I’m feeling a bit peckish.
In the cupboard there are no biscuits that I like, because I don’t buy biscuits that I like, because then I would eat them. I buy biscuits that the children like, because they eat biscuits, being normal people with normal appetites and because I’m desperate that they don’t develop the same sort of subtly distorted relationship with food that I have.
Food cannot be inherently ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’. It’s food. Everything in moderation; except I’m not very good at moderation. There’s no point in one biscuit.
The thing is, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that I might eat biscuits I don’t much like, just because they’re biscuits, and they’re there. My levels of self control fluctuate between negligible and non-existent.
Being hungry has very little to do with it. I saw a scene in a film recently when a man offers a huge box of doughnuts to a lady in an office. She declines, saying that she isn’t hungry. Confused, the doughnut man asks what that has to do with it?
And that’s the thing. I don’t have to be hungry to say yes to a doughnut, or a scone, or a bit of flapjack. I just have to be… needing one. To those who don’t consider that nobody really needs flapjack, I say I understand, I know what you mean and how, oh how I wish I saw things that way.
I like eating, and I’m good at it. The reason I’m overweight is that I ingest more calories than I expend, and it’s as simple as that. I can’t argue that it isn’t. I don’t have anything wrong with my ‘glands’, my genes seem to be predominantly thin ones and so I have no excuse. My metabolism is slow because I don’t do very much to perk it up.
I like meals, and I don’t like getting out of breath.
The only thing is, it isn’t as simple as all that. There are lots of layers in this equation. The obvious ones are food choices (I love all the hearty stuff like lasagne and pizza and pasta and shepherd’s pie and biscuits) and portion size (what do you mean, I should have less on my plate than my 6’4” husband has on his? That wouldn’t be fair.) But there’s other stuff. More insidious stuff that I just do not know how to deal with.
I eat when I’m happy: ‘ You know what would make today absolutely perfect? Cake.’
I eat when I’m sad: ‘Cake will cheer me up.’
I eat when I’m anxious: ‘I can’t be worrying about my weight on top of everything else. I’m going to have some cake.’
I eat when I’m overwhelmed. ‘Don’t think about it. Have some cake.’
I eat when I’m celebrating: ‘Hooray! Let’s have cake!’
I eat when I’m commiserating: ‘Oh no. What a disappointment. Still, we have cake.’
I eat when I’m bored: ‘What shall I do? I know, I think I’ve got some cake.’
I eat when I’m tired: ‘I can’t be bothered cooking tonight. Let’s order pizza.’
I eat when I’m procrastinating: ‘I’ll get this done when I’ve had some cake.’
I eat when I associate two unrelated things: ‘Let’s watch a film. What is there to eat?’
I eat when I drink coffee (this is a killer – I drink a lot of coffee) – but what’s a cup of coffee without a biscuit?
And so on. Believe it or not, I’m not even finished. Whatever you can find in the way of emotions, there’s a reason to have something to eat.
People who don’t get this just say, ‘Well, don’t eat for those reasons. Cheer yourself up with a bubble bath, or a massage or something instead’. I have a couple of things to say about that.
One: Has anyone ever celebrated something with a bubble bath?
Two: Anyone like me who has longstanding problems with overeating probably has a body to match, and the idea of someone laying their hands on it and kneading all that flesh, no matter how therapeutic it might be in principle, is a horror that might well drive them to cake.
So the cycle continues. The mirror and the scales only pass on bad news which causes misery and embarrassment and worry, and the overwhelming urge is to have something nice to eat to take away the pain.
The diet can start tomorrow. Or next week. Or after the cake is finished.
I have tried, or at least considered, every diet known to man, and some that I made up myself. I understand people who eat and then make themselves sick; it makes perfect sense to me. If I ‘d been able to do it when I was fifteen, who knows what awful direction my life might have taken.
I’ve been this way since I was very small – or rather not small – young.
I remember at primary school being terrified that the kids in my class would make the connection between a fictional fat kid called HT and my (then) initials. They did.
I remember kids – and the PE teacher - at senior school calling me names that hurt badly.
I remember being crushed when someone realized that my name rhymed with ‘melon’.
I remember the lady fitting my wedding dress urged me to try extra hard to get thin because ‘It’ll be worth it to feel beautiful on the day.’ I didn’t. I couldn’t….and I didn’t.
Fat isn't beautiful, is it?
I know all the tricks – the ones that work and the ones that don’t. Pulling a cardigan tightly round in front to cover as much as possible (not really; just makes you look defensive). Wearing dark colours and long lines to elongate the body. Wearing multiple layers so people might not be completely sure what shape you really are. Sitting with legs on tiptoes so that thighs don’t spread out too much. Control pants (just push it all upwards). Control shorts (just push it all downwards). Control polo-neck-to-knee underwear (if only…) Never, ever, ever, sitting on anyone’s knee (though the older I get the less this is an issue.)
And now I'm middle aged and it all gets a little more serious. It's not only about dress sizes and how I look in a swimsuit. It's about clogged arteries and joint pain and breathlessness; the ability to exercise if I wanted to. It's about running around with my children and walking round to sightsee on holiday. It's about getting to old age with enough energy to actually do some living.
Several times in my life I’ve tried hard to get thin. I have never managed it, but I’ve lost a significant amount of weight on three or four occasions, before putting it all back on again with a bit more besides. Nothing seems to work for long. Herculean efforts at self control eventually evaporate and the momentum subsides, leaving me in front of the cake once more, a fork in my hand.
If I lose some weight, people tell me how good I look (comparatively) and they’re being lovely, encouraging. But what my distorted mind wonders is what they used to think when I was even bigger. Thin equals approval, acceptability; fat equals disapproval, rejection.
I hate it. There aren’t words for exactly how much I hate it. I hate that I have no control. I hate that my clothes are getting bigger and bigger and that I acclimatize myself to shopping for a larger and larger size each time I need something new. I hate that I hate shopping.
I hate that I didn’t feel beautiful in my wedding dress.
I hate that I look in the mirror with disgust, and I hate that I am powerless to do anything about it.
It’s not just about eating.
It’s even less about being hungry.
Here’s where I’m at.
I’m 43 years old and I love Jesus Christ. I try to live my life as He wants me to live it. And this is not it.
He came to set me free, and I am not free.
He came to give me life in abundance, not the half-life that I’m living.
He thinks that I am beautiful, but I think He’s wrong.
He speaks only Truth, but I have believed lies.
I have believed that it’s all down to me. That other people don’t have this problem, and so there’s something wrong with me, because I emphatically do. I’ve believed that I’m fat and ugly and there’s nothing that I can do to improve matters; I should just get used to it – be the jolly fat lady, only I can’t be jolly.
I’ve believed that everyone sees me the way I see me, and so everyone is looking at me, assessing me, judging me. That I am no good the way that I am; I am unacceptable. Strengths, gifts, achievements - I know that they're there, but they pale into insignificance next to this thing that I can't do. I believe that the only thing others see is the fat, the lack of self-control, the self-indulgence, the weakness.
Sometimes I get a glimpse in my head that those things are not true, but, oh, God, it’s been a long, long time believing them and it’s going to take a miracle to think any differently.
So, I need a miracle.
I need the Almighty Creator who made me to reach down and heal me. I need the God who loves me to breathe something new into my lungs, into my mind. I need my heavenly Father to take away thirty five years of defeat and self-doubt and bring health and restoration.
I know that He can do miracles. I do. But for some reason, for all the things I’ve tried, I’ve never laid all this ugliness in front of Him.
I don’t know why. It’s not as if it hasn’t occurred to me before that He’s the only one who can help me, that God is my last chance. Maybe deep down I’ve known that if asking Him for help ‘doesn’t work’, then there’s no hope for me at all. As if Jesus were a genie in a lamp, but He might not come out when I rub it.
He’s never let me down, not once. When I’ve trusted Him with something, He’s always been there. Not always in the way I wanted Him to be; I don’t for one minute expect that He’d arrange it for me to wake up one moment a size twelve with no joint pain and a wardrobe full of clothes that fit, though that’d be fine by me. I know that He works in a quite different way and I know that His timing is perfect, even if I do want all this sorted out yesterday.
I trusted Him with a long standing problem with anxiety, and although I’m a work in progress, I am much less anxious.
I trusted Him with my tendency to lose my temper with the children (especially at bathtime) and again, He is not done with me yet, but I am better than I was.
‘…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’Romans 8:37
You see? He can do things that I can’t do.
So maybe He’s waiting for me to give it all over to Him, not holding anything back. Not expecting Him to do all the work, but by the same token, not trying to do it all myself. Just admitting that I cannot do anything about this. I can’t. Nope.
Because here’s the thing. I need a fundamental change in the way that I think, feel, handle emotions, and I cannot do that on my own. When I am tired and lonely and worried and scared and all those other reasons I eat – what I need is not cake, but Jesus.
‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’Romans 12:2
I’m looking for comfort, and there is none to be had without Jesus.
Maybe I’m hungry for Jesus.
He is the only One who satisfies. He is the only One who has what I need.
I give up.
I can’t do this any more.
Renew my mind, Lord Jesus, I like food, and I don’t like exercise. I’m not healthy, and I’m far from happy.
I hate this. I’m ready to change whatever needs changing to find the freedom and life that you promised me.
I need you, not cake.
I need you more than cake.
You are the God of hopeless cases and you are the God who heals.
So, I’m going to get some exercise. I’m going to try and say no to the biscuits more often than I say yes. I’m going to try and live a life that doesn’t revolve around food. I don’t want to put anything in your place but I know that I am not strong enough; I’ve proved it over and over again... and yet:
‘I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength’.Philippians 4:13 (NLT)
When I can’t help myself, I need you to help me.
I'm on my knees.
I’m giving it all to you, Lord Jesus.
(because they seem to get into my head).