food, flesh and spirit

by G

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.

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14 Responses

  1. Alisa says:

    G, is this your artwork too? I love it. Bring on those angelic images that may not fit all our expectations.

    This is a beautiful and delicate post. I can see how trying to check everything off the list, to perfect oneself on one’s own, could lead to certain types of eating disorders. I think many with anorexia and bulemia would resonate with the ideas of controlling oneself or putting off the natural (wo)man. Of allowing tension to come between body and spirit so that the spirit no longer wishes to reside there.

    I think there is plenty of room in the gospel for being grounded in our bodies, to love being who we are, to be connected body and soul and learn all of the things we can only learn when the two are connected. It’s part of choosing the right messages that both body and soul can say yes to.

  2. EmilyCC says:

    Great post and drawings, G!

    Lately, I’ve been finding less than positive body image ideas creeping into my blog writing, and I’ve been trying to figure out where it’s coming from. Your post has offered some intriguing possibilities.

  3. Starfoxy says:

    I’ve read recently about studies that link feelings of physical disgust with feelings of moral revulsion. So when one feels dirty or disgusted they are more likely to name (even unrelated behaviors) amoral.
    I certainly know that food and weight are heavily moralized and generally felt to be disgusting.
    But I think you are right, some instances of eating disorders are an effort to make oneself simply disappear.

  4. ludlow says:

    I’ve been looking for alternative ways to ‘nurture’ myself besides with food.

    I think as a Mormon woman, I can say that I hunger for relevance in the church which isn’t going to happen as long as women are not in legitimate positions of power in the hierarchy.

    So ways I look to feeding my soul are going out in nature and enjoying the beauty of it all. I’m thinking about joining a community dance group that gets together every Friday night. I enjoy poking around the blogs learning from what people have to say and I get satisfaction from my occupation.

    I am sad that I do not get fed in a healthy way at or by church.

  5. Caroline says:

    I don’t know if there’s any connection between my Mormonness and the sense of physical self-hatred that consumed me as a teen. I suppose I might have internalized messages of perfection in unhealthy ways – ways that eventually led me to get unnecessary plastic surgery as a 17 year old.

    Now, like Emily, I struggle with negative body image issues. It’s hard for me to deal with all the weight I gain during pregnancy. I feel bad about it and it hurts my confidence that I can’t seem to keep the weight under control.

    Here’s to hoping for more positive feelings toward my body in the next few years.

  6. Sharon LDS in Tennessee says:

    Ludlow -It is easy to ‘miss the mark’ sometimes when we don’t get the true goal of us as children of God. May I address to you my personal testimony about: “legitimate positions of power in the hierarchy”?????? Somehow I feel you have missed the whole ‘real’ facts about spirituality….and it’s administration of gifts and ‘power’.
    It comes NOT from men or callings…
    It comes from God and the power of the Holy Ghost. It is a reality of the “inner church..of the Savior himself”, not from egos, self-will, or desire for raising ones image / confidence / ability to ‘rule’. REAL power is a direct endowment from righteousness and obedience to eternal laws..not the High Priests Group or women being given audience..women ALREADY have an ear enclined towards them from God the Father and Savior as well, when they are drawing NEAR / nigh unto God from their hearts and spirits (whole being CAST to God and Godly virtues). Pride, ego, and not loving God with our whole hearts, minds, mights and strengths might lend toward seeking a FEELING of control or authority that is false and NOT from the divine Godhead. These desires for ‘equality’ are distractions and not a true feeling from the right source. WE ARE ALREADY EQUAL in opportunity and advancement in POWER of ALL KINDS. Seeking the Kingdom of God is a very internal and personal path and effort. The true powers, on earth and in heaven are endowments of purity, sancification, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. These are manifested primarily for YOUR own advancement /progress / path towards immortality and Eternal life. That is your work as well as Father’s. Eventually, you WILL RULE and REIGN, but the true feminine gifts are directed mostly to others in more subtle, behind the scenes as it were operations. We sisters already have so many more assets than the masculine counterparts in the Priesthood…naturally knowing and having Christlike attributes (for the most part). Our Heavenly Father KNOWs best.
    We are commanded and asked to TRUST his judgement. I know we would be more involved IF it were MEET for our immortality and eternal good and development. Great posts, we need to keep thinking and growing in Christ.
    Love to All. Sharon LDS in Tennessee

  7. denebug says:

    Thank you for the post. I’ve found yoga practice to be very helpful in appreciating my body and spirit. It is contemplative movement that is beautiful and strong, that has taught me to recognize and respect my limits and abilities without value judgement. It has helped me survive depression and enjoy my body.

  8. Caroline says:

    Ludlow, I’m with you. As long as I and my sisters are precluded from leading and serving in the in the Church, I also need to look elsewhere for places and means to nurture my soul. (Yes, I know women have some opportunities to lead and serve, but compared to our male counterparts, those opportunities are limited indeed.)

    Sharon, I’m glad the current patriarchal structure of the Church works for you, but I think you might do well to try to be sensitive to those women who are troubled by the discrepancies of opportunity, leadership, and service that LDS women so obviously face.

    We are preached at ad nauseum about how much our men leaders love us and how needed we are, and even how men and women are equal in the Church, but that doesn’t make us feel better when we see what’s right in front of our face. In fact it’s a double affront, because not only are we forced to deal with a hierarchical structure that devalues women, we are also being told that we are delusional. Not helpful.

  9. Kelly Ann says:

    G, thank you for sharing this. I was deeply moved.

  10. Kiri Close says:

    LOVE the art! both the visual, & the expression in writing.

    G, this post is awesome, & i love how the more we address this issue, the less LDS gal ‘trophyism’ inclusion/exclusion — & I have to put a bid in here toward claims that LDS male sexuality has somehow stamped itself into LDS women’s sexuality (& vice versa, I’m sure).

    And due to this, fabulous gals (such as ourselves) are enculturated at the very deepest levels to remain ‘the little girl for patriarchal control, patriarchal rape’ – that is to say, that there is a ‘stigma’ of this pedophiliac, alpha male hording at the level of: siblinghood, dating, attraction, marriage, media, churh authority, etc.

    Nothing new I’m offering here, but just wanted to briefly remind how easily caught up us gals can become by reason of not only OUR obsession of body, but MALE obsession of body (which is basically penus originated, & not intelligent).

    This particular pedophiliac obsession of female body (due to, I think, a kazillion subreasons) is purely animalistic, biological–not even artful, intelligent.

    In this grain, there is no such thing as ‘modern’ man. And because of that, no such thing as ‘modern’ woman, LDS or other, as too many continue to exacerbate the primitive unconsciously.

  11. D'Arcy says:

    G, great, honest post.

    I also have struggled with starving and stuffing over the years. Part of me did wonder if it was a religious thing at times. It seemed like many people could go out and drink their woes away , or smoke, or do several other addictive things that helped them deal with stress or whatnot. I always wondered if LDS women had more weight issues because they didn’t have these outlets. I’m not advocating these outlets, obviously they are just as unhealthy as the starving/stuffing, but they aren’t as noticeably visible on the body.

    For me, it’s almost like I was being “perfect” in so many ways, that food was the ONE way I let myself be imperfect and comfort myself. I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea. People in general need outlets during times of mental stress.

    I’m glad you’re in a healthy place. This is such a personal journey for each man and woman. It’s just a spiritual connection between body and soul, and recently, I’ve felt more connected in practicing the Eastern religious philosophies of meditation, yoga, affirmations, and breathing.

  12. Rebekah says:

    G, an amazing post. I am blown away by the posts that the women on this site provide. I strive to be able to communicate my feelings with such clarity. I too have struggled in the past with eating disorders, and more recently depression. As women I think we are so hard on ourselves and convince ourselves that so much of what we do is ‘sin’ that it can become very damaging to our self image. Although my eating struggles are in the past, I continue to battle with depression and even liking myself and the way I look. I take it as an insult when people comment that my daughter looks like me as I can think of nothing worse for her! I hope that I can come to appreciate and even love who I am. Reading and participating in this site is doing that more than anything else I have done in recent times. Please keep it up, G and all you other wonderful women! xo

  13. CSS says:

    Wonderful post and artwork. Thanks for bringing up such a serious issue. In fact, because it is so common in the church people often neglect just how serious it is. I’ve spent significant about of time on these issues working at a clinic for women with eating disorders and spending time in grad school studying and researching about them.

    Interestingly, religiosity and eating disorders have a high correlation. There are many theories as to why: 1) People attracted to strict rules find comfort in the control of eating disorder behavior, 2) There are no other outlets for addictive behavior (see D’Arcy’s comment), 3) Religion breeds/attracts perfectionists, 4) Highly patriarchal religions give women less control and so they seek it in other outlets, 5) There are also high correlates with OCD, perfectionism, anxiety disorders, abuse and religiosity as well as eating disorders- maybe religion acts as a form of treatment and/or exacerbates the above inclinations, etc. Ultimately, eating disorders are often used as coping mechanisms for many things: control, self-esteem, abuse, sin, anxiety, stress, OCD, perfectionism, grief, etc. And like many other coping mechanisms, drugs, alcohol, sex, and food all change our biology and can make us physically dependent. However, unlike the rest, you can’t “get sober” from food! So it’s not an easy thing to deal with on your own. I applaud you!

    Your analysis that you physically grew in strength and diminished to disappear is something I’ve heard before and it is really insightful. Thanks again. Hopefully we can bring this issue up more as BYU is one of the worst campuses in the world for eating disorders and it is something plaguing LDS women. Any outlet for discussion is helpful.

  14. Moriah Jovan says:

    I’m way late to the party here, as G just directed me to this post. Thank you, dear!

    My issues have nothing to do with the church and everything to do with Southern belle culture and expectations, wherein a woman’s only worth is her beauty so as to snare a good (read: rich and/or headed that way) husband, especially if her family is not so well off.

    It was laid on me at the age of 5 by my grandmother, enforced by my mother (herself just as much a victim as I), and reinforced by my own self-loathing.

    I think the behavior we are ascribing to the church is something that has been around long before the church was. The history of clothing construction is testament to its longevity.

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