I hadn’t thought about my relationship with ice cream in years. But as I sat with my sweet Berlyn at our favorite ice cream spot, it hit me. Since embarking on my personal health journey over 10 years ago, food has slowly evolved from feelings of obsession and functioning as a coping mechanism to feelings of indifference and functioning as fuel for my body. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t absolutely enjoy, appreciate and love food (because I do), it just isn’t why I get up every morning. It isn’t my key to happiness. And it definitely isn’t my all-consuming concern anymore.
I remember my first job, which was actually serving ice cream. One of the perks of the job was eating the “mistakes” at the end of our shift. I don’t recall now if I ever “goofed” on purpose, but I wouldn’t put it past my 15 year old self to do that. I do remember eating ice cream EVERY DAY during the summer. Then, when I got my driver’s license, the first thing I did was go through Wendy’s drive-thru and order a large Frostie and french fries. I ate it in my car all by myself. I remember dipping the fries into the Frostie and thinking I was finally FREE to do what I wanted. Fast forward to my 20’s and ice cream was a go-to during my stint with bulimia because it was easy to purge. I know that sounds awful, but it’s true. I cannot remember how many times I would buy and consume copious amounts of ice cream, only to throw it up and flush it down the toilet.
There is nothing inherently wrong with ice cream. Just like there is nothing wrong with chocolate, salty chips, mac-n-cheese, wine or whatever your “love food” may be. But there is a line that separates enjoyment and appreciation of food and obsession that manifests as overindulgence and restriction. Just like a toxic relationship, what once felt so good, starts to feel bad. What once felt exciting and fun morphs into anxiety and abuse. What began as a “once in a while” thing becomes an all consuming obsession and life habit. What once felt like love and enjoyment morphs in hate and contempt. Suddenly we become trapped in the tension of: I love you, but I hate you.
I am using ice cream as an example, but please know that I could substitute alcohol, diet sodas, pasta, fast food, cookies and many other foods that I struggled to keep a healthy relationship with. No matter what your vice is, here’s what is true about how the balance gets tipped from a platonic relationship with food to a toxic love affair: when we look to food (or anything) to fulfill a purpose that it was never intended or created for.
What is your food or thing that serves a purpose it was never intended for?
Foods role is nutrition at the most basic and fundamental level. Period. If we all truly believed this about food - our food and most weight issues would take care of themselves. But most of us don’t live with “food is nutrition” as a central core belief due to the convenience driven and instant gratification culture we live in today.
When we promote food, alcohol, people, money, etc to meet a need it can’t fulfill, we will struggle. At a young age, I was shown and experienced food and alcohol as a source of momentary comfort, escape, reward, control and fun in a variety of ways. As an adult, I found myself automatically looking to my comfort foods and alcohol after a long week (or day) of life. My life was a repeated pattern of trying to prove myself to other people, trying to act like I had it all together and trying to keep at bay the feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. I would eat enormous amounts of food to because I had so much emptiness inside of me - I just needed to feel full, even if it was a physical sensation of a distended stomach after a binge. I felt out of control in so many areas of my life and I promoted food, my weight and my appearance as the source of my value, control and power in my life. I began purging the food that I uncontrollably stuffed into my face and starving myself the next day to regain the power and control that I so desperately wanted in my life. I put food in a role that it wasn’t intended for and therefore could never fully fulfill. This is also known as abuse. I abused food, alcohol and my body.
What was your experience growing up around the role of food or alcohol? How has that influenced your mindset and behavior as an adult?
The moments of comfort and control were fleeting. I am sure many of us can relate. The escape was never sustainable. If I wanted to feel in control again, I had to binge and purge again or starve myself again. I went back to these methods and habits over and over and over again like a drug addict waiting for the next hit. What started out as a once in a while, harmless thing grew into a daily, all-consuming pattern of cyclical mental, emotional and physical torture.
My story (or description) may seem extreme. But what do you do in your daily/weekly life that is automatic and destructive because it is being used in the wrong way for the wrong reason? It’s time to ask,
- Does wine fulfill the need to take off the mask and just be me, uninhibited?
- Does the fast food stop on the way home fulfill the need to have a moment of joy in my life?
- Do the late night binges on (insert go-to food) fulfill the need to feel significant and like what I want actually matters?
- Does eating my comfort foods by myself fulfill the need for a ‘hug’ that just feels good?
- Does the copious amounts of coffee every day represent the break I so desperately desire from my chaotic and overcommitted life?
- Does the alcohol numb down the feelings of loneliness and replace intimacy with my spouse?
- Does the unhealthy food I give to my kids represent my deep desire to see them happy and hide how inadequate I feel for the job of raising them?
- Does the busy and overcommitted schedule I keep fulfill a need to be needed or a need to prove my worth and value?
- Does the jumping from diet to diet fulfill the need to fix myself so I am okay?
Which of these questions grabbed your attention? Which ones need to have some more reflection time?
All of these decisions are choices that are made with an underlying intention and purpose. The decision is not from the place of, “this decision is on purpose for what is best for my body, mind and spirit”. Rather, the decision is driven by a misplaced purpose.
- The purpose is to seek comfort.
- The purpose is to avoid what we don’t want to face.
- The purpose is to escape a life we are disappointed or overwhelmed by.
- The purpose is to numb all the crap we haven’t evers dealt with.
- The purpose is to not take ownership and place blame somewhere else so we can feel justified in our decision. Harsh, but true.
The initial relief or ‘high’ we experience when we first start the behavior will eventually require more intensity or frequency to feel that same relief. What starts as a sense of freedom, soon feels like a prison. This is how deception works. The enemy of our souls wants nothing more than for us to exalt ourselves as god and believe that we can control our lives and we can make choices unscathed. He will lure us with a pill, a drink, a habit, a person...the enemy knows each of us well. He will dangle temptations in front of us wrapped in the shroud of deception by telling us this will give us identity, power or pleasure we are looking for. But it’s only momentary, so we will want more. Then the deception goes deeper with a lie that “we can get more if we just do more” which takes us to places we never thought we could go. That’s the slippery slope of deception.
Wow, Amber, this seems pretty intense. Yes, sweet friends, this conversation is intense because the ramifications of this truth not being revealed is devastating. The amount of time and energy we, as women, spend trying to “fix the outside” with bandaid methods, scale obsession and diet systems is mind boggling. We think we are going on a quest to feel confident, in control and good enough and we end up struggling with obsession, addiction, confusion, doubt and fear. The more we buy into that promise that a fad diet can fulfill the purpose of fixing us, the deeper the deceptive belief grows that we can’t trust ourselves or our bodies. The enemy wants nothing more than for us to spend a lifetime in confusion, frustration and disappointment around our weight and health. Why? Because anything that keeps you from knowing God and living out your purpose is a “win” for the enemy.
I know many of you are believers, so this may be offensive to you, but hear me out. Our bodies were designed to be a temple for the Lord and to be a vehicle to live out our God-ordained purpose. Period. It’s not to be a source of obsession. It’s not to be a source of abuse or something to destroy. It’s not to draw attention to ourselves so we can feel worthy or better about ourselves. It’s not for comparison. It’s not for envy. It’s not to control and manipulate. It’s not to strive for perfection. It’s not to be used by ourselves or other people for sinful purposes. It’s not to hurt and abuse. It’s not to hate. Just because we know the Lord, doesn’t mean He doesn’t have more to reveal and work out in us. We are a work in progress - He is the potter, we are the clay. For some of us, it’s time to lay this area of our life at his feet and allow him to have his way!
Have you laid this area of life down at the feet of Jesus?
It’s on my heart every day to speak God’s truth that continues to be revealed to me about what God’s desire for freedom for his daughters. Our freedom is found in complete surrender that He is enough for every need we have. When we seek the path to know that He is enough, He will satisfy the deepest cravings of our souls that food, sex, money, fame, alcohol, success, pills and people can never fulfill. We don’t need to find our identity by manipulating our appearance. When we find Him, we find ourselves. Unhealthy food and behaviors lose their allure when God take his rightful place as our Creator, Father, Helper, Comforter, Provider, Friend, Guide, Teacher and Healer. He’s the source of it all. Who needs a box of Crispy Cream donuts on a Friday with a tub of ice cream and a bottle of wine when you are filled up, whole and complete in the knowledge of who you are, where you belong and why you were made? This knowledge and peace only comes from seeking God’s presence, spending time in His word and worshipping Him above all things - including food.
What stands out to you as truth that God is speaking to your spirit right now?
In the depths of my obsession and bondage, I had no idea who I was. I was looking for identity in a thin body that others would deem worthy of attention and friendship. I was looking for identity in the attention of men and comparison to other women. I was looking for identity in money and status and achievement and perfection. Diets, alcohol, bulimia, counting calories, scale obsession, perfectionism, overachievement, manipulation, promiscuity were all tools that enemy laid before me to achieve my goals of finding myself in the world. I took every one of them hoping to achieve my goal. I never got closer, only farther away which just increased the intensity of my efforts and what I was willing to do. I had put responsibility and expectation on things that were not designed for those purposes.
Then God. I was deep in my pride and arrogance for a long time, saying, “I’ll design my own life and be in control”. And God let me choose, just like you get to choose. As long as my first concern was to look after myself, I never found myself. I was destined to live a life searching for purpose and significance in all the wrong places, until I hit rock bottom and cried out, “God, I surrender my life to you. I worship you and exalt you over everything and everyone in my life. I want your plan for my life. I want your heart. I want to see myself as you see me. I want to live free and forgiven. I want the peace that I am enough. I want to live with joy.” And God met me in that deep, dark and lonely place. I knew He had been there the whole time, allowing my life to unfold in such a way that my destruction (under His protection and guidance) would lead to me to seek the true source of all of my needs. Ladies, often we don’t seek the true source until we experience hardcore evidence that the other sources don’t work.
What do you need to ask God for in this moment?
The path wasn’t and isn’t easy, but it’s simple. Binging and purging no longer entices me to feel a sense of control, because I am very clear that I am not in control. So rather than fight that fact, I surrender control to the God who created the universe and everything in it. I give up my plan for His. Whatever you trust, becomes your master. I trust God.
Drinking alcohol no longer serves the purpose of temporarily numbing out the pain, substituting intimacy or escaping the stress of my life. I can now see that all my pain has and does have a purpose that God is working out for my good. Ladies, God has already made the way for our escape and it’s not to take us out of our pain, it’s to lead us through it! He will take us straight through what we fear to get us to our freedom. But if we choose the ways of the world to try to escape from our pain, we will exchange our freedom for shackles.
The truth that our soul longs for is that we matter and our life has significant purpose. God thought about us before He created this entire universe. Every atom on the planet - every tree, every bird, every insect, every piece of dirt, and then us - have a unique place and role to play. When we walk in that truth, we can be fulfilled in who we are and satisfied that we are enough. The devil wants us to feel like we are not enough and many of us escape with things of this world - because at least it works for a little while. But nothing satisfies the soul but God. And when we place our worship where it rightfully belongs, we find addictions and obsessions fall off of us because they we have found a source that fills us completely and with overflow.
Back to ice cream. The other day, I was enjoying ice cream with my baby girl, Berlyn, my heart was filled with so much gratitude as we talked and laughed. I paused for a minute to reflect how far God has brought me. That I could enjoy something that had been a tool for my destruction in a completely loving and healthy way with the most precious gift God has ever given me, my baby girl. And because of the journey God allowed and walked with me through, I have discovered the true source of power, truth, love, peace, joy and significance through the mercy and redemption of Jesus. I bet you will never look at ice cream the same again.
I don’t know where you are in your journey. Whether you are on a mountain top or in the valley, but God has you. You are reading this for a reason. Let your soul be lifted and truth replace the lies. If you would like to explore a journey to healing and wholeness, I guide women on an 8-course journey to redefine their relationship with food, their bodies and God. I would love to chat with you on a free 60-minute coaching session. CLICK HERE to schedule!