The girls from youth group went to a conference every year. It was never too far away and usually just a day thing…maybe a one night stay not far from the church. This year, I was so excited because we were going to a girls conference where Natalie Grant was going to be singing. I loved her. Her voice was basically everything that I wanted mine to sound like! It was beautiful. She was effortless but powerful. She emoted and told stories in her music and I was always enthralled by the time she was through. I was so excited to get to see her lead.
When we got there, we all headed to stand in the long line where they would give us our lanyards and a bag. The bag was filled with all sorts of event materials; books from a couple of the speakers, a pamphlet with descriptions of everyone and a coupon for 5% off of Natalie’s latest album. We grabbed our stuff and headed to find a seat.
It was in a large arena and our crew eventually found seats about halfway down the bowl to the far stage left side. Not quite sure who picked such horrible seats, but I wasn’t going to make a big deal about it. Everyone would be up on the big screen anyway, and as long as I got a good view of Natalie, I didn’t care if I sat in the lobby!
After a little while, the lights dimmed and the band got into place. I couldn’t make out the shadows that traipsed across the stage. Where was she?? All the guys grabbed their instruments and the lights started to swirl in mixtures of pink and purple. The band started playing a loud, energetic intro and then the lights on the stage went bright and Natalie came running onstage from stage right! YAY!! She looked awesome. She had so much energy, grabbed the mic and encouraged the crowd to stand to their feet and lift up praise together! I jumped to my feet, excited to hear her every word.
The set was great. Couldn’t tell you what the songs actually were, but I could tell you that what showed through more than her incredible voice was her humble heart. I just respected her so much. I wanted to emulate her in just about every way. She was beautiful, talented, thin, loved the Lord, traveled with her husband… I mean her life was perfect!
After the set, a speaker came up and gave the first word of the night. It was so good and I was really enjoying my time. After another set with Natalie, the host of the conference came up to welcome and introduce the next speaker.
“Are you guys having a good time???!” The crowd let out a loud, very high pitched scream. “Well, we have a real treat for you now. Our next speaker is someone that we know you all love already. We are so honored to have her here with us this weekend. She’s one of the most requested worship leaders in the country and she has an amazing testimony that she wants to share with you girls. You’ve already seen her up here and I know she’s blessed you. Will you welcome back up here our next speaker, Natalie Grant!”
What?? I was so excited! Not only do we get to listen to her beautiful voice, worship under her leadership, but now she’s going to speak into our lives! This was awesome! I immediately got out my pamphlet from my bag, ready to take notes. I was clearly not alone in my excitement as the crowd went crazy.
Natalie told us all about how her career got started and slowly built traction until she became a very successful Christian artist. She told us how blessed she felt that God would use her love of music the way He had and how much she tried to live in every moment. She said she loved what she was doing, but that there was a lot of pressure. Not that she felt it was only put on her by the label, but from herself. She said she felt like she wasn’t physically what she should be and eventually she developed a problem with an eating disorder. A pit developed in my stomach. I told myself this was not the same thing that I was doing. I didn’t have an “eating disorder”! I just skipped meals every so often if I wanted to lose a few pounds. I just liked the feeling of knowing that I could lose weight if I wanted to. I could control it. It just felt good. People who have “eating disorders” are sad little skeletal girls with sunken cheeks and bones that stick out of their chests! Oh my goodness! Really?? How could she think she was anything but beautiful? Then, she looked at the crowd and went silent for a second.
“ …and I know there are some girls in here whose stomachs just flew into their throats. There are some girls who are trying to convince themselves that ‘that’s not me. I don’t have an eating disorder’ but are finding the earliest moment after a meal to slip away to a bathroom. Or start ‘just skipping a few meals’ when they want to lose a couple pounds and you think that this is no big deal! That it doesn’t mean anything! A lot of girls do it! It’s just an effective way to fit into that cute outfit. It’s not!! It is a tool that Satan uses to make you doubt the worth that was given to you by your heavenly father!! It is a means that will lead you to an end of lower self-esteem than when you started! Don’t buy the lie! Don’t want the ache of your stomach when you’ve gone without food. Don’t get so far that you start desiring the feeling of emptiness. You think that when your stomach is empty, your heart will be finally full, but that feeling of ‘thin’ will not fill the hole that God was designed to complete. Only He can make you feel whole and only His love will be sufficient for you no matter what that boy tells you. A boy may want you thin, but a man will want you WHOLE. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t be satisfied with less than what God has for you. Choose to be done with the lie and live in the complete love and acceptance of your Father.”
I was bawling. Why was I bawling? Was that what I was doing? I never thought of myself as having an “eating disorder”. I mean, I could stop whenever I wanted. It didn’t control me. I controlled it! Then again, I had tried to not do it a few times and every time I said I was going to work out and eat healthy, I would always end up reverting to what I knew, what was easy, what felt good. How many times had I actually thrown up? Did I even know? Did I even remember each time? How many days had I gone without eating? I remember the feeling of not eating. I remember the first day would be hard. I would see my friends eating delicious foods and would want to join so badly, so typically I just avoided the scene altogether so I’d have no temptation. I could usually get by that day by looking forward to day three. Day two, my stomach would start to hurt and I’d usually get a headache. I’d just pop a pill to stop the pain and drink some water to get through. By day three, the hunger tended to subside and my stomach would start to make audible sounds of hunger. I would pretend to be embarrassed but I loved that sound. I loved the feeling of my stomach turning as it did it. It meant that it was working. It was affirmation. It was control. And on that day, I felt pretty.
When I was doing it well, I could start to see those bones in my chest by my neck. Those were my favorites. I’d love it when there would be a gap between my shirt and my skin at that area. I felt like I could walk the red carpet and not stick out like a sore thumb. The longer I went without food, the prettier I felt. The less I weighed the more in control I was.
Oh my stars. I had a problem. I never thought about it like this. I mean, I would always feel bad when I hid things or lied to my friends and family, but I just thought it was because I didn’t want to tell them how self-conscious I was…which was true. But the bigger truth was, this was wrong…this was a serious problem, a dangerous problem. And I knew they would make me stop. I knew that, once I told them, I couldn’t do it anymore. Once they knew, I lost the control. I could never be beautiful again. I had an eating problem. I fell apart right there in that arena.