My long, complicated history with food and my body began before I can even remember.
This history began with women in my family and in my social spheres constantly evaluating, assessing, and finding themselves and others not quite measuring up.
I learned under the feet of these women that my body was a betrayal.
I didn’t grow up in the church so when I sauntered in at 19, it was the first time I had ever heard that my body was created in the image of God.
What a joyous concept!
Imagine my disappointment when I found that not even the Christians I so admired actually believed this message. They too believed their bodies were the ultimate betrayal.
They too sat around tearing their bodies to shreds with their words and actions.
I had reached adulthood and never encountered one single woman who loved her body. Not one.
This was formational. This was foundational.
This was the foundation that was laid for me to develop an eating disorder before the age of 12. This was the foundation that was laid that helped me begin to diet obsessively for the first three decades of my life. This was the foundation that caused me to wake up every single day and hop on a scale and let a number determine how my day would go, what my worth would be, and whether that worth would include being valuable enough to nourish and care for myself. I didn’t know any other way.
I was exhausted and tired, by the time my sweet friend Melodye met me for a lunch that has forever changed my life. I was months deep into the misery of yet another soulless diet. I was exhausted and energy zapped (probably because I needed carbohydrates).
My friend had the bravery to tell me about Intuitive Eating and I remember walking away thinking, “Yeah right … I can’t eat whatever I want … I will just eat donuts all day every day!!!” I may have even said this to her face (sorry, girl!).
But I decided to Amazon Prime the book Intuitive Eating, and my life was changed forever. Everything I read made total sense, I had been living the sad truth found in this book my whole life. Allowing food rules, diet companies, and media to tell me I wasn’t worthy enough and I could never quite measure up. It didn’t help that every single woman I knew had fallen into the same trap. What my friend shared with me that day has completely changed my thinking around food and my body. This is what I have discovered:
- Full permission to eat what I want hasn’t caused me to be out of control with my eating. It’s funny, when you give yourself full permission to trust your body and eat anything you want, you won’t eat donuts all day. That gets kind of gross. Once you rob the donut of its moral power, a donut gets to just be a donut. I can take it or leave it. I used to eat even gross donuts because it would be “my last donut EVER.” Now I am listening to my body and I find that sometimes I actually don’t even enjoy a particular food that used to have so much power over me.
- I no longer crave sweets and carbs constantly. I used to lie in bed and think about all the foods I was denying myself. I would obsess about them. Plan elaborate cheat meals. Now, I know I can have those things whenever I want so I don’t find myself dreaming about them nonstop. When I do eat these foods I am able to enjoy them without a single bit of guilt, which increases my enjoyment and decreases my need to overindulge in these foods.
- I move my body more out of joy than I ever did out of punishment. I used to use exercise as self punishment. “Well you ate this so now you HAVE to work it off.” Now I have developed a love for the hour-long walk my husband and I take nearly every night. I enjoy the crisp air. The conversation. It feels good to move my body in this way. I can’t wait to do yoga on the weekends. This relaxes me and helps my lower back pain from a week’s worth of sitting with my clients in therapy sessions. I wake up in the morning and have a 30-minute dance party before work because it brings a smile to my face and helps me start the day with energy.
- Since I stopped dieting and threw my scale away I have more free time to pursue things that I find meaningful. I was driving this past Sunday on the way home from a youth event and told my husband, “In the past this would have been the day I would have planned my diet for the next week.” Now that I am not spending hours doing that, I can focus my attention on moving my body for fun, cooking and eating foods I actually enjoy, ministry, my work as a therapist, hobbies and activities that bring meaning to my life, and my family. Giving up dieting has given me hours of my life back.
What would the church look like if we were kind to our bodies? What would it look like this Sunday if we took a much-needed nap instead of planning our next diet? What if we could have more time for the things that truly matter to us and what if all of that resulted in more health? What if we stopped obsessing about food and weight loss and had extra energy to pour into missions and ministry? This has been my experience since I finally broke up with diets. I invite you on this non-diet journey too. It will change your life forever.
Celeste Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate and eating disorder specialist from Tyler, Texas. Celeste and her husband have been in youth ministry for 16 years and currently work for Glenwood Church of Christ. She is passionate about self care, self acceptance, intuitive eating, and the church. Celeste desires to advocate for the church to become a safer space to those experiencing mental health struggles. She loves youth ministry, reading, spending time with her three children, coffee on the porch with her husband, road trips, and backpacking.