‘Pregorexia’ and Postpartum Priorities

What does it say about a culture if when a baby’s born, the mom’s tummy size gets as much attention as the baby?

The British magazine OK! came under fire earlier this summer for running a feature story on Kate Middleton’s “post-baby weight loss regime.” Even as moms around the world tweeted and blogged their appreciation of Kate’s post-baby appearance, in which she seemed not to make any attempt to disguise her postpartum tummy, OK! magazine, like any good tabloid, tried to appeal to readers’ venality by promising details of her “diet and shape-up plan” and a (supposed) interview with Kate’s trainer, quoted on the cover, saying, “She’s super-fit—her stomach will shrink straight back.”

Another British tabloid, The Daily Star, recently reported the story of a London woman, Holly Griffiths, who gave birth to a healthy baby after a frighteningly thin pregnancy; Griffiths, who was diagnosed with anorexia at age 13, posted pictures of herself online weighing just 114 pounds at 8 months pregnant. Several years ago, an American woman, Maggie Baumann, restricted her weight gain so severely that her baby suffered intrauterine growth restriction and, after birth, seizures and attention deficit problems, which her doctor suggested “may have been linked with poor fetal nutrition.”

[…]

It’s impossible for me to reflect on the cultural phenomenon of ‘skinny pregnant’ without reflecting on the place I currently live: Malawi, Africa. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to visit a maternity clinic not far from my home. As I toured the small but well-equipped facility, I noticed, as I always do, how the women looked. Nearly always, they look too thin, and even the ones who gave birth just that morning have barely a belly to show for it. I stepped in close to peek at one woman’s freshly-born baby; we caught eyes and she grinned. I was stunned at the whiteness of her gums: a sign of severe anemia. Because a woman’s need for iron doubles during pregnancy—and because getting enough iron in the diet is a constant problem for most women in Malawi—she was depleted. Health experts have identified anemia as a major risk factor for maternal mortality, so it’s really no wonder that here it’s a compliment to tell a pregnant woman that she’s looking good and fat.

I’m not sharing this as a guilt trip; the grown-up pregnancy version of “Clean your plate because kids are starving around the world.” (“Gain lots of weight because pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa can’t!”) I tell this because here, the reality that life is short and often difficult is rarely varnished over with distractions.

Several months ago I sat with a group of women on the floor with a mother who had buried her newborn baby that morning; it was a ritual they were all too familiar with. At home, my own children ran around the yard, playing and laughing, and I realized with a start how quickly the time had passed since they were babies. Any time I spent worrying about what having them would do to my body was wasted time, I realized.

Life—the baby’s life, the mother’s life—is too good a gift to be frittered away fretting over the shape of the body that so miraculously brings it forth. Care for the body, but celebrate that life.

{Read the post in full where it first appeared at Christianity Today}

The Eating Disorder You Don’t Hear Much About

The thing about a disorder like anorexia is that it eventually makes you look something like what the dominant culture regards as most beautiful, and achieving that ‘look’ becomes more important than, say, staying alive.

And it’s perfectly socially acceptable–for the most part–to tell skinny people how ‘good’ they look. When I was 17 and recovering from major thoracic and spinal surgery, I returned to school fragile and emaciated from the ordeal, only to hear “Oh my God, you lost so much weight–you look so good!!!”

Only a few sane, mature adults registered the appropriate shock and concern at my wasted appearance. Our culture is so sick that we think “sick” looks “so good!!! Anorexics are even praised for their self-discipline.

Image credit here

On the flip side, it’s seldom recognized that many people who are obese are actually suffering from an illness–compulsive eating disorder–that is often moralized as a lack of self-discipline.

It’s the unglamorous eating disorder. Because while thin people are praised, fat people are scorned. There are cries of war against ‘obesity’ from the highest places in the land while the Goddess of Thin gathers more and more worshipers to herself.

One thing I know is that we are all more than we look like; that we all are beautiful, marvelous, and perfect even in our brokenness because we are made by a God who is beautiful, marvelous, perfect, and who became broken like us to redeem that brokenness.

It would be better for all of us if we could stop keeping score–my disorder’s prettier than yours!–and give grace to one another. A great place to do that is in the breaking of bread, together.

Continue reading The Eating Disorder You Don’t Hear Much About

Guest Post! A Food Lover on the Grace of Taste

{Welcome to the blog, Tim!}

I love the way food tastes, how it feels, the sight of it; the smell of a cooking kitchen. I’ll try just about anything that is standard fare somewhere on the planet, so I’ve tried a lot of foods, and almost always to my benefit. Even though I love good eats, I’m pretty indiscriminate. I can eat pizza every day for a week and still say yes if someone suggests it for the next meal. I love soups from black bean to butternut, gazpacho to garbanzo, lentil to leek. Casseroles? Bring ‘em on, along with steaks, ribs, burgers, and all the fresh fruits and vegetables that, here in California, are abundant year-round.

God didn’t have to give us such wonderful senses of taste and smell so we can enjoy food so much. God could have given us merely moderate senses so that we would eat what we need to for sustenance but not necessarily have the ability to enjoy food to such an extravagant degree.

And that’s what it is–extravagance. Our God has created us with extravagant grace and it’s a common grace for all–like being able to breathe air and enjoy the feel of warm sunlight on our skin and marvel at the sights offered by a walk through a pine forest. To that list I add the experience of taste. And I think there’s a spiritual component to it, too.

Not only does the Bible use food imagery in describing our relationship with God and all God’s goodness toward people, but it  appears also to tell us that we can actually partake of God in a spiritual sense just as we do food in the physical sense. Here are some examples.

  • God invites us to a feast and overwhelms us with love. (Song of Songs 2:4-5)
  • Can’t afford the price of admission? God covers the tab:“Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)
  • And both our hunger and thirst are eternally satisfied:

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” (John 6:35.)

With God the functional and the spiritual are always inseparable, so can these word pictures that use food perhaps be more than mere metaphors?

Yes, and Jesus – the Living Water and Bread of Life himself – showed us how.

At the wedding reception in John 2:1-12, the host feared disaster, having miscalculated how much wine he’d need. What did Jesus do? At the urging of his mother, he turned water into wine. Not some boxed red, as some of us might have done, but a notable vintage.

God’s food isn’t only spiritual.

And our enjoyment of food isn’t only functional.

Our ability to taste is God-given–perhaps so that we can understand what it means to taste and see that God is good. In the miracle at Cana, the disciples believed–not merely by seeing, but by tasting the wine as proof of his goodness.

One day we’ll all celebrate a feast that will allow our spirits and our bodies to experience together God’s sustenance as it is truly meant to be enjoyed.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the good food God gives me to taste here and now as a reminder of the great banquet to come.

{Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids now in college, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California.}

Is Everyone Losing Weight Without Me?

I’ve always loved books, but for a number of years–okay, for a lot of years–my reading choices have tended toward the serious. And yet few things are more enjoyable for me than curling up with some really funny reading material. And so I picked up this book at the library yesterday and finished it this morning, laughing loudly and inappropriately in the library (I started reading it before I even left the building), in the doctor’s waiting room, and while reading in bed.

I love laughing out loud while reading. It has a hint of hedonism mixed with a dab of Crazy Lady.

What surprised me about the book is how many times Mindy Kaling (perhaps better known as the actress/writer/director who plays Kelly Kapoor on The Office (which, I’m sorry, I don’t really like*) references her weight.

Really? This woman feels like she needs to explain her weight or her looks?

Yes, yes, she does, because Hollywood’s obsession with unearthly skinniness makes normal women unwelcome.

I thought this passage was particularly incisive (as my favorite kind of comedy writing is)–

“Since I am not model skinny, but also not super fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall in that nebulous “normal American woman” size that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size eight (this week, anyway). Many stylists hate that size, because I think, to them, it shows that I lack the discipline to be an ascetic or the confident sassy abandon to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like: pick a lane! Just be so enormous that you need to be buried in a piano, and dress accordingly.”

And this one, too–

“My mom’s a doctor but because she came from India and then Africa, where childhood obesity was not a problem, she put no premium on having skinny kids…Part of me wonders if it even made them feel a little prosperous, like Have you seen our overweight Indian child? Do you know how statistically rare this is?”

And then her chapter on ‘Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who are not Real’–

(THE SKINNY WOMAN WHO IS BEAUTIFUL AND TONED BUT ALSO GLUTTONOUS AND DISGUSTING)

“I am speaking of the gorgeous and skinny heroine who is also a disgusting pig when it comes to food. And everyone […] is constantly telling her to stop eating and being such a glutton. And this actress, this poor skinny actress who so clearly lost weight to play the likeable lead, has to say things like, ‘Shut up you guys! I love cheesecake!'”

It’s great how Mindy lampoons the ridiculous and double minded nature of weight and bodies and dieting in our culture while recognizing that she is enmeshed in that culture too. Because aren’t we all?

*it probably speaks to the quality of the book that I didn’t really have to know much about Mindy Kaling or The Office to find the book hilarious and enjoyable*

Oh. And Happy Groundhog Day!

{I really should tell you about the time Tim and I were stranded with a broken car in Punxsutawney (in Februrary, no less) eating popcorn at the car repair place where they told us it would take 2 days to fix the car, so why didn’t we find a place to stay? We jury-rigged the car ourselves and drove it back to Chicago and then to California, and it never did need to be properly fixed again.}

Is Hating My Body a Sin?

I love seeing the search terms that bring people to Eat With Joy. Some of them are strange, some are creepy, some are funny, some are sad. Sometimes, the search terms inspire posts, like this one, which landed someone here last week:

“Is Hating My Body a Sin?”

And so I’d like to attempt to answer that question.

To begin, we might ask “What’s sin?” I’m aware that there are about a thousand disputed ways to answer that question–and so no one ‘perfect’ way–but I like this one:

Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.

And I’d add that the people who make it easy for all of us to hate our bodies (through relentless idealization of unreal bodies, through profit-motivated manufactured discontent) are more ‘guilty’ than the teenager who thinks there’s something wrong with her thighs.

Then we might ask “what’s meant by ‘hating my body’?” There’s no answer in a catechism, of course, but we could try something like this:

Hating one’s body is the disrespecting of the body God has given us, which in itself is worthy of respect and honor, being made in God’s image, the fulfilling of desires in ways God not intend, to believe lies about human bodies in general and ours in particular, and to covet for ourselves a body not our own.

So I would say that, yes, hating one’s body usually involves sin: a distortion of the relationship God desires to have with us, and the relationships God desires for us to have with others and with creation.

And, like any sin, hating our body means a loss of freedom and liberty that God desires for us.

Hating our bodies is a great handle for marketers to grab onto–which is why I see body hatred as a corporate ‘sin’ as much as an individual one. Untold billions are made off of people’s hatred of their bodies.

Body hatred might be regarded as a form of ingratitude for the life and body God has given us. It may lead us to fulfill certain desires in ways God doesn’t intend (for example, self-starvation or gluttony.) It may lead us to covet what we don’t have–as when we look at someone else’s body and wish we looked “like that.”

As always, the ultimate remedy is the grace of God shown to us in Jesus. I think of the communion table as a place of grace and healing in particular for this ill.  Supplementary remedies include:

  • Love & Gratitude

Give thanks for your body and for your life! If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re breathing. Start with giving thanks for that breath. And the next one. And so on.

  • Be Extra-Kind to your body–enjoy your body!

Loving your neighbor “as yourself” presupposes that you love yourself. Eat well. Sleep enough. Move some. Put lotion on your dry skin. Dress so that you are comfortable and confident. Doesn’t mean endless primping. I’m talking about making the time to treat your body as well as you would treat the body of someone you really love.

  • Starve the Beast!

Interrupt the cultural messages that encourage you to think there’s something wrong with YOU, instead of with the airbrushed images of anorexic people they present as ideal.

Answer the inner voice back if it’s telling you that you’re ugly, too thin, too fat, too jiggly, whatever.

Remind yourself that you are God’s handiwork.

For me, starving the beast means I don’t look at certain catalogs or magazines or shows. Do you need to cancel certain subscriptions? Stop watching certain movies?

  • Prayer and Meditation

Ask God for mercy and help to see yourself and others as God sees them.

  • Find Support

If you suspect that you may need professional help for an eating disorder or for a body image disorder, please get help. You can even contact me if you need help looking for a professional in your area.

But even if your problem does not warrant the care of a mental health professional, it is a good idea to find support in a friend or confessor who has a healthy body image and can encourage you to embrace yourself as God made you.

What has helped you accept your body? What has stood in the way?