It’s still dark outside. I’ve just nursed the baby and I should be in bed, trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep before my older children wake me up. Instead I sneak into my bathroom and step on the scale with trepidation.
Will it be my friend or foe this morning?
It takes a few seconds for the digital number to appear. I stare at it and then step off the scale. I tell myself I have to let it go, that the number on the scale is irrelevant to my happiness.
I return to bed and watch my sleeping baby’s form. Her eyelids briefly flicker open and I see a sliver of blue. She sighs. Her tiny fist unfurls to reveal her perfect hand and her arm jerks. She folds into me and I feel her heat against my body. I love her so deeply, and I am thankful for this love. Sometimes I think it’s my love for my children that keeps me from falling off the edge again, to succumbing to disordered eating as I’ve done in the past.
I recently stumbled across Deuteronomy 25:18-19 and recognized that vigilance is imperative during this exhausting point in my life. The passage reads: “He harassed you along the way, weak and weary as you were, and cut off at the rear all those who lagged behind.”
When I’m exhausted, I’m more likely to cave in to past temptations. When I am weary, I let my guard down and allow the relics of my eating disorder to creep back into my life. It’s all too easily to fall into old habits, to let demons of the past haunt me and lure me in.
Every day is a struggle for me. Whenever I feel hunger pangs deep inside of me, I have to tell myself I must eat if not for my own nourishment than for my baby who needs my body to have enough energy to feed her.
I always worry when I bring up my struggles with body angst. People don’t understand, especially since I don’t look like I have a weight problem (though I certainly do have a type of weight problem). Even my own husband can’t understand it. “You’re beautiful,” he says. But it’s not about beauty. My weight is not about how I look or even how my jeans fit. For me, it’s about being in control. It’s about having a quantifiable means of measuring my worth.
My nights are unpredictable and so, too, are most of my days. When I slip between the sheets each night, I never know when the baby will wake up to nurse or how long I will have to hold her upright after each feeding so that the gurgling and the wet hiccups will no longer cause her pain (and keep me awake). I don’t know when my older children will need me – when my day will begin or how it will unfold. I can have a plan in mind, but it can slowly begin to unravel with an unexpected crying jag (from the baby or me), a sibling sprawl over a once-forgotten stuffed animal that has swiftly taken the center stage as the number one toy to have in your possession, or a spilled smoothie seeping into our carpet.
In short, in my fatigue and my dicey days and even dicier nights, I feel powerless. I cannot control the number of hours (minutes!) I spend in REM. I cannot always control my children’s behavior, try as I might. I do not know when (or if) my husband will be home from work to offer support.
But how much I eat, the delightful downward trend of the scale – these are areas of my life in which I can wield complete control. I can whip my body into submission and deprive myself of calories. If I eat too much or the number on the scale gets stuck at an “unreasonable” number, I can always take certain purgative measures (skip breakfast, exercise for longer and harder) to compensate. When I feel lacking as a mother, there’s one area I know I can master; I used to be very good at controlling my weight.
Not that I subscribe to the unhealthy habits of my past. I try not to weigh myself very often at all; I resist losing weight unless it’s done the healthy way. But I am faced with the temptation to start obsessing over calories and the number on the scale nearly every day.
But then I hear my baby cry. Or my toddler reaches up to me with her deliciously chubby arms and says, “Pick me up, Mommy.” Or my preschooler challenges me to a game of tag. And I know I must eat if not for myself then for the children who need me – all of me – to feed them, hold them, chase them and most importantly, to teach them that their own bodies are temples deserving of respect and honor.
When I begin to notice every inch of flesh, the way it moves when I move. Or when I am tempted obsess over every bite that passes my lips, I tell myself that I need to be strong. I need to fuel my body and not punish it. I need to remember that pursuing thinness has no eternal value at all, but raising children does. And I remind myself that God is in me. He dwells in this body of mine.
I cannot wish away this cross I bear. For a long time, that’s what I’ve tried to do - to forget that I ever had an eating disorder. In fact, not so long ago I wrote to a friend who was struggling with her body image that I used to see myself as weak for not being able to completely rid myself of this inner turmoil. However, what has helped me is knowing that this is a cross I’ll likely have for the rest of my life. It’s one I must accept and embrace. Much like a recovered or dry alcoholic, I’ve come to see that I can be physically recovered but that I face an ongoing process of restoration. I’m always working to detach myself from my unhealthy thoughts and to attach myself completely to God. Only then will his love and power for healing have the ability to take hold of my life.
So I will eat for my baby, but I’ll also eat for myself and for the God who created me and loves every postpartum, soft inch of me.