I know when it started. I was in high school, and I was a waitress. The restaurant was a little diner in northern Iowa. The waitresses wore traditional polyester uniforms that made us look like we walked right out of the 1950s. But it was only 1980.
As Americans, we were fixated on stick-thin images of the feminine ideal that began with Twiggie and then became the standard for all female models. By 10th grade, my body had proven that I was created to be a very average size. So, I began crash dieting. Like many girls my age, I realized that deprivation only led to overeating.
I still remember the day I stood in the walk-in cooler at the diner and crammed down 5 cream-filled pastries in a matter of seconds. That's the problem with dieting. Our bodies won't let us get by with it for long.
So, I created a habit of fasting and feasting. It was a habit that would haunt me for decades - except when I was pregnant with each of my children. Pregnancy seemed to be a time of grace when I could ignore the inner voice that told me to diet, diet, diet.
As I matured as an adult, I stopped being radically obsessed with my weight. I still had issues that stemmed from bad eating habits. In fact, I woke up every morning and did a quick review of the previous day's eating. If I had done well and practiced some restraint, I was pleased with myself.
But if I had eaten a double serving of cake or cookies, I began the next day with a sense of self-loathing.
The year my youngest daughter received First Holy Communion, I gave up radical eating patterns for Lent. I just wanted to be normal for those 40 days. I love God. And I believed that I could give this to Him even if I couldn't seem to deal with it for my sake alone.
I did rather well, until my daughter's First Communion party. Just one piece of cake. It is right to celebrate such a wonderful day, I thought.
I carefully froze the rest of the cake and told myself I would enjoy it after Lent.
Before 24 hours had passed, I was pulling frozen cake from the freezer and eating it before it had a chance to thaw.
If you have read my articles in diocesan papers, you may have figured out by now that this is that thing I couldn't give up. That year, I believed I had failed Lent.
But when I went to Confession, the priest told me that Lent had done for me precisely what it was supposed to do for me. I had been led into my own grave, witnessed my own grave clothes, and realized my inability to fix myself.
If you read that article, "From Grave to Grace", then you know that I left that Sacrament forgiven but still subject to the sin of over-indulgence and subsequent self-loathing.
But somewhere in the last year, the addiction lost its hold on me.
I don't diet. I don't over-eat (although I do enjoy Holy Feast Days with a rightly-ordered perspective).
During Holy Week this year, two people asked if I had lost weight. For the first time in my life I was able to say, "A little, but I'm not dieting." For the first time in over 25 years, I'm just living. Food doesn't have a strangle-hold on me.
It's just food.
This Lent, I didn't even have to wonder if I should give God my eating patterns. God had already set things right in that area. And so, I went on to another "thing" - knowing that when I am weak, He is strong. And He who began a good work in me will surely complete it for His glory.
If you struggle with something and you know you are not rightly-ordered in some area, I encourage you to bring that difficulty to the Confessional and draw deeply from the wellspring of Sacramental graces. You can be changed no matter how many decades you have been imprisoned.