On my blog and Instagram (and in my book, Fulfilled) I talk a lot about the concept of trusting our bodies. When I was struggling with dieting and disordered eating, I had a lot of fear surrounding the relationship between food, exercise, hunger, fullness, and the size and shape of my body. I was afraid of food (amount, type, calories) primarily because of the effect that it may or may not have on the size and shape of my body. I feared exercise partly because certain types seemed to make me hungrier (a natural and good phenomenon) and partly because I was scared that skipping a workout would make me gain weight. My hunger terrified me, because I was afraid it would never stop. Often, once I gave in to the hunger, I’d find myself quickly eating large volumes of food, often to the point that it would make me feel sick (even if the foods I gorged myself were extremely low in calories). It was a catch-22 though, because fullness scared me, too. Reaching the point of fullness made me feel like I had failed, whereas staying hungry and resisting food felt like success (and fear, all mixed into one.)
And then, there was my body. My poor body, which I hated, shamed, abused, starved, over stuffed, pushed to the brink with exercise, and otherwise harmed in a number of different ways because I was a struggling adolescent/twenty-something and didn’t know how to cope with the hardships of my life. Recovery has taught me two key, liberating lessons about the truth of my body: I can trust the normal, healthy functioning of my body because I can trust the God who made it AND if I put my trust in my body, it will let me down every time.
The language used in these two different phrases makes it difficult to understand the difference between cultivating a sense of trust with our bodies and putting our trust in our bodies. I’ll flush this out a lot more below, but here’s the main takeaway: Putting my trust in my body is a form of idolatry, hoping that my body will fulfill me. Trusting my body is about trusting God, the only one who can fulfill me. While my body is temporary and will pass away, it serves to house my soul and allow me to live the life that God created for me on this earth. Trusting my body means I affirm the goodness of God’s wisdom in creating a body for me. Putting my trust in my body means making a false god out of my body, which is idolatry.
Putting my trust in my body is a form of idolatry, hoping that my body will fulfill me. Trusting my body is about trusting God, the only one who can fulfill me.Tweet
In the beginning stages of my journey with intuitive eating, my body changed a lot. First, I gained weight throughout the refeeding phase, which meant that I needed to buy bigger clothes. At the same time, I was doing a lot of (hard) emotional and spiritual work to get to the place where I could accept that bigger body. Then, slowly, I started to lose weight as I repaired my relationship with food, found fulfillment in other things beyond food, and my eating patterns leveled out. [Note: while many in diet recovery have a similar experience, many do not and instead end up gaining weight. Neither scenario is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ and neither scenario will make you feel better or worse if you are able to heal your relationship not only with food, but with your body, too.]
After that period of weight gain and loss, the size and shape of my body stabilized, and I stayed in the same size clothes for about 5 years. Compared to the days of my eating disorder, this was a dramatic change. Because of my cycles of restriction, bingeing, relapse and “recovery,” my eating disorder was characterized by repeated and dramatic weight changes which only added stress to the already overwhelming experience of having and eating disorder. In the early years of true recovery (that is, living as an intuitive eater by the grace of God) I came to value the fact that my body was not changing and actually found myself liking the way it looked. I developed a deep sense of trust in the fact that honoring my hunger and fullness cues and eating for satisfaction would allow my body to stay roughly the same size…a size that I liked and valued. I don’t think it’s wrong or ‘bad’ to appreciate my appearance, and in general I still feel this way. However, the point of recovery isn’t to like or love our physical appearance. Rather, it is to work through the idolatry of physical appearance and live for things that are more important.
The freedom that intuitive eating gives in terms of the stability of my body’s shape and size is only good in comparison to the bad feeling of agonizing over my appearance. If I couldn’t see my body at all, I would no longer value its appearance because I would have no idea what I looked like. That, I believe, would be the truest sense of body image ‘freedom’ because it would liberate us from the constraints of concern over physical appearance, and eliminate the temptation to idolize our bodies. Trusting my body simply because it will help my body stay the same size is not real freedom.
So, then, why is body trust a good thing?
I believe that trusting my body can be a good thing if it is an expression of worship toward God. Rather than trusting my body cues in hopes that it will allow me to avoid body changes (this would be rooted in fear of my body changing, which is still putting a greater emphasis on my appearance than I would like to have), freedom comes from trusting that the way God made my body is good. Body trust in the righteous sense is an expression of faith that there’s more to life than the physical, and that my outward appearance does not matter because I have such a deep sense of conviction and purpose in my life that stretches deeper than what the eye can see. Body trust is, in effect, living as though I am blind to my own appearance—because my focus is elsewhere.
Body trust also is a form of submission in that I reject the worldly idea that I need to manipulate my eating or exercise habits (beyond the realm of a varied diet that meets my energy needs) in a dramatic way in order to achieve health, beauty, worthiness or acceptance. Trusting that God equipped my body with the ability to regulate my eating and exercise sets me free from the pressure to diet in the name of ‘health,’ to define my identity, or to earn affection from God and others. Body trust means having faith that my body, as it already exists, is everything that it needs to be, and that this will be true even if its appearance, functionality, or health status changes. This is because my purpose on earth isn’t to look a certain way or to do certain things, but rather to fully love, something I only need a body for to the extent that it allows me to interact with other people.
While most people who eat intuitively will maintain a relatively stable shape and size throughout their lives (with major changes only from illness, pregnancy, menopause, or other biological reasons), that isn’t the point of recovery. It’s a nice change for those who have suffered at the hand of bodily obsession and resultant fluctuations in their physique, but if a stable physique was the chief end of humanity, this life wouldn’t be worth living.