Every action originates with a thought. This means that despite what an action is categorized as - good, bad, healthy, unhealthy, selfish, selfless - it only became possible because it was first a thought, even if it was an automatic thought of the subconscious.
My binging and purging felt automatic. I tried to think, “I’m not going to do this ever again”, but there was a stronger thought that overrode my attempt to stop the cycle. In my 20’s, it seemed automatic to grab a 20 ounce sugary coffee at the gas station and consume 2-6 diet sodas throughout the late morning and mid-afternoon. It felt normal to order a beer or wine with dinner and eat the bread in the bread basket or stop by fast food on my way home after a tiring and stressful day. It seemed to be a no brainer to go on a crazy, restrictive diet to lose some weight because that’s just what women do, right?
The interesting thing is that often there was an initial thought that would enter my mind that sounded like this, “I should do or not do this today” or “there is a healthier choice to make” or “I really should think about giving this up” but a deeper, more powerful thought always overrode that initial thought. The deeper, more powerful thought didn’t even seem to be a thought, but rather a compulsion, urge or desire that felt undeniable, all-consuming and absolute. Can you relate?
- Do you ever feel like you need to make some changes and you just can’t will yourself to do it? Do you ever give yourself a pep talk, just to turn around and lose the battle?
- Do you feel like some behaviors are just part of who you are?
When I coach women, a battle starts to arise when I bypass the “how-to’s” and “do nots” and start digging in the woman’s thought life. It’s amazing what I have discovered over and over again. As women, we don’t want to be told what to do, until we do. And when we ‘do’ want to be told what to ‘do’ - we want it simple, painless, effective and preferable cheap. We want to bypass anything that is complicated, messy, emotional, uncomfortable or revealing and just help me...
- lose the weight.
- get healthier.
- control my kids.
- fix my marriage (aka husband).
- look younger.
- get organized.
- find my peace.
...yet 99% of diets fail and most deteriorate our health. The divorce rate is sad and disheartening. Kids are often controlling their parents and a date night can’t erase years of unspoken resentment. Time marches on and our faces and bodies are constant reminders. But we feel entitled to simple fix because our instant gratification society sells it as possible through billions of dollars of mass marketing. We want it to be straight-forward and uncomplicated which many of the how-to’s are, until they get intermingled with the hot mess that lives within each of us. When the how-to’s go against what the thoughts (or beliefs) are of who we are, what we are capable of and what we will and won’t do, then rebellion, self-sabotage, fear and doubt manifest from this collision.
For example, I can ‘do’ what a parenting book says all day long, until it bumps up against the thought/belief within me that says, “I can control my child” or “I am not a good parent if my child doesn’t behave well” or “if my child is happy, then I am a good mom”. If I fail to address my underlying beliefs, then I am going to struggle to implement any strategies that counter these beliefs and I will default (or self-sabotage) back to the comfort zone of my most powerful thoughts or beliefs.
God showed me the “if my child misbehaves, then it means I don’t have control and I am not a good parent”. Because I knew the belief was there and God showed me that it was “ridiculous” and was not the truth, I had the opportunity to challenge the thought and replace it with the two new thoughts. The first one was, “Despite how my child acts, I can always control myself.” The second one was, “A good parent always does what is right and best for the child, not what is easy or what looks good to others.”
This is a true story.
So, we are in Fred Meyer and Berlyn wants to visit the stuffed animals in the toy department, which was something we do on almost every visit AFTER we finish grocery shopping. I told Berlyn before we got in the store a rundown of what was going to happen (as I always did). For some reason, Berlyn felt like flexing her two-year old independence muscles and questioned the plan. I said, “Yes, Berlyn, we will go to the toy department, after we get groceries.” She didn’t seem satisfied with that answer and continued to ask me to visit the toys ‘now’. I calmly repeated in my best self-controlled tone of voice the same answer over and over as I filled the cart with groceries. Berlyn started to raise her voice. I stopped and looked her in the eyes and said, “Berlyn, this is your warning. If you continue to cry and melt down, then we are not going to see the animals in the toy department.” She looked at me as if to see if I was serious. I gave her my most serious face. Berlyn stared at me and then she did what I never thought she would do. In slow motion, I saw her pull her hand back and WHACK - she hit me. The kid hit me. All self-control went out of my body and I hit her back - KIDDING...I’m just kidding. But I believe that thought may have flown across my mind in that moment. I am just being honest. Her eyes got as big as saucers. She had NEVER done that before and what I did next mattered.
I took ahold of her hand, got down to eye level and talked to her about how we never touch people with angry hands. I told her that my heart was hurt that she made that decision and our decisions have consequences. She was not going to get to see the stuffed animals today because of her choice to hit mommy. I took a deep breath. I felt as if I did the right thing. I looked into Berlyn’s sad eyes and then it turned ugly. OMGoodness. You would have thought that I did hit the kid. She started screaming at the top of her lungs, “No mommy! No mommy! Please mommy!”...and on and on and on. I calmly drove down the last couple of aisles as Berlyn screamed and cried and threw her body around like a rag doll. I didn’t react. I told her, “I love you, Berlyn and we are still not going to see the animals.” As I finished shopping and went to check-out, Berlyn was still screaming. I asked her if she needed a hug, to which she screamed, “NO, I want to go and see the toys”. I reminded her why we were not going to the toys and calmly went about getting in line to check-out.
As I started putting my things on the belt, the cashier and I caught each other’s eyes. Her judgement was tangible. She looked at me and said, “Well, what is happening here?” I reached across and slapped her - JUST KIDDING. Seriously, though. I said, “Well, my sweet daughter, Berlyn decided to hit mommy after not getting what she wanted and her consequence was not to visit the toys and she is not happy about that.” The woman instantly changed her demeanor and looked at Berlyn and said, “Well, that’s not a good decision not to listen to your mommy” to which Berlyn cried louder.
I went about checking out and got Berlyn into the car after running into one of my besties, Cheryl, who gave me a sincere, “I get it” hug and some words of encouragement. I had done it. I made the right decision to follow through on my word, despite what people thought or even siad. I did not give in to my child so it would appear as if I had an obedient child, while the truth would be that I was an obedient parent to my child. I had done the right thing, despite how it looked and felt in the moment. And guess what? Berlyn has NEVER done that again. She learned that day, that what mom says she will do no matter who is around or what fit I throw. I had bucked the old beliefs and replaced them with the new ones. Of course, the journey of parenthood is not perfect, but this I know - I am totally aware of which set of beliefs I am operating from.
Let’s tie this back to our health journeys.
Do you know what your default thoughts drive the actions/behaviors you keep repeating over and over and over again with no success to change?
For example, I have worked with dozens of clients who have autoimmune diseases such as adrenal fatigue or inflammatory issues and some basics to healing a body with these things are avoiding things like coffee, wine, gluten and other inflammatory foods and learning how to manage their stress. At first, they are on board. They are ready to move away from these things and are excited about the journey to healing and wholeness. Until they bump up against a belief that is counter to following a regiment to healing. The beliefs or thoughts may be:
- This won’t matter if I just do it one more time.
- I should be able to do what I want to do.
- I want to do what feels good because I deserve it.
- I am not worthy to be well.
- I won’t ever be well.
- I don’t have the willpower to do this long-term.
- I can’t change.
- If I change too much, people won’t like me.
- It is easier to just stay the same.
- This is too hard.
- What if I put in the effort and it doesn’t work?
- I don’t want to stand out when I am in social situations and am eating.
- I don’t want to say “no” to something someone offers me.
- My lifestyle isn’t that bad, I don’t deserve to have to live this way.
- I don’t eat as bad as so and so and they are healthy. This isn’t fair.
You can see that someone will struggle to continue to make healthy, healing decisions when these thoughts keep popping up every time a different and uncomfortable choice has to be made.
But there’s another layer to this. I am convinced that this all comes down to identity. We live from the identity of who we believe we are. Most of us have allowed other people to shape our identity - the good, bad and the ugly. Many of us have allowed our job/accomplishments/bank account, possessions and relationships to define who we are. So in times of plenty, we identify ourselves as successful, confident and secure and in times of lack, we identify with being a failure, unloveable and weak.
I find that rarely do women dive into their identity. They just assume that they are a combination of what they do, how they feel, what they look like, who they love and who loves them. But somewhere along the line, one of those gets wrecked.
- A divorce.
- The loss of a child.
- Weight gain.
- A betrayal of a close friend.
- A job loss.
- A failed business venture.
And suddenly the very essence of who they thought to be seems to be lost. Who am I? How did I get here? I remember saying those very words almost four years ago when I received an email message that my husband had an affair while I was pregnant. Not him. Not me. Not us. Not now. For the past four years, I have been on the journey of seeking my true identity apart from my past and my current situation. It’s tough. The world wants to label me as a single-mom or a divorcee or assume things about me or my situation and it is so easy to believe the labels and speak and act in accordance to those identities. But God challenged me to finally stop looking around for validation of who I am or am not and start looking to my Creator for my identity.
Let’s just cut to the chase, ladies.
Many of us what to be thin for the world. We want to be thin for wordly reasons - to look better than Suzie Q at the gym, to be the thinnest sister, to make 50 look hot, to prove we have self-control because we are a size 2, etc. But what would being thin for God look like?
What if you are not getting what you want because your motives are wrong? The enemy is not going to stop berating you and attacking your self-worth and identity as long as you take the bait. Even if you lose the weight, it will always be something else that doesn’t measure up as long as you fail to understand the truth of who you are through the eyes of your Maker and Father.
What are the motives in your heart for asking God to bless you in a certain area? If you desire to be looked at or treated by people in a certain way because of the way you look in so you can attempt to prove that you are worth something, the enemy can keep you in the rat race of discontent forever. Because there will always be someone thinner. There will always be a woman who is prettier, better dressed, more successful, more graceful, a better mom - even if she is the imaginary, projected version of someone you follow on Instagram.
When you don’t know who you are in Christ, then you will be serve other gods. What behaviors come out of you because you are in discontent and searching for something to take away the pain, sadness, loneliness, confusion or fear? We all run to something. And what we run to is what we serve. And what we serve becomes our god. What thought is driving what you run to? What identity is attached to the thought? If your identity is in the world, you will run to what the world says will numb your pain - food, sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, gossip, etc. If your identity is in God, you will seek the presence of the GREAT I AM who is everything you need and find the peace your soul longs for.
We are to be in the world, but not of it. If you are a believer of Jesus, we are not supposed to do things the way the world does. We don’t obey our fleshly and lustful desires, we obey God’s word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to give into temptation because we have been given the power to overcome it through the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice. When we fail because perfection is impossible, we don’t hide in shame - we take it to our Father, ask for forgiveness, turn from our ways and accept the free gift of grace. We allow God to take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it for good.
But we can only live this way if we know who we have been created to be and we can’t do that if we are not spending time with our Creator. God gave us the Bible for a reason. It’s not just so we can read it and argue with each other about semantics and preferences, it’s an amazing guide to learn about our Father’s love and ultimate plan for us. In these pages, our purpose and identity are revealed.
I don’t have space in the remainder of this blog to tell what has transformed in my life since my identity and purpose were surrendered to God and removed from the world’s standards and pressures. I don’t even recognize the broken woman I once was, but I will always remember her because it is a testimony to what is possible when we hand our lives over to God. What I can tell you is this, there is not anything in this world that I would trade for the peace and joy that lives inside of me every day - despite my circumstances. When God is in His proper place, we can stop using food, alcohol, money, influence, drugs and sex as idols and they can be restored to their intended use and purposes to enhance our lives, not destroy us.
I encourage you to turn your focus away from trying to figure out how to change your unhealthy behaviors and first ask yourself, “What must I believe about myself to do this? What must I believe about God to continue to struggle with this?” Once you answer those questions, ask the God of everything who hears every prayer of his children, to reveal the truth you need to have the breakthrough He has destined you to have.
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