9/14/2011

A Weighty Series, part 11

We're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of this series on weight and body image. We've covered culture's lie, the standards we set for ourselves and others, and what Jesus has to say about what makes a woman beautiful. You can read all of those posts: part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8, part 9, and part 10. Today is when it starts to get very personal and I pray you have much grace for me through Christ but also that if you can relate to anything that I am saying then what Jesus is doing in me and teaching me would not be in vain. Today's post is a little lengthy but I wanted to tie in the thoughts in one post because tomorrow's post will step away from observation of those around me and get very deep into my own heart. As for today, though, let's roll.

The Challenge

Since this series is about our bodies and weight, the challenge comes in defining what is slothful and what is a healthy amount of exercise for each woman to get without worshiping having a gorgeous body. What is eating well with wisdom without gluttony or sinful restriction? Though it pains my own heart, due to desire to be one day described by the world as fit and slender, I must say this: there is a healthy place for each woman in which she can eat well and exercise to the glory of God out of true worship and her body at that weight may not look the way she would want it to at that healthy place. For most women, it almost certainly isn't the standard set by the world of almost no body fat while still somehow miraculously having sexy woman curves.

I don't mean to sound mystical in a creepy way, but when I'm in a period where my struggle to not overeat is in a lower gear, thus more gritty and a harder time and I'm more aware of needing Jesus work to help me worship him the Holy Spirit will frequently whisper to me. He'll say that the bite in my mouth is totally fine but that next bite will be sin. It doesn't matter if it's a cookie or an organic baby carrot.

Because if you just ran hard enough, frequently
enough, you could look like this, too, doncha know?
[Well, if it were a photo of yourself and you were
a photoshop expert, that is!]
Likewise, he'll help me know why I'm eating. Is it joy, because I'm hungry and need food and I'm worshiping by enjoying the good gift of a tasty meal or snack? Or am I eating because I'm bored? Because food makes me feel good? Do I need nutrients but I'd rather eat meals of chips and cookies all day? Conversely, do I need nutrients but I'm worshiping weight loss and refusing to give my body good food and am trying to subsist on minimal calories with few nutrients, like eating only lettuce? Or maybe I'm being lazy and I have great, delicious, nutrient and tasty salad materials in the fridge but I'd rather overeat the chocolate chip zucchini bread because it's fast, easy, and sweet.

Hear me again: salad is not necessarily obedience. Chocolate chip zucchini bread is not necessarily sin. I cannot tell you rules to follow, a Bible equation to tally up your obedience points and sin demerits. Only the Holy Spirit searches and knows your heart and can lead you to repentance and worship. Nor can I tell you what a healthy body looks like for you.

Kelly's Example
Remember Kelly, from part 5? Her healthy body was around 175 pounds and a size 12. At one point she weighed close to 200 pounds due to unhealthy college-prone habits of nutrient-less food and almost never exercising beyond walking to class. That wasn't healthy and she made wise choices that took her back to her body's healthy weight of 175.

While you would likely agree that pizza overload and no exercise was unhealthy, I hope you can agree that Kelly's 30 pound weight loss, when she was at her normal 175, was equally unhealthy. The fact is, the means my friend had to impose on her body to weigh 145 pounds were extreme and risky to her health. I repeat: her body simply was not meant to weigh 145 pounds. It took extreme measures to get her body to where she felt beautiful and thin ala the definition of the world, and even at 145 she hoped to lose 15-20 more pounds. On her stocky, German frame a weight of 125 pounds would have been impossible to achieve in a healthy way. At 155 she didn't look like herself and it was clear to those who loved her, looked beyond a skinnier build, that her vitality was zapped. She didn't have her normal bubbly energy, she rarely laughed, and there was a lethargy and sadness in her eyes that haunted me.

I want to reinforce something: you might read this and think, "Well, yeah, she was sickly because she didn't lose weight in a healthy way." But please don't overlook the fact that when my friend was actually, honestly "surrender[ing] that part of her life to God," and eating and exercising in a way that gave Jesus glory, her body went right back to its comfort zone of 175 pounds, where it was very difficult to lose weight and she had to be gluttonous and lazy to gain weight. That is how God made her body and to force it smaller just so she could attract a certain guy or "feel good" about herself in comparison to culture's standard was just as sinful as quickly gaining weight due to bingeing and laziness.


Risky Diets
The image used on AskMen.com to illustrate
why men voted Blake Lively the hottest
woman in 2011.
[click image for link]
One thing I wish Jesus would let me not write about but that won't get off of my heart is dieting. I am careful because close friends whom I adore have dieted recently and I would never declare that diets are flat-out sinful (nor imply, in a passive aggressive fashion, that they were sinning to do the diet). If you have prayed and feel peace that this is a way you are worshiping Jesus, and for those who are married your husband knows what the diet entails, cares only about your health and he isn't part of forcing you to have a "bangin' body" that looks like Blake Lively, and he agrees it's ok to pursue then great. But I will say this: if you have to take extreme measures, similar to what Kelly did to lose weight, but it's a "diet" that has rules and restrictions and isn't sustainable in the long term (and would actually harm your health in the long term) be very, very careful.

I remember once overhearing a conversation between two woman about a diet one was doing. She spoke about cutting out food--as in all food--and how it was so hard. She said she was depressed because she was addicted to food. I couldn't help but wonder--is starving yourself, even if on a "medically researched" diet, evidence that you are addicted to food? I mean, food addiction is a real thing. But food addiction is a huge deal. Food addiction is people who eat and eat and eat and eat and can't stop eating. Food addiction is people killing themselves with food and they require serious intervention to stop. Food addiction is not someone who enjoys bread and misses it when they go on a low-carb diet.

Are You An Addict?
In this vein, I have two thoughts. First, if you stopped drinking water for three days you would die. But late on day two, when literally dying of thirst, would you lament over your addiction to water? Please hear me: if the Holy Spirit is telling you that you worship, say, eating Oreos or drinking your nightly glass of wine over him, by all means repent and let Jesus move in your heart. But if you really love Reese's peanut butter cups don't think that to enjoy them means you are sinning by eating "bad" food.

My son's favorite. activity. EVER. 
My second thought is with regards to my son. Roger just turned 6 months old on Sunday, and that boy LOVES to eat. If that boy sees his bottle his mouth pops open and there is nothing else to get his attention--he's a goner. The moment I get it within arm's reach he grabs it and shoves it in his mouth. As Roger eats his eyes roll back in his head, he sighs contentedly, and if I have to pull the bottle out for any reason--usually because he ate too fast and is choking--he cries as if I just told him that nevermind, he'll never eat again and I will now watch him starve to death. You think I'm exaggerating, but only if you have never had a baby :)

Is Roger sinning? Yes, he has a sin nature and yes, I will work hard to instruct him about patience and trusting Jesus, and thus trusting me, that he will get good food and be provided for. But to get excited about food, to enjoy eating, is that sin? Is my baby a food addict because he loves to eat and even rolls his eyes back in his head and sighs while slurping down a bottle? Since God says so much about feasting on good food, and we are made in his image, I've got to believe that the joy Roger has in eating is not sin.

So, then, back to the diets: I deeply question whether an extreme diet done with the sole purpose of quickly losing weight is ever healthy. Personally, my husband has wisely forbidden me from doing any such diets. Trying to steward calories in, calories out or consciously cutting out sugar or cutting back on carbs is one thing; going below 1,200 calories a day and putting my body into shock is another. Obviously, working with a doctor or nutritionist in special circumstances (I ate about 200 calories a day for the first few weeks post-gastric bypass) is different. But even for an obese woman who feels convicted that the Lord wants to take her to a healthier place such a diet just isn't wise.

Using My Mind
I'm a researcher. It makes since, because I suppose technically I am a historian given my Bachelor's in History with an emphasis on Social Sciences. But I can lose myself in article after article, expert after expert, study after study, comparing and contrasting, absorbing and learning.

As a result, I have learned way too much about nutrition, the value of calories, why our bodies need healthy ratios of fats, carbs, protein, and fiber, to essentially do a crash diet that starves my body. Also, I have yet to see someone do one of those diets and keep the weight off. This also goes for popular mainstream diets such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Medifast, and the like. Again, I'm not saying you can never do these things, and sometimes a small kick start when you are first getting going is what you need.

What I find time and time again is that when experts recommend lifestyle changes they are right. Whenever I "get back on the wagon" I ask myself this: first, am I worshiping Jesus or worshiping weight loss? And secondly, are the changes I am making sustainable, long-term, quite probably rest of my life changes that I will seek Jesus to help me stick to indefinitely? If the answer to either question is no then I focus on number one, and then ask Jesus what would a healthy lifestyle per number two look like.

Jennifer Hudson is just one of many celebrities recently
lauded as a hero by the media for using the likes of
Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig to get very thin.
Why am I saying this? Because I feel very strongly that we are allowing the world's standards define our beauty. You might argue that beauty matters, that we wives at least need to work to be beautiful for our husbands. I agree--beauty does matter. We do need to be beautiful for our husbands. But we must be women drenching ourselves daily in God's word and crying out to him to give us wisdom and insight into his word for what that looks like.

I have a dear friend who is gorgeous even by worldly standards but her heart for Christ is the most beautiful of all. And, for her, what her body looks like at a healthy weight is very thin and small. She's not naturally very curvy and is simply very slender. For me to worship Jesus and have a healthy body is different from her and if she is my standard then I will never escape guilt, self-loathing, and feeling like a failure--that is, unless I literally kill my body to get impossibly thin. Not healthy, not safe, and not wise.

Honoring My Husband
And I do need to say this--my husband doesn't ever want me to be that thin. I am his standard of beauty no matter what size I am, but he's told me countless times that he likes me soft and curvy and always prays during my times of weight loss that I don't lose my boobs and butt. For him, he would still love me, but if my goal were to look like Blake Lively or the "new" Jennifer Hudson then Jason would be disappointed. This must be taken into account when I'm working hard to be healthy and attractive to my husband! He doesn't want me to be unhealthily obese because he wants a long life with me, but he also doesn't want to get in bed with Jennifer Aniston. He married me, Tami, and I always keep this in mind when I'm asking Jesus what worshiping him with my body with regards to my husband looks like.

Oh, Tomorrow
Tomorrow's post is going to be the first of the end, and the first of the hardest ones to share. You'll get to go to the hard, dark places with me regarding where my heart has been lately. But, as always, I pray that it blesses you, speaks to you, and helps you see Jesus and what he has for you. Please don't stop praying for me to finish this series strong, well, and with my integrity and Jesus' good name upheld!

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