A Million Steps Can Take You Pretty Far (By: Courtney Welch)
Today we live in a world that tries to tell us our worth can be measured by our weight. Many of us have bought into this lie, not as a choice, but as a mindset. We believe it will make us happy if we could just fit into that one pair of jeans, lose that one pound, skip that one meal. When we finally reach what had been our goal, we realize we are not content. We still feel empty. The pounds continue to shed as the scale refuses to tell us our true value. The number never satisfies. It can never be low enough. Like a pocket full of holes, it leaves us searching and in need of repair. Ever wonder why? It’s because numbers do not define us. It’s because our bodies are not who we are. As C.S Lewis puts it, “You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”
When I was in elementary school, I had already started comparing myself and disliking the way I looked. My fourth grade teacher just happened to be on a diet, so she just happened to teach our class how to read nutrition labels. It was like a whole new world was opened up to me. A world of awareness in which I understood the relationship between calories and appearance. I noticed my body more than I ever had before. I wanted to be shorter (at the time I was one of the tallest girls in my class—little did I know I would never make it to 5’3”), and I wanted to be as little as the girls who were still stick-thin. I didn’t begin to take advantage of the awareness I developed that year until the seventh grade, during which the comparison game got the best of me. I wanted to look just like the new girl who got everyone’s attention: a tan, skinny blonde who (in my mind) had the ideal body. I started exercising regularly, restricting my calorie intake, and weighing myself several times a day. I laid out every day for at least an hour, hoping that my fair skin would miraculously darken to bronze and that my dirty-blond hair would somehow look as perfectly highlighted as the new girl’s.
Within a short amount of time, I lost quite a few pounds. Although I was already thin, I believed I was not thin enough. The summer before ninth grade was when my eating disorder became evident and spiraled out of control. I cut out fat, dairy, and as many carbs as I could. I wanted to be known as “the skinny girl.” I had become entangled in the web of lies that hold countless men and women captive. The voice in my head was so loud I could do nothing but succumb to its criticism. “Don’t eat that; you’ll gain ten pounds. Why would anyone like you? You’re too fat. If you lose this much weight, you’ll be happy and people will notice you.” I was fourteen years old at the time.
It was December 2nd, 2011 when my mom brought me to Vanderbilt for treatment of Anorexia Nervosa. I was horrified. I did not want to change. I did not want to get fat. That day, I began my recovery process. If you ask anyone who has dealt or is dealing with an eating disorder, they will tell you that recovery is a long and slow process. It is not a straight line to the finish, but rather it is a roller-coaster of good days and bad days. Every day is a battle that can be won, a victory waiting to happen. The more victories, the easier each battle is to fight. Recovery is a journey that requires baby steps, but a million steps can take you pretty far. I have come further than I had ever expected I’d be able to, but I still have quite a ways to go.
This September, I am turning eighteen years old. I have reached a point in my recovery where I dream about what it’s like on the other side of this struggle. Over the past few years, I have come to understand why I deal with an eating disorder: I am human. I am a pleaser, a perfectionist, and a professional worrier. I feel exposed when others see my flaws, and I try so hard to appear perfect, both on the inside and outside. I have a need for control, because I cannot control anything in my life except for my own body. I resort to using structure and numbers for comfort, telling myself I’m okay if I follow my meal plan and keep myself around a certain weight. I now accept my healthy weight, however, for I have learned to ignore the voice that once distorted my self-image.
I know this sounds crazy, but what you see in the mirror is not you. What you see on the scale is not you either, nor does it define you. You are so much more than your weight and your body. We are souls, merely carried by our bodies during our time here on Earth. You and I were made in the image of God, who makes no mistakes. A few verses that remind me of this truth are Psalms 139:13-16: “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” When I read these verses, I am ashamed of the way I have criticized myself. But then I remember that God is not angry with me for having an eating disorder, and He is not ashamed of me. So why should I be? He is a loving and forgiving God, and I believe He has allowed for this struggle to be in my life so that I will run to Him for comfort and for peace and truth. James 1:1-4 reads “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
What is it about a mirror, a scale, or a sum of daily calories that calls our names and tempts us to run to them when we feel alone or stressed out? Maybe it's because numbers and images are easily comparable. Maybe when we feel weak, we convince ourselves that strength can be found in control. We put all our effort into harnessing this power, into controlling the answer when we ask these potentially deadly devices the question we're all dying to know: Am I valuable? Am I worth living? We are told if the numbers are small, we do not fail. We forgot that God designed everything about us, inside and out. When we believe in such a destructive idea, it leaves us unhappy with the way we were made. A work of art cannot be compared. “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid” (Albert Einstein said that—he’s a smart guy). True beauty can be found in the way we love one another, not in our appearance or in our weight. Why not try looking at ourselves the way we seem to look at those around us: looking past the imperfections and seeing first the qualities and characteristics that we admire? It is not wrong to love ourselves the way we were created. It is simply recognizing the masterpiece staring back through the mirror, and understanding how much it is worth to the Artist.
So as I live each day, fight each battle, I can know for sure that I am not fighting alone. To those who have been my support team, I am forever grateful. I may not always want to cooperate, and my bad days may not be very pretty. But I can know for certain that this journey will be worth it. Each day I am learning and longing to let go and let God. My human heart tells me to hold on to control, but there is so much freedom in every step I take towards trusting my Savior. I am not meant to be in control of my life, but rather I am to have faith and let the Lord take over. It is so scary yet so wonderful. Imagine a world in which self-worth is not measured on a scale, in which it’s not up to us to be perfect or micro-manage everything in our lives. Jesus says in Matthew 11:29-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
About the Author
Courtney Welch is a seventeen-year-old rising senior at Brentwood High School. She was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at age fourteen and has been in recovery ever since. Due to the help of her support team and her experience with treatment, she has decided to pursue a degree in Dietetics after graduating high school. She is passionate about helping others who are also struggling with an eating disorder, and one of her favorite ways of doing this is through writing. She also enjoys photography, playing guitar and piano, writing songs, painting, and doing anything else creative. Courtney now works at Puffy Muffin, a bakery and restaurant in Brentwood, behind the bakery counter. She believes working there has helped her gain a healthier perspective of a relationship with food. In addition, she enjoys cooking, and she loves helping make dinner for her family and friends. Although she is still working through the recovery process, Courtney is dedicated to moving forward and to someday having a life of freedom. She is thankful to her support team and to the Lord for always carrying her and for never leaving her side, no matter how much time it may take to reach the finish line.