Supernatural Self-Control

Every diet I tried, every weight-loss book—nothing worked. Then I prayed for help.

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Posted in , Oct 19, 2014

Supernatural Self-Control

"Honey, I'm home," Joey, my husband, called from the front door. I left the pot of spaghetti bubbling on the stove and went to greet him. First thing he did was reach out his arms to give me a hug. But instead of hugging back, I pulled away self-consciously.

How could I explain to him how embarrassed I was that his arms could barely get around my body? A look of hurt came across his face. I turned and ran back into the kitchen to finish making dinner. How can he possibly love me when I look like this? I thought.

We ate dinner in silence in front of the TV. After a plate of spaghetti, I still felt empty. I went back for seconds and added two pieces of bread slathered with butter and wolfed it down. I was full, but the strange thing was I didn't feel satisfied. I needed something sweet.

I went back into the kitchen and ate a doughnut, then another, and another, until I felt as if I'd burst. Finally, I could stop eating. Now came the guilt. Why was I doing this to myself? Quickly I washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen and got ready for bed.

That's when the emptiness hit me. Not so much physical but spiritual, a hollow ache deep inside that nothing seemed to fill. I sank down on the edge of the bed and stared at my reflection in the dresser mirror. The mattress sagged under my weight.

I looked blown up like a balloon. Where had I disappeared to behind all that fat? "I hate you," I whispered to my reflection.

I hadn't always been heavy. But when I was 13, my parents' bickering was pushing them closer toward divorce. There was always a lot of strife around the dinner table, and I'd eat until my stomach ached to try and drown it out.

In high school, I kept my weight down by exercising and dancing. I loved to dance. In fact, it was one night while on the dance floor at a local club that I met a nice guy with deep brown eyes and a friendly smile—Joey.

We were married exactly a year later and before long I gave birth to our son, Joshua.

Joshua was a joy, but after the pregnancy, I fell ill with an infection and couldn't get any exercise. Joey had to work double shifts and came home late at night. All day I found myself alone in a tiny duplex with a baby to care for.

The only pleasure I had was the nearby bakery and their cheap powdered doughnuts and cinnamon twirls. I'd plop down on the couch and snack in front of the TV until Joey got back from work.

When I couldn't fit into any of my old clothes, I went out and bought some big stretchy cotton pants and blouses that reached way down over my hips. Eventually, I was wearing a size 28. I was too big and tired to even get down on the floor and play with Joshua anymore.

Believe me, I knew it was a problem. I tried every diet out there. I lost 40 pounds on a strict regimen, counting and weighing everything I ate. Soon as I went off it, I gained everything back.

The bathroom scale was my guilty conscience. I read articles and books, but nothing worked. I tried fad diets, like eating nothing but awful cabbage soup. That one lasted a week. Eventually, I just gave up. It was no use. I never went near a scale again.

Now I was sitting on the edge of my bed staring into the mirror at a woman I barely recognized. Tears rolled down my face. Desperately—but not for the first time—I cried out to God, "Please help me lose weight." But how was God suddenly going to make me stop eating myself to death?

I felt powerless over my eating patterns, my food binges. Why would God help me if I couldn't help myself?

A few days later, I saw a notice in the church bulletin about a class called "Put the Past Behind You." I thought about how my parents' divorce had helped set off my bad eating habits. I felt so desperate I was ready to try anything. "I want to go," I told Joey. "I'll go with you," he said.

In that first session, the class leader talked about prayer. "You can fill your life with prayer instead of regrets," he said. He was right. I held on to my regrets and resentments, reliving my parents' divorce. And just as I did then, I ate to fight those feelings.

It was like I was stuck at that dinner table when I was 13, stuffing down my feelings with food. Now I closed my eyes. I prayed to put the pain behind me. When I opened my eyes again, I felt better. "Maybe I'll come back," I told Joey when the class was over.

We went every week for nine months. A lot of times I felt like I'd made a real breakthrough and came home feeling relieved of my regrets. But other times I dragged myself home feeling sadder than ever.

One night, I walked straight into the kitchen, tore open a package of cinnamon twirls and poured a large glass of milk. It was hopeless. I was never going to change. Not even God can help me, I thought. But as I bit into the second cinnamon twirl, a question suddenly popped into my head.

Am I really hungry? Or am I eating because I feel empty inside and frustrated? Then, suddenly, I threw the half-eaten cinnamon twirl into the trash and poured the rest of the milk back into the carton. Even as I did it I felt strange, as if it wasn't really me pouring the milk.

Later that week at church, a woman asked if I wanted to be on the prayer team for a women's weekend retreat. I hesitated. They really want someone like me? I wondered. I said yes. I don't know why. I just did.

But then I found out we'd be sleeping in bunk beds. "I'll just die if they put me in the top bunk," I said to Joey.

"Don't worry, Katrina," Joey said. "Something made you say yes. Now, you just have to trust that feeling. That's what our class is all about: trust."

The group leader asked us each to write a letter to God telling what we'd like to see him do for us on the retreat. I turned to the Bible looking for some inspiration. That's when I came to the passage in Galatians about the fruits of the spirit. Love, joy, faithfulness…and self-control.

Yes, I thought. There's what I really need. Not just a little self-control, but a lot of it. In big, clear, bold letters I wrote on my paper, "I need supernatural self-control."

Something happened at that retreat camp. I didn't go for a second helping at dinner. Late at night, the time when I usually would have a "snack," I didn't feel any cravings. I didn't stay up thinking about food. I just drifted off to sleep (on a lower bunk, thankfully).

I felt an extraordinary peace that I hadn't felt in ages, maybe ever. But it wouldn't last, I figured. Not when I got back to my routine.

My first night home, I fixed up a nice fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy for myself, Joey and Joshua. After a few bites, I heard a voice in my head, absolutely clear and direct, That's enough. Put it away. Now.

The thought startled me. I stood, picked up my plate and started walking back toward the kitchen. "Forget something?" Joey asked. "No," I said with a shrug. "I'm just...not that hungry." I took out some plastic wrap, covered the plate and put it into the refrigerator. I'll just have it later tonight.

Then I went back into the living room. It wasn't until the next morning when I saw the untouched plate of fried chicken that I realized I hadn't gone back and finished it. I couldn't explain it.

One rainy afternoon I went to the cupboard to get some potato chips. Are you hungry or are you eating because you feel lonely and bored? the voice demanded. I closed the cupboard door and instead bowed my head in prayer, asking for strength. It worked. I skipped the chips.

At dinner, I was halfway through my usual hefty helping of macaroni and cheese when the voice said, That's enough. Every time my self-control was about to give way, I heard a voice. Was it some inner urging I never knew I had or something more?

All I knew was that my eating habits were changing. Dramatically. More amazing, though, were my feelings. When I stopped stuffing them they made their way to the surface and I was able to face them without fear, without hurt, and finally let them go.

My clothes got looser. I explained over and over again to people that I wasn't exactly on a diet; I was eating all the foods I normally ate and liked. But instead of drowning myself in food, I was listening to what God was directing me to do about my eating decisions.

Energy returned too. Why not start dancing again? So I danced in my living room for about 10 to 20 minutes a few times a week. Do more. I bought a 30-minute aerobic workout tape. People actually complimented my looks.

Soon, I felt confident enough to jog around the neighborhood. My friend told me about a 10K road race she was running. Did I want to try it? Try it. I had to walk for some of it, but I finished.

The one thing left to face was that dreaded scale. It took me quite a bit of courage to get on it. I closed my eyes. Finally, I looked down. The needle stayed right below 160! I gaped at the number. I had lost nearly 150 pounds!

No wonder I felt so light. No wonder I ran into Joey's arms at night. But the weight I lost was not simply physical. It was the weight of the past, of unresolved regrets that only a higher power can relieve us of, a God whose arms are big enough to wrap around anyone.

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