An Eater's Testimony: Alyssa
Freshman year at Palm Beach Atlantic University, on the first floor of Baxter Hall I met Alyssa. A tanned beauty with a sweet spirit and sarcastic sense of humor, we began to get to know each other toward the end of the spring semester. When we returned to school after the summer, Alyssa and I struck up a closer friendship. We quickly realized that our bond was deepened by a mutual struggle: food. We'd both had our struggles, and I as was in the midst of one of the hardest, the Lord placed Alyssa in my life as an accountability partner, encourager, and sister. I am ever so thankful for her.
Throughout the last two years of high school, I began a new 'diet' of sorts. It consisted of TONS of fruits and vegetables, rarely if any meat, and organic food galore. I was kind of on a health-nut craze and used my love for sports as a motivator to eat very healthy. Though I didn't know it at the time (for the Lord had not saved me yet) eating had become an idol. I always watched what I ate and how much. Rarely would I even eat after long, hard volleyball practices and games that lasted until 10 & 11pm. In my senior year, I was confronted by a dear friend who said that I looked way too thin and she was very concerned about me. I have always been short and on the smaller side, so it was hard for me to notice a dramatic change in my weight or body size. I thanked her and told her that I would definitely tell her or someone else if I was seriously struggling. 'I have never starved myself or thrown up', I thought. Little did I know there are other kinds of eating struggles.
Later that semester, in the last soccer game of my high school career against our rivals (Grosse Pointe North) I was taken out of the game by my coach who put in a junior in my place. I was devastated - and parents were shocked. We lost the game, and I left feeling deflated. I went to the gym at the local park and ran... hard. It wasn't until later that I would see that kind of outlet as a problem: I exercised excessively because of my frustration and to prove something, both to myself and others.
My eating habits have always been fairly steady throughout my lifetime, but my obsession with exercising and healthy eating climaxed my freshman year of college. My first semester, in the fall of 2007, I found myself without a regular sport schedule for the first time since 4th grade. I missed competition and teamwork, so I decided to take up running. I loved it because I could constantly push myself, it was another sport to learn, and I could always recruit friends to join me. In December when I went home for Christmas, at least a handful of friends noticed something about me: my weight. I was thin.. too thin. My diet at school consisted of salads in the "Caf" and peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat. I didn't eat meat. And I exercised almost every day. Though my heart had had a dramatic inward change (The Lord saved me and gave me His Spirit!), my body was what people noticed first. I still continued to exercise, work out, and run consistently and was involved in many activites including intramural sports that freshman year. I was always appreciative whenever people confronted me with their concerns, but I never really thought I had a problem. I always just attributed my weight to my healthy eating and high mileage. Again the thought of an 'ED' (eating disorder) was CRAZY to me!
Until the fall of 2008. After coming back to college for sophomore year, the chaos and busyness of school, work, ministry, a social life and other activities took their toll and I became very overwhelmed. I stopped exercising and I turned to eating as an outlet. For the first time I binge ate to cover up my emotions and to "protect" myself from stress. My problem was not anorexia or bulimia. My problem was a rollercoaster ride of emotional eating and obsession with healthy foods, and exercise. The reason I was so depressed that semester is because I couldn't seem to get control on my eating. I didn't talk about it with anyone for months, and when I finally did I felt ashamed and disgusted. I was depressed and coming to the end of myself... I was calling on the Lord, crying out to Him, but living in disobedience because I was clinging to other things rather than confessing my sin and being cleansed. The Lord convicted me and changed my mindset, I needed people, I needed community, I needed to be vulnerable with my sin to God--I couldn't hide from Him.
Since the spring of 2009, I have found much freedom from the idolatry of eating in the treasures of Scripture. Along with a close friend who struggles with many of the same issues, we created notecards listing verses that we would refer to when we were battling thoughts about our weight, our identity, our self-image, and our eating. I've learned a major lesson: God hates idolatry, and our hearts can make something as necessary and seemingly uncomplicated as eating, into an idol. But there is such hope when we entrust to the Lord our excesses: whether that be exercise (as it was and is for me), eating, or our self-image. God grants us liberty and freedom in the journey of our struggles and teaches us to trust in Christ and to identify ourselves with Him, more than with our weaknesses and sin.
Two of my favorite passages that I refer to often in the midst of my "food battle" (as Chance calls it) are found in first Corinthians.
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." -1 Corinthians 6:9-11
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." -1 Corinthians 6:19-20
As I continue to learn the depths of my heart, I find the more I need God's grace to persevere. For someone who knows how prone she is to struggles with food, exercise, and vanity, this life is a constant battleground. My hope and prayer is that I can use my awareness to help, encourage, educate, and embolden others to fight this same battle with me.
(P.s. I still struggle with overexercising and unhealthy eating habits, but the only difference is that I know my struggle, the root, and some steps toward the real solution)
If you have a food allergy, say "I". I just heard a resounding "I"! If you are like me, and hopefully not many of you are, you may be struggling to figure out what ails you after you eat that delicious meal you just cooked. You may have annoying pangs in your side or constant tummy cramps, or... well we won't go there, but you get the picture. Often times the food that we eat can cause us pain! For about 6 years I have struggled with a number of symptons that doctors couldn't seem to diagnose - all relating to the digestive system. While I will spare you the details I have wrestled with a whole slew of obnoxious bodily ailments. In college, after venturing to Beirut, Lebanon, I came back to Florida to spend a week with my (then) boyfriend (now husband!). For a whole week I suffered from horrible stomach aches and regardless of how healthy I ate or how many indigestion meds I took, the pains just wouldn't go away. My poor future-in-laws had to deal with me for a whole 7 days!
To give you a little bit of background, in 2006 my mom was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease known as Celiac's Disease. The disease is (in layman's terms) triggered by an intolerance to gluten (a wheat protein) that causes damage to the intestines and digestive system. Unable to absorb the nutrients contained in whole grain products containing gluten, the intenstines become damaged resulting in inflammation, headaches, chronic stomach pains, anemia, fatigue and a lot of other symptoms. Because Celiac's is a disease and is thought to be genetic, I had a blood test done to see if I also had the disease. The results: nope. The symptoms: yep. I have had the test done twice and both times I have gotten negative results. After my symptoms persisted, I had two other tests done that revealed nothing. Needless to say the past few years have been frustrating as I have tried to correctly diagnose my poor digestive system to no avail.
If you know me, you know that I am a healthy eater. In fact, a few years ago I was an obsessively healthy eater (more about that later in: An Eater's Testimony). But even though I downed tons of fruits and veggies, whole grains and legumes, I still had odd and obnoxious symptoms that plagued me from time to time. I have been on a lactose-free diet because I am considered lactose-intolerant for about 6 years, but until about one month ago I still 'suffered' from other chronic symptoms with little to no relief most times.
Then in December 2011, I decided that even though I have not been diagnosed with Celiac's Disease, that I might as well give Gluten-Free a shot. Since I have gone Gluten-Free most of my chronic symptoms have gone away! I have been on probiotics, medications, and had multiple complicated tests, but come to found out the cure was actually fairly simple: eliminate wheat & gluten and all will be well. I have so impressed by the range of products now available to Celiacs & Gluten-Intolerants (GI); in 2006 when my mom was diagnosed you couldn't find gluten-free pretzels, pizza crusts, breads, or brownies ANYWHERE! I mean not even at Whole Foods.. well okay maybe Whole Foods.
I will likely be on this diet for the rest of my life but considering how much better I feel (and it's only been a month) I think that "going without" is well worth it.