One evening my children and I ate at a packed restaurant. We squeezed our way to the exit, right past one of my children’s classmates. As we said hello, I noticed how this overweight child used chicken nuggets as an edible spoon for dipping, rapidly shoveling honey back and forth in long, sticky strands. The moment I glimpsed her gluttonous pleasure, a buried memory surfaced—That was me. Food has been my problem area as long as I can remember.
Food comforted me like a snuggly blanket when I was not allowed to express my childhood hurts in normal ways, like acting out or complaining. I loved sweets and starches, and I frequently ate adult-sized double portions. I scooped mountains of macaroni; I craved at least two slices of bread with butter. By age nine I downed slabs of sheet cake, piles of spaghetti, and half-rows of Fig Newtons or Oreos. Eating large portions pleased my grandmother, who expressed her love by serving food. And I experienced a mild high after bingeing.
But my mother lectured me when she had to buy me bigger clothing as I grew heavier. When classmates made fun of my weight, I felt exposed and ashamed. The pressure to stop overeating brought on more cravings for the easy comfort of carbohydrates, which caused weight gain, which brought on more social pressure. As a fourth-grader I was already trapped in a destructive cycle—one that would follow me for years to come.
My younger sister responded differently to the stresses we shared in a single-parent home. To my sister, food was fuel, but to me food was a friend. She picked at her food and Mom called her a “little bird,” a name never used for me. I am the only one in my family who regularly struggles with being overweight, probably because I was the only one who over-ate in childhood.
In his book He Satisfies My Soul, Dr. Paul Brand describes how an overweight child’s cells reproduce to store excessive calorie intake. Those extra fat cells produce abnormal hunger cravings as the child grows. The adult who over-ate as a child has a harder time maintaining a healthy weight than another adult who ate normally in childhood. While reading this book, I grieved the little girl inside who didn’t realize that food can be a foe.
Today my weight remains stable, though I’m still 10% over the healthy BMI range for my height and frame. When I cut carbs out of my diet, I become so irritable and ravenous that I fail by day two. I have greater success upping my exercise and eating more fruits and vegetables. Ultimately I need to make peace with my body, knowing that I may always be a bit overweight due to poor choices made long ago.
As an adult I seek comfort from God, not from candy or cookies so often anymore. When I feel compelled to cram in chocolate chips by the handful or to consume several servings of pasta, I cry out to God for help in my stress. I slip up every once in a while, but most of the time I handle hard feelings in a healthier way. My jeans applaud my efforts, too.
My biggest success has been teaching my three children to eat wisely. They recognize a full tummy feeling and know when to stop. I have worked diligently not to use food as comfort when they are sick or sad. I am proud that they enjoy sweets and carbs in moderation, but rarely if ever experience an upset stomach due to overeating. At least I have broken the unhealthy cycle in their generation.
Is food your fuel, friend, or foe? How have you used faith to overcome eating problems?