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Food and LoveThe Amazing Connection
By Gary Smalley
Tyndale House PublishersCopyright © 2001 Gary Smalley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Personal Journey
Did you know that certain foods could be harming your relationships? Have you ever considered that your relationships may be harming your health? Both are strong possibilities, and the connection between them is an area that is rarely talked about in relationship education.
Through my own personal experience and years of reading and research, I have stumbled onto an amazing connection between two of the most powerful and passionate forces in our lives: eating and loving. In the process I finally understand what is perhaps the only way to make lasting change in either area.
It's the most exciting information I've come across in years.
Although many factors contribute to our emotional, relational, and physical health, very few professionals are commenting on the way eating and relating affect our overall well-being. In dealing with that issue personally, I recognized a connection I hadn't seen or heard discussed before.
Now I have no choice but to share that information with you. Why? Because I believe the material here could quite possibly help you find a new way of eating or a new way of relating. Maybe, like me, you'll lose weight in the process and feel better than ever about your ability to love.
The bottom line is this: If you're like me, the material in this book might give you the breakthrough you've been waiting for.
In the following pages I have the privilege of sharing with you the connection between food and love, and the way it changed my life. This is not a scientific book; rather it is a presentation of personal experiences-both in my own life and in the lives of thousands of people I've surveyed or counseled-along with current research on the topic of food and love.
The connection is this:
Our food choices can affect our emotional health;
Our emotional health definitely affects our relationships;
Our relationships affect our physical and emotional health;
Our emotional and physical health can affect our food choices.
Most of us know that food affects our physical health; we see that in the impact food has on conditions like heart disease, blood pressure problems, diabetes, and so many others. We already know that our relationships affect our emotional health; we see that in the impact fractured or unstable relationships have on our moods.
But what we haven't explored in detail is the connection between food and love, a connection that takes place when food affects our emotions, our emotions affect our relationships, and our relationships affect our health. That's the connection, the cycle, I want to share with you in this book. For most people this cycle is ongoing and will continue throughout life-positively or negatively.
We can picture the cycle like this (SEE FIGURE 1):
For most of my life, I have made poor food choices because I didn't know any better. I didn't have adequate information. But despite my poor eating habits, I never had much of a weight problem. Then several years ago I got caught in the trap of overeating, and I became obsessive about foods-both wanting the wrong kinds and being upset with myself when I ate them.
This, then, affected my moods, making me a little more edgy and sluggish, and those moods strained most of my relationships. That, in turn, affected my physical health. This entire experience caused me stress, and in my attempts to deal with the stress, I ate even more.
I couldn't break the cycle until I recognized the connection and realized that change didn't seem to come through my own willpower. I knew I needed help from somewhere, but I couldn't find the way out of the cycle.
The heart of this book came when I realized that at some point in our lives most of us struggle with these two powerful forces: food and love. Most of us want to be as healthy as possible and to enjoy satisfying relationships. But the majority of us, when we're really honest, fall short in both areas.
We fall short for one of two reasons: Either we lack the knowledge to change, or we lack the willpower. If you struggle in the areas of food and love because you have never known the amazing connection between the two, then this book will give you significant information that could change your life. If you know what you need to do about food but you don't have the willpower to make the necessary changes, then part 6-Steps to Lasting Change-may help you find the strength you've never had before.
Before we get started, let me share with you how the information in this book changed my life.
WHEN I FELL IN LOVE WITH FOOD
As I was growing up, I could eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound. I could have four sandwiches for lunch. I could eat all day long, and because of a combination of my metabolism and activity level, I burned it off. Weight was never a problem for me.
"Eating like that will catch up to you one day, Gary," friends would say. But it never did, and in my ignorance I thought it never would.
My father had died of a heart attack when he was fifty-eight years old, and my older brother had died of the same thing at age fifty-one. Another brother had undergone triple-bypass surgery. Obviously heart problems run in our family.
I was forty-seven when my older brother died. The relationship he and I shared had become very close, and his death was a terrible shock to my system. For a while I ate differently-less fat, that kind of thing-because I was concerned about my heart. But then I slipped back into my old ways. My arteries may have been developing serious problems, but I felt healthy and had no motivation to change.
Then I hit my fifty-eighth birthday.
Almost immediately my overeating began expanding my midsection. I would eat two breakfast meals, big lunches, two dinners. Overnight, it seemed, I fell in love with food. I had never loved it before, but I acquired new tastes for different kinds of food, foods that satisfied me in a deep way.
At the same time, circumstances in my career were subtly straining the relationship between my wife, Norma, and me. Looking back, I realize that I may have turned to food as a means of comfort because of that strain. In a sense, food became love for me, my way of feeling good and rewarding myself at the end of a long day.
I rationalized saying, "Oh, I'll be okay. Before long, I'll stop this pattern and start losing weight."
Instead, I kept gaining weight.
My love for food grew, and I began finding more pleasure in eating than ever before. It was as if my poor food choices had affected me emotionally, causing me to direct my feelings away from Norma and the people in my life, and more toward what I ate.
It was a very new experience.
I would hang out at dessert tables, eating until I was far too full, all because I enjoyed the taste and comfort the sweets provided. I found this principle at work: The more I ate, the more I wanted. When I woke up tired and bloated, heavier than the day before, I still wanted more. I craved doughy foods with fats and sugars, and I knew no way to control my appetite. At times I went to bed feeling uneasy and full of self-condemnation because of the things I was eating. But I knew no way to stop.
Without warning, I had the same problem that so many other people do, a problem I once ignorantly thought was easy to handle. But when the problem was mine, I saw the truth: I was completely helpless; there was nothing I could do about it.
A year of living like that humbled me in my attitude toward health and relationships like nothing else could have. I remembered the shameful way I had treated family members and friends who struggled with weight. I sadly admit that I had had very little patience with overweight people. I became frustrated with their lack of self-control. Inwardly I judged them as indulgent people, and I often tried to make them feel guilty, tried to be their conscience, and tried to monitor their food intake. I would keep a close eye on their serving sizes and cast them disgusted looks if they took a piece of dessert at a social gathering. Big mistake!
Back then I tried to make other people change their ways and lose a few pounds. But the truth was, all I ever did in the process was push them away from me, make them doubt my love, and drive them further into a lifestyle of finding comfort in food.
Once the weight problem was mine, I began to understand a connection between what I ate, how I felt about myself, and the way I treated those around me. I also realized that I was absolutely helpless over my increasing weight problem and declining health. I had neither the desire nor the will-power to stop eating the foods that were harming me. To my wife's credit, she was completely gracious to me, not treating me the way she saw me treat others.
As my battle with food and excess weight raged, it became a war, and I realized that in a few short years it would ultimately kill me. I prayed daily for an answer.
In what seemed like a coincidence at that time, I started reading books about living in God's strength, although I never thought the information I learned would relate to my food choices. The more I read and counseled others, the more I realized that the country is full of people like me-people struggling with eating right and loving right. Could their problems and mine be a result-at least in part-of the connection I was seeing? Could food truly play a part in harming a person's relationships? Could weak relationships really harm a person's physical health? And was it possible that a person's overall health might affect the way that person made food choices?
I believed I had stumbled onto something that might change my life, so I kept praying, researching, and believing God had something he was trying to show me.
RECOGNIZING GOD'S POWER
I continued studying about God's power, and one morning it was as if a lightbulb went off. I thought, Wait a minute! If God's power can help us in every area of our lives, every habit, then his power could save me from overeating. After all, it isn't his will that I overeat, but I can't control it anymore.
Without telling anyone, that October morning I decided I would try an experiment to see if God's strength could break my cycle of poor eating and poor relating. I had nothing to lose-except weight! I knew that I was out of options other than this last-ditch attempt: to give my struggle to God and seek his best for my life, through his strength alone.
So I got on my knees and cried out to God. I patterned my cry after the passage in Psalms, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."
Still on my knees, I admitted that I could not control my eating, that I had tried, and that the task was beyond me. My own abilities were not sufficient. I came to God and said, "I can't seem to do this on my own. It's not going to happen through my own efforts."
I felt as if I were kneeling at the foot of the cross and asking God to free me. Since this was my own personal experiment, I had nothing to lose except my weight.
I had cried out to God this way before, but only about temporary issues or crises. Never had I figured out how desperately I needed God's power to find lifelong victory over an integral part of my life. I still didn't fully understand the connection between food and love. But from that moment on I relaxed and rested in God. I waited on him and said, "You can do this in me anytime you want." In the meantime, though, I knew I couldn't control my overeating.
This was where my waiting period started.
Since I didn't have power on my own to change my eating habits, what did I do? I kept eating. I never even tried to stop. Daily I said to God, Father, however you want me to eat, I'm willing to do that. Whatever you want me to learn or do, just show me. Sometimes I would ask, Do you want me to read something or talk to someone or meet someone who has an answer for me? Anything you want me to do, just show me. I'll see it as a miracle and an act of your strength in my life.
He began to make even clearer the definition of his strength in my life. God alone can give us the power to live life fully. That's really it in a few words. So I waited and rested, and rested and waited.
The days wore on, and I continued to say, God, I'm still out of control here, and if you would heal me today, I would be more than grateful. But I'm just going to wait; I'm not going to chase after a bunch of how-to books or use my energy and efforts to do this on my own. I'm really going to see if this works in my life.
I know what you're thinking.
The very volume you're holding is a how-to book. But there's a difference. When you wait on God's strength for victory, you won't have to chase after things to read; God will simply place them in your path. When he does, allow for the fact that a how-to book-perhaps even this one-could possibly provide the breakthrough you're looking for.
For me, the more I prayed, the more convinced I became that God would take care of my eating problem. Soon I wasn't telling God I wanted to see if his power worked in this area of my life. Rather I wanted to see when it would work. I grew more excited with each passing week.
During that waiting time I recalled other instances in which God's strength was all that pulled me through-even though I hadn't fully recognized the fact at the time. There were days when I would tell God, You've worked powerfully in my life before, and I know you'll do it again. I just don't know how long it is going to take or how you are actually going to do it.
I refused to give in to fear.
It's easy for us to worry, but that isn't how God wants us to live when we're in a relationship with him. I reminded myself that the Bible says, "Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven's lights. Unlike them, he never changes or casts shifting shadows." I told myself that God doesn't sit in heaven and say, "Let's see. How can I make life miserable for Gary Smalley?" In addition I was able to trust that all things work together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose.
Basically I decided to be confident that God's will was better than mine. I would rather wait for his power than keep failing by relying on my own strength.
And so I waited.
October and November went by, and I kept overeating, kept gaining weight. But I had completely stopped worrying about it. I didn't feel guilty or condemned.
And yes, once in a while I had doubts.
Like every other American, I like things done instantly. As the days wore on, the doubts grew worse.
Excerpted from Food and Love by Gary Smalley Copyright © 2001 by Gary Smalley. Excerpted by permission.
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