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French Fries vs. The Bread of Life

January 9, AD 2012 12 Comments

I had been overweight for as long as I can remember. The pictures tell the story. By fourth grade I had chipmunk cheeks and extra padding. By sixth grade I was plain old fat. In fact, when I started middle school, I weighed more then I do now, as a 28 year old woman. There’s no delicate way to talk about it; there’s no sugar-coating the memories. I lost some weight in high school. That began a more than ten year roller coaster of weight loss, weight gain, rinse and repeat. My weight fluxuated in a 20 pound range. Try as I might, I could not get below the lowest number, a number beneath which I would finally be in the healthy weight range.

This summer, when my daughter was six months old, I decided to join Weight Watchers.  I joined with a friend who had done the program a few years ago, successfully losing and keeping off over 80 pounds.

I’m happy to say that since the end of June, I’ve lost 15 pounds. I weigh less now than I did before getting pregnant, and I am finally in the healthy weight range. I’m two weeks away from becoming a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. I’m not writing about this to garner your applause or to brag about how great I am, because honestly, the opposite is true. Rather, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned in the last six months of this journey, in the hopes it may be of use to someone reading today.

It’s not about the food. It’s about God.

If this whole thing were simply a matter of food and nothing deeper, I wouldn’t bother writing about it on a site such as this. However, the truth is, in the struggles with food that so many people share, the essential problem isn’t the food. The problem is with desire. That’s why all addictions are at root the same. God created all people with an intense desire; for Him. Because of sin, we don’t clearly see what our desire is for, but we feel it burn so strongly. God created us to crave Him as deeply as He desires us, with all-consuming Love. However, we give our desire to lesser goods, to lesser gods. That’s why all addictions are the same. Food, power, wealth, sex, drugs, etc. It’s all an attempt to meet our desire with something less than what it was made for.

Food is my drug of choice. My inclination is to turn to food when upset, happy, bored, or angry. Food was, and often still is, the thing that I want more than God. Of course it’s vulnerable to admit that. Of course my fingers tremble as I write it, wondering how you will judge me. But it’s true. God made me to find satisfaction, fulfillment, and transfiguration in Him, not in a chocolate bar. God never intends us to find our bliss in anything other than Him. Realizing this humbling, humiliating truth was the first step for me in learning to have an ordered relationship to food.

It’s not about willpower. It’s about self-control.

“What’s the difference”, you ask? Well, will-power is exactly that. The power of one’s own will to overcome temptation or stand up for what is right. Will-power relies on me and me alone, which means it is ultimately going to falter, since I am not perfect. Self-control, on the other hand, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Self-control is a gift of grace, acknowledging that I can’t turn down unhealthy choices on my own every single time they come my way. Self-control is a fruit of the humble and genuine admission that I need God, and that God is worth more to me than any delicious snack. Self-control says that I am wise enough to know who I am. I am a daughter of God and I find my comfort in Him, not in food. Self-control knowingly gives up something that is good, but not great, for the sake of growing close to God. Self-control is not fleeting, because it is a fruit of turning to prayer in moments of temptation.

In any journey of sustainable change, cultivation of self-control and not merely will-power, ought to be the goal.

I am this way for a reason.

Now that I’ve achieved my goal weight, I have to make peace with this fact: I will have to exercise at least three times a week and watch everything I eat for the rest of my life. I have a hormonal disorder that makes my body act in perpetual starvation mode, hanging on to every single calorie I eat. I’m a type II diabetic. That’s why it took me six months to lose 15 pounds.

This has been, and can be, a cause for bitterness and resentment. My husband can eat just about anything he desires, in any quantity, and remain very lean. I, when carefully portioning out my oatmeal in the morning, look at him spooning into the bowl with reckless abandon, jealously asking God why it’s so easy for him to be the way he is. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful if I could just eat what I wanted, when I wanted, without having to worry? Well, no, it wouldn’t be. Because that’s not how God made me, and God knew what He was doing.

I firmly believe that God made me the way I am because He knew, even before I existed, that I would turn to food instead of Him. So He allowed me to have these disorders which have forced me to cultivate self-control in my relationship to food. He knew that unless I had to, unless my food choices affected my life in a visible way, I wouldn’t. I would not cultivate or exercise self-control. If I didn’t have the body type that I do, if I could eat all I want and not get fat, I would never turn to God, but would keep chasing the god of food down the rabbit hole for all eternity. It’s ugly, but it’s true.

As I’m settling into the “new normal” of portion measuring and continuing to seek self-control, I can begin to accept the truth. I know that my weight will not always be this number, as I hope to welcome more children. However, by taking these lessons to heart now, maybe I can impart to them a love for healthy food, and an even bigger love for the Bread of Heaven.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Sarah Babbs is a married mother of an 8 month old girl, writing from Indiana where she moved for love after growing up on the east coast. Sarah and her husband, a lawyer, lead marriage prep classes for their parish in addition to daydreaming about having chickens and becoming lunatic farmers. During stolen moments when the baby’s napping and the laundry is multiplying itself, Sarah writes about new motherhood, Catholic social thought, and ponders the meaning of being a woman “made in the image of God”. Her website is Fumbling Toward Grace.[/author_info] [/author]

About the Author:

Sarah Babbs is a married mother of a toddler girl, writing from Indiana where she moved for love after growing up on the east coast. Sarah and her husband, a lawyer, lead marriage prep classes for their parish in addition to daydreaming about becoming lunatic farmers. During stolen moments when the toddler sleeps and the laundry multiplies itself, Sarah writes about motherhood, Catholic social thought, and ponders the meaning of being a woman "made in the image of God". Her website is Fumbling Toward Grace.
  • I love you so much-and I love this article. AND I love the way God is just pouring truth into your life with such force….man, it’s awesome. And so are you! love you and thanks for writing such great stuff. You have me thinking about what my “drugs of choice” are 🙂

  • SWP

    Jen Fulwiler expressed a similar sentiment as yours on her blog, Conversion Diary, that it’s about God. Mark Shea refers to gluttony as a disordered desire.

    I would compare your struggle with healthy weight to my struggle with same-sex attraction and overcoming an addiction to porn. That was my drug of choice. Yours was food. And it required tons of self-control, especially when the prevailing culture is demanding that people with SSA celebrate their attachment to sin and a disordered desire. Accepting the cross of SSA could have led to bitterness/resentment, but through the graces of the sacraments blessings unfolded instead, the foremost being a loving marriage to the mother of my children, which at one time in my life I thought was impossible.

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow! May you find that joyful surrender to Christ and abandonment to Divine Providence will bring your heart’s desire because it will then be His heart’s desire for you!

  • Maureen

    Thank you for this article. I too have had many years of struggling with food due to stomach ailments. I understand how it is to watch other people eat whatever they want and know that I can never join them. It is tempting to be bitter and angry at God whenever you are dealing with any type of struggle. However, like you I know that God allows these things for a reason. The struggles and additions we deal with help us realize that we need to rely totally on God and not on ourselves.

  • Thank you for writing this courageous post, Sarah! It is so difficult to admit the desires that we struggle with, the things that we want more than God. Thank you for reminding us that when God gives us a challenging situation, He is leading us closer to Him.

  • Maddie

    Amazing! I really mean that.

  • HermitTalker

    Does that explain why statues of the Buddha show him with a big tummy? On the serious side, as one who recovered, more connrectly is in recovery yet, from one of the many addictions we deal with today, I recommend any who need to get the emotional help needed to deal with the way the addiction shows itself, or themselves if you have more than one. Join a group that meets your need, two of them if the emotional plus a physical one are killing your soul. There is a daily meditation available from Hazleden which I receive to help with the emotional recovery which is never over. Thanks Sarah and enjoy your baby.

  • This is beautiful! Thank you!

  • Great reflection. I’ll admit that I was halfway through the post when I finally stopped cramming Wheat Thins in my mouth (which might be fine, if I weren’t just waiting for dinner to be ready…). It’s a struggle a lot of us are very familiar with, I think. When I feel those pangs of jealousy (as my husband has a similar metabolism to yours), I remember that we all have different gifts and problems, and that there’s probably something I don’t have any problem with that is a huge struggle for him. Proud of you!!!

  • I found you through your comment on the NCR, on Jennifer Fulwiler’s post about not discouraging young moms.

    I never thought that how easily I gain weight could be viewed as a blessing, but what a profound insight. It’s true, if there were no consequences to choosing food over God, it would be that much easier to always do so.

    I had a baby 7 weeks ago, and this is exactly what I needed to read today, as I start to dip my toes in the water of exercise and find myself really resisting cutting calories, even though I know that it wouldn’t be that hard to make small changes.

    Thank you!

  • Katherine Barron

    Thanks for your encouraging words, sarah! You could have written this for me as a ghost-writer (except for the diabetes). I lost 23 pounds on WW after my third child. I’ve gradually allowed 15 pounds to creep back on after being so close to that elusive “normal weight range.” But coming to terms with the fact that portion-control is just going to have to be my life and having a husband who both is very slim and who can just say “no!” to food as if it was easy, is hard.

  • Pat

    Thank you for sharing. You always cause me to think of things that I would never have thought of. I guess that is why we need writers. Your writing is candy for the mind and also nourishment for the soul. Thank you.

  • Rachel

    Thanks so much for posting this, Sarah. I have been struggling in the same way, although food has been affecting my health in different ways, I feel like God led me to read this post today, because I’ve felt like I’ve hit rock bottom in terms of my relationship with food. I’ve hit that particular weight that we all dread (I’m sure we all have that particular number that we say “I’ll never go past XXkg/lb”).
    This post opened my eyes and is helping me to reflect on my own life. Thank you so much, and I hope, in the near future, to be in a similar situation to you where I am able to exercise self-control and draw closer to God’s infinite grace.