About four years ago I started to experience a whole slew of mysterious health problems – mostly digestive. It started out being simple stomach and abdominal cramps, bloating and pressure. After about a year it morphed into what I pinpointed as some kind of lactose intolerance. Every time I ate something, especially anything containing dairy, I would feel queasy and sick to my stomach for up to a few hours afterwards. Eventually it got to the point where I felt sick to my stomach whether I had just eaten or not.
So I cut out milk products entirely. If the cracker’s 26th ingredient was butter, I didn’t eat it. But that only helped so much. A while later, all my previous symptoms seemed to subside and instead I developed intense burning in my stomach. I paid a lot of money to get a scope test done to see if I had ulcers, but I didn’t. The gastroenterologist didn’t have any answers and I didn’t want to continue blind testing, so I settled it in my mind that I was just going to have digestive problems the rest of my life unless God miraculously healed my body.
Another factor playing in to all this body drama was the fact that for years I had struggled with an eating disorder that also had morphing properties. I had always been extremely body conscious as a little girl and by the sixth grade I was purposely rationing my food and exercising with the purpose of burning extra calories. My practices only got more strange and secretive as I got older. I refused to eat real sugar and started using artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Sweet & Low in my coffee and on everything else that needed it. I went through high school eating non-fat dairy products only, diet snacks like 100 calorie Special K bars and “picking” at food when I wanted to eat it but couldn’t justify enjoying the whole thing.
During lunch when my friends would eat pizza and fries from the hot lunch line or from restaurants that bordered our campus, I would sneak into the women’s bathroom, hide in a stall and chug a Slim Fast shake so I wouldn’t be temped by the pizza and fries. On the days I didn’t do that, I usually just opted for an apple and a string cheese to get me through the rest of the day and soccer practice.
I was a reader of teen girl magazines and when flipping through the pages I would use skinny girl images as motivation to be more rigid in my diet and exercise. By the end of high school I was also throwing up meals occasionally and dabbling in drinking to ease feelings of depression – something that very much stirred up feelings of guilt and shame because of my Christian faith.
College wasn’t much better. In fact, the independence college would bring also allowed me to eat salads for every meal without anyone really noticing and allowed me access to a Rec Center that I could visit five days a week – which I did during all four years in Pullman even when I had to trudge through the snow and freezing cold to get there. I started eating alone more often than not and I dreaded eating meals out with friends where I had no say over the menu options. I think I only ate pizza three times during my whole college career and I prided myself on the fact that I never ate even one cheeseburger during those years. Instead I drank tons of diet soda because the bubbles helped make me feel full even when I was hungry.
On the other hand, my strict diet drove me to binge on something “bad” almost daily. I would spend all day thinking about how I was going to eat less than the day before, but eventually my hunger would break my will and I’d find myself gobbling down M&Ms, ice cream or something else I considered off limits. This routine constantly left me wallowing in a deep puddle of guilt and self loathing. “Why can’t I be more self controlled? Why did I have to eat that?” I’d spend the rest of the day promising myself I’d never binge again, only to repeat the cycle the following day.
During my junior year of college I ordered a free bottle of Zantrex-3 diet pills from the TV. I felt bad about taking them, but I would use them before a workout for an energy boost so I’d be able to run longer and faster. One night halfway through my senior year I woke up in the middle of the night soaked in sweat, feeling extremely dizzy and when I pressed my fingers against my neck to feel my pulse, my heart was beating so slowly I wondered if it might actually stop altogether. I felt faint and as I got up to go to the bathroom down the hall I got the sharpest pain in my chest. I didn’t know who to tell about what was happening so I ran down the hall, locked myself in a bathroom stall, sat on the cold tile floor and rested my head on the toilet seat. The pain and dizziness lasted about five minutes, during all of which I literally thought I might be having a heart attack and I wondered if I would die right there in the bathroom stall. I probably should have gone and gotten someone to help me at that point, but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that the reason this was happening to me was because I’d taken a few extra diet pills earlier that day. I decided I’d rather die that night in the stall than admit to someone that I needed help.
By the time I graduated college and moved to California I was throwing up more than ever before and it only got worse when the lactose intolerance symptoms set in. Suddenly I could justify my behavior because I wasn’t just throwing up for vanity’s sake, but because “the food made me feel sick.” Previously, throwing up had been an occasional occurrence, but now it had become an almost every day event. I had trained myself to be able to do it so quietly that I could purge my food at work, in restaurant bathrooms or at home without my roommates hearing.
By this time I had met Jon, the man I would marry, and I started wondering how much my eating problems were going to affect my future. Would I be able to enjoy my wedding or would I be so obsessed with my weight that I’d miss out on all the joys of marriage? How would I be as a mother? Would by problems infect any future daughters I’d have like a disease? I had heard on the radio that the daughters of women who struggled with eating disorders were much more likely to develop eating disorders themselves. How could I live with myself if I ever influenced my own daughter to have low self esteem and an eating disorder? Suddenly with Jon in my life, my problems seemed to effect more than just myself. As we grew closer in our relationship, my issues became more apparent and started affecting Jon as well. He started to notice things and would try and help me by telling me how beautiful he thought I was on a thirty times a day basis.
Eventually, I shared about my “eating issues” with my small group leader from church, Hannah. During one of my lunch breaks downtown, over the phone she told me that I had an eating disorder. I was so angry she’d said that to me that I was tempted to throw my phone into the street. No one had ever accused me of having an eating disorder before. Even though I knew this thing was destroying my life and my happiness I was in deep denial about calling it what it really was. I preferred to refer to “it” as my “eating issues” and in my head I’d tell myself that I just cared about the way I looked a little bit more than most other people I knew.
That day was life-altering for me. Somehow, having my problem exposed and thrust out into the light made me feel less trapped by all the secretiveness and the cloak of lies I’d covered myself in for so long. It wasn’t long after that day that I decided I wasn’t going to have an eating disorder anymore and I enlisted Jon’s help get me through what I imagined would be months or even years of battling towards normalcy in the my actions, but especially in my thoughts. By this time, I couldn’t go more than a few minutes without obsessing over food, exercise, or my waist size in my mind. For as long as I could remember, every time I visited the restroom I would turn sideways, lift up my shirt and scrutinize my tummy in the mirror. I wondered how in the world I could ever change my thinking patterns after so many years of training myself to think a certain, twisted way.
At Hannah’s suggestion, I decided to tackle this problem from all angles: Spiritually, I would go to war with whatever spirits or demons had been welcomed into my life and taken up residence. I would plead the blood of Jesus over my life to abolish any bondage I was experiencing. Mentally, I would buy books to read and sign up to see a Christian counselor that specialized in helping people overcome eating disorders. Practically, I would vow never to throw up again.
That was in August and by October I knew I was healed. During worship on a Sunday morning at church I tapped Jon on the shoulder and whispered to him, “I’m healed.” He looked at me a little bit confused and skeptical, but again I told him, “No really, I’m healed. I’ll tell you more about it later.”
The weeks between August and October were rocky as I attempted to retrain myself in what was normal. It was a moment by moment battle in my mind to think self-accepting thoughts rather than self-hating ones. Surprisingly, one of the most influential things I did in the whole process was to read a book. Jon ordered a book off Amazon called “Learning To Be Me: My Twenty-Three Year Battle With Bulimia” by Jocelyn Golden. Little did he know when he ordered it that Jocelyn Golden actually grew up in California and went to college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, the same town I was currently living in. So as I read her gut-wrenching story, everything really came to life as I could picture all the places around town she made reference to. But even more than the ability to relate to the physical places in her story, the way she described how she felt as child in her own skin, in her house and within her family unit struck a serious cord in me.
And that was my greatest motivator. My whole life I had been suffering with this disease, yet I always found comfort by telling myself, “It’s really not that bad, Erin.” But here I was, reading a book about a girl who had spent twenty-three years living in extreme anorexia and bulimia and who would likely spend the rest of her life in once-a-day therapy sessions just to avoid relapsing. As I read her book I realized that I could completely relate to her -and THAT is what scared me.
Maybe my disorder had never taken over to the same extent as hers did because I’d had the Holy Spirit fighting within me to keep me from completely giving myself over to my disease? I’d never been able to live a completely hidden life because at the same time I was living in lies I was also striving to grow in my relationship with the Lord, reach out to others and live as a disciple of Christ. Although many days I’d sought to be alone so I could feed my twisted thoughts, other days I would feel exuberant and full of life – ready to share my life with others. But, what I realized as I read Jocelyn’s book was that if I didn’t do something and actually find a way to change, I could very well end up being just like her – dealing with this for. the. rest. of. my. life. This reality put a fire in my belly and a fighting spirit in my heart. It put a true desire in me to change. I still had time – it wasn’t too late!
Still to this day, I can’t really explain exactly what happened to me during those weeks. I don’t really know HOW I changed, I just know that I did. All the credit goes to the Holy Spirit for doing a deep work in me because I feel that all I did was let Him drag me along through lots of childhood memories, lots of painful truth and through lots of healing waters. I spent those weeks feeling pretty quiet and fragile. I minded my own business at work and just tried to get through my days without crying too much.
There were a few key moments throughout that whole process that really marked some change. There was a lot of eating meals followed by begging Jon to let me go throw up. Jon has never physically hurt me (ever), but during those weeks he did a lot of very firm wrist holding to keep me from darting into restaurant bathrooms after a meal.
Jon put up with more than I even like to think about or remember as I dealt with my demons, but he always made me feel like no matter what, he would make sure that I got through it all. Actually, he told me that all the time. So with his support I was able to finally open up about a lot of things I never had before and surprisingly, the healing that the Lord brought my way was without delay.
When I told Jon I was healed that day during the church service I was definitely still progressing. I hadn’t arrived by any means because I still had a lot of things that needed to play out in my quest for normal. But on that day, I was sure that the bondage was gone. I felt free. My mind felt free. And I knew God had truly set me free and that I could continue walking forward in that freedom if I chose to do so.
About a month later I got engaged and I got to experience all the joys of heading towards marriage along with the increasing freedom I was experiencing in my relationship with food. For the first time in my life I started eating normal foods, at normal times and in the presence of other people. I started exercising a modest two times per week and actually enjoying it rather than psychologically beating myself up as I worked out. Sometimes I would purposely skip a workout just because I could! I started having space in my brain to think about all sorts of pleasant things and as a result of the non-stop guilt and shame being gone, I started to level out emotionally. I started to enjoy get-togethers like Thanksgiving and dinners out with friends. I started discovering that I really LOVED food and trying new things. I’d spent most of my life being completely rigid about everything I ate, but with Jon in my life he was exposing me to new foods and flavors all the time due to his love for cooking and cuisine.
By the time I got married I felt like a completely new person. And best of all, I don’t think I worried about my body even once on my wedding day. Our honeymoon was a bit of a celebration for more than one reason. Besides just enjoying each other, we made it a point to eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted and not feel bad about it. It was also the longest I’d ever gone without working out since middle school since we were on vacation for ten days. There were a lot of times on my honeymoon where I would exclaim, “I love this!” about something I’d just eaten. Followed by an excited, “I can’t believe I don’t even feel bad about it either!”
Since getting married about a year and a half ago, I feel like I’ve truly become ‘normal’ in my eating and exercise habits. I try my best to eat healthy foods, but I also have no problem grabbing a cheeseburger and fries when it sounds good. In fact, learning to like cheeseburgers was part of my healing process – no joke. And surprisingly, my weight never even changed. When I decided to conquer my eating disorder I prepared myself mentally to gain at least fifteen pounds – but it just never happened. All that stressing and obsessing for years and it turns out my body can process normal amounts of food and calories just fine.
However, even though my habits became more normal, my body, specifically my gastrointestinal tract, undoubtedly had some serious damage from the long-term bad habits I’d subjected it to. So I ate normally, but I still experienced the ulcer-like burning in my stomach much of the time. People would say to me, “You’re young and healthy, so what is causing this burning?” I didn’t know for sure, no doctor had ever diagnosed me per se, but in my heart I had strong feeling that whatever problems I was experiencing was probably somehow linked to the years of feeding my body an overload of some things, a lack in others like healthy fats and real food ingredients and from ingesting too many chemicals from things like diet soda and diet pills. I was sure it was my own actions that had wreaked havoc on my insides.
Now, since getting pregnant with my first child, even the burning seems to have faded for the most part. I went from eating “normal” to eating “healthier normal.” My habits remained un-obsessive, but with my growing baby in mind I made a bunch of healthful changes in my diet. I stopped buying Coke and Skittles at 7/11 for lunch when it sounded good and Jon and I began incorporating more organic/whole foods into our lifestyle.
With all that said, I can honestly say I’ve never felt more healed and whole in this area. Not only did God set me free from things I could have never done for myself, but now that I’ve been eating healthful, good foods increasingly over the past two years, I’m happy to say that I think over time good nutrition is actually healing my body.
I never thought that I’d be pregnant and not freaking out about my changing body, but I’m happy to say that’s the honest truth. I’m happy that right now I’m spending my time worrying about my growing baby and what college he’s going to attend, rather than worrying about calories. In fact, I never really think about calories anymore. If my metabolism ever slows down I guess I’ll have to reincorporate that back into my life to some degree, but for now I’m just enjoying my total freedom.
Pregnancy brings all sorts of beautiful changes. Your body suddenly belongs to someone else and you make choices based on what is best for your baby, not based on your jean size. Pregnancy has helped me to take my body less seriously. I laugh a lot at all the unusual changes taking place and marveling at how my body continues to transform to grow my baby without me ever lifting a finger. It’s amazing.
Here are some of the changes I’ve made in my nutrition, which I truly believe have helped heal my body:
- Stop using artificial sweeteners (sugar free syrups, diet soda, nutrient void cereal bars, diet foods, and fake-sugar packets). Start using real sugar.
- Stop drinking soda (for the most part). Instead, drink sparkling water with a squeeze of lime. We use our Soda Stream machine to carbonate our own water, but you can buy sparkling mineral water at the grocery store.
- Stop buying milk products that contain growth hormones
- Buy organic, cage-free eggs and hormone-free meats
- Buy local, pesticide-free produce. The longer fruit and veggies sit on a shelf in the supermarket, the less nutrients they contain.
- Try and avoid or at least limit “fake foods” that are super processed like white bread and other foods that come in a plastic package
- Take probiotics, which help with healthy digestion
It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)