Losing My Religion

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (the thing where I write a reflection inspired by a song from that day’s run)

Dieting is so much like a religion. Think about it:

It’s common in religions to have lists of actions that are permissible to do and not permissible to do. Diets are entirely made up of those kinds of rules.

Religion often uses the language of “clean” or “unclean” – dieting has begun to take on this language as well with the rage of “clean eating.”

Religion speaks of sinners and saints. We often refer to a decadent dessert as being “sinful” or call ourselves “bad” or “good” depending on how well we have followed our dietary rules on any particular day.

In fact, dieting has become a religion, at least in American culture. A religion that many people strive after and fill countless hours pursuing and perfecting.

I freely admit that long before I ever memorized the Small Catechism I knew the calorie values of most foods.  I pored over exercises in magazines that might give me the legs I wanted. I devoured book after book that filled my head full of information about this eating plan or that one.

And I found community within the dieting culture, too. It’s like a language that most women have all learned how to speak: “Oh, I shouldn’t be eating this.” “No, I’ll have a diet coke.” “I lost five pounds!” “Can you believe how she let herself go?” “Ugh, I feel fat today.” On and on we speak the dieting language – adding some new terms now and then: Whole 30, Cauliflower Rice, Pilates, FitBit, etc. – but it really is all some new lingo for the same old thing: monitor, restrict, try to shrink, rebound, binge, repeat.

I’ll admit as well that I’ve let the lines between dieting and religion get blurry – especially during the season of Lent. So many years I have decided to fast during Lent and have told myself it was for spiritual purposes, yet knowing that I was very excited about the idea of what the Lenten fast might do for my figure.

Some people find comfort in strict religion, just as some find comfort in a strict diet. In fact, when you consider some of the most popular religions, the ones which teach a prosperity gospel (just do this and this and this and God is going to bless you so hard!), they bear a striking resemblance to the most popular diet plans (just eat this and do this and you will look so good!). People like the prosperity gospel preachers because they give an easy recipe for how to live your “best life now!” But eventually reality sets in and people realize that life is full of ups and downs and no amount of faith or good works or good attitude is going to save you from the hard times. Rather, what is life-giving is faith in the One who is with us when times are good or bad, the One who loves us when we are good and when we are not so good.

I guess in the same way, I’ve realized that every diet plan is just another version of the prosperity gospel – full of empty promises, oftentimes repackaged or re-worded, but all just the same. I’ve put my faith in countless diet gurus and exercise moguls: Denise Austin, Bob Harper and everyone from the Biggest Loser, the P90X guy, the group leader at Weight Watchers – I wanted to trust in them and their advice. I built big dreams on their promises, but at the end of years and years of my efforts to fit myself into their tiny molds, I realized my salvation was not in trying so hard to follow someone else’s path. My salvation when it comes to me and my body is just to accept myself the way I am and listen to my body.  It is saying “no more” to dieting.

People get very nervous about the idea of getting off the diet treadmill, because as with any deeply ingrained belief system, it is painful to realize that something you once put a lot of faith in is smoke and mirrors. By the time I was ready to let go of dieting, it just felt like sweet relief, but I can tell that there are many others who aren’t yet ready to call it quits. “It’s all about health,” they say. “I want to live as long as I can so I have to lose weight and be healthy.” That’s all well and good, but I question how much life is really in the life of a dieting person. When I was in the thick of a diet, I was constantly thinking about food, anticipating the next meal or regretting the last meal. I couldn’t really enjoy going out on a date with my husband because the food was full of a land-mine of calories. I couldn’t eat with my children because they would never eat the bland, awful things I allowed myself to eat. My days were marked with checks and numbers on my calendar, calculating my efforts for the day. I was either rigidly eating just a few different “safe” foods each day, or I was in the depths of an all-out binge and absolutely hating myself, planning to get back “on track” the next day.

I grew so sick of tomorrow.

I grew so sick of tomorrow that I realized the only way out of it was to dedicate myself to today.

To be happy today.

To be good enough today.

To allow myself to eat today.

To believe that just as I am, I get to savor everything life has to offer – and I don’t have to wait until I lose those twenty pounds or until my pants are looser. I can have it all today: happiness, joy, movement, love, freedom, food, peace – all of it. NOW!

See, God gave us our appetites and our bodies. I’ve never been rigid when it comes to religion – because I know God is all about grace. So no wonder it has felt so alien all these years to be so rigid about my body. I was supposed to be loving it and treating it gently, not constantly trying to bend it to my will and shape it into something else.

If you are still on the dieting treadmill, it’s okay. I just want to tell you how good it feels to be off of it. I weigh no more now than I did when I was dieting, I just like myself a lot more now. Once I stopped dieting, the binging stopped and that has been life-saving. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still days when I want to eat my feelings, and sometimes I do, but I work especially hard then to be kind to myself. I don’t punish myself with exercise for hours, I don’t starve myself the next day to try to make up for any excess the day before. Instead, I eat and I move and I do things that make me happy. I treat myself grace-fully.

I feel healthier than I have in a long time and I eat better. I eat real food. I eat all kinds of food! I love my appetite and I love eating with my husband, my kids, my friends. I look forward to holidays finally after dreading them most of my adult life.

The religion of weight-loss proved to be a false god for me. The times I was thinnest I was so unhealthy – starving and smoking my way into smaller and smaller sizes. My life had no life. I was too hungry and self-absorbed to think about much else. If there is anything I have done that has been detrimental to my health, it has been the constant cycle of going up and down the diet rollercoaster. It’s been detrimental to my physical health and my mental health. So much anguish and energy and time I frittered away at the altar of diet culture.

I have a Facebook friend who is currently on some weight-loss regime and every few days she is going to her weigh-in place and then she posts online how much weight she has lost. She is so excited to see the scale go down. I have such compassion for her because I have been there so many times. I’ve felt that exhilaration, I’ve felt the envy of the people around me as I shrank, and I’ve been drunk on the feeling of power it brought. And who knows, maybe she will be one of the 5% who is able to keep off the weight with militant attention and self-control, measured portions and a couple meal-replacement shakes a day for the rest of her life. God bless her. It’s not for me. I took that road a thousand times and it never led anywhere good. This road, though? This road of being comfortable in my current skin, content in my current life, joyful in eating what sounds good to me, and the scale stashed securely in a back closet? It’s a journey I hope to continue for a long-ass time.

Losing My Religion

by REM

Life is bigger
It’s bigger
And you, you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream
Dream

 

 


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