Do You Remember the Moment?

Leslie SchillingBy Leslie Schilling9 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Feed Yourself: Step Away from the Lies of Diet Culture and into Your Divine Design by Leslie Schilling


Do you remember the moment when you first questioned whether or not your body was good? The moment you wondered if eating this or that food was good or bad? Think back to your childhood or early teen years. Think back to the early influences in your life—parents, grandparents, teachers, Sunday school leaders, Uncle Bob, siblings, friends, maybe even a pastor or pediatrician. Think about all of the people in your circle of trust. People you loved. People who loved you. People who, deep down, only wanted what was best for you. Not all of our moments look as stark and overt as Kate’s looked. Some are much subtler, building significant distress and doubt over months and years until we’re swimming in self-doubt. Either way, most of us living in this body-obsessed culture have a moment like this.

Are you sure you want to eat that? Won’t that mess up your diet? Is that really the size you want? Aren’t you trying to lose weight? It would be best if you didn’t eat that snack. Maybe you should try Weight Watchers. These were the words of caution my mother, sister, and I regularly heard from my grandmother growing up. Many adored and looked up to my God-fearing, strong-willed, wartime turned polio-epidemic nurse of a grandmother. What an amazing woman she was! Oh, how I loved Mabel.

Nanny (that’s what we called her) would always write the menu for our visit on a white paper plate by the stove in her kitchen. As soon as we’d get to her house, I’d run into the kitchen and climb up on the black vinyl–cushioned stool in the corner to see what delicious plans Nanny had penciled in for our meal. My entrepreneurial spirit and love of planning meals most likely came from her. My early distrust of the body I was living in also came from her. I had no idea body hatred was a legacy I didn’t have to accept, and you don’t have to accept it either.

It’s Not Only an Anti-Grace Message; It’s a Dangerous One

Years ago, a newly married couple walked into my office. Having just been diagnosed with a life-threatening eating disorder, the young woman sat silently. She had very little energy, not even enough to speak. On the other hand, her husband was concerned that she might not be able to continue the highly restrictive diet their congregation was doing together. He didn’t yet understand that this churchwide diet could kill her. It wasn’t my first experience with a patient suffering from an eating disorder, but it was my first experience of a church that practiced and promoted one.

Dieting, which is a common and seemingly benign practice, is disordered eating. Our diet-crazed and body-obsessed culture has become intertwined with the church—it’s a dangerous pairing of the secular and the sacred. How can we hate a body divinely designed for our unique walk in life? We aren’t born with body hatred; as I said earlier, we learn it, even in “safe” places such as the church.

It’s not a new thing for places of worship to promote particular ways of eating. You can find food rules, body shaming, and diet plans wrapped in an out-of-context Bible verse in almost every congregation in America. I get it. I used to think of dietary purity as my Christian duty as well. It seemed like a legitimate way to depend on God more and even grow stronger in my faith. I even believed it until I saw how this approach was wrecking believers—their lives, health, relationships, and families. I saw believers look down on one another because of the food they ate or didn’t eat. I watched as church members praised my friend for her weight loss as she was dying from cancer.

After years of witnessing this hurt and harm, I experienced another very different moment—the moment I realized, as both a lifelong Christian and a longtime nutrition professional, that dieting to gain worth and offering pretend grace for one another were nothing but lies.

Christian values such as “love your neighbor,” “don’t judge one another,” “don’t covet,” and “care for the least of these” have collided with a culture profoundly strung out on appearances, healthism, and perfectionism. Given this culture’s false definition of health, the value of thinness falls seamlessly into the purity culture of many churches. After all, this is what the medical field deems healthy, right? You have pink eye—lose weight. Oh, you need a flu shot—lose weight too. Just here for some lab work—let’s see what you weigh, which is a 180-degree shaming diversion from the real health issue that needs attention.

The “thin ideal,” or the thought that everyone can just work hard enough and be thin, is the Western world’s ideal. Not only is it untrue (much more on that later); it’s also incongruent with our divine design. When we deny our bodies, aren’t we also denying that we are made in the image of God—the God who knows each one of us? I believe that just as we have different colors of skin, speak various languages, and have vastly diverse shoe sizes, we are also meant to live in bodies of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Not one human of any color, tongue, size, or range of ability is a mistake.

The belief that it’s normal to hate your body is manufactured—a lie handed down from generation to generation. It becomes a cyclical trauma. The experience of being at war with our bodies doesn’t have to be passed down like a family heirloom. There’s a truth you can claim instead—namely, that your body was made just for you by the God of love, no matter what the world says.

As I got older, I learned that Nanny did the best she could with the information she had. I was fortunate that I didn’t retain the food or body shame she had carried her entire life. My path led me here—to wrestling with our culture, my weight-centric professional training, and an inescapable calling to speak truth to these lies. I tried to put this message to rest and just move on with my life many times, but God wouldn’t have it. So here we are, friends, on this journey together. Let’s expose the lies of diet culture. I promise you’ll find paths to truth, grace, and healing on the other side.

Order your copy of Feed Yourself: Step Away from the Lies of Diet Culture and into Your Divine Design by Leslie Schilling