The best way out is always through—Robert Frost
I do not remember a time in my life when food was not an issue. At seven years old I could tell you the exact number of calories in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich along with every other food that went into my mouth. Becoming a dancer as a teenager only exacerbated the problem. The competition was fierce, and there was an exaggerated emphasis on weight and physical appearance. One particular day, I was eating lunch with my best friend in between ballet classes. We started off with salads, but ended up devouring a couple of huge brownies. Afterward, we decided to throw up. I don’t know if we had learned about this practice on TV or heard about other girls doing it, but from that point on bulimia became another tool I used to control my weight. I did not force myself to vomit every day, but if I overate, the option was always there for me.
Fifteen years later, and two years into my walk as a Christian, my struggle with food had become worse than ever. Bulimia had grabbed ahold of me, and what used to be an occasional outlet now controlled me. My thoughts were consumed with my weight—what I would or would not eat, and how my body looked. Most of my thoughts in a day were centered on food. I was mentally tormented and could not have been further from freedom. Unfortunately, I seemed to get a lot of “nice” advice in church: pray more, read the Bible more. I was praying! I was reading the Bible! Neither was helping.
I did not understand how all my prayer, studying the Word, and church attendance could affect every area in my life—except my tortuous relationship with food. How could this be? Once I became a Christian, wasn’t all the bad stuff supposed to go away or at least start getting better? Some of my darkest days occurred after I became a Christian. It was not supposed to be this way.
The Bible says that all the promises of God are available to me and that I can live in total freedom, and that is exactly what I expected. If I was giving my life and everything I had to God, then I expected God to give everything He had to me. Remaining in bondage in even one area of my life was unacceptable.
“Okay, Lord,” I cried out, “what is the problem? You need to show me what is going on here; I need answers. I cannot continue to live like this. How do I get free?”
Then God answered me. Did that mean I heard an audible voice? No, but all of a sudden I had a sense in my spirit, and a thought came to my mind that I had never considered before:
You have too many counterfeit comforters.
What does that mean, too many counterfeit comforters? I had never heard that phrase before. I pondered it, and the Holy Spirit began putting the pieces together for me. In the Bible, one of the names of the Holy Spirit is Comforter. The Lord showed me that whenever I felt rejected, sad or disappointed, I did not go to the Holy Spirit for comfort, but to Mrs. Fields’ cookies or to my good friends Ben and Jerry. (Chocolate fudge brownie ice cream, in particular.) I had developed a habit of running to something—anything—but primarily to food for an emotional release or to numb out so I would not have to feel anything at all. Then I heard this:
You do not have a food issue. You have a feelings issue.
The Lord began to show me how my food issue did not have to do with food at all. I had been trying to deal with my emotions by controlling food with dieting, binging and purging. We all know that does not work, at least not for long. When eating is out of control, the food itself is not the problem. The problem is using food for what it was never intended. Food is meant to nourish the body and fuel us—not to stuff down emotions, release stress or numb us out so we cannot feel anything at all. Food was not created to be our dear friend, our confidant or our companion in a lonely world. I did not realize it, but I was using food to comfort myself, to take the edge off and to escape. The overeating was merely a symptom and not the problem. The binging was a reaction to something else. Trying to control the eating meant I was not dealing with the root of the problem, which is why dieting did not change me. Willpower worked for a while, but I would fall into the same pattern again and again no matter how hard I resisted. Dieting worked for a time, but the results were never lasting, because it is not about controlling the eating. It is about realizing why the eating is out of control.