Spiritual Growth and Encouragement for Christian Women

Weight Loss: Are We Fighting The Wrong Battle?

Weight Loss: Are We Fighting The Wrong Battle?

Are you tired of battling your weight? Tired of feeling bad about your body? Do you feel like a failure every time you don’t meet your weight loss goals?

Like so many of us as I have gotten older, the pounds have crept up. Always very petite and thin, I never realized how tough it was to lose weight until recently.

I know that I am not alone.

The most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. According to Marketdata, weight-loss industry revenues approach $60 Billion. The CDC estimates that 66% of American adults are overweight and 34% of us are obese. We are suffering numerous health problems that include joint damage, heart disease and diabetes. All this should be motivation enough.

So why is it so hard to lose weight and keep it off? Perhaps we hunger for something more than food.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to New York Times best-selling author Lysa Terkeurst about this very issue. The president of Proverbs 31 Ministries has always struck me with how forthcoming she is about the struggles in her life. Her latest book Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food is no exception. Lysa speaks candidly about the difficult journey of learning to replace the momentary satisfaction we get from fries and chocolate cake with the eternal peace and fulfillment that can only come from a deeper relationship with God. Made to Crave is not a diet book or new weight-loss plan. Instead, it relates Lysa’s personal epiphany that God made us to “crave,” but He wants us to crave more of Him.

Deborah J. Thompson: Lysa, I was fortunate to hear you speak recently and was stuck by how open and honest you were about some extremely painful events in your life such as the death of your little sister, your sexual abuse as a child, and growing up with a biological father who withheld love and affection. In your latest book Made to Crave you describe an unhealthy relationship with food. Are all these things related?

Lysa TerKeurst:To some extent I think they are because we can’t separate out different segments of our lives, especially women. Every experience, every circumstance can quickly become our identity if we are not careful. But God has been teaching me that while circumstances are specific… they don’t have to define who I am. I always felt like, Lord--you can deal with every issue in my life. You can deal with my insecurity, my shame, my anger, but we are not going to touch the food area because that is the one place that is very comforting for me.

But one day I was reading Psalm 23, and I had to get brutally honest with myself when I read what the Lord is supposed to be: my guide, my shepherd, my comfort, my deliverer. And if I was honest when I looked at that list, I felt like I had taken food and replaced the Lord with food. When I was stressed, I didn’t hit my knees and pray. That wasn’t my first reaction. I would pray, but my first reaction was that I wanted something to make me feel better. If I was sad, I wanted food. If I was happy and celebrating something, I wanted food. And when I started connecting the realities, I discovered that I was underweight spiritually and overweight physically. I discovered that I elevated food to a very dangerous spiritual place in my life — it had become an idol.

DJT: As women, we are bombarded with images in fashion and the media that give us unrealistic expectations about our looks and our bodies.  But does it go deeper than that — why are we so susceptible to these false messages?

LT:Well, partly because we are constantly bombarded with them all the time. And as women, we want to fit in; we want to be validated, and we want to feel beautiful. So when the world tells you that beauty equals 120 pounds, that beauty equals a size 2 — when the world keeps that message in front of us every single day, it can do a number on our hearts and on our minds.

As Christian women, we know God thinks we are beautiful just the way we are. We were created to be beautiful, but He didn’t create us all to be a size 2, 4, 6 or a size 30, for that matter. But if we are stuck in a place of defeat, He wants to take us to a new place. Not so that we will be skinny, but so that we will be healthy and so we will be at peace — physically, mentally and spiritually. God made us to consume food, but food was never supposed to consume us.

DJT: When I was in high school, I remember an old boyfriend telling me: “You are one of those people that make-up does wonders for.” Now I am sure that young man said some complimentary things to me as well. But after all these years, that is the only thing I can remember. Why do you think we allow these negative messages to have more power over us than the positive ones we receive?

LT:I have a similar story that I wrote about in Made to Crave. A boy that I had a crush on told me that he liked me. He thought I was really a nice girl, and that I was pretty. But it was too bad that I had “tankles” (large ankles) or else maybe he would ask me out. And that set me on a pattern well into my adult life that I hated my ankles. I would be sitting in church comparing my ankles to other people — what a dumb thing, right?

You know, Satan’s very name means “one who casts something between two to cause a separation.” Satan’s ultimate goal is to separate us from God, from God’s identity, from God’s best for us and from God’s purpose for us. And what better way to do that than to put some dumb script in our minds!

The reality is that God created us to be more than conquerors. We are more than the sum total of our issues. And when I prayed about my “tankles,” I shared with God that although I didn’t want this to bother me— it did. It hurt my feelings in such a deep place; it was haunting me. And sweetly, I felt the Lord whispering into my heart, “Lysa, are you an active person? If you had frail, tiny ankles, and you turned them often and were slowed down, wouldn’t that frustrate you? I gave you ankles of convenience. Be happy with them and rejoice in the reality that they get you where you need to go and they do not slow you down.” That was such a sweet, practical perspective.

The best way to put Satan in his place is to quote scripture about how God made us beautiful and wonderful, and we are lovely just the way we are. If I ever start focusing on my “tankles,” I can whip out some truth from Psalm 139, and it is amazing that truth is what can set us free.

DJT: As Christians we spend a lot of our time trying to improve ourselves. Why do you think it is so hard for us to understand that God does want us to love and accept ourselves?

LT: As a lot of people set out on this journey to get healthy, many of us make the mistake of wanting to get healthy so that we will be loved. Maybe we think God will love us more, or our husband will love us more or we will love ourselves more. And that is the wrong motive because the reality is that we are already loved. The most successful place to be is not setting out on a healthy eating journey so that we will be loved, but rather to set out on a healthy eating journey because we are loved. Because we are loved by God, he will empower us to find victory in this area that for so many women distracts us and defeats us, sometimes on a moment-by-moment basis.

DJT: Sometimes our attitudes and beliefs are actually in conflict with God’s teachings. So what does He expect from us regarding our attitudes toward our body images?

LT: While we are here on earth, [the body] is His Temple. It is the space our soul occupies and we are instructed many times to take good care of our bodies — not so that we will be skinny, but so that we can be healthy. One of my favorite verses is Romans 14:20 which says, “Do not destroy the work of the Lord for the sake of food.” I think it is crucial to understand that sometimes we can get so distracted by food issues and so wrapped up in feeling incapable that we become spiritually defeated and may not even want to serve the Lord.  I like to tell people to let God’s Truth work for you and not against you. It is my intention that by quoting these verses, it will give us the spiritual motivation to make lasting changes.

DJT: Do you think forgiving plays a part in this process? Forgiving ourselves? Forgiving others?

LT: Well, it depends on the root of our issue. If the root of our overeating is simply that we just enjoy the pleasure of food too much, then maybe we need to give ourselves some grace and understand that God made our bodies to survive in times of famine. Being able to eat and store up food as fat enabled our ancestors to survive because there always was a famine coming.

From a physiological standpoint, it’s not that we are broken, lazy people. We are marketed to consume about 3800 calories a day — consider the size of restaurant portions. Now, I am not making an excuse-- God gave us the ability to be creatures of self-control. But the reality of the calorie-excessive environment we live in, coupled with the reality of our genetic code, makes this very hard physically. So forgiveness in that sense -- maybe we need to give ourselves grace. But we also need to realize that we should be faithful stewards of our bodies. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the dangers of being severely overweight or even spiritually consumed with food.

But sometimes a person’s issue is an emotional one — they have been hurt deeply by another person. And because of that deep, deep hurt -- food is so close sometimes when God feels very far away. It is easy for me to zip through the drive-through and get some fries. They are so yummy and salty, and I can dip them in ketchup and for a moment they make me feel better. But they leave behind cholesterol and fat and guilt and in the long-term, they don’t make me feel better.

In the book, I address emotional eating and my own emotional eating triggers. While I have a wonderful step-father, my biological father abandoned me, and it left this emotional hole that I would sometimes turn to food to try and fill. In the process there are some very specific things I had to learn to do. One of those was to forgive my dad, but part of that forgiveness was finding one happy memory so that every time I thought of him, I could train my heart and my mind to focus on what is, “lovely, what is good, what is true.” And it took me awhile, but now every time I think of my biological father -- instead of focusing on the hurt, which triggers the emotional eating, now I can think on that one good, beautiful memory.

DJT: Lysa, it sounds like the philosophies we are discussing here are important regardless of the struggle someone might face — whether it is weight, an addiction, or some other destructive habit or attitude? Do you agree?

LT: I do agree, and I have been getting a lot of feedback that confirms that. I have heard from a teenaged boy that is using Made to Crave to help him overcome his addiction to tobacco. A couple of men have confessed that they are using the principles to overcome their addiction to pornography. And a woman wrote to me that she is using it to overcome her addiction to pain pills.

I focused on the physical struggle of food in the book because that was my personal issue, but the reality is that Made to Crave is so full of God’s truths and principles (not Lysa TerKeurst’s). And for me, this became the missing link. For so long I tried to overcome my issues from a physical standpoint. I thought if I could train myself to be disciplined enough or courageous enough — I kept trying to attack it from a physical standpoint. But I am not just a physical creature -- I am also an emotional creature and a spiritual creature. So in Made to Crave, we address all three in one.

February 8, 2011

For more information about Lysa Terkeurst and her latest book Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire With God, Not Food, please visit LysaTerkeurst.com.

Deborah J. Thompson is a writer, artist and Stephen Minister. Her articles are published by Crosswalk.com and "The Fish" family of Christian radio station websites around the country. She shares "Reflections" on Life, Relationships and Family on her website, www.inspiredreflections.info. She is working on her first book, Your Life, Your Choice -- 5 steps to Peace. Join her on  Facebook/DailyInspiredReflections and Twitter/InspireReflect