“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” -Galatians 5:1
That old familiar thought grabbed my mind and, as usual, would not let go… “Go eat something. You need to.” As always, my body stood up and walked into the kitchen while a part of me watched helplessly and silently screamed in protest to no avail. I powerlessly watched my hands reach for food. I ate and ate… and ate… and ate… with no ability to stop. I ate everything I could find. A whisper in my heart would say, “I love you. I want better for you.” But I silenced that voice as I shoved more food into my mouth and self-medicated for 2 hours. When it was all over, I was numb. Gloriously numb. Emotions were dulled. I didn’t have to feel them. I didn’t have to deal with them. I didn’t have to process them. I could just float away for a little while. I was soooo happy.
At some point the numb feelings wore off, and reality came crashing in… as was always the case… the realization of exactly how much food I had just consumed set in. The shame. The ugliness. The frustration of powerless bondage to food. The inexplicable lack of control. The agonizing “Why??” The self hatred. The self-protective acceptance that “This is just who I am. At least I don’t do drugs.” The determination to do better next time. The extreme diets and starving in the name of “damage control.”
The damage control diets always worked wonderfully for a time. But it never took long before I became sad, stressed, hurt, anxious, self-loating, or depressed, and I would automatically walk to the kitchen like a robot and binge eat. Many times I couldn’t even blame it on emotions… I would have a thought about food, and it would trigger me to start eating everything. I couldn’t stop. If I emptied the kitchen, I would often go out to the store or a fast food restaurant and shove down more food. “Fast food” was great, because I could pick it up fast, eat it fast, and dispose of the evidence fast so nobody would know. This was my cycle for many many years. Nobody knew. I was very good at hiding it. I was very good at eating in public and stopping at a good point until I could get home and binge. I was very good at vowing to do better next time.
Outwardly I appeared to many people to have it all together, but inwardly my self-esteem was beyond rock bottom. The only way to deal was to ignore and deny. I got used to hating myself. I accepted the status quo. I am who I am, and it is what it is. Nothing will change. I accepted the mediocrity of being “great at other things, so this is just one little problem my other good things can make up for.” I tried every diet, every pill, every nutrition drink, every health plan, you name it…
At the end of 2013, I was faced with a huge personal loss. I found myself sitting in front of the tv sobbing my eyeballs out and two-fisting cookies a friend had mailed me as “grief comfort food.” I didn’t realize it until the tupperware was empty, but I ate almost 2 dozen homemade cookies that night. I stared at the empty container. A voice whispered, “I love you. I want better for you.” I cried even harder. I hated myself. The cookies stayed in the forefront of my thoughts for days and weeks. Something was wrong. I had a problem. In my grief, I had not turned to my God or my husband or my family. I turned to 2 dozen cookies. Why? It plagued me. I wrote about it in my journal with a hilarious comedic twist to it. “My finest moment.” Really funny. But deep down it wasn’t funny. I covered my shame in humor.
Months passed. The cycle continued as always. Trigger, binge, fallout, frustration, extreme diet, trigger, binge… Sometimes the binge would last a couple hours, and sometimes I could nurse a binge for up to two whole weeks. Sometimes I could eat really healthy or diet for long periods of time. I would believe I’d really changed, but eventually I would fall back into the same cycle helplessly. My husband was so frustrated. He was the only one who saw it. He’d seen it our entire marriage. First he thought it was a total lack of self control. As the years passed in our marriage he saw my self control in so many other areas of life, he eventually began to wonder if there was a larger problem at play. How could I be so self-controlled in other areas and not this?
5 months ago I broke and realized I was in bondage to food. I read the first chapter in the Overeaters Anonymous book and was speechless. Every word, every sentence was about me. Addict. Was it true? Was I an addict? Surely not me. It must just be a self control issue. That’s what I always believed it to be. I just needed to control myself better and eat in moderation. If I assigned it a new name, that would totally upset the apple cart. If I named it “addiction” it meant something would need to change.
“We can’t stop once we start, and we can’t stop from starting again… vicious cycle….”
“Allergy of the body… obsession of the mind… double whammy… doomed without the help of God…”
I slammed the book shut and tried to shake it off. That described me. I’ve known it for years but never knew it had an explanation and a name. But maybe I was just imagining it…
The next day I picked up the book again and read page after page. Lies I told myself for years were peeled away and the truth was exposed. My problem was part physical and part spiritual. I was addicted to a certain list of foods that I physically and psychologically cannot control or eat in moderation. Call it a food allergy if you will. Whatever. My body can’t stop once it starts eating those foods. When I was willing to be brutally honest with myself, I made a list of foods I simply have no control over…. Pizza, all forms of pasta, fast food, fried foods, Chinese food, all forms of dinner rolls, all ice cream, all chocolate, and any and all things created in a bakery… cake, cookies, pastries, muffins, donuts, brownies, etc… (I added cereal to the list a few months later). I stared at the list and couldn’t bear the thought of never eating those again. I was angry. I was angry that this is my lot in life… that others can happily partake of these foods in moderation without issue, but if I eat them, an epic binge ensues. Why me? I slammed the book shut again. No I would not give these foods up. I love these foods, and nobody can blame me. They’re freaking delicious. This list of food is the makeup for almost all social interaction. Humanity gathers around food, and Americans gather around these particular foods the most. How would I have any social life?? I was mad at God for shining a light on this thing I wanted to remain hidden.
This brings me to my second problem. If the first was physical, the second was spiritual. We all have weaknesses in some area. Mine was food… even from a very young age. When I was 8, I found a box of leftover birthday cake beside the trash can buried under 2 feet of snow on our porch. I dug it out and ate it. When I was 9, I found a box of leftover cake in our trash bin by the driveway and pulled it out of the trash and ate it. Those are my earliest shameful memories. You can think to yourself, “That’s disgusting.” Guess what… your weakness is probably something very different yet equally disgusting. We are broken people. We desperately need a savior. But we remain in bondage to our weaknesses, and use them to replace God and fill a hole that only God can truly fill. That’s exactly what I did.
When I was 13, my 3 year old sister was diagnosed with Leukemia, and I began eating at every opportunity. When I was 15 my parents separated. I would tell my school teachers I needed to be excused from class to use the bathroom, and I would run to the cafeteria and buy handfuls of snacks. When I was 18, I went through a very rough patch in life including a brief abusive relationship. When I was upset, I would park my car in a fast food parking lot and binge eat in the darkest part of the parking lot. When I got married, the cycle continued, because let me tell you…. marriage isn’t always a walk in the park! It’s hard work, and some years are rocky… especially when you carry old unresolved wounds from past men into your marriage. Every year the cycle became worse, and the binges became far more “impressive” if you will. I turned to food instead of God, because it made me feel in control. I could self-medicate. I could take care of myself. I could overcome whatever problems I faced. I was a first born child. I had to be perfect. I was a problem solver. I was capable of being the captain of my ship. I, I, I, me, me, me… I was the master of me. Anything that replaces God is a sin, and my issue was a sin issue buried deep in my heart. And somewhere along the line, my “control” morphed into something I had zero control over. It controlled me. I was not free. I didn’t even remember what freedom in this area looked like. I was in bondage. That’s what sin does. It masquerades as something enticing and “manageable” and then turns on you when you’re not looking and brings destruction before you even realize what happened. Now… after all my clawing and fighting for control, here I was with this “thing” that had complete domination over me reading a book that tells me I will never be able to overcome it without God.
Again I stared at the list of “trigger foods” I had created in a moment of raw honesty with myself. God said, “Give it to me. Trust me. It is for freedom that I came to set you free. I didn’t set you free, so you could live like this.” I decided that day to take hold of the freedom God was offering me. It was August 1, 2014. I read through the Overeaters Anonymous book that I’d found, and went through all the 12 steps. But I did it in secret. I didn’t want anyone to know. I was embarrassed. You know what… Healing happens in the light, not the dark, and sure enough God strategically placed me in positions were I was forced to tell my husband and one of my best friends what was going on. Speaking it out loud makes it real. Real is scary. I was terrified. Speaking it out loud also gives it wings and sets it free. I was loved and forgiven and encouraged and held accountable and not condemned. It was amazing. I tear up even recalling those 2 conversations.
Other things I hadn’t ever expected began to happen. My self-esteem began to heal. A new peace and freedom and confidence and self-acceptance broke down walls in my marriage that we’d both gotten used to living with. Very old wounds I’d carried from my teen years began to heal, and the freedom of forgiveness opened up space in my heart for new things. I didn’t have to carry all of it around with me… I no longer had an ever increasing baggage of wounds to carry around and nurse and numb with food. Freedom was amazing.
At first it was so painful. Freedom always comes at a high cost. Even the thought of any food on that list would cause me to have a physical reaction of longing and my throat would get choked up, and I would cry. For weeks it was constant. I needed those foods. I wanted them badly. They were like old friends. I would walk through the grocery store and chant, “Not even once. Not even once.” An alcoholic can avoid a bar, but a food addict cannot avoid a grocery store. It was terrible at first. I would drive past McDonalds and chant over and over, “Not even once.” I would stare at my husband and kids eating dinner rolls at a restaurant and think to myself, “Not even once” as I nursed a coffee and waited for my entree. I celebrated freedom every day, but it didn’t look or feel like freedom to me. Breaking free is hard and painful, and there were days where I just had to get through the next hour without caving. The only thing that stopped me was forcing myself to remember and think about the entire cycle that would happen the minute I took the first bite. I would beg God for help, and I would find a distraction and text my friend. She always held me up.
Halloween came. I didn’t eat the candy. Thanksgiving came. I didn’t eat the pies. Christmas came. I didn’t eat the cookies. My husband and 2 children all had birthdays, and I had to abstain from the cake. Yesterday my birthday came. It was the ultimate test. How do I not eat birthday cake (my most favorite food on earth) on my birthday?? This is what our society does on birthdays, and I LOVE it! I love the cake, and the candles, and the obnoxious off key out-of-tune renditions of “Happy Birthday To You.” Nobody wants to gather around an empty table to sing to the birthday girl. I was stuck. Then there was a knock at the door. A delivery man handed me a box. It was from one of my friends.
It was a birthday cake made of flowers…. instead of flour. It was beautiful. It smelled like flowers and freedom. It reminded me that God cares about me and always provides a way out of temptation. My birthday marked 160 days free… and counting…
So if you get together with me, and I don’t eat with you, don’t take it personally. And don’t try to convince me that it’s ok to splurge once. I’m not on a diet. I’m not trying to lose weight. This isn’t about calories or sugar intake or “cheating” on a diet. I will have to politely decline. I know myself. There’s a reason I say, “not even once.” But also, I ask that you don’t feel bad for me. I’ve been learning how to happily socialize with my friends and family as they enjoy food in moderation while I enjoy my new freedom. Trigger foods do not control me anymore. God made a way for me to exit a destructive cycle that was damaging me physically, psychologically, and spiritually. He didn’t force me to give up certain foods, because He is mean. He set me free, because He is a good Dad.
You may think God is trying to take your fun or your happiness away if He asks you to give something up to Him. You may think following God would be so “restrictive” and filled with rules and no freedom to do what you want. Actually, God is trying to give you freedom. He came to set us free from our own depraved selves! God is helping me on this journey to overcome binge eating not to make me sad or restrict me or to slap “addict” on my forehead and make me walk around embarrassed and ashamed trying to explain to friends why I can’t eat ice cream with them. He helped me let go of something to give me something BETTER in exchange. Freedom. Peace. Healing. Confidence. That freedom is far better than anything I could do for myself.
God came to say to the captive, “Come out!” and to those in darkness, “Be free!” If you are holding on to a secret sin that keeps you held over a barrel and captive, you CAN be free. The keys to freedom have already unlocked the door on your behalf. The God of heaven WILL give you the strength to stand to your feet and walk out of the jail cell you think you can’t get out of. Your life may look completely normal on the outside… you may not even believe you are a prisoner. I certainly didn’t want to admit I was a prisoner. I didn’t know just how much of a captive was until I was shown freedom. If you think, “It’s manageable. It’s just something I can’t change, so I’ll just do my best to control it,” I’m here to tell you there’s a better way! God loves you. He is after your complete healing and freedom in Him. That’s what He came for. That is His end game. His version of Freedom is way better than ours. I love Him for it. I hope my story will help someone else to grab hold of God’s hand and break free.