by Tiffany C. Chaney
If you circled the floor at your gym today searching for an available elliptical machine, repeatedly bumped into the person next to you in Zumba class because the room was so crowded, or stood in long lines at your weight-loss meeting waiting to weigh in, you are not alone.
Whether you are a regular in these places or a first-timer, you are in the company of the likely millions of people who have a focus on physical fitness and weight loss at the beginning of 2013. And if you are in the Boston, Mass., area, one of the people crowded next to you just might be me.
Starting over, and over, and over again
I consider myself neither a regular in the gym and weight-loss class or a first-timer—more like a regular, first-timer—because, you see, I am the queen of starting over! New Year’s Days, Mondays, beginnings of months, and the day after holidays all signal something I have done regularly—start over with weight loss.
I have started great weight-loss books and never finished them, gone to gym regularly for a few weeks and then stopped, and, my goodness, there really should be a “Tiffany C. Chaney Weight Watchers® Center” by now. Surely, I have paid enough weekly fees over the years to fund one of those places. Yet, I still find myself significantly overweight.
These failed attempts at starting over have caused me to really look deeper at understanding why I continue to struggle to have a sustainable commitment and follow-through for weight loss. I realized that I have, over the years, employed my adept negotiation skills to talk myself into just starting over “tomorrow.” And I realized that if I am ever to break this habit, the answer is not to be found by employing anything I learned in business school, but rather, by employing my very best seminary-learned pastoral-care techniques.
Where is God in all of this?
In my attempts to get to the root of the problem, I asked myself a question I often asked patients during my hospital chaplaincy internship: “Where do you see God in this?” This question has caused me to, first, be thankful that God, who is merciful, has given me countless undeserved tomorrows to start over. Despite my lack of commitment, I am mostly healthy. And while I certainly feel the effects of carrying the extra weight on rigorous days, for the most part, it does not keep me from leading a fairly comfortable life. I am thankful that I always know that God loves me, even in my failures. Even when I have failed to be consistent, God has always been and continues to be consistent.
As I continued this journey of discovery, I realized I have been thinking about weight loss all wrong. Rather than searching for the right weight-loss program, I really need to shift my thinking to considering my relationship with food.
Building better food relationships
At The Intersection, a congregation under development in Dorchester, Mass., where I serve as mission developer, we recently had an adult discussion series on “Building Better Relationships.” One of our first sessions in this series was called, “My First Love,” and centered on our relationship with God. Before we delved into relationships with spouses and significant others, parents and children, friends and co-workers, I started the series by talking about our relationship with God. It can be easy to become so overly engaged in our relationship with others that we forget about our relationship with God. We spend our time seeking satisfaction in our relationship with another human that can only come from our relationship with our Creator.
As I was preparing to facilitate this conversation, the great “a-ha” moment came for me. Although the intent of our conversation at church was on relationships with people, could this very same misplaced desire for satisfaction apply to my relationship with food? Is my struggle to seek satisfaction from food something that I really should be seeking from God?
A fake satisfaction from food
I am not one of those people who do not know how to lose weight. I say all the time that I could be a nutritionist. I know to start the day with a healthy breakfast, I can measure a 3-ounce serving of protein in the palm of my hand, and I can tell you off the top of my head how many calories are in a 12-ounce or 20-ounce container of my favorite, beloved soft drink. I am aware of the effects of too much sugar and cholesterol in a diet. There are people whom I love who live with diabetes and I personally know people who have died from heart disease… so why is that I cannot intellectually get it together and overcome this poor relationship with food? I believe the answer to this question is that I have been seeking a satisfaction from food that food cannot fulfill. I enjoy a tasty treat for a while, but soon it is gone and it is time to seek another.
When I really thought about the times in my life when I have felt most fulfilled, I realize it was times I spent praying and fasting. These were times when I ate simply—primarily fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean protein—and times when my regular eating schedule was replaced with regular prayer times throughout the day. As a result of better eating during those times, I lost weight, but weight loss was not my goal. In those times when my focus was on conversation and connection with God, rather than on meals, I felt most satisfied.
A new year, a new beginning
As I prepare to begin 2013, I am determined to make this my last time starting over—not because I have found a great new weight-loss program, but because I have decided to shift my focus from seeking satisfaction from food to being satisfied in my relationship with God. I will strive to eat simply and rather than centering my day on meals and snacks, I will center them on prayer and worship, times of connecting with God.
I considered waiting until some point in the future to write about this journey—after I have lost a miraculous amount of weight and have a powerful testimony to share. But I realized that I already have a powerful testimony to share. My testimony is that I am willing to try again—one more “tomorrow” to have a healthy relationship with food. My testimony is that out of my woundedness, I believe God can craft something great. My testimony is that I have the faith to believe that all things really are possible with Christ. Thanks be to God!
Tiffany C. Chaney is a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA, currently completing a fourth-year internship. She serves as lay mission developer of The Intersection, a congregation under development in Dorchester, Mass.