Bondage. That’s the only way I can describe being obese and out of shape. No matter how you look at it, bondage is not a good place to be.
I don’t think I ever felt like I was NOT in bondage growing up for some reason. I never felt truly free until recently. It’s a journey I’m so grateful for.
The easiest way for me to describe this journey is so:
If you ever see a lion at the zoo, it doesn’t look angry. It doesn’t look happy. It looks bored. It just exists. It is NOT a real LION. It's a "show" lion. A lion in name only.
My guess is that the first lion taken into captivity went everywhere, trying everything, to get out. After days and weeks of futility, of failing again and again and again and again and again… That something just broke inside of it. The King of the beasts was dead. Now, it was just a glorified pet. As pathetic as it sounds, it’s NOTHING compared to a human that goes through that same process.
As a fat person that had tried EVERYTHING, I had given up. My best guess is that I spent over $50K on diet pills and programs from the time I was 18 on. Some would work…for a while, but as soon as I’d finish the program, I’d gain the weight back and more. I was in bondage. To my weight, to my plight, to feeling like a failure. Everywhere I went I was the heaviest person in the room. I couldn’t fit in plane seats. I was too big for so many rides I sat on benches while my family enjoyed themselves at amusement parks. My knees hurt constantly and I was always out of breath. I felt like the world’s biggest health loser and I saw no hope out.
Honestly, some of the worst people during those many struggles were my fellow Christians. Well-meaning words would make me feel terrible. “You know you just need to trust God more.” “Let Jesus help you.” “If you had more faith you could do it.” “Gluttony is a sin, you know.”
Great, now, not only am I a complete failure with my weight; now I’m disappointing GOD! So, just add “bad Christian” to “fat”, “failure”, “loser”, and all the other things I already thought about myself. Can’t really get worse than God telling you “Jeff, you let me down and don’t believe in me enough.” That will definitely affect your self-perception. And they'd say these things like I was just completely unaware that I was fat. I'm like, "I have a mirror, people."
As I had been part of SO many diets and fads, I thought I knew everything about how our bodies adjust and lose weight. I was wrong. So much of this is genetic you wouldn’t believe it. It’s not as simple as willpower or just eating less. An obese person has only a 2% chance of losing the weight and (here’s the KEY) keeping it off. Almost all obese people can lose weight, but they put it back on and more each time. That’s the truth and that is genetic, not a bag of chips difference. You will gain weight back and MORE 98% of the time. Not good odds.
I think that the reason that I am struggling so much with writing about this journey is because so much has changed. When my dietician showed me a picture of myself before this journey began and asked me how it felt, I answered honestly: “I don’t know that guy.” That’s actually the truth. I mean, I KNOW that is a picture of me, but I have changed SO much I almost can’t believe it. I weighed 396 pounds at one point. Today, literally TODAY I weighed in at 199 for the first time since 1989! That’s almost half of me – GONE. RELEASED. FREE.
Because of the feelings of failure, I felt like I was existing but not living. In that sense, I didn’t feel worthy of being able to really speak into others’ lives. As a follower of Christ, I was really failing to trust what HE said about me and DEFINITELY didn’t think that I could fulfill his commission or help others. It didn’t help that I thought God was angry with me for being fat. Who wants to listen to a fat guy's opinion? Certainly not God so why would it matter to this person.
Throughout my life, for whatever reason in the areas of spiritual life and physical appearance, I always felt “less than”. Less than what I could be. Less than what God had planned for me. Less than what others said about me. Just “less than”. Much of that was because of my weight. Fatso is not endearing when kids call you it derisively. When your high school girlfriend says she’d not date a “fat guy” so you better lose weight. These things plant in your mind and like weeds, soon take over. It’s what you believe, consciously or sub-consciously and so that’s just the place you operate from.
The truth is: I have always struggled with my weight. I was always big. My mom bought me husky pants when I was 8 and it was pretty much the pattern for the following 38 years. 38 years – that is sobering to write. I just realized that is two generations. Wow.
Well, three years ago I made the decision that, no matter what, this weight was going to come off. I had dreams that I’d buried for decades. A common struggle that thin people just don’t understand is the fear (some outright terror) that's associated with losing weight. “Fear? How could you be afraid of getting healthy???” Well, I’ve met now hundreds that have lost significant weight. EVERYONE was afraid of what would happen if we lost weight (Yes, I include me). What were our fears? Here some common themes: Would people love us the same? Did they really just like me because they could control "fat" me? Will my spouse and kids still feel the same way about me? What if I am not successful and now I’m thin? Now I won’t be able to believe that is what is holding me back or got me fired. Other hard questions: What about extra attention from the opposite sex? Will my spouse not love me anymore? Will people think I’m sick? Will others think I took the “easy way out” (for those that have had bariatric surgery this is HUGE)? Will I look gross with the excess skin? Will God be disappointed in all the years I’ve wasted? Will God finally approve of me or not?
That last question. It’s so important. When you believe lies the truth becomes difficult to believe. I believe that the enemy of our soul wants nothing more than to make us believe things about God only half way. Some say that Satan wants us to believe total lies about God. I suppose that’s somewhat true, but what I’ve seen in scripture is pretty standard throughout when he’s appeared – just twist God’s words slightly so we believe things about God only partially true leaving us to fill in the rest. Worse yet, putting us in God’s place in our lives. That is such a great tool of the enemy and it’s the root of the bondage I felt. Until I finally heard, believed, and ACCEPTED that God loves me wildly no matter what and wants to be with me and me with Him, I was in a prison of my own making. You see, it’s only when you understand that level of love that you can feel free to be yourself and follow God’s leading. You can be free – completely. Just learn who God really is and accept Jesus.
I also learned that I had made food an idol in my life. Food was always there for me. ALWAYS. Don’t take that lightly – Imagine a place you can go and you feel better every time. Every time someone makes fun of you, makes you angry, belittles you, abuses you, hurts you, disappoints you – This place is there and you feel welcome, satiated, and it makes you forget. Just like drugs, sex, and power, food can be a drug like that and is.
I just want to end by saying that if someone relates to ANY of this know you can be free. I mean it. You really can and you can learn to feel calm and joyful irrespective of what or how much you have eaten. That freedom is the key to losing weight. It’s not easy, but it's simple. Truly – it’s simply replacing an incorrect belief with a proper one and driving it home over and over again until it is the “go to” response when those things happen in your life. Jesus is the source of all truth and power – not food. So trust in Him, know He is on YOUR side rooting for YOU to win and come up with a game plan that includes addressing these things. Most of all, know you’ll fail and be ready for it. It will happen. But if you can forgive yourself and be kind to yourself when you fail, it gets you out of the pain cycle that leads to more and more eating. Lastly, I could not have don’t this without a strong support team around me. My wife and kids, my extended family, my friends, and my small group and church family. I did NOT do this alone. I’m so grateful that I DID do it. Life has never been the same and never will be again.