Sometime in high school or college, I read a book called God-Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo that really left an impression on me. It wasn’t the the storyline of novel necessarily, but a single quote which harkened back to the title:
We’re all searching for something to fill up what I like to call that big, God-shaped hole in our souls. Some people use alcohol, or sex, or their children, or food, or money, or music, or heroin. A lot of people even use the concept of God itself. I could go on and on. I used to know a girl who used shoes. She had over two-hundred pairs. But it’s all the same thing, really. People, for some stupid reason, think they can escape their sorrows.-Tiffanie DeBartolo, God-Shaped Hole
At the time in my life that I read the book, I was still very much in the formative years of my faith. While I was very much in that “infancy” stage, I knew enough about God to know that my soul had a deep ache for something deeper and more meaningful than counting calories and trying to lose weight. The quote spoke to my heart because it gave words and validation for what I was feeling. I was very much searching for something to fill that big, God-shaped hole in my soul. For years, I’d been looking to food, my body, and exercise to fulfill me, but time and time again, those efforts fell short. That’s because I was looking in all the wrong places. Instead, I needed to look to God himself.
Now, don’t get me wrong…I think God can do anything. But if you have half filled a container with sand that was meant to hold water, the full volume of water isn’t going to fit because there’s sand in the way. The same was true with my faith and my food struggles. Because I had placed so much emphasis on dieting and was so invested in the throes of my eating disorder, there was little room for God to take his rightful place in my life. In order for him to reign fully, I needed to renounce my eating disorder and lay it down at the foot of the cross.
1. Food Can’t Fulfill You
One of the reasons food had such a hold over my life was that I was looking to it as a means for gaining control over my otherwise completely out-of-control life. The problem was, counting calories provided little more than distraction when it came to the problems of coping with high school pressures, living in a new city for college, trying to make friends, and living up to my expectations of myself and others. Food (or lack thereof) couldn’t take those things away, but it gave me something that made me feel like I actually was in control. I could count and measure and micromanage all day long, and there would always be the same number of calories in a tablespoon of peanut butter.
But that illusion of control only lasted so long. After enough counting, measuring, monitoring, restricting, and fearing food, I became powerless over it. My attempts to control my life through food paradoxically backfired and I felt completely out-of-control, binge eating entire jars of peanut butter after starving myself all day.
Food couldn’t truly give me what I was hoping it could give me. See, beyond the desire for control, I was looking to food for meaning. I wanted to find fulfillment and purpose in what I did and didn’t eat. My eating habits were a way I labeled myself, or a way I tried to make myself feel okay even when nothing else in my life felt okay. But it didn’t work, and that’s because food can’t fulfill the need we have to be satisfied by God.
As I write in my new book, Fulfilled [order here], the one caveat to this was the fact that I was simultaneously denying the one need that food could fulfill for me—physical hunger. I wanted so desperately to lose weight that I denied myself the right to experience hunger. I pathologized my own need for food. Once I stopped trying to make food a means for controlling my life, I was able to let go and allow it to fill its God-given purpose of satisfying my body’s need for energy, flavor, and fullness.
2. Exercise Can’t Fulfill You
Like most women with eating disorders, my desire for control didn’t stop with food. Exercise was also a big part of my struggle, and I developed a very dysfunctional relationship with moving my body. I felt guilty for skipping a workout or not exercising “enough.” I counted laps, reps, minutes, and miles, trying to “make up” for the foods my body craved so that I didn’t need to feel so guilty about eating past my calorie goal. Except, I still felt guilty even if I felt like I “burned off” the extra calories because I should have been able to resist better in the first place—or at least that’s what I told myself. Once again, I was looking to exercise as a means for redeeming and fulfilling me in life, something it could not righteously do.
Exercise couldn’t make me feel fulfilled in life. No matter how much I ran, it was never enough to make me feel worthy, beautiful, acceptable, or lovable. But once I realized that my value was found in God’s love for me—that I was lovable not because of what I did but because of who God was and is, everything changed.
3. Your Body Can’t Fulfill You
My food and exercise struggles all tied back to my body. I think even beyond my need for control (with food) or redemption (with exercise), I craved acceptance and sought to make myself acceptable by changing my body. I didn’t think my body was thin enough or beautiful enough to be acceptable by myself or others. I thought that if I could only look like the perfectly thin, fit, and trim girls, that I’d finally fit in, make friends, and feel free. But even when I whittled my body down into a shape and size that was too small to be healthy for me and my genetics, I still felt unfulfilled. I interpreted this to mean that I needed to be fitter, thinner, and smaller, but instead the truth was that I was looking for that fulfillment in the wrong place.
Once again, there was a grim irony in my efforts. The more I focused on food, exercise, and my body, the more insecure I felt. The more anxious I felt. The less energy I had for social events and making friends. The harder it was for me to feel accepted. My efforts backfired.
What I finally learned through my recovery was that my problem wasn’t a body that was too big—it was the fact that my body was too small to ever fulfill me. Only God had the power to ultimately satisfy my soul, and if I continued to search for that satisfaction in the things of the world, I’d continually be left feeling empty.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.Ephesians 2:4-10
My new book, Fulfilled is now available! It’s all about letting go of shame, embracing your body, and learning how to eat the food you love without fear. My prayer is that it will uplift you, encourage you, and serve as a launchpad for healing your own relationship with food. Fulfilled is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, my publisher’s website, or any online or retail shops where you usually buy books!