Last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I’ve blogged a little about my own battle with disordered eating here. Today, I’ve invited Jessica Otto to share her story and some encouragement for battling eating disorders. Here’s her letter to those who struggle with food.
You are so much more than your body. I am sorry that the world keeps telling you differently.
I am sorry that the world keeps saying, “Yeah, yeah. Nice brain. Good work ethic. Great personality. But you shouldn’t be wearing those pants. And you need to drop a few.”
The world keeps telling you you’re not enough. . .but you are.
The world keeps telling you you’re too much. . .but you aren’t.
The world has lied to us for approximately centuries too long, and it’s time to shut it up. The thing is, we all know the facts, the data. We know, intellectually, that the .002% of the population that actually looks like supermodels? Doesn’t actually look like supermodels. We know all the “secrets” of crash, no-carb, no-sugar, no-fat diets and airbrushing. But still we keep chasing the uncatchable perfect body.
Please, Lord, don’t let us throw away any more of our precious few hours worrying about this thing. We’ve already squandered enough days that way.
We waste our bodies away. We waste our fiery, imaginative, and creative brains, passions, and hours counting the wrong things. Counting the calories in and out, in and out, day after day, instead of counting the moments with friends, the waves on the beach, the songs to be sung, the poems to be written and journeys to be taken. We count the numbers on the scale and let those numbers decide for us how much of a success or a failure we are that day, how much we are worth.
My Eating Disorder Story
A few years back, I struggled mightily with an eating disorder and became ridiculously, unhealthily skinny.
And the compliments flowed in. How “great” I looked! How “tiny” I was! I considered the comments about my low weight to be signs of my significance, instead of grasping the fact that I already WAS significant, and that my value was never, ever based upon how much or how little space I took up. I didn’t understand that my worth was based upon the fact that God had given me a particular space to take up on this earth, that he had given me this life and this place. I forgot that by always longing to lose, lose, lose, I missed so many lovely things I could have gained.
But then, slowly, I began to learn the real value of food. . . how God designed it to heal and fill. How it is essential to organs and energy and brainpower and life. How it is neither a monster to be weirdly feared and yet irresistibly attracted to all at once. How hunger and emptiness are not intended as signs to be shoved aside and ignored but are, instead, more reminders of how good and right our bodies are in their design and efficiency.
I started to rest in the knowledge that life has a rhythm. It is an ancient drumbeat of days. There are the days meant to give thanks for butter-infused turkey, its skin crackling with hot flavor as it pairs perfectly with the soft, warm potatoes on our plates. There are the days meant to sink one’s teeth into the firm lushness of a real, fresh tomato. And, there are days of indulgence and there are days of abstaining and going for a long walk instead, the clouds and the butterflies we observe bringing the color our palates respond to.
We may wrestle with this demon for a long while. I used to think that it was mostly my own particular weirdness to misplace my body’s value in such an unhealthy fashion but, the more beautiful, wise women I am lucky enough to have conversations with, the more I realize that, truly, there are very few of us who don’t hurt and fret and long for more freedom, less worry in this place.
My Encouragement for You . . .
So here’s what I want to sit down at a coffee shop table across from you, sweet friend, and say:
Eat. Eat enough. There’s no prize given for “Who Eats the Least Amount Today.” Eating less doesn’t make you a better person. Eating more doesn’t make you worse. Eating less doesn’t give you bragging rights. Eating more doesn’t give you shame. Practicing the art of enough and not too much is just that: A practice. Some days you need a lot. Some days you need a little. Trust your body’s divinely-given cues. Give it a little bit of credit instead of despising it and beating it (and your soul) down.
Eat, and in the process, discover the fascinating, perfectly-engineered system of the way your body works. When you want the pasta, when you want the cake, when you want the bread? Have it. Relish it. Savor it. Roll in it! Don’t ruin it all by beating yourself up for that enjoyment or by using body- and soul-destroying words aloud OR IN YOUR HEAD to tell yourself you blew it. You didn’t. You lived. You ate. The end.
Eat and explore God’s life-giving, health-improving chemistry of plants and protein and every kind of morsel without chasing every new super food trend that comes your way, without obsessing over what mystical elixir of life you may be missing out on. Eat to nourish. Eat to be strong and sure and to accomplish all of the things that your life requires of you, the things you long to do and be.
Eat to experience the beauty of communion around a kitchen table or a picnic table or a road-trip-table with the people you love. Eat to share with each other: Not just the infusion of colors and the infinite combinations of tastes and the intimately curling, wafting aromas of the food but to soak in the moments and the laughter and the love.
Eating this way is a practice, and we can (and should) remind ourselves often of that. Practice, not perfection. There are times our imagination wants to eat when our body really doesn’t need it. That’s when we may need to have a little come-to-Jesus-meeting with ourselves about the fact that the food is just that: food.
Food Has Limits
It won’t make us better or smarter or REALLY happier in the end. It’s just a mish-mash of carbs and protein and fat. It’s just a thing: It can’t be our friend or our warm blanket. We can try to make it that, but it will always let us down. It can’t control us unless we give it permission to.
Let’s all be 20 and 43 and 68 and 84 year old women who have better pursuits to spend our few, sweet minutes and days and years on than worry and fear about our little or medium or whatever-sized shells of bodies. Yes, we need them. Yes, we must care for them. But only so they can carry us on to better things. Stronger things. Life-giving things. Only so we can be the women we are called to be. And at last we can rest. We can let go. We can be free.
Jessica Otto is a teacher, a blogger, and a homeschool mom of three. She enjoys residing in a county with no traffic lights and can most often be found sitting on her porch with a book and a strong cup of coffee, or daydreaming about Paris, or wiping the kitchen counters for the eleventy-billionth time that day. Follow her blog here.