I remember the day it all started. I was in college. My boyfriend was that guy all the girls had crushes on. He cruised around campus in his flashy red car, and somehow, he had picked me. And I was desperate to keep him happy. One day we were at the grocery store, and he pointed out a girl on a magazine cover.
“Do you see this? She’s perfect. That’s what I think is beautiful.”
I remember thinking, But I’ll never look like that. Not with all the surgeries in the world.
That afternoon, we went to lunch, after which I excused myself and went to the bathroom. That was the first time I ever made myself throw up.
I grew up with two godly parents who loved me and believed in me and built me up, yet I had still struggled with my self-image throughout my teen years. But this was the day it kicked into overdrive. After lunch that day, I made a decision.
I remember going to the restaurant’s bathroom, locking the door, and getting down on my knees. I was crying, but I was determined. I remember shoving my fingers down my throat, and when I did, it was like opening Pandora’s box. Once I started, I felt I couldn’t stop. Every day, I locked myself in the bathroom and continued my purging habit. Every day, I hoped it would be enough to keep my boyfriend around.
My teeth began to turn yellow. My ribs began to stick out through my shirt. My hair began to fall out as I withheld the nutrients my body needed. My boyfriend—who, unfortunately, soon became my fiancé—even paid for me to get braces because he wanted my smile to be perfect. It was a toxic relationship. I did everything out of fear to please him. Meanwhile, I was losing myself.
When you fall into something as deep as bulimia, it takes a lot to get out of it. My family lovingly intervened when they saw I had a problem. God got my attention one day while I was kneeling at the toilet, as I felt His Spirit speak gently, “My grace is enough. My grace is enough.” And my doctor told me that if I kept throwing up on purpose, I would ruin my voice.
All these wise voices in my life told me it wasn’t worth it. But it took time for me to actually listen and start to change.
I was singing in church at the time, and this touring singing group called Truth came and performed a concert one night. I watched them and thought, I want to do that. I want to use my voice to sing God’s truth. I realized this was my gift, and it was my purpose. And then I realized something else: my fiancé did not fit with God’s plan for my life. He was so controlling, he wouldn’t even go to church when I was singing because he didn’t approve of me being on stage. He thought my beauty should be just for him.
So I dumped him. I auditioned for Truth, and then I traveled with them for two years—two years in which God began to take the truth of His Word and imprint it on my heart and mind in a transformative way.
I wish I could say I never struggled with my eating disorder again. But my healing has been a long journey. Though I no longer struggle with bulimia, I will struggle with self-image for the rest of my life. But every day, God’s grace is enough. And every day, I grow closer to Him as I lean on Him to help me live this out.
I had to lean on Him particularly after the birth of my daughter Sadie. Depression was laying claim to my life; I didn’t even realize how my relationship with food was dragging me down. This time, I was eating in excess—eating as a way to comfort myself—a pitfall as unhealthy and self-destructive as bulimia had been.
When I finally decided enough was enough and resolved to do something about it, I started by looking at my diet. I cut out refined sugar and processed foods, and I followed a workout plan, but the foundation of all of this was a commitment to start caring for my body. I had to learn how to do that again.
When I was bulimic, I was trying to lose weight to please my fiancé. But this time, I had to focus on losing weight for the sake of being healthy.
I dropped forty pounds. I felt better than I had in years.
For me, though, the real victory wasn’t the weight loss. It wasn’t about reaching a certain size of figure. The real victory was in learning to take care of my whole temple—the inner and outer me.
It’s the airplane oxygen-mask scenario. Adults are to put the mask on themselves before their children. Why? If they pass out, their kids are out of luck. If I diminish my health, I am no good to anyone else.
The great news about all of this is that it’s never too late! You can always do something to make your mind and body healthier. Even if you’ve tried and failed to make healthy changes in the past, as Scripture says, mercies are new every morning. You are worth a second or third chance—or how- ever many tries it takes to be healthy. Just like a singer or an athlete, your body is your instrument, your tool. It deserves to be cared for. Fight for your physical health; your mind, heart, relationships, and talent will reap immense rewards.
Bear in mind that even those with the most stalwart resolve are going to make mistakes and have slip-ups from time-to-time, either in neglecting or indulging their needs. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. When it happens, go easy on yourself. You’re only human. One bad day doesn’t negate the great day before, nor exclude you from the great day to come.
Last thing to keep in mind: Whatever wellness journey you embark on, don’t go it alone. I strongly believe you should start and end your days in conversation with the Lord. I also believe that He strategically places certain people in your life to be a help, encouragement, and support. Take advantage of the blessing of relationships.
For more from Natalie’s story, and to read the rest of her encouragement to women, find your own copy of the book here.
Taken from Finding Your Voice by Natalie Grant. © 2106 by Natalie Grant. Used by permission of Zondervan.