We've recently been talking about struggles with food - whether it's eating too much, too little - and why we choose to eat or not eat. Are we using food (or food deprivation) to nourish our souls instead of allowing food to nourish our bodies?
I've asked people to share their struggles and today, Hannah Rivard has done just that. I pray her words would resonate in your heart, that you would allow God to nourish you through this testimony, and that you would, too, taste abundant life. (If you have a story to share, please let me know. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
“You’re a model, and you’ve struggled with food? With self image?! But you’re not even overweight!”
That’s because it’s not about the food. At least, it wasn’t for me, not entirely.
My struggle with food and body image were inextricably tied, wrapped up in the lies I believed, the agreements I’d made, the assumptions I had. It didn’t matter whether I weighed 112 pounds or 140; the insecurity lay in the obsession and the bondage, not in the scale. As a model and actress, there was always someone thinner, always someone prettier, and when I did not get cast, it was easy for that to become a judgment on myself.
If I weighed less [were prettier, better, smarter], I would have a boyfriend.
If I can’t lose weight [get fit, make money, ace this test], it’s my fault, and I’ve failed.
If I just tried harder, I could lose weight [make my business work, hear God’s voice, counsel my friend], so I must be lazy.
Do you see? It was not about the weight. It was about the lies.
It didn’t even matter that I had many wonderful friends and family who loved me unconditionally; the lies were still in my soul, and until I dealt with them there, I would not find, as John Eldredge says, the utter relief of holiness.
It dragged down my heart, the constant self-evaluation (“Is this healthy? Am I truly hungry? Is this emotional eating? Should I finish this last bite or leave it? Will this ice cream make me gain weight? Will I no longer match my headshots and statistics for my agency?”), when I just wanted to… eat. And not eat. Easily. I wanted freedom.
And I couldn’t find it.
I knew it was there, somewhere, the effortless eating, the utterly free body image, the deliverance of my heart to focus on the rest of the world’s beauty and pain versus this constant selfish self-evaluation and struggle.
So I imagined what it would be like to be free—not just functional, but entirely, effortlessly, completely transformed and released, not even a thought anymore to food, to my image. That is what I knew I was offered in Christ, total transformation, even in something like this. What would it be like? It would be an utter relief, and this is what I held on to—that it was there, because Christ came that I may have life and have it abundantly.
Weight loss and body image often seems to be an agreement with struggle: “I’m always going to struggle with this, it’s just the way it is,” but that is not the abundant life; surrender to struggle is not the victorious life He brought us. If I wanted holiness in food, it was going to mean total freedom, and I refused to submit to the lie of, It is a struggle. Doesn’t that just seem too… hard? It didn’t matter everyone else seemed resigned to struggle interminably, in exhaustion: I would not accept that as the norm, for that was not the life I longed to live and the life Jesus holds.
But first, God had to show me what I was doing. The core issue here was not weight: it was lies versus truth, freedom versus bondage, which is covered far more deeply in such books as Women, Food, and God, Made to Crave, or so many others. I read those books and it transformed my understanding of food, allowing me put my desire to eat emotionally at the foot of the cross.
But though I’d given my food to the Cross, I had not yet transformed it by the Resurrection.
Meaning, there was still not transformation for me. I was not yet free.
I knew the answer was in Christ—after all, He lived the perfect life, both eating and drinking, fasting and feasting, and in this was my transformation: In searching Scripture, there were only three main principles I could find regarding food: fast, feast, and glory.
You follow Yahweh, you fast (Matt. 9:15 and many others). I’m not talking about skipping a meal, but actual days of extended fasting. There are dozens of verses in Scripture on the necessity, the beauty, and the incontrovertibility of fasting: it wasn’t even an option to me as a believer. I pray, I love, I witness, I obey the 10 Commandments, I fast, and, if nothing else, Jesus fasted, so I was going to as well.
This seemed black and white to me, so I began to fast. First a day here and there, then three days, then longer. I would ask Jesus how long He wanted me to fast, and then simply do what He said.
The spiritual and psychological change I undergo when fasting—not reducing calories, but entirely, completely abstaining from all food—cannot be overemphasized. Suddenly what seemed so impossible, so difficult to overcome, absolutely shreds to pieces before my very hands. It is something you have to do to experience. Food becomes utterly unimportant. Certainly it is nice and pleasant, but the dependence on it for pleasure, for time keeping, for distraction, for socializing, is utterly burned on the altar. It made a personal reality all of the freedom I only had known intellectually.
(Actually, I distinctly remember day five of my first long-term fast, feeling quite well, and walking outside and wondering, “Wait… why did I ever eat? What’s this eating thing? Is eating just a great big scam?” J)
But it is not all fasting—you follow Jesus, you feast. I love eating! Food is awesome. Not just the carrots and broccoli, I’m talking about the total incredible gift of full fat and huge servings and chocolate and peanut butter and Nutella and lasagna. Adam and Eve ate in the Garden, in perfection—food is incredible! In fact, over and over, feasting and plenty are emphasized in Scripture, and Jesus Himself called a glutton and drunkard—you don’t get that way by counting calories, that’s for sure. Even C.S. Lewis saw the beauty of the feast:
Then Bacchus and Silenus and the Maenads began a dance, far wilder than the dance of the trees; not merely a dance for fun and beauty (though it was that too) but a magic dance of plenty, and where their hands touched, and where their feet fell, the feast came into existence sides of roasted meat that filled the grove with delicious smell, and wheaten cakes and oaten cakes, honey and many-coloured sugars and cream as thick as porridge and as smooth as still water...
Thus Aslan feasted the Narnians till long after the sunset had died away, and the stars had come out… The best thing of all about this feast was that there was no breaking up or going away, but as the talk grew quieter and slower, one after another would begin to nod and finally drop off to sleep with feet towards the fire and good friends on either side...
Yahweh places an incredibly high value on eating, and eating with abandon. After having fasted, without food controlling me emotionally, I became free to eat and love it. Feasting is not a habit—fasting comes to moderate—but with the balance of the fast, I’m able to eat and eat well without a second thought.
But above all, food is about glorifying Him. I treat food as more of an art, now. I have a respect for it, having gone weeks without it. I learned to love the beauty and the smell and the texture, the time to prepare it and the social time with friends in consuming it. I see His own joy in food and seek to recreate that in my life, truly loving the food not only as a reflection of my Bread of Life, but because He created it and loves it as well. In seeing the glory of food, I give glory to Him who loves it with me. And I glorify Him by listening to His voice: if He tells me to stop eating, I seek to stop. If His words are to eat, I eat. My desire is to let Him control everything, and in this, too, to glorify Him.
This is an endless journey, into food and freedom, but it is the great adventure of listening to the Lord’s voice in every moment of my day. And therein is absolute, scandalous liberty. So I dive into the pizza and eat three brownies; I reject the potluck and fast for a week; I spend three hours making lefse with my grandmother; I choose to leave sugar until the Lord tells me otherwise. And doing this—fully rejecting the lies and the agreements, fully believing there is freedom, fully embracing the fast and the feast, fully listening to His voice every moment—has led me to see food as yet another road to glory and to the utter relief of holiness.
And I taste the abundant life.
Hannah Rivard is an actress, horse trainer, and writer, and a recent graduate of Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. While raised in rural Minnesota alongside killer roosters and attack cats, she now travels extensively as the Lord shapes her life through her combination of horses, film, and the fight for social justice. One of Hannah’s greatest desires is to see people set free into the beauty, adventure, danger, and glory of this world—the life they always longed to live. You can learn more about Hannah by checking out her horse training at https://cambriaequine.com/ and spiritual musings at http://www.prayersoflight.blogspot.com/.