Here’s the simple, honest, no-holds barred truth: I have been overweight pretty much all of my life.
I also have lost weight several times over the course of my life. I did this first when I was in Junior High (or middle school, for those of you born well after me!). Actually, my Mom and I did it together through a program called “U-Can.” We did the whole thing. Weigh-ins, tracking our food, special healthier recipes, encouraging group meetings, etc. I was actually slim to skinny for a short time.
Then once I began university and had a more consistently sedentary lifestyle, the weight slowly went back on. Though even during this period of my life I still did a fair bit of walking, so that helped stave it off somewhat. But I remember well the frustration of trying to put on a pair of jeans and hating myself because I couldn’t.
When I was a student at McMaster University I actually joined and went to (because joining and going aren’t the same thing!) a gym. Once again, I managed to lose weight and get into a little bit of shape. I was also still walking a lot. Poor students don’t have cars.
But then once I was married and we had kids and I had been a pastor for a few years, I began putting on weight again. Since then I have gone back and forth. I’ve been on Weight Watchers, Beach Body, used apps like iTrackbites, and even now I have an app called Carb Manager which tracks calories, carbs, fat, etc. I’ve recently checked out The Fit Father Project.
In the nearly seven years we have lived in NS, I have probaby lost more than 50 or 60 lbs altogether. Unfortunately, it has tended to happen in 20lb increments, after which I get off track and the weight goes back on. That’s where I am now.
And yes it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s discouraging. Yes, it’s maddening.
I suppose you know this already, but I’ll just put it out there. People who are overweight know they’re overweight. We don’t need someone to tell us. We feel badly enough and self-conscious enough without other people drawing our attention to it. If you’re looking at me and thinking, “Pastor Derek really should lose some weight,” believe me when I say that I am very aware of this and have been for as long as I can remember.
The truth is, I personally don’t “see” myself as a fat person. What I mean is that the picture I have of myself in my mind is much more flattering than an image I’ll see in a mirror or a picture. Here’s the thing, however: when I find myself not really wanting to be photographed, or at least not wanting to look at pictures of myself, it’s because I know I won’t be happy with what I see. What I really see.
So why get into all of this here? Well, it is a profoundly important part of my story, and short of my experiences with mental health issues (either mine of those of loved ones), issues surrounding food, eating, and weight are the most challenging ones I have faced in my life.
So without trying to add guilt to the obvious struggles a lot of us have with weight, I want to suggest that it is also a spiritual issue in part. Taking care of our physical bodies–bodies that are gifts from God–is part of our discipleship to Jesus. At a practical level, think about how your physical health impacts your mood, energy level, and ability to accomplish certain tasks. I have felt this, for example, when my church clothes don’t fit as well as they once did and I feel a little embarrassed and frustrated as a pastor. Actually, I hate it. How can that not affect my mood and perspective on a Sunday morning?
So, yes, I know from experience that eating healthier leads to having more energy and feeling better–even if I struggle mightily with doing it consistently and over the long term. I know it can affect my prayer life. It impacts how I see myself in relation to others. It makes a difference with how much I can get done sometimes.
You see, when it comes to Jesus, everything matters. Everything about us matters. Even our bodies. Those of us who are pastors can sometimes be especially guilty about ignoring our physical well-being because our vocation isn’t one that intrinsically requires physical activity. It’s a lot of sitting at a computer, sitting in people’s homes, sitting in meetings, sitting in a hospital room. You get the point.
Not only that, but perception, while not everything, isn’t irrelevant. That is, when someone sees an overweight person they can rightly or wrongly perceive that person as lazier and lacking in personal discipline and for that reason maybe as less reliable or trustworthy or worthy of admiration. Basically, they perceive the person more negatively.
But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Clearly, I have made many attempts to lose weight. And I have been partially successful at times. And while the physical discipline of eating healthier is part of the solution, another important thing to realize is that eating healthier involves a lot more than sheer self-control.
My wife has a theory about my struggles with overeating. From learning from my Mom about what it was like when she was pregnant with me, she thinks there’s a strong chance I was undernourished. My Mom smoked all through her pregnancy. So when I entered the world I did so with this fear of not having enough to eat. Plus, once I was born my Mom lacked the necessary knowledge to feed me properly, either severely over or under-feeding me as a result. On top of that I also learned poor eating habits from my Mom, who also struggled weight issues for much of her life. She both struggled with anorexia when younger and with being overweight later in life.
So, yeah, there’s all that. But the point is that even something basic like our eating habits are formed profoundly by factors outside of our control. There are others for whom specific genetic factors play a huge role in our weight. It’s not necessarily all because of someone’s lack of self-control.
In one way or another, food became an emotional issue for me. I would use it to feel better. I would also indulge when celebrating. All with this underlying fear of not getting what I want or need that lay beneath my conscious behaviour.
Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, talks about how we need to go back in order to move forward towards spiritual maturity. That is, to grow into who Christ invites us to be we need to come to terms and work through issues we face in the present because of our family of origin. Like Scazzero likes to say, “Jesus may be in your heart but Grandpa is in your bones.”
That’s why for me eating habits are also a spiritual matter, an issue of discipleship, which means I have to do more than simply exercise personal willpower to eat healthier and lose weight. I get that for some it’s less complicated. I also don’t want to over complicate my situation. Still, in addition to learning about nutrition and healthier eating, I also have to change my feelings and attitude about food have to change. And, frankly, given that my current feelings have been forming in me since before I was born, that is the hardest part.
Naturally, the question is: what am I going to do about it? The thought of trying to lose weight again feels exhausting. I feel preemptively discouraged. Christmas is coming. I like—really like—carbs. It feels like it’s impossible, a mountain I have no hope of climbing. Do I want it badly enough?
I think I’m going to try and do some journaling about all of this. Pray about it. I need to do better when grocery shopping and preparing meals. Avoid unhealthy food items that when home are tempting! I can’t eat what isn’t in in the house.
Maybe I’ll get it right, maybe I won’t. What I do know is that it requires much more than a surface level and behavioural change. I need changing deep within. It’s the kind of change I pray God will effect within me. I pray that I can rewrite this part of my story.