Food had become an idol in my life and I was finally ready to admit it. I remember reading the stories of idol worship in the Old Testament and thinking how foolish they were to put faith in man-made statues. Is it any less ridiculous to worship a cheeseburger or donut?
No Other gods (little “g”)
When does something become an idol in our lives? For me, it was when I began planning my day, my trip to work, and nearly everything I did around my next meal, snack, or indulgence. Additionally, food had become a source of that which I should have been seeking from God: comfort, stress-relief, a cure for boredom, etc. God instructs us to come to Him for everything, that He is our source of joy and that we should delight in Him. I delighted myself in line at the bakery.
Another litmus test for identifying the god of our lives? What do you live for? And what would you die for? For me, again, the answer to both of those questions was, “FOOD.” It’s cliche, but instead of eating to live, I was living to eat. And though I may not have given my life for a glazed donut, I was killing myself with every bite. At nearly 300 pounds, I was starving and malnourished. Instead of eating foods that would fuel my body, I was shoveling in sugar, saturated fat, and preservative-filled junk food.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
Finally, I realized and admitted the true source of my problem. My problem wasn’t in the habits I had learned growing up. My problem wasn’t that I couldn’t afford to eat healthy. My problem wasn’t my thyroid or PCOS or any other medical condition I might blame. I had claimed every excuse under the son but none of them were the real cause of my condition. My problem was IDOLATRY and the only answer was to take my idol, food, off the throne that rightfully belonged to God with a capital, “G.”
But I had tried that. And I failed. And I had tried that again. And I had failed again. And on and on and on. So I cried out to God for answers, direction, and help. I came across Matthew Chapter 5, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus preached to a crowd of people about living righteously. Of course, He was only there in the first place because we could never fully live up to the ideals he preached, but that doesn’t excuse us from trying.
And there it was, in verses 29 and 30 of Matthew 5:
So if your eye — even your good eye — causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand — even your stronger hand — causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
Was I going to be thrown into hell for being fat? No. But I was worshiping an idol and that is not acceptable to God. So, what was the offending body part? I looked at food lustily with my eyes every day. My hands shoveled it into my mouth. My tongue enjoyed the flavor and my stomach cried out constantly to be filled. Wow. I was gonna need a big scalpel!
Going Under the Knife
This is where my story really becomes an exposé of everything I tried for years to bury. This is the part that very few people in this world have ever gotten close enough to know about me. This is the part that caused me more shame than any pride I felt associated with my accomplishments. I’m ashamed I ever got to the point in my life that I had to consider this option. I started talking to my doctor about bariatric surgery. My stomach was causing me to sin and I was ready to cut it off.
So I signed up for the free information session. I sat in a room with about 30 people — some bigger, some smaller than I. I didn’t want to admit that I shared so much in common with these people, but I did. I was approaching 30 years old at that time, but my body was probably closer physically to 70. My knees hurt, my back hurt, I was pre-diabetic, I didn’t sleep well — and that was just the stuff I knew about. My heart was working overtime to pump blood to my gigantic figure and my vital organs were smothered in visceral fat. And these were my people.
The doctor explained the procedure and that afterward, my stomach would barely hold 1 to 2 ounces of liquid or food. Honestly, my first thought was, “How much of a donut is that?”
But she went on, “no sugar! If you eat sugar,” she explained, “you will probably get violently sick soon after you eat it.” At this point, I’m wondering if I can sneak out unnoticed.
“No carbonated beverages.” (I was ADDICTED to caffeine free Diet Coke, considering it to be one of my health-conscious concessions.)
And on and on she went explaining how many people can never eat meat again after the procedure and if she was a salesperson for this procedure, she sucked! As if the restrictions weren’t enough to convince me this was a bad idea, she then gave the good news. “Most patients achieve an average weight loss of approximately 50 to 60% of their excess weight.”
In my mind, I was thinking, “OK, if I weigh 300 pounds and my ideal weight is about 120 pounds for my size and frame, that means I have 180 pounds of excess wait. If I am one of the really committed people, I might lose 108 pounds of my excess weight, leaving me at a robust 192 pounds. Can’t eat anything I like, no more soda, and still fat? Where do I sign up!
But wait! There is more! She then continued with more happy thoughts, “More than half of the people who have bariatric surgery go on to put most or all of their weight back on within 5 years. Some even put on more.”
At this point, I was convinced this doctor wasn’t working on commission. What felt like her trying to talk us all out of it was really just her giving us the facts so that we could make an informed decision. And that’s what I did.
Fully informed, I said, “No, thanks.”
I Wasn’t Ready to Change
As much as I wanted to be of a healthy weight, I wanted food more. That was the truth, but the lie I told myself was that I could still take care of this myself. I didn’t need surgery. I left that information session and didn’t pursue the procedure at that time.
Re-insert the post about my failed attempts to lose weight, because basically, I repeated that over the next couple of years before I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t do it by myself. And I went back to the doctor and picked up the procedure where I left off, this time, much more open to the idea of going under the knife.
I completed the physical exam, the psychological evaluation, the meeting with the dietitian, the additional information sessions, and worked with my primary care doctor to pull together the documentation of my years of obesity, failed attempts to lose the weight, and the physical toll it was taking on my body.
There were so many forms and requirements demanded by the insurance company if they were even to consider covering the cost of the procedure. And at that time in our lives, insurance coverage was the only way we could possibly swing it financially. My heart still wasn’t fully in it, though, and deep down, I hoped it would not be covered. That would be my excuse. I was still more afraid of losing that which I loved than I was of losing my own life.
One day, after avoiding the entire process for a while, I called the surgeon’s office to see where in the chain of paperwork I stood. I didn’t expect anything for quite a while because one of the requirements demanded by our insurance company was for me to work with a registered dietitian and journal everything I ate for one calendar year. I was less than three months in to that process. I was just calling to make sure there was nothing else I needed to be doing in the meantime. I could hear the nurse shuffling through the papers in my file, “got this, got that, still need this, don’t have that…” Then, she stopped. She said, “Well, this is unusual. Hang on.”
She put me on hold for what seemed an eternity, but when she came back on the line, she said, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to check everything before I told you this. I was shocked since you haven’t completed all of the requirements, but your insurance company has approved the procedure.”
I was stunned. I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do this.
I replied, “Can I think about this for a bit?”
She responded, “Sure! But I wouldn’t wait too long in case they catch it!”
Maybe the insurance company made a mistake. Maybe they actually believed that the cost of the procedure would be less than the costs of the obesity-related health issues in my destiny. Maybe God was showing off. I didn’t know anything but that now the decision was mine to make. After thoroughly discussing it with my husband, I realized that God had answered the only prayer I had prayed about this procedure. I hadn’t prayed that I could have it. I hadn’t prayed that I would be denied.
My prayer had been, “Dear God, I don’t know what to do, so you’re going to have to make it perfectly obvious what you want me to do.”
God got our insurance company to pay for a very expensive procedure that they didn’t have to. I had to accept that as, “perfectly obvious,” and I scheduled the procedure for just a few weeks after my 30th birthday. I remember my birthday cake that year, from Taylor’s (one of my favorite bakeries/temples) and wondered as I savored the rich buttercream if that would be the last time.