by Anna LeBaron
I’ve had an issue with weight gain since I escaped my father’s polygamist cult at thirteen years old. I don’t always discuss my struggle about my weight with just anyone, though I’ve talked about it endlessly with my closest girlfriends. Today, I’m making an exception to that rule for only the second time in my life.
As children, my siblings and I were often hungry and sometimes even malnourished. We were raised on welfare and some of the foods we ravenously scarfed down were obtained by “dumpster diving” behind grocery stores. We rummaged for expired dairy products, as well as fruits and vegetables, thus giving this practice the euphemism of “gardening.” My mom would buy huge garbage bags full of loaves of bread and snack cakes from the bread store, the packages sliced open and intended as animal feed.
I began closet-eating at a very young age. Sneaking into the garage, I would open the freezer door and pull out a six-pack of frozen chocolate covered donuts and hope nobody saw me. I repeated this over and over. When the chocolate ones were gone, I’d reach for the white, powdered sugar donuts. I would keep going back to the freezer, hoping I wouldn’t be noticed, until all the sweet treats were consumed. Later, my other siblings would tell me they did the same thing.
The trauma and abuse we experienced regularly in the cult shaped not only my soul, but also the wiring of my brain. Feeling half-starved and experiencing food insecurity and scarcity in all my formative years created the perfect storm for eating disorders to develop and to become entrenched in my psyche.
After I escaped and went to live with my sister, who had plenty of food, my closet-eating continued with a wider assortment of foods, purchased at a grocery store. I was mortified the day my classmates and I each got weighed in the Christian Charm class at the private school I attended. At age thirteen and a healthy 132 pounds, I still outweighed my skinnier friends by quite a lot. That knowledge didn’t help me stop closet-eating, or comfort-eating. There’s a reason why certain foods are called “comfort food” and for the most part, having any food in my belly was a comfort.
My school uniform increased by one size each year from 1982 until I graduated high school in 1987 as a size 18. I have been fighting “the battle of the bulge” ever since. The cycle of weight gain, weight loss, and then regaining the lost pounds plus a few more, has been my lifelong adult experience. I can, and did, utilize the latest diet and exercise programs effectively, and would keep at it…until they were no longer effective. I’ve weighed as much as 251 pounds and wore a size 24 jeans at my heaviest. I’m currently wearing a size 18/20.
The reason I am no longer ashamed to talk about my weight or size publicly is because I have come to understand more about the nature of trauma and abuse on the human mind, and soul. I have finally arrived at a place of peace (mostly) with myself and my body (because let’s be real, I will likely always want to be at least one size smaller. A girl can hope, right?).
This is not to say that I have figured it all out. Not by any stretch. But I am “body positive” now, as my teenage daughter taught me to say. I am positive that my body has kept my spirit alive here on earth, and that is good. As long as there is life in my body there is hope that one day I’ll finally figure out how to break this cycle. That day may come when I meet Jesus face to face and am transformed in a twinkling of an eye. On that day I am positive I’ll have the body that is not quite as padded with the extra fluffy fat cells that are currently keeping my body and spirit here on earth.
In the meantime, I remind myself that progress is the key, not perfection. I continue pressing in for healing and wholeness, for the abundant life that Jesus died to give me. I want to experience all the “aliveness” that is available to me. I have spent decades reading self-help books, in professional counseling, and using healthy spiritual practices. Plus, “girlfriend therapy,” which sometimes involves the consumption of chocolate.
Neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf once said, “There is a special grace for trauma.” I have experienced that special grace and continue to depend on it daily. I hope you will receive that special grace for yourself as well. Especially if the reason for your struggle is anchored in childhood trauma or abuse.
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