How I learned to stop worrying and just eat the darn cupcake

Food wasn’t a good gift from God to be received and eaten with pleasure and gratitude. It was something to fear, and fear it I did. The original sin, I believed, was a kind of gluttony: a deadly sin. It was better, according to Proverbs, to put a knife to my throat than to indulge in that sin. And in a distorted attempt to please God, I came to regard almost every meal as potentially gluttonous. One day when I was 16, my mother came home from work to find me sobbing on the front stoop, unable to focus on the AP history textbook open on my lap.

“What on Earth is the matter, Rachel?” she asked with alarm.

“I was so hungry, and so I found a chocolate cupcake and ate it.”

Chocolate Oreo Cupcake. Photo courtesy Talmadge Boyd via Flickr Creative Commons
Chocolate Oreo Cupcake. Photo courtesy Talmadge Boyd via Flickr Creative Commons
I was obsessed with food and with my body, and the obsession, which had started almost innocently with a desire to please God and not to be a glutton, threatened to swallow almost everything else in my life.

Later that year, my mom sent me a postcard at church camp proudly announcing my AP test scores—to my embarrassment, the camp director read it aloud before congratulating me and calling for applause. When everyone in the dining hall looked at me, smiling and whooping as only rowdy camp kids do, I nervously adjusted my clothes and looked down at my plate, thinking not of my test scores but only of whether or not I looked like an undisciplined glutton, and whether everyone was judging me for how much food I’d piled on my plate.

I was obsessed with food and with my body, and the obsession, which had started almost innocently with a desire to please God and not to be a glutton, threatened to swallow almost everything else in my life. I was starving, and not just physically.

{I’m at Today’s Christian Woman this week with an essay on discovering how to Eat With Joy. Click here to read it.}

Unfortunately, I’m told, it’s for subscribers only. If you don’t want to subscribe, but want to read further on the topic, you could always just buy my book!

Why Barbie Belongs on the Cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Barbie longingly eyes a barbecued chicken. Photo courtesy Bugeater via Flickr Creative Commons.
Barbie longingly eyes a barbecued chicken. Photo courtesy Bugeater via Flickr Creative Commons.

As the Eberhart family finishes packing the contents of their Manhattan apartment in the opening scenes of the 1975 version of The Stepford Wives, a man carrying a naked female mannequin passes by. “Daddy, I just saw a man carrying a naked lady!” reports the young daughter. “Well, that’s why we’re moving to Stepford,” her father replies.

The irony is delicious: while his remark seems to indicate his disgust (“We’re getting out of this evil city with its naked plastic women!”) it in fact portends his hope for the move to Stepford, where he’ll be surrounded by women who are literally plastic and utterly compliant.

Barbie, the iconic plastic doll, is appearing on cover wraps of 1,000 copies of this year’s Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and also in a four-page advertising spread photographed by Walter Iooss, Jr., who has been shooting the Swimsuit Issue for 40 of its 50 years. A limited edition Swimsuit Issue Barbie will also be available exclusively at Target, dressed in a suit inspired by the black-and-white striped swimsuit Barbie wore at her first appearance at the New York Toy Fair in 1959.

I believe there’s more than a taste of some Stepford irony here.

{Continue reading at OnFaith!}

This Year, Don’t Diet: Eat with Joy

I love food. I enjoy thinking about new recipes, planning menus for dinner parties, cooking, and, of course, eating: everything from fresh baguettes, cheeses of all kinds, chocolate, and, especially, the New York pizza I grew up with; the kind that turns the paper plate transparent because it’s so greasy.

Fewer than ten years ago, though, I wouldn’t have been able to admit that this most basic of human comforts–food–brought me so much pleasure. In fact, food didn’t bring me all that much pleasure in those days. For a full ten years–from age 14 to 24–I struggled to get by mostly on Diet Coke and Granny Smith apples. I was eating so much raw broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach that I had intestinal trouble and my doctor, after calculating how many servings of fruits and vegetables I was consuming each day, insisted that I needed to cut back for the sake of my health.

I had to cut back on vegetables and fruits. For my health.

My body–still growing during many of those years; I was a very late bloomer–craved heartier nourishment, and as a result, I began an unhealthy pattern of alternating self-starvation with the consumption of huge meals (often eaten in secret) after which I always felt guilty and awful. Once, I walked for miles and miles to ‘atone’ for what was, in retrospect, a thoroughly normal meal. I was embarrassed to be seen eating. I didn’t want anyone to know that I secretly loved food as much as any person, maybe even a bit more.

I thought the ideal attitude to have toward food was indifference: ‘fill the tank with healthy fuel, not too much, just enough’ was the philosophy I tried to live by. If I happened to enjoy eating something at one time or another, I’d be filled with guilt and shame. Dietary “righteousness”–usually in the form of huge salads with no dressing besides a splash of vinegar–was all that could please me. I tried to live as if I had no sense of smell or taste; no hunger or cravings.

I wish I could say there was a single moment in time when that all changed–a New Year’s resolution I made to start enjoying food and stop abusing it (and my body) for good. But the truth is more complicated, as the truth often is.

{this post continues at iBelieve}

‘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}

Ten Reasons You (or Someone You Know) Might Like to Read My Book

I’ve recently received word from InterVarsity Press that my book is now in print, and will soon be shipping from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places where books are sold–like the wonderful Hearts & Minds bookstore. As the book launches, I’ll be sharing excerpts and reviews in this space. If you think people you know would be interested in reading this book, would you consider sharing these posts? And if my book sounds good to you, but you aren’t in the position to be buying books just now, would you ask your local library if they’d be willing to purchase it?

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Today, here are ten reasons why you—or someone you know—might like to read this book.

You might like to read this book if…

10. …you are dismayed by stories of abuse and maltreatment of the people who produce your food.

9.     …you don’t know about the abuse and maltreatment of the people who produce your food.

  1. …you are more likely to associate the word “chocolate cake” with words like “guilt” or “sinful” instead of words like “pleasure” and “celebration.”
  1. …you are weary of diets, including diets that are purportedly aimed at ‘optimal health’ rather than weight loss

6.   …you are obsessed with diets.

  1. …you are concerned about the American “obesity epidemic” or you are concerned about all the fuss about the American “obesity epidemic.”
  1. …you are worried about the environmental effects of the American way of eating
  1. …you, or someone you love, has struggled with a full blown eating disorder, like bulimia or anorexia–or, you, or someone you love, has struggled with an eating disorder that doesn’t seem to fall into any official category, but is worrisome all the same.
  1. …you appreciate good food but are weary of the snobbish “foodie” culture
  1. …you’d like to find peace and pleasure and communion with God and others at the table, but aren’t sure how to do that in today’s busy world—or if it’s even worth the effort.