“Please! Listen to this audiobook!” chirped my mom, “I know it could help as you try to make friends!” With my usual teenage flair, I rolled my eyes and acted disinterested. My mom had begged me for weeks to read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. We just moved to a new city, and my mom was convinced Dale Carnegie had the answers I needed. Little did I know this quest for friendship would lead to an eating disorder.
When I walked through the halls of my new school, my heart flooded with fear. Apparently, designer jeans, athletic ability, and confidence determined one’s popularity—all of which I lacked. I was wearing hand-me-downs from our neighbors. I came in last at every track meet. And I was painfully shy.
One day in my health class, our teacher weighed every student. I felt my ears burn with embarrassment when I realized I weighed more than other girls. At that moment, I began to associate friendship and popularity with weight. Surely winning friends and influencing people had something to do with waist size. Am I right, Dale Carnegie?
Maybe I couldn’t control who would be my friend, but I could control my weight. I became fascinated with health articles and soon began cutting desserts out of my diet. It felt so good to lose a little weight I cut out other food groups. And people were starting to notice! Other girls remarked on my weight success and boys were talking to me. It felt amazing.
It was such a gradual process that I didn’t understand what was happening. But as weeks and months passed, my parents became worried. Thankfully, my mom took me to a doctor who recommended immediate hospitalization. He said my heart rate was dangerously low. Later on, I learned if I hadn’t been hospitalized, I would have lost my life.
Going Into Hiding
At the hospital, I felt a strange sense of relief. “Now all my problems will go away!” I thought. “I’ll stay here for a week and then go back home to a normal life.” I didn’t realize it would take several months of hard work.
Within a few days, I became resentful of my parents for hospitalizing me. Losing freedom was painful–I couldn’t eat or walk without being supervised by a nurse. When the pounds crept back on, I started to fight back. I hid behind my hospital bed and did crunches when nurses left the room. I hid food in my napkin. I even hid dumb bells under my clothes when I was weighed by doctors. There was a lot of hiding during that time.
Coming Out of Hiding
Things didn’t improve much upon my discharge home. One night, after the usual dinner battle with my parents, I locked myself in my bedroom and sobbed. My brother quietly knocked on the door. I let him in, and what he told me next changed me. He said, “Nicole, did you know that Jesus Christ’s Atonement is not just for overcoming sin? Jesus has experienced every physical, mental, emotional, and social heartache you have ever felt. He knows you perfectly, and His Atonement can help you overcome your eating disorder. Pray to Him. You can do it through Him.”
I won’t say everything was perfect after that experience, but it did change me. From that point forward, I fought against my eating disorder. I fought against every urge to lose weight. And my power to fight didn’t come from myself–it came through Jesus Christ. Over the next year, I was able to heal and create a healthy relationship with food.
What I’ve Learned
Studying nutrition in college further enhanced my recovery and happiness. I learned fad diets, and some so-called “health” blogs are not scientifically-based or safe. Eating foods that are high in fat and sugar is all right, as long as we balance those choices with other wholesome options. Today I enjoy a variety of foods in moderation, and I no longer see foods as “good” or “bad.” There is a place for chocolate cake on my plate just as much as there is for vegetables. All food is a gift from God–it is meant to be enjoyed and not feared.
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receives not the gift? Behold he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in Him who is the Giver of the gift.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33)
Our bodies are a gift from God! Constantly putting ourselves down, eating barely enough, and exercising out of guilt are not ways of rejoicing in this gift. We show our appreciation through honoring our bodies. One way we honor our bodies is to eat when we feel hungry and to stop when we feel satisfied. The world would like us to believe our bodies are merely objects, but they are much more. We are beings of power! And God WANTS us to be powerful. He wants us to discover this power by exercising confidence and faith in Him.
After all these years, I still have feelings of inadequacy and wish my body looked different. But I refuse to let these feelings rob me of my happiness. I’ve had the power to overcome negative thoughts as I’ve called out to God. When I acknowledge His power, the happiness, fulfillment, and friendships naturally follow. I know the power of the Atonement is real–Jesus eagerly waits for us to take advantage of it.
Also, for what it’s worth, I did end up reading Dale Carnegie’s book. In fact, I’ve read it several times. That book helped me make more friends than weight loss ever did. It turns out moms really do know best!