Note of explanation: I wrote this post a few months ago, actually before we came back to the States. I ran into internet difficulties and never published it that night. But after traveling all over and sharing some of this story with some of you, I am going to step out on a limb and publish this very personal post tonight. I do so in hope that it will be of benefit to somebody. I am still learning and growing in this area, I have not "arrived" by any stretch of the imagination, but for what it's worth, here it is, as I wrote it that night.
I feel compelled to share something very personal tonight. I would like to share with you all what the Lord has been doing in my life in regards to my attitude toward food.
I was never one of those girls that was overly concerned about weight. I wasn't skinny, but not fat either, pretty happy in general with my body. I honestly spent very little time thinking about issues of weight, eating habits, etc. When John and I were first married, I gained a little weight (cooking for him on a steady basis for the first time!) and then pretty much held steady up until the time I started having children. Even then, gaining weight with my babies didn't bother me, until after Christin was born. By then, a few pounds had hung on after Clara Anne, a few after Chloe, and by the time Christin was born I was up to my highest weight ever. Thankfully, I lost about 22 pounds the first week after she was born, but then seemed to get stuck at that weight.
But I still wasn't concerned. One friend had counseled me, "Give yourself 6 months AFTER you're done nursing to lose any extra" and I figured that was a long time coming, so no worries. Finally Christin was weaned and I decided it was time to change some habits. I even wrote about it on my blog at that point. With being pregnant or nursing for five years continuously, my snacking habits and free-for-all eating style was pretty deeply ingrained. For awhile I tried to be more careful of what I was eating, and even started exercising again, determined to lose the weight. But nothing happened. Stuck at the same weight as the week after Christin was born, I began to give up. "What does it matter anyway?", I reasoned. "Maybe my body just wants to stay this weight."
I wasn't happy about it, though. I knew there were some issues, but I didn't know what to do about them. I didn't feel comfortable in my body, if you know what I mean, I felt too heavy. I shied away from having my picture taken, because I didn't like what I saw. I consoled myself by saying, "Well, it's just the price of having kids. At least I'm healthy and strong and have plenty of energy." And for the most part, that was true; at least, from the outside looking in.
However, over the last few months, things have changed. It started with a terrible bout of the stomach flu just after Thanksgiving. I couldn't eat for about three days and when I finally started eating again, I made a special effort to retrain my stomach to be accustomed to less food. I had lost a bit of weight through the sickness and was determined not to gain it back again. What I didn't realize was that my heart needed changing much more than my body!
Slowly, very slowly and gradually over the last few months, the Lord has been changing my attitude towards food. Early on in the retraining process, I was very tempted to snack and give into my cravings, especially for sweets. Of course, it was December and I was in the thick of cookie baking and holiday hospitality. I remember one week where I had a stash of deliciously soft sugar cookies available and I was fighting, literally mentally fighting, with my desire to eat them. At that time, the Lord really helped me to see clearly how ridiculous, and yet compelling, is the call of my stomach. I remember thinking, "I don't want to be controlled by a sugar cookie! How silly! It's just a bit of flour and sugar. I don't have to eat it! Lord, help me master this desire for it!"
As time has gone on, the Lord has been so gracious to show me, bit by bit, how I had made food into an idol in my heart. Yes, an idol, something that I valued more than Him. Something that I looked to for satisfaction and sustenance, more than Him. He did this in a very gentle way, so as not to overwhelm or discourage me, but it seems like over the past month especially, He has been revealing to me lies that I had been believing about the way I thought about food and specifically my eating habits.
So now we come to the heart of what I wanted to share with you. A few days ago during my quiet time, the Lord nudged me to write down in a list the lies that I had been believing--just put them down in black and white, giving more fortitude to fight when those attitudes would crop up in my heart again. Each of these lies were shown to me personally. I am not judging anyone else or telling you what you need to think about food. Rather, I post them in spirit of sharing a wonderful testimony and hope it will encourage you, too. As well, I'm sure the Lord will be adding to this list as I grow in this area! But here's where I am tonight.
LIES I Believed about food, eating, and weight issues (in no particular order)
1.I should never waste food, even if I'm already full. I.e. There's only one left, I might as well finish it. Or, the girls didn't finish their tasty bit of whatever, I'll just finish that up. Lie! Eating more than I need is never right. A bit of something can be wrapped up, the girl's food can be thrown out; give them less to start with the next time.
2. If I'm hungry, I can't wait for the next meal! Lie! I will not die if I have a rumbly tummy until my next meal, probably only an hour or two away. Let's face it, my entire life is made up of only a few more hours until the next meal!
3. Bites, Licks, and Tastes don't count toward daily food intake. Lie! This was a bad habit, being hungry as I prepared dinner I'd often munch a bit. I'd then sit down for dinner realizing I wasn't really hungry anymore, but eat anyway.
4. Food that no one sees me eat doesn't count. Lie! It's still food that I'm consuming! And nothing is hidden from God!
5. I shouldn't have to be interrupted while eating. Lie! I don't know why I ever believed this one, as a mother of three small children, but I found that after serving everyone else and finally sitting down to my portion, if I would be asked again for something, there was anger in my heart. I wanted the "right" to eat in peace myself. But that is elevating my selfish desire for food above my family relationships! What a lie!
6. I deserve to always eat things I really enjoy. Lie! You would think that living in a foreign culture I would not have believed this one either, but in fact, the Lord showed me one day when my helper added ginger (which I don't like very much) to everything instead of leeks (which we were out of), I was not only irritated but angry at her since I had been "good" all morning and was eagerly awaiting lunch. In truth, it is not my "right" to eat my favorite foods all the time! That doesn't demonstrate a heart of thankfulness for what I am given!
7. If someone else made the food, I should eat more than I need to show them I really like it; that will please them! Lie! I can express appreciation in other ways that don't involve indulging myself.
8. It will make me feel better to eat a little more. Lie! This is seeking my satisfaction in food, something that can never truly satisfy. The Lord is my portion!
9. It will make someone else feel better if I eat a little more. Lie! This is related to #7, it's easy to overeat in a social setting but I should never use another person's urging to eat more (so common in this culture) to excuse my own lack of self-control.
10. I should always clean my plate. Lie! Not if I'm already full! Better, to avoid wasting, put less on my plate to begin with!
11. I don't get the chance to eat this special food very often, so I can eat more than I need and indulge myself. Lie! This is a particular temptation of expat life since usually we are eating local food. But again, indulging myself never pleases God! And, there will always be more special food! The Pizza Ranch is not going to close its doors. The Outback and TGI Friday's will still be there the next time. There'll be another Starbucks another time. And even if there isn't....it's just food! There are more important things in life!
12. Who cares? It's a celebration! Lie! This one is tempting because we humans love to celebrate with food. But there's always a celebration...birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, the list goes on and on! Pretty soon every week there's an event in which it's "ok" to overeat!
13. Indulging my appetite just a little doesn't matter. Lie! Just one more cookie, just a bit more of that tasty food, it doesn't matter--except that indulgence is never glorifying to God.
14. Those little changes don't really make a difference anyway. Lie! Changing a coke for a glass of water, avoiding those snacks, eating a smaller portion of dessert--it can add up and make a big difference!
15. I'm stuck at the same weight anyway, why be self-controlled in my eating? Lie! That is looking for a certain result from eating; putting my trust in my ability to control and get a certain cause and effect rather than doing what is right and trusting God for the result.
16. I can't just have a cup of coffee alone! I need something sweet with it! Lie! I found that though I always craved a sweet treat with coffee, it was actually pretty rare that I took the time to enjoy the two together. And what I was craving was usually not just something sweet, it was the hope of being refreshed and encouraged by a mid-morning snack; again, looking to food to satisfy that need, rather than the Lord.
17. Exercise is too difficult to fit into my life. Lie! I make time for other things that I think are important. I just need to be a better steward of my time.
18. I need a little something sweet at the end of a meal. Lie! I can be satisfied with the food I've eaten, not always just craving something more.
19. Overeating occasionally doesn't really equal the sin of gluttony. Lie! This is just something I told myself in order to justify my desires.
And perhaps the most destructive lie of all:
20. My eating habits don't have an effect on my spiritual life. Lie! In fact, the opposite is true. I now believe that the Lord would have me shape my eating habits, like everything else, according to His word, believing that the two are intertwined. For example, eating habits are the perfect place to practice self-control and learn to be controlled by the Spirit.
Some final lessons: I have found that indulgence in my eating habits gives a dulling, soporific effect on my spiritual life. It's kind of like saying, "Oh well, a little bit of sin won't hurt anything." Oh yes it will! As the Lord has strengthened me to change some of these habits, and start believing the truth rather than these lies, I have felt so encouraged by the spiritual growth He is bringing about in me! I am experiencing his peace and joy like never before. My mind is less on food and more on Him. For me, it is learning how to be self-controlled in regards to food. The fruit of self-control is then free to spread to other parts of my life--control of my tongue, control of my habits, little disciplines that add up to increased freedom and joy in the Lord.
Now, I've also found that it is equally easy for me to fall off the right path on the other side, namely, "Wow, look at me! I'm so self-controlled!" (PRIDE) Or: "I can do this all by myself! I am a person of self-control and discipline!" (Self-sufficiency and ultimately, pride). So there are dangers, and that's why I'm discovering that this journey with food is a journey of the heart and MUST be Spirit-led. It cannot be judged from the outside, I cannot establish enough "rules" to make it work for me, I simply need to open my heart to the Spirit, pay attention to His voice and His promptings, and then enjoy the freedom and the joy that comes from obeying my Lord in even the "small" things like my eating choices and habits. Legalism is not my goal, being Spirit-led is. Oh Lord help this process! I cannot do it on my own!
The beauty of knowing our Savior is that indeed, He will help. He is an ever-present help and He loves to lead His children. I want to give Him all the glory for what He has done in helping to open my eyes to some of these things. I'm sure I still have much more to learn! But I'm thankful for His grace thus far. The temptation to overindulge in God's good gift of food will not be going away, since food is a part of every day life, but by His grace, my attitude and actions can change. Lord, help me to receive what you give with thankfulness, not greed; with a heart of contentment, not of selfishness; being Spirit-led, not indulging the flesh. May His name be glorified!