I am an overweight woman with no health-related excuse. Instead, I eat too much. There are support groups for people like me: “Hello, my name is Mary, and I overeat!” Researchers warn us that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States as well as in some other places in the world and that we are eating ourselves to death, or in some cases starving ourselves to death as a reaction against it. Either extreme is an abuse of our bodies and must not be pleasing to Heavenly Father.
Naps and Pajamas
As I thought about my situation, I had to admit that I was inconsistent in my behavior. While I wouldn’t dream of piercing my body or using recreational drugs or being unchaste, I had gotten in the habit of eating far too much, far too often, and of deliberately eating food I knew wasn’t good for my body. I was “self-medicating” with food to relieve feelings of frustration and depression, and I was a recreational eater besides! Any time spent with someone else was an occasion for eating. Researchers tell us that food can become almost anything a person wants it to be: a drug, a companion, a defense and shield, a comforter.
The self-abuse of overeating does more than just make our clothes tight; it harms both our bodies and our spirits. I found myself sunk in self-loathing that created depression and despair. When I overate I felt very tired and took long naps, waking up with a headache and sore joints, having accomplished nothing except putting myself into a stupor. I was guilty not only of overeating but of sloth! I put “fat pictures” of myself on the fridge as some kind of deterrent to eating. It didn’t stop my eating, but it did stop my feeling good about myself, which led to more eating.
After I quit looking in mirrors because of my weight, I quit caring for my body also. Gone were the makeup, the ironed clothes, the fixed hair. Out came the sloppy jeans and sweatshirt, and then I began living in my pajamas! I quit going out because it meant actually getting dressed. Sundays were particularly painful because I had to stuff myself into some kind of dress clothes, and that was the limit! Many Sunday mornings found me with a heap of dresses flung on the bed, with myself flung on top of them in sullen self-pity. I often got back in my pajamas and defiantly stayed home. I stopped attending the temple because I felt ill much of the time, and I quit going any place at all unless absolutely necessary. I didn’t want to see anyone, let alone serve them. Eventually, I didn’t even want to talk to anyone on the telephone. Locked in my house and my prison of excess flesh, I even quit praying. There was nothing I wanted to say to or hear from anybody on earth or in heaven!
Power of Deliverance
I needed help, and I knew it. One night I started reading the Book of Mormon again at the beginning because it had been so long since I’d read it I couldn’t remember where my place was. I knew all about Nephi and his goodly parents, and my eyes flew mindlessly over the page while my hand kept buttered popcorn in my mouth. However, my preoccupation with my snack ended when I came to 1 Nephi 1:20 [1 Ne. 1:20]: “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” I read the verse again, lingering over “even unto the power of deliverance.” Could my faith in the Lord help deliver me from my food addictions and consequent suffering? I had to believe it could.
It became apparent to me that Satan wanted me to stay bound in self-hate and self-indulgence. Soon I took the pictures off the fridge and replaced them with cards on which I had written inspirational scriptures such as the one that had first caught my attention. I fasted for help. The scriptures tell us that fasting will help us overcome our appetites and passions, and I was in literal need of that promise! I fasted not only for help in controlling my compulsions but for understanding as well. I came to realize, for example, that every time I quarreled with a difficult child I ran for the kitchen and its comforting contents. I realized that reading a fluffy book while I ate a fluffy snack and then taking a fluffy nap was an attempt at escaping problems that seemed too difficult for me to manage in my depressed state. After medicating myself with food and sleep, I then had to medicate myself with pain reliever for the aches and pains my body was suffering at my treatment. Sugar and ibuprofen were my drugs of choice!
Sidewalk Instead of Sofa
In my new attitude, I resolved to get off the couch and get my body in motion in compliance with the natural law that says objects at rest tend to remain at rest and objects in motion tend to remain in motion. I had been doing too much resting, and remaining there was increasing the damage! I didn’t lay out an intimidating regimen for myself at first—I just told myself that I could take a little walk each day. This accomplished several things: first, getting me dressed; second, getting me out of the house that had trapped me; third, getting fresh air and natural light. Trading the sofa for the sidewalk proved difficult at first but gradually became easier. I began following the scriptural admonition to retire early and rise early that my body and mind might be invigorated (see D&C 88:124), and I found that it was.
I took this advice after a new study of Doctrine and Covenants 88 [D&C 88] and 89 [D&C 89]. I was searching for guidance on overcoming both sloth and gluttony. I began organizing my house better, stocking my kitchen cupboards with healthful foods so I didn’t need to order fast-food delivery at dinnertime. I established a house of order and got better control of the chores and activities so my home was clean and uplifting instead of cluttered and depressing. I began by doing just one chore a day and found that the pleasing results gave me impetus to go on. I began following the Word of Wisdom more closely in my diet. Such things as caffeine were not an issue for me, but I had developed a real habit for sugary drinks as well as chocolate. Eating a lot of meat was not a temptation, but I went way overboard on dairy products and sweets. I overindulged in breads and cereals and did not eat enough fruits and vegetables. I found when I made course corrections with my diet, my energy increased and my health improved. My headaches went away when I stopped eating sweets, and I was overjoyed to realize one day that I hadn’t had an all-afternoon nap or taken pain relievers in a couple of weeks! I truly was able to “run” and not be weary for the first time in years.
I am attending church and the temple again, praying and fasting regularly, and focusing on doing small things rather than not doing anything at all. I am taking comfort when I need it from the Holy Ghost, who is our Comforter, rather than from food. I am working steadily at nourishing my mind and spirit as well as my body. I’m still overweight, but I’m looking in the mirror again and sending positive messages to myself about being in better control and changing things slowly but surely. I am serving others again instead of myself. I am putting my trust in Nephi’s message and putting my faith in the Lord and His power of deliverance.
“The condition of the physical body can affect the spirit. That’s why the Lord gave us the Word of Wisdom. He also said that we should retire to our beds early and arise early (see D&C 88:124), that we should not run faster than we have strength (see D&C 10:4), and that we should use moderation in all good things. … Food can affect the mind, and deficiencies of certain elements in the body can promote mental depression. … Rest and physical exercise are essential, and a walk in the fresh air can refresh the spirit. Wholesome recreation is part of our religion and is a necessary change of pace; even its anticipation can lift the spirit.” President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), “Do Not Despair,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 4.
It’s More Complex than Overeating
Why are people overweight? Most believe the cause is overeating. While it is true that you can’t gain weight from food you don’t eat, to claim that overeating is the sole cause of obesity is an oversimplification. In 1995 the Institute of Medicine reported that 59 percent of Americans were clinically obese (at least 20 percent over their ideal weight). Not surprisingly, then, research scientists who study obesity know that losing and maintaining body weight is a complex issue. Let me cite five research findings which indicate that obesity is not just lack of self-discipline in eating habits.
1 Many research studies suggest that obesity is capable of being inherited. For example, studies of adoptees show a strong correlation between their weight class—thin, medium weight, overweight, and obese—and that of their biological parents but little relation between their weight class and that of their adoptive parents. 1
2 An early study showed that most obese people don’t eat more than those of normal weight 2 and that many people of normal weight can eat excessive amounts of food without gaining weight.
3 Increase in obesity is probably linked to reduced levels of exercise. During the past decade, the caloric intake of people in the United Kingdom has slightly decreased, but the prevalence of obesity significantly increased. 3
4 Various hormones affect body weight. For example, hormones have been identified that coordinate food digestion and satiety (feeling full) messages, stimulate fat intake and lower insulin levels, and stimulate carbohydrate craving. Variations in levels of activity of these hormones might play a role in obesity. 4
5 Scientists have discovered genes that help regulate body weight. For example, in 1994, researchers discovered and cloned the so-called ob (obesity) gene from both mouse and human. 5 This gene produces the protein leptin (from the Greek word for thin), which signals the brain to stop eating when fat reserves reach a certain level. Malfunction of leptin or its receptors could be a cause of obesity.
What does all this mean? It probably means that many of us are “pre-programmed” to be obese if we follow our typical cultural lifestyles. But it doesn’t mean we have to follow that lifestyle. We can manage our body weight with a program that includes (a) low-calorie meals focused on low-sugar, low-fat, high-nutrition foods; (b) aerobic (cardio) exercise, working up to at least 20 minutes and preferably 40 minutes per day, at least four days per week, of walking or other type of aerobic exercise; (c) strength training (for example, weight lifting two or three days per week, with at least a day of rest between each exercise session); (d) flexibility exercises (static stretching); and (e) behavioral modification and stress management, which involves attitude adjustments. Although such a program won’t ensure that all of us become slender, it will ensure that we maintain the best possible weight for our body type. A feeling of well-being can also come as a result of knowing that we are exercising control and discipline in caring for our bodies. Health rather than an unrealistic body size should serve as our motivation.
More on this topic: Mark J. Rowe,
A. J. Stunkard and others, “An Adoption Study of Human Obesity,” New England Journal of Medicine 314 (1986), 193–98.
W. Reis, “Feeding Behaviour in Obesity,” Proceeding of the Nutrition Society 32 (1973), 187–93.
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, Annual Report on Food Expenditure, Consumption and Nutrient Intakes (London: The Stationery Office, 1998).
See “A Full Plate: Researchers Attempt to Digest the Biochemistry of Obesity,” The Scientist, 16 Sept. 1996, 12–15.
Y. Zhang and others, “Positional Cloning of the Mouse obese Gene and Its Human Homologue,” Nature 372 (1994), 425–31.