I’ve discovered a pandemic phenomenon: The Covid-19 10 is a 10-pound weight gain that creeps on in quarantine.
In my defense, let me say that the fear of not being able to get my beloved treats at some point during quarantine had me pack-ratting Dove Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Promises and Moose Munch as if they might become as scarce as toilet paper. The question then became, what do I do with the stockpile? Just eat it?
These extra pounds prompted me to consider how I lost 75 pounds 20 years ago without dieting and kept them off since then.
I want to remember the steps.
It’s what we do when we try to lose weight. On paper, it makes sense. Eating less calories = weight loss. Doing more exercise = burning more calories = weight loss. And if people were robots with calculators for brains and hearts directly wired to those calculators, and bodies that did exactly what they were told, then who would be overweight?
We don’t need more information or more willpower to lose weight. We need more faith. We need more hope. We need more love.
We’re more than just robots with fact calculators for brains. We have hearts and minds and bodies that run on faith, freedom, and pleasure. We have to rely on more than just calories and ketosis when we approach this subject of healthy eating and weight loss. We have to tend to our hearts and what we believe.
My journey is a journey of believing. It has more to do with pulling weeds than putting down my fork. My weeds were the lies I believed that kept me fat. I had to plant truth in their place. It was truth that set me free.
20 years ago, I weighed over 200 pounds. I’d been a long distance runner in college and fit all my life until 10 years before, so why did I gain so much weight? I gained weight by believing that being thin would make me happy, and that dieting is the way to be thin.
With my recent weight gain, I realized these lies were taking root again, and I needed to chew on truth like it’s a plug of life-giving tobacco.
Here are the 10 truths I found to lose 75 pounds:
1. I can stop dieting and start living.
2. I was created to be free.
3. I can eat any food I want. (Do I really want it?)
4. I can eat any time I’m hungry.
5. I can make healthy choices.
6. I can manage treats.
7. I can focus on living.
8. I can celebrate healthy choices.
9. I can push restart now.
10. I can believe these truths for life, stop dieting, and start living.
It was a night I’ll never forget: I told God I was desperate and begged him to help me.
1. I Can Stop Dieting and Start Living.
Food had become more than what kept my stomach from growling. It was comfort. Why did I need so much comfort? The obvious reason was to escape the misery of being fat. I ate because I was fat. But I was fat because I ate. This was a hamster wheel I couldn’t get off of.
I certainly couldn’t be happy being a fat, 40-something with five healthy kids. I wanted thin. I wanted it more than I wanted to care for my new baby. More than I wanted to live. More than I wanted God. How do I know? Because I had those things and I was still unhappy. Anything that steals my joy is an idol, and being thin was a big one.
But what was driving me to food, even when I lost weight? I’d had success taking off pounds over the years. If being thin was my ticket to happy, why wasn’t I happy when I got there? Because whether fat or thin, eating was my life-hack.
Underneath the mindlessness that let me eat a box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting was the expectation that eating would make me feel better, no matter what I was facing. I didn’t consciously think food had that power, of course, but I sure lived like it did. An idol is something I set up for myself and hand over the power to make me feel better. But of course, unless I’m hungry, food never makes me feel better. I only hope that it will.
Pregnancy packed on pounds, and I did everything I knew to unpack them—dieting, exercising, fasting. All I had to show after 10 years of trying was 75 pounds more, not less. Losing weight by dieting wasn’t working. In fact, dieting was making me fat.
“God, I want to be happy right here where I am, not wait for ‘one day.’ Forgive me for wanting to be thin more than I want you. I’m desperate to live a new way, but I don’t know how. Please help.” I didn’t know how God would answer, but one thing was sure: I got down off my hamster wheel that night. I felt so relieved, I felt like taking a walk. So I did.
2. I Was Created to Be Free.
Lots of people lose weight, but few keep it off because we want to eat what we please. Dieting denies that God-given right. It tells us what to eat, when, and how much. Dieting takes away our freedom to enjoy food the way God intended. He doesn’t lock us up in diet jail.
We also don’t keep it off because we naturally go back to the food we love when a diet is over. To keep the pounds off, we have to keep up the diet. But no one wants to live a lifetime of deprivation.
The assumption with dieting is that I can’t be trusted to manage my own food. I must trust the diet professionals to manage it for me. But God gives me freedom with food.
The Apostle Paul warned that some would say we should abstain from certain foods, ones that God created to enjoy. He wrote, “…everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it’s received with thanksgiving…” (1 Timothy 4:4). Deceiving spirits and demons influence us to believe otherwise.
Isn’t it just like the enemy to try to take away our freedom?
There’s no food that can’t be enjoyed, even chocolate cheesecake. God says it’s all good, but it’s not all equally good for you. “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but I won’t be mastered by anything,” (1 Corinthians 6:12). It’s not all beneficial—so be wise. Nothing is off limits—but don’t let anything become your master. Freedom rests in the balance.
3. I Can Eat Any Food I Want. (But Do I Really Want It?)
It’s in the spirit of that freedom that I say, “Yes, you can have it. Do you really want it?” I always affirm my God-given right to eat anything I want. But I follow with the question “Do you really want it?” because it gets at the real issue. Not can I have it? Of course I can. But do I want it? Because if I can admit that I don’t want it, then I can walk away from it.
I’d stumbled into, “Yes, you can have it,” because I realized that what made me want food I wasn’t hungry for was believing I couldn’t have it in the first place. It’s the same feeling I have anytime someone says, “Don’t look!” and I can’t help myself, I look. When I say I can have it, suddenly those “gotta haves” turn into “meh, nah” ones.
“Yes, you can have it” are the magic words that get me past my inner child who wants treats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So I can ask my better self, my redeemed self, who wants to live God’s way, “Do you really want it?”
When I ask, I give myself time to feel. Often I realize, wow, I don’t want this. My stomach is full. It even hurts a little. What I want is to take a bath. To read. To relax with my husband. And then I do.
This inner dialogue only “works” if I let myself feel the permission deeply. Yes, I can have whatever food I’m tempted by. No question. Anything whatsoever. I let myself feel the freedom. And then I ask, “Do you really want it?”
If I say no, it’s not because I can’t have what’s in front of me. It’s because I don’t want it. I can always walk away from what I don’t want. With practice, it’s easy. I do it all the time.
4. I Can Eat Any Time I’m Hungry
Pay attention to how a naturally thin person eats, and you’ll notice this: they eat when they’re hungry, they eat what they want, and they stop when they’re full.
There’s a God-given appetite meter inside us. Even if it’s stopped working, it starts again when we respect it. The appetite meter gets stronger with practice, like a muscle that gets stronger with use. Two simple things enable it: waiting until physical hunger to eat and stopping when satisfied.
The secret for how much to eat has been tucked inside our bodies all along. It’s also been tucked inside God’s Word. Proverbs 25:16 says, “Have you found honey? Eat only what you need. Too much of it, and you’ll vomit.”
We can trust God, who gave us our appetite and its meter. It’s not wired to make us fat. It’s wired to let us know when to eat and when to stop based on how much energy we need. We can trust our bodies when it comes to what we put in our mouths, too. We deserve our trust.
Your God-given meter might be asleep, it might be broken, it might be so weak that it can’t get your attention anymore, but it’s still there. And it can be resurrected. I know because mine was gagged and hog-tied for years, but it’s back.
At first, I didn’t want to wait until I was hungry every time I ate. Sometimes I had to wait most of the day, depending on what I’d had for breakfast. But the reason to wait for true physical hunger is because you will feel full to stop only if you’ve been empty to start.
It’s hard work. Think of it as a kind of training. Eventually, you won’t think to eat until you’re hungry.
5. I Can Make Healthy Choices
Throughout my journey, I had to keep reminding myself that my goal was finding fitness, not thinness. 10 years of pining for “thin” took some effort to lay down. But compared to dieting, making healthy choices was easy. I drank more water, added more veggies to dinner. I also learned to accept several pounds more than thin.
Exercising-to-be-thin had kept me discouraged, strapped to the sofa with Stouffers. But exercising-to-be-healthy got me up and out the door. Eventually, I traded walking for running, Diet Coke for water, crackers for carrots. I joined the Y. I bought a bike.
This whole process had to be easy so that I would stick with it. I wanted to be fit for life, didn’t I? So I made a little change I could live with. And when I was ready, I made another.
One night I opened the Bible and read, “…he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:6). I knew that God had begun a good work in me when I first believed. But the next part, that God would perfect me, was something new. It wasn’t up to me? A load I didn’t know I was carrying suddenly fell at my feet.
And the monkey for doing better, for getting-the-heck-out of my fat suit, jumped off my back and onto God’s. I breathed deep relief.
The power to make these changes came from teamwork: God shouldered the burden, and I supplied the want-to. Because I was choosing the changes, it was easy to make them. And because I made them gradually, they became permanent. There was never a “going on” or “going off” this plan. I always ate what I wanted. I wasn’t deprived. What’s not to like?
6. I Can Manage Treats.
Sugar is my biggest temptation. In those early days, my treat of choice was Krispy Kreme donuts. I was afraid I couldn’t give them up on my fitness journey. I was afraid if I tried and failed, I’d end up tossing fitness, not KK’s. So I decided never to try. I allowed myself one or two donuts a week, always waiting until hungry and stopping when slightly queasy, which I suppose was a kind of satisfaction.
Surprisingly, KK’s were the proving ground for this eat-whatever-you-want idea, one that felt bizarre, even to me. But here’s something I didn’t see coming. One day, I realized that the queasiness I felt was more like a tummy ache that took the rest of the day to get over. Whenever I ate one I asked, “Yes, you can have it. Do you really want it?” Eventually I realized, no, I don’t.
I haven’t had one since.
Here’s where I’ve landed, the happy place where I co-exist with sugar: I have one small treat every day—two Promises or a handful of Moose Munch. If I slip up and have too much, I don’t shame. Life’s not perfect, and I don’t have to be either. I just wait until I’m hungry again.
I realize that sugar has no nutritional value, and I can live more healthfully-ever-after without it. But for me, having treats is part of living happily. I never treat myself like an orphan, who only gets porridge or a plate of veggies. I don’t eat broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy unless I like those foods and want to eat them.
Eating what we like matters quite a lot in the overall enjoyment of living. It respects our bodies and their desire for pleasure. If you’ve been saying no to what you love for a long time, you may need a recovery period where you allow yourself what you’ve been denying. You may want to eat only donuts every time you’re hungry. Your boundary is to be hungry before you start and to stop when satisfied.
7. I Can Focus On Living
Focusing on food will never break my obsession with it. Who stops drinking by learning to drink well? Idols have to be forsaken, not indulged. Dieting focuses me on food and on how bad I look now or how good I’m hoping to look when it’s over. But being obsessed with what I’m eating and how I look is the two-headed beast I’m already battling that’s making me fat in the first place!
How can I leave food alone if I meticulously plan, measure, count, shop, gather recipes, prepare, cook, consume, clean up, digest, and do it all over again, three times a day?
Has my life boiled down to this—how I look and what I eat? Well, yes. When I’m preoccupied with dieting and exercise and what I see in the mirror and on the scales, that’s exactly what my life becomes. There’s only so much time in a day, and dieting, exercising, and sizing up one’s self takes a considerable amount of it.
We don’t need to control food. We must learn to control ourselves. And the secret for self-control is working with the self. Rather than fighting ourselves with rigid dieting and exercise, we befriend ourselves with freedom: “Yes, you can have it.” We ask what we want: “Do you really want it?” We tell the truth, “I’m hungry,” or, “I’m satisfied.”
You only get one self, one life. What if you treated yourself as if you’re already the wonderful person you want to be? Why wait to be happy until you’re rockin’ the body of your dreams? What if you never get there?
Imagine how it would feel to believe: “I’m free to be happy now. I’m free to be healthy now. I’m free to eat anytime I’m hungry now. I’m free to eat exactly what I want now—not one day when I hit my goal weight. NOW!”
8. I Can Celebrate Healthy Choices
I learned to look at other numbers, not the ones on the scale. I got baselines for strength, endurance, flexibility, blood pressure, and pulse at the Y. At every check-in, my numbers improved. I saw a different picture than the one the scales painted. I was getting stronger and more flexible. My blood pressure and pulse fell.
How much I weighed—what kind of measure was that? It was just the amount of matter my body contained. The other numbers told me I was healthier. I celebrated with donuts.
I didn’t know then that I was on a journey that would include weight loss. I thought I was giving up the dream of looking fabulous at 40. If I’d been trying to lose weight, I’d have never made it to fit. I certainly wouldn’t have celebrated along the way. I’d have thought I needed to lose weight first.
But the best celebrating I did was every morning when I woke up and every night when I went to bed and every minute in between. I was free. After years on my hamster wheel, I felt giddy to be off. Rather than sitting on the porch watching my kids play, I did sprints with them in the backyard. We played.
And then, I had to buy new clothes. That was a happy day.
9. I Can Push Restart Now
What if you lived so that food was fuel and fun and not the thing you were afraid of? What if you learned to control yourself because you trusted and liked yourself and knew that you could be trusted? And what if when you messed up, you could push a restart button that skipped past the shame and landed you right where you were before the mess-up, a magic do-over button, right at your fingertips?
“I can push restart now” is that magic do-over. No matter how much you just ate, you can push restart, and it’s over and gone and now begins. “Forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead,” (Philippians 3:13). And you simply wait to get hungry again. You wait every moment between your last nacho and your next enchilada. No shame. Only, “Oops! Need a restart!” You’ve got one.
Restarting means re-believing. When I was afraid I was going to regain weight, I started regaining weight. I had to remind myself what 10 years of dieting had taught me: I couldn’t lose weight by trying. But since losing weight wasn’t my goal, I wasn’t in the dungeon, chained to the mirror and the refrigerator. I was free! I could be healthier every time I moved.
Shame dwells on the past. If I get locked in it, I can’t move forward to the next moment. I can’t restart in shame. But my body is moving on. It’s digesting what I just ate, and it’s going to eliminate it. Take a cue from your body and do the same. Toss shame.
Feel the freedom of an immediate restart. Feel the strength it gives you. Feel the joy. Breathe. Believe “there’s now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1).
Everybody who wants a restart, gets one. The thief hanging next to Jesus was forgiven the moment he asked, even though he’d been mocking Jesus right along with the thief on the other side (Matthew 27:44; Luke 23:43). It’s never too late to restart, to repent, and believe again. God gives us “a thousand brand new starts” (lyrics from “Stay” by Big Daddy Weave). Grab one.
10. I Can Believe These Truths for Life
The time will come when you realize your beauty is fading, and your looks will never make you happy. If they didn’t when you were young, they surely won’t when you’re old. If you don’t find something outside yourself, something permanent that gives you value and joy, aging will sneak up and crush you. If you don’t have your roots deeply in the Rock of Ages, the Source of Life and Love, you’ll wither before your time.
I planted an apple tree three years ago that still hasn’t borne apples. It takes time for the roots to go deep and the branches to get strong to bear fruit. The tree that bears fruit isn’t the one that got planted yesterday: it’s the one that was planted years ago.
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright, he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him‘” Psalm 92:12-15.
If I want to be a flourishing tree in old age—fresh and green, bearing fruit—what will it take? Believing God’s words. Getting planted in his presence. Praising and proclaiming him. Now. That’s my retirement plan.
These 10 Truths are for finding a planted-in-the-Rock-and-praising-God life. I’m in.
What about my Covid-19 10?
I can push restart now.
Jesus said, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” John 8:32.
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