I remember the moment...
School had just let out for the summer, and I was standing in front of the mirror in the room I shared with my older sister. I held my shirt up the way I had seen so many older girls do before, and the thought pounded my brain.
“I’m fat. My stomach isn’t flat. I need to lose weight.”
Those words disappeared as quickly as they came, and I went on with my afternoon, but the damage had been done.
It was more than just that moment, though. It was wanting to make the varsity cross-country team, and an intense emphasis placed on my physical appearance in the fine arts world that led me to believe that thin was fast, thin would win, and thin was all that mattered. If I was thin, life would be easier for me. If I was thin, I would be the fastest on the team, I would always get the solo in show choir, I would always be accepted, envied even.
That wasn’t the truth.
Unfortunately, it became harder and harder to hear God’s truth about my body, my beauty, my self-image. It was drowned out by the conversations of my classmates and older women around me. It was drowned out when I was declared "fat" and told my thighs looked big in jeans. When a peer’s mother said I needed to lose weight after she measured my waist for that year’s show choir costume, though it had increased by only one inch. The truth was drowned out when I would hear women picking apart their bodies, counting calories, and lamenting their supposedly growing waistlines. Even though there was nothing wrong with their bodies...
As truth became more difficult to hear, my issues escalated to disordered eating and eventually anorexia. I obsessed over eating the healthiest foods possible, getting just the right mix of sugars, fats and proteins. I religiously avoided any food I considered ‘bad’ and counted calories like it was my job. I would run mile after mile after school, do my homework, and try to avoid eating dinner.
These behaviors continued and worsened into college, and eventually the restriction, calorie counting, and excessive exercise wasn’t enough. I began purging the meager bit of food I allowed myself to consume.
I needed help.
After a particularly painful binging and purging session, I finally accepted that I needed help. The phone calls I made next were the most difficult calls I've ever made. I knew I needed help, but was terrified to ask for it, horrified to admit what I’d done, and afraid to start recovery.
Recovery was hard. Recovery scared me. I had to re-learn what "healthy" eating was, what normal exercise was, and what balance and moderation really meant. Something so simple as walking into the school cafeteria, or being invited to bake cookies absolutely terrified me.
Over the next few years, I began to find joy in food and to see it as fuel. I came to appreciate my body for what it can do rather than how it appears. I began to I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I enjoy cookies and pie, hamburgers and salad. I train hard, and I rest hard, too.
Change is good. Getting in shape is good. Learning to eat healthily is good. BUT, none of those things are good when they become too restrictive. None of those things are good when they accompany degrading self-talk, comparison, or when they lead to over-exercise and under-eating, or lethargy and over-eating.
This is not a pass to skip exercise. As a Certified Athletic Trainer and Olympic Hopeful, I am the last person who is going to give you such a pass. Moving your body is so important for each of us. But this is a pass to stop comparing yourself, to learn to love yourself, to see yourself as your Heavenly Father does. Eat real food. Exercise to move your body, not lost weight. Rest. Remember your value.
If you don’t love yourself, your body, right where you are at this moment, you aren’t going to love yourself at any other size, shape, [insert your struggle here] either.
Let's remember the Great Engineer.
Scripture talks over and over about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit, a gift we have received from God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and how we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1-2). Paul wasn’t specifically thinking of exercise and food when he wrote those passages, however he was talking about how we use and view our bodies in light of what God created them to be.
We aren’t respecting the gift of our bodies when we speak negatively to ourselves, about our bodies or someone else’s body. We aren’t offering our bodies as living sacrifices when we make choices that don’t fuel our bodies properly, or allow them to rest. Starving and depriving yourself is not fueling and caring for your body
God created our bodies to do wonderful and magical things; it’s part of why my husband calls God the “Great Engineer.” He designed our bodies to need fuel in the form of a variety of foods, to need movement, and to even need rest. Our bodies are a gift, and when we use them contrary to how God created them to be – in comparison, restriction, binging, purging, over-exercise, under-eating, overeating and/or not exercising - we may as well be telling God he failed, and that’s not true.
This is truth.
Part of honoring God with our bodies is in how we eat, how we exercise, how we talk about our own bodies, and other people. It means we need to be cognizant of our self-talk, of whether or not our speech is uplifting, edifying or degrading. It means we need to learn to be grateful for the gift of the body He has given each of us, and use it to the best of our abilities where He’s placed us.
For more stories from real women about their journey with food, exercise and learning to love themselves as God does, check out The Real Beauty Series that Laura hosts on her photography blog.
Laura is a professional photographer, Certified Athletic Trainer, Olympic Hopeful in skeleton doing life on the Rocky Mountain foothills just south of Boulder, Colorado. She is a former collegiate cross-country runner turned elite skeleton athlete aiming for the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympic Games. Married to Ryan, she and her husband love to spend any free moment they have hiking, biking, skiing, running, and sliding (Hello! Skeleton!) over their Rocky Mountain backyard.