The unexpected answer for my eating disorder

SELF | 9 mins

Death to all diets, please.

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You can wrap “diet” up in a newer, trendier word of the moment, but it’s still a diet and diets suck. If what you are doing is working for you and not causing you to pick yourself apart while you persevere in good health, then great! No judgment. But for myself and those like me, that’s not the case.

I have tried almost everything to lose weight, and they all led to the same thing over and over and over again: temporary success. I’d see awesome short-term results and then long-term dread and disappointment. Yay, no carbs.

My struggles with food began when I was the new kid in third grade. It was a new city, a new school, and the new experience of being the only black student in the entire school. That was a lot of newness for my shy, introverted self to handle. I had no idea how to process it all. The place I felt most safe was at home with my family, so when I was away from them, I folded into a shell of myself, hoping that no one noticed me. But I stood out for obvious reasons.

I often felt like I was on display. It started an inner dialogue of self-critique that convinced me I was less than because I felt so different than everyone else around me. I only felt at peace when I could make myself feel comfortable, and the biggest source of immediate comfort was food. At that time in my life, I wasn’t paying much attention to the extra pounds creeping up on me. Until, of course, that day in math class happened, and it changed everything.

The lesson we were being taught was about mean, median, and mode. The teacher began to explain the “creative” way she wanted us to participate to help us understand these mathematical concepts. Her brilliant idea was to have each student step onto a scale, look at the number, call it out, and then write it on the board for the whole class to see. What!? Now, I actually loved this teacher, but in that moment, not so much.

I remember standing in line, looking at the numbers go up on the board. At first, I felt fine, but as I inched my way closer to the scale, I began looking back and forth at the board, then at the other girls standing beside me. As each number went up on the board, I noticed how similar they looked. Although I didn’t feel like I was that much bigger than them, I knew I probably had a few more pounds on me than their smaller frames.

It was my turn. I stepped onto the scale. All I remember is seeing the first number of my recorded weight stand out as the only nine in a sea of sixes and sevens. I was mortified. As I headed back to my desk, I felt completely exposed and on display, again. I felt like I was walking through the thickest cloud of snickering and staring and couldn’t get back to my seat fast enough.

That was the first time I felt fat. It was the first time I believed that there was something wrong with the way I looked, something wrong with me. And I would spend the next 30 years trying to fix it.

What began as innocent desperation—jamming at home to Richard Simmons VHS tapes—gradually shifted to more extreme behavior. Binging and purging, restricting myself to the most minimal amount of calories (if any at all), popping multiple diet pills daily, and exercising for hours grew to be normal. This spiraled completely out of control, but no one knew it because it looked like I just dropped the extra “baby fat.” In fact, during the fall of my sophomore year in high school, I was bombarded with compliments about my thinner and more toned frame. People thought I had just gotten healthy over summer break. In reality, my body was deteriorating on the inside.

There was such a struggle going on in my mind. What I saw in the mirror did not match all of the effort I thought I was putting forth to decrease my size. I still had curves where I wanted straighter lines. And because I was told “black girls don’t have eating disorders,” I just felt completely confused and worked even harder to conform to an image that my body was never meant to find. In fact, one day my friend told me, “My mom thinks you look sick.” I took that as the highest compliment because someone finally noticed how hard I was working. Crazy, I know, but these thoughts were very normal to me.

By the end of high school, I was exhausted. But the “Freshman 15” was awaiting my college arrival. I swung the pendulum far to the other side and started binging without purging. It became my way of self-soothing.

This back and forth process of extreme restriction and overindulgence has been the most unwanted shadow in my life. And no matter how hard I have tried to beat this thing, it seemed like it just would not go away.

I cannot explain how frustrating this has been, but I can tell you that at some point, I found some strength and began to fight back. But my fight doesn’t look like me beating my chest and charging after all the mess that comes along with this disorder.

I heard God talk to me during one of my favorite shows, “Friday Night Lights.” During a moment when the team is having a rough game, Coach Taylor looks at one of his players, grabs his shoulder and says, “Hey, do me a favor. Just do your best.”

I think I threw something at the TV, yelled, and busted out in tears because I felt like Coach Taylor was Jesus speaking those words to me. They were simple but powerful words that I needed to hear at that moment. Just do your best.

I think that’s a message more of us need to hear. When you have lived in the land of extremes for so long, doing your best feels like the settling of that pendulum swing coming to a place of rest.

I’ll spare you a list of to-dos and tips on what “doing your best” might mean. I know hearing advice is one of the most frustrating things for people who struggle in this area. Anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder knows pretty much everything there is about what to do and what not do. Knowing enough information is not our issue.

But I will share some insights and moments that have helped me along the way.

In the book, “Full: Food, Jesus and the Battle for Satisfaction”, the author states:

We can’t solve a spiritual problem with a physical solution.

I absolutely believe that healthy eating plans, counseling, and trainers add so much value to the healing process, and I have needed them in my healing journey. But, for most of my life, I spent time seeking answers in those things alone, when I needed to seek Jesus first. Why? Because there are some strong forces hell-bent on getting me to believe the absolute worst about myself so that I would be distracted from some powerful and healing truths. I believe the same is true for you.

Whatever you believe or don’t believe about God, you are more precious, valued, and beautiful than you can imagine. The attacks on your mind to cause you to believe otherwise are not by accident. There is a target on our backs. It’s not there because we are worthless, but because we are so highly valued. An eating disorder just happened to be a weapon of choice for me. But there are more powerful weapons that we can access to fight back. For me, some of those weapons are prayer, healthy community, and time with Jesus.

If you’ve never experienced any of that, I doubt you believe me, but they actually work. But I challenge you to try it anyway. What have you got to lose? If you don’t know anyone to help you connect to God’s power on this instead of relying on your own willpower, send a chat or call our Community Care team below.

Friends who prayed and rallied around me gave me a safe and non-judgemental space to process the resurgence of old habits. Being in community with other women on the same journey, led by a trainer who shared a similar struggle, fought for me by using the word of God as the foundation of my fitness pursuits. Spending time with Jesus allowed me to hear the truth about my identity and the fierceness of His love for me. Once I let that fully sink in, it started shifting my perspective. I no longer expect each day, each thought, or my body, to be perfect. That is so freeing.

So, here’s to no more diets, giving ourselves permission to do our best, and walking in the freedom that comes from God alone. That really is enough.

Written by Courtney Walton on May 15, 2019