Friday, May 1, 2009

Food, Flesh and Spirit

(also posted at The Exponent.)

This is going to be a little sensitive to talk about, but it's been on my mind lately so here goes.

I used to have some serious issues with my body and with food. For most of my teens and 20s I was pinging back and forth between thin and thick, either starving or stuffed, but never satisfied. And my mind was utterly and completely preoccupied with it all; what I was eating, what I wasn't and how it translated on my hips and tummy. (It took a good chunk of brain space for all that obsession. Aside from the bad health, I miss all the other things I could have been putting my mind to.)

What has been interesting for me is to trace back and try to mine my history of eating disorders. Inevitably, the worst spikes in the disorder corresponded to my times of heaviest activity in the church. In high school when I was deeply involved in the seminary counsel. During my mission. At BYU while holding a calling as RS pres (and working at the temple and teaching at the MTC).

These disorders were spiritually distressing to me, I viewed them as a sin that kept me from God and made overcoming them a spiritual quest of worthiness. To no avail. That just made it worse.

This isn't a universal experience. Not all LDS women experience this. (And PLENTY of non-LDS women experience it.) However from many personal conversations and from the plethora of anecdotal evidence I get the sense that I was not an anomaly among Mormon women. In fact, I was in good company.

Happily, I think that depression and eating disorders (etc) among Mormon women are being recognized and addressed by the leadership much more than they were before.

But I sat in Sunday School last week and had an epiphany. The teacher was talking about service in the church and kept using the term "swallowed up". "Swallowed up in the work of the Lord". And how we should strive to achieve being "swallowed up" and what things keep us from being "swallowed up" and as everyone else around me gave faith promoting answers to the problem of why we aren't "swallowed up" the answer in my head was "Because humans are hardwired for SELF PRESERVATION."

My epiphany was this: when I was starving myself perhaps I was trying to disappear, to erase myself, to be swallowed up (and cease to exist).

And when I was stuffing myself perhaps it was my sense of self preservation refusing to let myself disappear, increasing my area of circumference as protection against being swallowed up.

Who knows? Maybe Freud would.

Me, I'm just happy to have that behind me thank you very much. It is nice to finally have a healthy navel, (and strong loins?) and to have my mind (relatively) free from a preoccupation with food and my flesh.

Just some of my thoughts on the subject at the moment.


L said...

I really love your blog. You say all the things we want to say but don't. Thanks!

flygirl said...

I love your artwork G. Very interesting thoughts. While I haven't struggled with eating disorders, I definitely struggled with self esteem and body issues, a big part of that being my height. I'm really tall! It's interesting to me that as I have been away from church I have found that I feel better about myself, that I don't feel like I'm not fitting into the mold. I always felt like the "perfect Mormon woman" was someone who didn't stand out physically in any way, and there is just no way I could be that woman. I feel so much sexier and able to accept myself the way I am.

I'm glad you're feeling healthier now too.