters, I realize that what I did when I was hurting—when someone made me feel ugly or unloved, was turn to food. (Yes, for some of you reading this, that probably sounds ridiculous, because you might say “well food was what made you fat, why would you turn to it and eat more,” but that’s just what happened, okay? Think about how an alcoholic turns to alcohol when someone gets mad at them for drinking or someone experiencing abuse goes back to the abuser when their friends get mad at them for going back the last time.) I turned to food to comfort me. I felt happy when I was eating. I ran to food to satisfy myself. It consumed my mind, I was always thinking about what I was going to eat next and how long I’d have to wait until I could eat it. Food became my god. Instead of hungering for the One who was able to satisfy all of my needs, I hungered for the earthy metaphor He used to explain who He was.
Over the past few months God has been speaking to me about health and really challenging the way I see food as I read through the Old Testament.
Those of you who know me, know my undying love for Mexican food LOL. I could literally eat it for every meal and not get tired of it, but in all seriousness—I think God has been convicting me about Mexican food.
Gluttony is not taken seriously in modern Christianity. When’s the last time you heard a sermon on gluttony? What about greed or love? I’m willing to bet that you’ve never heard a full sermon on gluttony, while we hear sermons on greed and love almost monthly. Gluttony is greed in the context of food or drink, it’s putting our love of food in front of our love for God. When we think of gluttony we don’t picture that girl who is sitting on her couch with a tub of ice cream the night after her boyfriend broke up with her. We picture a morbidly obese person who has plates on plates of food in front of them and can barely stand, much less walk. But I think we’re missing something. Jesus says in Matthew 5:38 that a man who looks at a woman and lusts after her (basically undressing her in his mind) has already committed adultery. So what does that tell us? That sin is not only what we act on, but what we allow to happen in our minds. The same is true for the way we think about food— do we get upset and immediately look for a piece of chocolate cake or a tub of ice cream to drown our sorrows OR do we run to the feet of Jesus and ask Him to hold us tight? We, at least myself and all the girls in the movies, go for the ice cream. We give food the role of “comforter.”
So, when did this inability to deny ourselves food begin?
I think if we look deeper into the Original Sin of Eve, we actually see that there were roots of gluttony her actions.
"Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’” “No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."
It would be easy to see that one of the things that caused Eve to commit the original sin was the desire for knowledge, but that’s not the whole story. It says, “then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at.” We depict this “fruit” as an apple (idk about you, but not super tempting to me), but what if we pictured it as a tub of ice cream or a bowl of chips and queso? Maybe then we can start to understand that this temptation towards food that Eve didn’t need (she had the rest of the garden) was actually her being tempted into gluttony. She chose to satisfy a craving for a good looking piece of fruit over her relationship with God.
I don’t want to come across as though I’m shaming people (like me) who enjoy a good piece of chocolate cake, a bowl (or tub) of ice cream, or even chips and queso. I just say this to say that I think we’ve somehow forgotten that gluttony is sin. As a church, we’ve dove into being careful not to “fat shame,” which is 100% a direction we should go in, but we threw the baby out with the bath water and forgot that God calls us to have a healthy relationship with food—one that is below our relationship with Him.
Lastly, I just want to say that it doesn’t matter if you are 90 pounds or 350 pounds, you ARE NOT fat. You HAVE fat, just like almost everyone else in the world does, except maybe Olympic athletes, but that is NOT your identity. We have to be careful which identity we decide to take up. Whether you struggle with gluttony or anorexia, God desires that you know your true identity is A DAUGHTER OF THE MOST HIGH KING.
I can’t tell you that as I write this that I don’t wish I were thinner or am not thinking about what my next meal will be, but I’m working to put into practice what I know. Isn’t that the hard part? We learn something and it makes perfect sense, but then when it comes time to put it into practice, we can’t seem to do it. Let’s pursue this together. I shared the stories from my past because I think there's a lot of talk about how these types of encounters can lead to anorexia or bulimia, but there's not so much talk about how it can push someone to overeat or use food as their coping mechanism. Somehow the media has portrayed some eating disorders as glamorous and almost a thing girls should aim to have, while portraying others as disgusting and shameful. If you're on the side that's portayed as shameful like me, know you're not alone.
If you’ve been through any this or are going through it now, would you leave a comment below? How have you developed a healthy relationship with food? You don’t even have to use your name! Make a fake name like at Starbucks. It’s fine.
God so desires for us to be so so hungry. Hungry for Him.