By Karen H. Kim Yeary

Along the Way: Living in Freedom

I don’t clearly remember the time when food was my master. God has transformed my life to the extent that it’s hard for my mind to remember those patterns of thought when food was the focus and dieting the norm. I do vaguely remember the endless cycles of overeating, guilt, dieting, losing weight, and overeating; losing my ability to know when I was hungry and when I was full; feeling tortured and imprisoned. Food had such a grip on me.

What I remember very clearly is when the deliverance began. I was in a dark wooden room in the college chapel with other Christian women who were struggling with body image, dieting, and food. We sat around a thick, wooden rectangular table. The walls were lined with shelves filled with old books that seemed to emit a glow of warmth and wisdom. Light streamed through the amber-colored stained glass windows. In that beautiful setting we recognized that we were not alone. We were each imprisoned by food. We were bound together to fight our enemy through fasting and prayer on a weekly basis.

After several weeks, I experienced sensations of hunger and fullness for the first time in over a decade. Following my hunger cues, I lost weight and came to be at a healthy weight. Food no longer consumed my thoughts. It no longer had a hold on me. I had experienced the power of God in my life to be healthy.

As a researcher in nutrition and public health, I have observed that many understand the importance of healthy behaviors (e.g., healthy eating, physical activity, health screenings), yet have a hard time making healthy choices. This is exactly where I had been, experiencing what Paul relates in Romans 7: 21-25: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

The choice to practice positive health behaviors for me was very much a spiritual battle. When I was in bondage to food, I could not control my eating habits. Even though I knew I was overeating, I was not able to stop myself. But in this passage from Romans, Paul directed me to the one person who could rescue me from this struggle.

As I turned this struggle over to Jesus, I first had to recognize my inability to make healthy choices by my own effort. Realizing my helplessness, I then submitted my eating habits and body weight to God, surrendering to Jesus and asking him to be the Lord of my body and health. This submission included my desires to be thin and any ideas of dieting that I had. I prayed, following 1 Corinthians 10:31, “I don’t want to be in bondage to food anymore. Have whatever I eat and drink be glorifying to you. Have my body weight be any way that you want it to be.”

After recognizing my weakness and surrendering this area of my life to Jesus, my hunger cues were restored after a ten-year absence. Now by a strength I had not known before, I was able to stop eating when I was full and be satisfied. After years of struggle I learned to abide in Jesus, continually drawing strength from God to maintain these positive behaviors (John 15:5).

Since the fall of 2000 when Jesus set me free, food has not been a major focal point in my life. For the last ten years it has been relatively easy to eat in a healthy way and maintain a healthy weight. There are times that I struggle, but I have found that when I cry out to God for help, he gives me the strength to make choices for health and for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:13).

More important than what I have learned about health, I have come to know more about God. He cares about aspects of our lives that we wouldn’t even think to talk to him about. He wants us to live fully and freely. He is powerful and can break unhealthy patterns of behavior that have been in existence for many years. He wants to walk alongside us and help us navigate this oftentimes difficult world. He has taught me so much about himself and I look forward to discovering him more.

About the Author

Karen is an Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She received her PhD from Cornell University and was a W.K. Kellogg Community Based Health Scholar at the University of North Carolina School at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her research interests are in minority health, translational research, community-based participatory research, and psychosocial aspects of health. She uses a community-based participatory approach to translate evidence-based behavioral interventions so they are appropriate for underserved groups.

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