I’m about to wreak havoc with the rules of blogging. Especially the one that says, “stay in your niche”. That’s right. My turn signal is on, and I am alerting everyone in this section of the information super highway that I am detouring out of my cul de sac for a day or so. The reasons? 1. I’m not entirely certain what my niche even is, and 2. I want to.
I recently spoke to a group of 800 women on a topic I’ve never tackled before: shame. As I spoke, I felt goose bumpy with the certainty that it was landing in the hearts of those sweet women. Shame is a thing with us, you know? I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so much tearful feedback after any message. Im sure men deal with shame as well, but I think it’s uniquely debilitating for women. I shared five areas where I feel we need to shatter shame in our lives (you can hear the message in the media archives from February at www.westsidechurch.org) but the one that has been most significant for me in the past few years is appearance.
We live in a culture obsessed – and I do not use that word lightly- with appearance. Specifically, size and shape. Maintaining my weight was very easy for me for forty years. After that, it got more difficult and I was consumed with career and family and didn’t pay enough attention as unwanted lbs were finding a home on my person. I mean, I knew it was happening but I didn’t think it would be a problem to lose them (clearly the mindset of someone who hadn’t ever had to before). In the three years after Steve’s diagnosis, I put on another ten pounds without even really realizing. I was mostly thankful that my weight gain coincided with the flowy shirt trend.
As Steve’s condition declined, I realized how out of shape I was and it began to wear on me. I knew my family needed a healthy mom more than ever, but adding a fitness routine into a life that already seemed too hard and too busy seemed impossible. The problem, though, is that I couldn’t ignore it. My weight and unhealthy lifestyle became an area of shame that wrapped around my heart like a tourniquet, cutting off the flow of a healthy self image. I researched gazillions of diets and fitness plans, even considering some very extreme and unhealthy options “just to drop the weight – then I’ll maintain it through good habits.” No matter how much I planned or how strong my intentions were, I was absolutely paralyzed. I couldn’t even make myself get out a take a walk (something I’ve always loved.) And the more stuck I became, the more obsessed I became about my body. I hated the way I looked and compared myself to other women at Starbucks and wished I could find a magic pill to erase the eight years of doing nothing so I could feel good about myself again.
And here’s an embarrassing confession: I often watched videos of myself speaking, hoping I didn’t look as overweight as I felt. I was always disappointed and felt like a failure again but no amount of self-loathing could get me to move.
My breakthrough moment came in the strangest way. I don’t remember what led to it, but one day in my devotions, I asked God an important question: what’s stopping me? Why can’t I do this? The answer was clear and immediate: fear and shame. I really haven’t dealt with a lot of shame in my life, so I had to start figuring out what it was and where it came from. Because, doesn’t it seem like shame should motivate change? It seemed that way to me, but it was clearly doing the opposite in my life. (And I get that many people struggle with much greater levels of weight and that my problem may seem insignificant to those who have fought the weight loss battle their whole lives, but my point here is:shame weighs the same on all of us.)
My realization was this: I have never once laid awake at night, thinking about a friend who is struggling with weight like, “how could she let herself get there? Doesn’t she know how her clear lack of discipline is impacting her credibility as a speaker and a believer and a human?” I mean, I never would think that about anyone else because I don’t see my friends as just bodies with no souls. I see my friends as talent and character and goodness and strength – wrapped up in a temporary flesh-and-blood container.
When a man uses pornography, he separates the woman’s appearance out from all the things that make her her. He feasts on one part and discards the rest like yesterday’s trash. It’s called objectification and I hate it. But I was doing the very same thing to myself. Focusing on one part as the main thing – even dressing that obsession up in some virtuous language, but still caught in a shame cycle that felt endless. Suddenly, the lights were going on inside my brain: I realized I was afraid to start trying to get fit because I was afraid I would fail. And thinking there was no way out was easier than thinking “I can fix this any time I want – I just don’t want to yet.” The key for breaking the spin was this big, big idea: I am loved either way, so I can’t fail.
Seriously, that’s the simple truth that set me free to begin a journey toward what I believe is my best level of physical health and strength in my whole life: I’m loved either way.
Once I disconnected the idea of getting healthy and strong from the idea of getting skinny, everything changed. Shame had no more strings to pull. Love is always, always a better motivator. Always. So I let love for my family and for Jesus and their love for me become the focal point of my fitness goals. I switched my diet to primarily Paleo, downloaded the Nike Training Club app and I was on my way. Six months later, I’ve discovered a part of me that I never knew existed. I love trail running. I love setting goals and beating them. I love feeling strong enough for the challenges ahead. I also lost the weight, but that is an outcome, not the goal (I banned myself from the scales for the first two months – and now I only weigh myself every couple of weeks because otherwise, I feel the subtle shifting of my focus and I hate it. Shame lurks behind those dumb numbers on the scale.)
I wanted to tackle this topic on the blog because I feel passionate about women feeling loved and whole. Many have asked me recently what I’ve done to lose weight and it’s important to me that they know this all started with a heart change. Sometimes we underestimate how much change a spiritual adjustment can have on our physical bodies, but I like to think I’m living proof of that. I do recommend healthy eating. I do recommend working out. Those two things offer so many physical and emotional benefits. But we can diet and exercise til our bodies are tiny and tired, and still feel inadequate and unloved and ashamed. And an obsession with being skinny is no healthier than an obsession with being overweight. We cant make it through the grocery aisle without being bombarded by younger, more beautiful, more fit women and comparison always breeds shame, unless we’ve done the core work first. Spiritual Pilates: “I am loved at any size and any shape, I am the right age at the right time, I am not a failure because I’ve grown older. I am the right me.” Once that powerful mindset is in place, I believe just about anything is possible.
You are loved,
PS: I have a pinterest board of some of my favorite things that have helped make the journey to better fitness a wonderful one – it’s called Strong is the New Skinny and you can access it by clicking the Pinterest button up in the right corner,