The celebrity Madonna was photographed for a series of images, some of which were published in a 1985 issue of People Magazine. These photographs displayed her sexy persona, complete with big hair and racy attire which included a black crop top t-shirt stating, “Healthy.”

I remember receiving many mixed signals looking at that image. “Healthy.” For those of us who struggle with disordered eating, image, food and exercise issues, “healthy” is a tricky

Healthy: “enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit : well; conducive to health; prosperous, flourishing”

Within our culture, we certainly have that strong definition existing in the diet, fitness, lifestyle and cosmetic industries; that definition illustrates its importance. Promises of attractiveness, youth, energy and happiness are connected with the message.

Here’s where distortion can, unfortunately, arrive on the scene. There are some disorders which spin the healthy sentiment into harmful, obsessive and self-destructive behaviors. Such examples include orthorexia and compulsive exercise, also known as exercise anorexia and exercise bulimia.

Concerning my own odyssey with health (or rather, my disordered approach to health) it has always revolved around the diet. I believed, early on, as an overweight child and daughter to an overweight mother, the solution to “problem me” was found in the diet. I ran the gamut of yo-yo-dieting–often buddy dieting with my mother until we inevitably fell off the wagon.

I have many memories of these falls, ushering in a binge of chips, cookies, ice cream, you name it. Mom and I would eat as if this was our last meal…EVER. So, moderation was a foreign concept and practice.

Diet- obsessed throughout my childhood and adolescence, I eventually subscribed to another toxic belief and eventual behavior (disorder). Desperate for a reinvention before my freshman year of college, I decided on a serious, restrictive diet… lowering calorie intake more and more. And, for the first time in my young life, I achieved “success;” I lost weight and was viewed as thin. My freshman year, therefore, launched my experience with anorexia.

Most of my anorexia incorporated heavily excessive exercise. Another distortion of “healthy.” Initially, I started small–twenty to thirty minutes a few times a week. Then it progressed to an hour a day, every day. As I lost more weight I was encouraged; I decided “to push myself” which meant increasing my routine to two, three, four, five and eventually, up to six hours of exercise on a daily basis. Mind you, I was a full-time college student.

Where did I find the time? Answer: most often, from midnight to six in the morning. Then I was off to class. All this excessive behavior was validated because of the positive attention I received (compliments and interest from the college guys). I was also able to fit into smaller clothes and embrace a better self-image because I was no longer “the fat girl.”

Throughout my college years and young adulthood, as my eating disorder and negative self-image behaviors morphed from anorexia to bulimia, to chaotic yo-yo dieting I viewed myself and exercise in an oppressive way. I was in need of punishing; exercise was my method. I neither enjoyed, nor relaxed when I exercised. I was always anxious; if I was exercising, it was never “enough,” and if I wasn’t exercising, I felt like the worst person alive: fat, lazy and ugly.

I was constantly afraid of some worst case scenario. Most of my initial thoughts focused on the dreaded weight gain as this scenario. I was living too much of “too much” behavior. There was no moderation in sight. Instead, there was only obsession.

Fortunately, my story does not end with the oppressive, self-destruction of disordered eating, image and exercise issues. However, it is not an instant perfect “happily ever after” reality either. Rather, it’s a gradual daily process of learning, applying the lessons, and forgiving myself.

Moderation- and a removal of the punishment for not perfectly achieving something- are key in this process. Therefore, permission to be imperfect needs to be a part of the plan. And this permission, likewise, is not perfectly achieved all of the time either.

Part of the freeing revelation I have absorbed over the years involves this revolutionary principle: Our Creator is not blindsided, nor expecting perfect constant perfection. He fully knows when and how you and I will stumble and mess up.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of Elohim.” – Romans 3:23

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

This was an astonishing concept; for much of my life, I have internalized how I had to be the perfect good girl, never making mistakes. When I did make a mistake, I thought I “should have known better,” and I would face a fiery wrath because I failed at what was expected of me. Grace offers a reprieve to that mandate. It doesn’t matter how “good,” “perfect,” or “deserving” I am. It has nothing to do with my performance, whether it be outstanding or miserable.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of The Most High: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

There’s no denying I’m task-oriented. So, it’s unrealistic to ignore this vital aspect of my personality. It’s there. But that doesn’t mean I take the mindless or punishing approach, devoid of spiritual intervention.

Rather, it’s about mindfully applying grace to my goals: health, fitness, personal, recovery and spiritual. It’s about making grace a relevant priority and respecting how The Almighty loves and views His Creation. Tapping into grace and respecting its role in our lives, honors the Most High and unburdens us in doing so.

So, it’s not about the perfect diet, the perfect exercise regimen, the perfect recovery, the perfect achievement or disposition. Over the years, I’ve had to get over myself; It dawned on me I was contrary to Him whenever I was on one of my self-destructive, punishing missions.

Why did my schedule, my mindset and behaviors all need to be so harmful and self-hating? Especially in the name of “pursuing healthy?” Come on!

It’s about stewardship. It’s about taking good, respectful care of anything which has been entrusted to us. This principle involves the awareness we are accountable to our Higher Power which is no small matter. Viewing and living the stewardship principle, via mind, body and spirit, is no easy thing. But, it’s doable. The good news: it’s not solely our work involved; the Most High is helping us, leading us, sparing us and loving us.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will guide you with My eye.” – Psalm 32:8 Therefore, as we live our own versions of “one day at a time,” we have The Divine’s love and grace to embrace concerning our imperfect life process. We have the opportunity to discover, over time, through gradual revelation and personal lessons just what “healthy” truly means.

It is not about achieving a certain number, a certain size, a certain look or a certain external accomplishment. Sometimes, it’s about skipping a workout, eating dessert, going a period of time without stepping on the scale, doing something entirely unrelated to our personal image without being in complete control and micromanaging the details.

Meaningful life is about the discovery and pursuit of our unique, personal purpose. Health is included in that. If we bypass the spiritual, emotional and mental work of discovering who we are, in the name of achieving some unrealistic, even harmful “healthy,” we are not living life more abundantly. That is one of Elohim’s deepest desires for us.

Therefore, may you and I, uniquely, personally, and relevantly fulfill that desire of our Divine Creator, and live “healthy” lives.

“Author/speaker Sheryle Cruse tackles food, weight, value and image issues which are often found within disordered eating. She explores these topics, writing for both faith and recovery-
focused publications, and in her book, “Thin Enough: My Spiritual Journey Through the Living Death of an Eating Disorder.”

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