The first bad word I ever learned was “fat.” I was to never to use it to describe anyone, or even use it in a sentence if I could help it. And as I learned other bad words at school, I knew without having to be told that none of them would get me in as much trouble as “fat.”
My Mother was always “overweight,” but by her 30th birthday she had five children and over 300 pounds. (Yes, I meant to state it that way.) She dieted, she exercised, she tried to lose the weight, but mostly she stressed. And stress made her want to eat. Once I watched her heat peanut butter and chocolate chips on the stove until it had all melted together, and then eat it straight out of the pan. She let me have a little. I wondered why she would do that if she wanted to lose weight, but I knew better than to ask.
My heart hurt for her. But as a child, what could I do?
I told her she was the most beautiful person in the whole world. And I meant it. I secretly envied her dark hair, and her blue eyes. I used to play under her skirt while she was washing dishes, and I told myself that when I was a Mommy, I would get myself nightgowns just like hers. I loved how she looked, and I loved it when Dad told her she was beautiful. When I snuggled up to her on the bench at church, I told her that I loved how comfy she was to be with.
But Dad and I weren’t the only voices speaking up.
At church, and family gatherings, someone who hadn’t seen me in a little while would be there to comment on my size.
Thanks to my grandfather, I was tall and very thin. I was the oldest of the five-child Brayton brood, and everyone seemed to find commenting on our physical size a very important part of any social interaction with us:
“Wow, you’ve grown so big!” they said to me, smiling. Then, turning to my mother they would ask, “What do you feed them?”
Or worse, “You’re so skinny! Does she eat anything?”
Either of these comments, and variations of the same, were always made with big smiles and warm feelings, but I found them terribly inconsiderate. How could you imagine that a young mother, struggling to keep hold of her many thin children while clearly overweight herself, would find questions about whether her little ones ate the right amount of food endearing?
“I eat a lot!” I would defend, “You should see me!”
This was actually quite true. My extended family loved to make good food and eat it together. I prided myself in how much I could eat, like my uncles did. As I got older, and ate with friends and at social gatherings, I started keeping score. Then I could add statistics to my defense to the inconsiderate question-askers I met in public:
“You should see me! They had a party at school and I ate seven pieces of pizza! All the boys were amazed that I ate the most of all!”
I was my own little irony. The skinny girl that could eat grown men under the table. And I loved it.
I worked during high school so I could pay my own way to university. I knew my parents couldn’t pay my tuition on top of the expense of raising my four siblings still at home, and I didn’t want to finish college with a crazy amount of debt. Honestly, I was happy to contribute. Naturally, I was also excited to learn that the university would pay my tuition if my grades were good enough. I worked hard, and earned mostly A’s, a full scholarship, and a job in the tutoring center for my efforts.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Living on my own wasn’t so bad, but feeding myself turned out to be a problem. My first year, my parents bought me a meal plan, which paid for two buffet-style meals every day. But when I “graduated” myself to a cooking dorm, I struggled to stretch my budget enough to satisfy my need for food.
I used several different strategies to try to keep my boundless metabolism satisfied on a tight budget. I asked my roommates to let me eat any food they’d either bought or made but wouldn’t eat. I invented a portable version of French toast, and also ham-and-peanut-butter sandwiches, for when I needed a protein boost on my way to class. I gravitated toward events that offered free food, even though that “food” was usually dessert. I didn’t even like cookies all that much, but I grew a stash of cookies that I could dive into when I needed to.
But they didn’t satisfy me either. The more sugar and starch I ate, the harder it was to satisfy myself with anything. I eventually realized that I had a real problem, and the problem was bigger than me.
I was addicted to eating.
I can remember where I was when the realization hit me. I was completely alone. My roommates, who all lived closer to school than I did, had gone back to their hometowns early for a short break between semesters. I opted to save my money and stick around for the break. There was no homework to do, and no one around, so I had plenty of time to think. It was the first of September. August 31st had been balmy and clear, but September 1st was cold, windy, and snowy. I stayed inside and pondered how quickly things can change.
I was standing in the kitchen, burdened with the weight of my trial. I had studied my scriptures, and was thinking about God. All at once, I realized that my only way out of my addiction to food was to give it over to Him, trusting His power to take it.
My desire to let the burden go suddenly grew until it was all I could see. I prayed aloud, first thanking Him for the wealth of blessings I enjoyed, and promising to serve Him all my life, come what may. Then I prayed that, if it was His will to do so, that He would lift my addiction from my shoulders – from my life – forever.
Then it was gone!
In an instant, I felt my mind and heart change, so my view of food was healthy again. I prayed again, sobbing out the words as my emotions overwhelmed me, grateful to God whose power and love had set me free.
Part of me wishes I could say the story ended there, but another part is glad I had to work to maintain that freedom. Redemption, I have learned, is not an event but a lifelong struggle and journey.
But I had a piece of the puzzle, a key to my heart and future, another step toward the freedom every human soul longs for.
It’s all part of the adventure.
Have you experienced a time when the clouds parted and the Lord set you free? Have you, or do you still, struggle with addiction of any kind?
Would you be willing to share in the comments?
Let’s talk and lift together!