Before I became a Christian, I tried really hard to be “perfect.” I think even now, I still have some perfectionistic inclination: I am tempted to believe, at times, that my worth and value comes from how well I do things instead of who I am.
One of the ways that my perfectionism used to manifest was in the way I approached my body. I believed that in order to be valuable, my body needed to look a certain way, and that I therefore also needed to eat in the way that others might expect a thin person to eat. Naturally, this resulted in me putting a lot of external pressure on myself, which further perpetuated my cycle of self-shame, strict eating patterns, and stress. I have heard so many other similar stories, and so I know that the experience of stress related to food and body struggles are unfortunately quite common.
As a teenager, I became a Christian. In learning about God’s unconditional love for me, and the truth about my worth and value as a unique and special piece of creation, I started to realize that my beliefs about my body were actually harming me. Likewise, my strict food rules and erratic eating habits were not actually helping me feel better about myself, but rather were making me feel worse (emotionally and physically. I was not taking good care of my body.) I won’t say that my faith “cured me” of my eating disorder, but it did help me to become an intuitive eater. With time, I slowly stopped thinking about food, weight, and exercise all the time, and instead I started finding joy and purpose in other things. Experiencing this freedom showed me that my previous food rules were causing me unnecessary feelings of guilt, and adding stress to my life. As I started to learn and believe that I was created intentionally, I also came to realize that the fact that humans experience hunger wasn’t an accident, either — it was deliberately built into us, and for a good reason!
The reality is, humans need food. Hunger reminds us of this, and helps us to make informed decisions about how often to feed ourselves, and how much. It also can help us decide what to eat so that we can provide our bodies with the energy we need to lead vibrant, fulfilling lives. Contrary to what I had previously believed, I didn’t actually need to measure, count, or plan my meals in order to feel good or be worthy or love. (Our value is not dependent on what we eat, and we each have a much bigger purpose in life than simply trying to take up less space!) At the same time, I learned that food was created for the explicit purpose of satisfying physical hunger. It is not evil, it is will not harm me, and I don’t need to be afraid of it.
Becoming an intuitive eater wasn’t just good advice that someone told me about one day. While it’s definitely a good idea to listen to our bodies, it’s actually not an innovative or revolutionary concept. It’s a skill we each were born with, and when we exercise it, we have the freedom to live the full and meaningful lives we each are longing for. Being enslaved by strict eating patterns feels awful, and I’m so grateful that I no longer feel trapped by my eating patterns.