Learning to Love the Body God Gave You
By Maura Preszler
If you currently or have previously suffered from an eating disorder, please prayerfully read this blog and seek the support of a trusted adult and/or a counselor.
I remember the first time I had anxiety about food, I was around seven years old. When my parents would fight and my dad got violent, my mom would take us out to dinner. We would go to Charlie Brown’s, which serves American food. If my parents weren’t fighting we would rarely go out to eat, because I am one of seven children so it was considered a luxury to dine out. In my little mind going out to eat equaled a treat, but when my parents were fighting it felt more like an obligation, so it left me confused.
I would always order the hamburger on the kids’ menu, which came with all you could eat from the salad bar, which I loved. Looking back, I can’t believe I loved salad as much as I did as a little girl.
I didn’t even know what a calorie was at the time, but when my food came I remember feeling sick to my stomach just looking at it. I was riddled with anxiety and felt like I had something stuck in my stomach. I was worried about my parents. I hated the fighting and I hated the unknown of what the night might bring. My parents fighting triggered a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety within me. I craved stability but never had it as a child which only added to my anxiety. I lived with chronic anxiety but didn’t know what to call and this made it very difficult to eat. I was too young to understand at the time, but this is when my struggle with anxiety over food began.
When My Struggle Began
I understand that body image issues are not always related to food, but for me they were usually very closely related. I struggled with anxiety over food for fifteen years, but my struggle with body image and how I was perceived by others began in 8th grade.
Two months before graduating from 8th grade, while warming up before field hockey practice, I overheard two high school girls gossiping about a girl in my class who had a heavier build than I. Why are they speaking about her like that? That’s so cruel! My mind raced, I wonder if they talk about me like that? What if they laugh about me and think I’m fat too?
I glanced down at my scuffed up oxford shoes and noticed my skirt, which was supposedly two inches too short for the school. Every morning one of the teachers reminded me, Maura, your skirt is too short. Please tell your mom to fix it or you will need to get a new one.
Then I panicked. Great, now people are going to talk about me because I’m fat and my skirt is too short. I was an exceedingly anxious child and when corrected or talked to harshly, I shattered.
Upon arriving home from school later that day, I told my mother that I wasn’t going to be eating desserts again. My mother just looked at me perplexed. After all, what child says such things? Well, I’m going to show them that I’m not kidding. I’m going to start running and swimming more and eating less. I’ll prove it.
I was one of the thinnest girls in my class and had been a runner since I was five years old, so naturally, my weight was never something I needed to even remotely worry about. But that night I stared intently in the mirror and decided that if I was going to be considered beautiful I needed to lose weight. All I could hear was the mirror shouting at me, Beautiful girls are thin and you’re ugly.
And this is when my anxiety over food led to a struggle with body image that lasted for over ten years.
My Journey of Healing
After college, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee to see a Catholic psychologist who specialized in trauma. It was doing my almost three years of work with him that I saw a drastic shift in my mind towards my struggle with body image. I had tried for years to “pray away” my struggles but that never worked. When I was vulnerable with my psychologist about the past trauma and abuse I had experienced I finally saw my healing hold.
Today I’m thirty-four, married and pregnant with our third baby. In all candidness, I still struggle with body image, especially when I’m pregnant. But what is different about my struggle now, as opposed to when I was thirteen, is that I know who God the Father is and who I am as His daughter. Knowing this truth changes everything. It doesn’t magically make my struggle disappear, but it gives me the tools to combat the lies in my head with God’s truth and this is key.
I know now that I need to pray every day. I try to start my day with fifteen minutes of silence and this is vital for me. It is through silence that I have gotten to know God as my Father. Then I spend some time reading the Bible or a devotional book.
I need to make sure I am moving my body because that helps me feel good mentally. Right now while I’m pregnant, I’m taking a break from running, but I love going for power walks uphill. They get my heart rate pumping and are a great mental start to my day before my toddlers wake up.
I don’t scroll through Facebook and Instagram. In my opinion, it’s a waste of time. Two years ago for lent I took Facebook and Instagram off my phone and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. First, I was spending too much time on social media and second, it didn’t help my struggle with body image. I repeatedly would compare myself to women on social media that had perfectly curated photos and it wasn’t healthy.
It was very hard, but liberating to take social media off my phone. I’m not saying social media is bad because there are many positive aspects to it. But if you find that you are spending hours scrolling and comparing yourself to people, it is probably time for a social media cleanse. Don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere and you can always put it back on your phone. Spend your time with your real-life friends and you’ll find it freeing when you don’t feel the need to document every coffee, ice cream, and outfit purchase. I promise.
I don’t diet or spend time counting calories. Research even shows that diets don’t work, I have made my eating habits a lifestyle choice and when you do that, the good habits last. It takes hard work but it is definitely possible and there is nothing wrong with having an occasional treat. What I have discovered over my years of hard work with eating and my struggle with body image is that eating is all about balance.
When I shop for clothes I focus on how the clothes feel while on my body, not the number on the label. One pivotal moment for me was when I bought my wedding dress over four years ago. I remember going out to lunch with my mother-in-law before we went shopping and for a moment I felt anxious because I didn’t want to eat before shopping. But I took a moment to regroup in my mind, prayed and reminded myself that I was going to shop for a dress that fit my body. It helped me calm down and I had the most incredible experience shopping for my wedding dress, full stomach and all.
Loving Your Body
If you are struggling with loving the body God gave you, I want you to know that there is tremendous hope. There will be hard moments, but there is so much joy found in freedom. If you’re struggling, I want to lovingly encourage you to take some time and address the root cause of your struggle. Why do you think you struggle with body image and loving yourself?
Delve into that question and I assure you it will be worth it. Lasting healing happens when we address the underlying cause of a wound. Talk to a counselor, get accountability, lean on friends and loved ones, do the hard work, give yourself grace, and most importantly ask God to help you in your struggle. Jesus desires to heal you. He desires to help you right here and now in your brokenness. You don’t need to be perfect to approach Him, go to Him now in your pain. Let Him love you through it and I promise you He will. My dear friend, know that freedom awaits you on the other side of vulnerability.
P.S. You are enough.