How gaining 117 pounds helped me finally love myself

For nearly two decades, I was at war with my body. 

At age nine, I wrote in my journal, “My name is Sara Anna Powers. I’m 9 years old, 4’11” tall and I weigh 95 pounds.  I’m beautiful but I need to lose 10 pounds.”  The catchphrase at my house was, “One minute on the lips, forever on the hips!” My mother’s parents were both obese, and she was terrified that she, or I, would end up overweight.  While her intentions were good (kids can be cruel to those who are overweight), the constant focus on weight, size and shape affected my self-esteem at a deep level. 

By the age of 19, I had discovered anorexia.  I stumbled upon it, actually, doing mission work in Argentina. One of my co-volunteers had her own struggle, and I simply watched and mimicked her disordered behavior.  I wasn’t trying to lose weight; I just didn’t want to gain any.  I’m 5’7” and started the summer of 1999 at 130 pounds.  When I came back from my volunteer position, I weighed only 110 pounds.  I went back to college for the fall semester and everyone asked me how I had managed to lose the weight.  “I went to a foreign country and starved,” I said.  One girl exclaimed, “Wow! I need to do that!” Yes, I was surrounded by people who thought that starving was sexy. 

Food became my obsession, but I consistently denied myself the pleasure of eating it.  Over the next few years, my weight would plummet to 103 pounds.  I didn’t have a period for several years. I could see that I was thin, but I didn’t feel thin enough. I literally wanted to disappear.

I knew that there was more life for me.  My faith has always been a huge part of my life, and I believed that God had a purpose for my life that I couldn’t fulfill as long as I was starving myself.  I sat in the parking lot after work one day, sobbing, begging God to give me a way out.  I didn’t want to kill myself, but I knew I couldn’t continue living like I was living.  It didn’t even feel like I was living – I was just stumbling through each day.  In desperation, I pleaded with my parents to send me to an inpatient treatment facility.  It took an enormous financial commitment from my parents and me and some logistical maneuvering, but I was blessed to receive a bed at a treatment facility in Arizona.

I spent six weeks in in-patient treatment, followed my three weeks in a step-down program. I call treatment “the great equalizer.” I remember being horrified when I arrived to see girls whose eyes looked vacant because of heavy drug use, or who had scars covering their arms because of cutting.  Then I realized that I was exactly like them.  We were in the same treatment facility because we struggled with the same underlying issues:  unworthiness, fear, longing for purpose.  We just had different ways of coping. 

Treatment was a success; I got my weight up from 103 pounds to a healthier range for my body type.  I re-learned how to prepare meals and what it felt like to nourish my body.  But I still had underlying feelings of insecurity and doubts about my own worth that would show themselves in the coming years.

From 2003 to the beginning of 2005, I kept my weight relatively stable. Then, I entered a relationship that I knew was not healthy for me.  Combine that with facing death threats from students in my position as a tenth-grade English teacher (seriously!! I will blog about this someday, but not today).  I was terrified, and I felt like my life lacked any sort of stability or anchor.

I moved to Atlanta to live with my dad and was grateful to leave both the teaching job and the relationship.  However, you can’t run away from your problems.  And the same feelings of unworthiness and insecurity that plagued me in Mississippi followed me to Georgia.  I was tired of living on the meal plan I had followed since treatment.  I felt like after years of starving, I deserved to eat whatever I wanted.

So I did.  I binged.  I drank bottles of wine. I ate a whole pizza and a box of doughnuts in one sitting.  I ate and drank my way up to 220 pounds. I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror.  When I had first moved to Atlanta, I couldn’t go out without having someone offer to buy me a drink, or send me a free dessert, anything to get my attention. I was a beautiful single girl in a big city. 

Once I gained the weight, all the attention dried up.  No one even seemed to see me.  It was so bizarre. 

And it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

As I prayed about how I could reverse the horrible, self-defeating cycle of binging and shame, I felt this sense of peace come over me.  I realized that I was exactly the same person at 220 pounds as I had been at 103 pounds.  I may have looked different on the outside, but I had the same skills, the same talents, the same gifts, desires and dreams – no matter what the scale said.

Something shifted in me in that moment.  I decided that I was worth developing a healthy lifestyle AND that I didn’t have to wait to love myself.  I threw out my baggy Old Navy sweatpants and bought beautiful plus-size designer clothes.  I joined a support group and connected with other women who were on a journey toward nourishing their bodies, minds, and souls.  I quit treating my body like a garbage dump and started treating it like a temple.

I’ve now been at a weight that’s healthy for me for a decade. I don’t starve or binge. I love and appreciate every stretch mark. And I’m grateful I got to 220 pounds to learn the lesson that I’ve lovable no matter what I weigh. 

I had to learn this lesson the VERY hard way, but I want you to know that you are worth SO MUCH MORE than what you weigh. In fact, what you weigh has NOTHING to do with your worth in God's eyes.

NOTHING!! 

If you've been binging, OR if you've been starving, God wants to give you freedom from that bondage. He gave you your body to live fully, to live joyfully, and to house His spirit for as long as you're here on this earth.  

I want you to know that if you feel trapped, that is exactly where Satan wants you.  But it's a LIE. You can have freedom in your body! You can love and appreciate it exactly where it is today! 

That is my prayer for anyone who stumbles upon this post.  And if you need extra encouragement, please don't hesitate to e-mail me at anna@saraannapowers.com  I feel that it's my calling to be of service to those who are struggling as a testimony to the grace that God poured out on me in freeing my from the eating disorders.  

Be so blessed. You are beautiful,