Updated: Feb 4, 2022
The ads start before Thanksgiving, knowing all the cozy foods people will indulge in from November through December while at the same time anticipating their anxiety over potentially losing their figures and pacifying them with promises of weight loss.
“8 Ways to Jumpstart Healthy Eating after the Holidays”
“20 Ways to Beat Post-Holiday Weight Gain”
“New Year, New Body”
The New Year's resolutions follow. People start diets and become Instagram influencers for weight loss plans. The gyms are packed in January. The one year I actually laughed out loud, walking in and then directly out of my apartment complex fitness center. All five machines were full and I secretly looked forward to February when I knew more would be open.
None of this is news to anyone. It’s nothing profound. (Also, if you made an exercise or weight loss goal for this year, I promise I’m not hating on you)!
I don’t pretend to know the intentions of every individual who makes a New Year’s weight resolution, but I genuinely believe that most people are trying to take better care of their bodies, be active, not over-indulge in any one food, and for lack of a better term, be healthy.
But to be blunt, for the person in the throes of an eating disorder or on the lifelong journey of recovery, January is a hard month.
A FEW SCENARIOS FOR YOU:
The girl who doesn’t even know she has an eating disorder yet - Over the last few months, her eatings habits have become more restrictive, more stringent, then non-negotiable, and now she’s on the road to barely eating anything. She doesn’t know what to call it and doesn’t yet realize she’s signed her life away to a new master that promises fewer pounds but leads to death (talk about an ad that leaves side effects out). She sees the resolutions and diets and latches onto them, believing they'll save her and since everyone else is "fixing" their bodies, that there's nothing wrong.
The guy a year out of treatment who is still trying to learn to eat properly - The holidays were hard because there was more food around than normal and as much as he wanted to eat it, he was scared to go beyond his meal plan. He sees the resolutions and wants to jump on the bandwagon with everyone, but knows that everything is watching him. He isn't allowed to participate. It’s like holding a shot of a drug for an addict or seeing a glass of wine for an alcoholic. You can almost feel the high but you can’t touch it. His head spins as he wonders if his relationship with food will ever be normal again.
The woman who is 5, 10, 15 years in recovery - The disorder doesn’t rule her days anymore but it’s always there, waiting for an opportunity to come back in and sit on the throne of her life. She watches her friends commit to health goals and still knows every time she makes a goal it can become a god. She constantly questions her own motives and she’s painfully aware that whenever she gets on exercise kicks or eats vegetables instead of chips, everyone looks at her like she’s the skinny twelve year old denying she has an eating disorder. She’s forever learning to live in the tension of being healthy while not returning to the eating disorder.
To be fair, it's not just January. It's heightened in January.
TURNING IT OFF:
Most of the New Year’s reels you can turn off - the Beach body ads on Youtube, the social media stories - but you can’t do that with conversations. They’re unavoidable.
A few years ago, my day would be ruined after hearing any one of those conversations.
Sometimes I was upset because I couldn’t participate and the eating disorder part of me desperately wanted to. I envied them.
Other times I was upset because others could do the things I used to do so they might achieve the thinness I craved. Again, I envied them.
Then there were times when I was frustrated and feared the whole world would end up with eating disorders, assuming everyone had the same addiction I had. I was afraid for them.
Every time, those conversations fueled the never ending voice of the eating disorder - You will never be able to eat little enough to satisfy me. They made me feel like I wasn’t as “good” at my eating disorder as I should be or used to be.
Part of this stage of healing for me (15 years in) is learning how to be around those conversations: how to add helpful perspective, when to stay silent, what it means to give people grace because it’s not their fault they don’t know, when to remind myself that their relationships with food and exercise are not toxic, how to cheer on their relationships with food and exercise in a healthy way, and ultimately what it looks like to pull out of specific conversations because my heart is still tender about it all.
YOU'RE NOT ALONE:
All that to say, if you’re in the throes of an eating disorder and it’s a hard month for you, you’re not alone.
Don’t slip by in silence so you can secretly participate in the cycle of diet and exercise. Don’t cower in the corner in shame because you went home crying over your friend’s new weight loss plan and you can’t explain the emotions going on inside you.
GET ON YOUR KNEES:
Instead, get on your knees. Ask God to help you desire holiness more than thinness. To give you an undivided heart (Psalm 86.11).
Pray for freedom from the slavery of your eating disorder and peace in a mind and body that’s broken by sin. Ask Him to restore the joy that comes from His salvation and grant you a willing spirit to sustain you (Psalm 51.12).
FILL YOURSELF WITH HIS WORD:
Instead of filling your mind with the ads and newsfeeds, diet plans and exercise regimes, fill your mind with His Word. It is alive and active, and full of the truth that sets you free (Hebrews 4.12; John 8.32).
BE HONEST WITH OTHERS:
Be honest. Tell some people around you. Share the burden. Invite them in. You weren’t meant to walk alone. The enemy loves isolation because then he can tell us anything he wants and there's no one there to counter it with truth.
Me being honest, I haven’t done any of this with grace. In fifteen years, I’ve walked out of conversations, my friends bewildered and puzzled because I’m agitated for no apparent reason. I’ve cried out to God in the shower as I try to stifle the noise in my head with the sound of the pounding water. I’ve walked around in the cold, and then trudged up the stairs thinking, “I wouldn’t be walking tonight if the eating disorder wasn’t getting a seat that it never should have had at the table.”
BE A CANVAS OF HIS GRACE:
Tell your story in a way that points to Him and the fact that without Him we are all beyond healing. Apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15.5).
But here's the good news of the gospel: We don’t have to be apart from Him. He sent His only Son, whose body would be broken for our sin. Who died in our place. Through Jesus we are reconciled to God. That is redemption.
A QUICK WORD TO THOSE WHO DON'T STRUGGLE WITH AN EATING DISORDER:
For those of you who don’t struggle with an eating disorder, I am not saying don’t eat healthy or exercise because of those of us who do struggle. We’re the ones with the disorder. It's part of healing - living in the real world.
However, I would encourage you to ask questions of your friends who struggle with eating disorders. Let them share. You'll hear thoughts you never fathomed people had and it might even change how you talk about your body and food. You might even find common ground with them, realizing they are not so different from you, because while their eating disorders center around disordered eating and present that way, at their core, eating disorders are not solely about food or positive body image. They start in our minds and hearts.
At the end of the day, may it remind you that resolutions can quickly become obsessions, which become what we worship, which become our identity - not just with eating disorders but with anything that starts to define us. Those goals can be good and healthy but they are not the ultimate end in life.
So while we’re surrounded by messages of weight loss and exercise - New year, new body - and other messages like, “This is going to be your year,” let’s re-center on this truth: Jesus alone is where our restless, wandering souls find peace.
He gives us new hearts because we're in desperate need of them. In Him we are a new creation.
Here's what this means: This not our year. They are not our lives or even our bodies. It’s His year and our lives and our bodies are not our own. They were made for the glory of God so that we can carry out His purposes for us here on earth.
I love how the apostle Paul puts it in his second letter to the Corinthians:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.17-21).