I have posted before about body image and the expectations placed on some Christians regarding body type and healthy lifestyle. I want to explain why this is such a touchy subject for me.
I grew up in a household in which both of my parents suffered from disordered eating. My mother had spent her entire life binging and dieting in order to achieve a “perfect” body. Ultimately, she destroyed her body that way and died of the resulting complications. My father eats nearly nothing and equates extreme thinness with perfect health. He has had periods of time in which he has consumed nothing but very strange and specific foods, such as watered-down tomato juice laced with hot pepper sauce. (No, I am not making this up.) He chronically fails to consume enough calories and has virtually no muscle mass left. Eventually, despite his claims of peak health, he too will succumb to the ravages of his illness.
In this country, we have stopped viewing food as sustenance and have replaced that with treating food as a weapon. We use it to control, reward, coerce, and judge each other and ourselves. While some people eat themselves sick, others deprive themselves of vital nutrients. We believe we can tell a person’s faith, morality, or even their worth as a person by what they do or do not eat. We obsess endlessly about what is in and on our food. We claim “allergies” as a thinly veiled form of food snobbery. We deem foods to be “good” or “bad,” based not on actual nutritional value but on where the food came from. We eat in secret to avoid the stab of someone else’s self-righteous sword. And when others don’t conform to our version of food purity, we shake our heads sadly and hope they eventually realize the gravity of their sin.
It needs to stop. This fixation is leading to a grotesque combination of rising obesity and rising eating disorders. My parents together represented both of these extremes. Is that what we want? And like me, the child of parents at both ends of the spectrum, those of us in the middle won’t know where to turn for the truth. We know we don’t want to put our health at risk with obesity, but which version of what is healthy do we trust? And how do we achieve “perfect” diet without putting ourselves at risk of developing another kind of disordered eating? We will no longer have faith that our food will sustain us; instead we will live in fear of our food.
As for me, I am trying to find healing from my own fears about food. I am trying to listen to my body, trust myself, and make the best choices I know how. I am raising my children to allow themselves to enjoy their food rather than living in terror that they might ingest the “wrong” thing or that their food will “poison” them. My hope is that they will have a more balanced experience than I did. I am also teaching them to make their choices and let others make their own. It isn’t our job to judge or control what others do.
The food fights have to stop.