By: Amy Carlson
When I was 15, my gymnastics coach pulled me aside and asked if I thought I could “lose five pounds off my hips.” She thought it would improve the timing of my uneven bar routine. I smiled and politely nodded “yes,” then went into the locker room and cried my eyes out. It was then that I made this vow to myself: “No one will ever say that to me again.”
My coach’s words confirmed what I already believed to be true about myself—namely, that I was both too much and not enough. I was already self-conscious in my body (which was perfectly normal-sized). I had grown up as the youngest of five in a loving (yet dysfunctional) Christian family with a father that prized beauty, brains, and thinness. My mother felt the pressure of being under his watchful eye and the “weight” of cultural standards of thinness. I had watched her diet on and off my whole childhood, so when my coach asked me to lose weight, I saw myself following my mother’s path. I too, would need to diet.
My vow to lose those five pounds turned into 25 and within a few months, I was in the throes of full-blown anorexia. I hid it for months, despite being confronted, until eventually my anorexia turned into bulimia. At that point, I could no longer hide it from my parents, and together we imperfectly sought help.
My bulimia then morphed into what is now known as orthorexia, further complicating recovery. When I began the long road of recovery, I had no reference point for what healing looked like, and I wrestled with questions of faith. Was I sinning by struggling with an eating disorder? Was I “bad” for resisting recovery? Where was my faith in all of this?
The Church didn’t seem to offer any reassurances or resources for its members struggling with eating disorders. But God did. HE is faithful, and through a long, winding road, He led me not just to a place of recovery, but to Himself. And, He has since led me into a lifelong career and ministry of leading other girls and women “back to the table.”
I began studying nutrition, and I eventually became a Registered Dietitian. Although I started out in corporate wellness and working with diabetes patients, I was soon confronted with my first patient with an eating disorder. As she sat across from me, I saw in her face the same eyes that I had looked at my treatment team with, and I knew in that moment that I was being called to serve these girls and women.
I have now been seeing clients one-on-one for more than 24 years. I have had the gift of talking all over the country at women’s conferences and inviting them “back to the table.” I have had the privilege of co-founding an app called “Peace With Food” with my dear friends Megan and Gabrielle. Throughout these years, I have witnessed a battle for women’s minds, bodies, and souls.
I used to be able to ask a client to “think of a normal eater” in their life to help give them a recovery reference point. But when I ask clients this now, they often stare at me and say, “I don’t know any normal eaters.” Food rules, combined with a body-obsessed culture have fast-tracked many women into full-blown eating disorders, and just as many into “disordered eating.”
These mindsets and behaviors take us away from “the table”—they steal our peace and rob us of the people and joy in front of us. So, how do we make our way back?
First and foremost, we must keep reminding each other who we are. As author James Bryan Smith puts it, “I am one in whom Christ dwells, living in an unshakable Kingdom.” We must also call out lies and live into our own, God-given story, NOT the one the world is selling. When we do these things, we’ll be able to find our personal place card and take our seat at the table once more.
Amy Carlson, RD (Registered Dietitian) has held a thriving private practice in the Houston, Texas area serving the eating disorder population for nearly two decades. She holds her Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition from the University of Minnesota, where she grew up, and received her Master’s of Science in Nutrition from TWU in the Texas Medical Center. Passionate about truth and the equipping of women to find freedom, Amy is a highly sought after speaker, spending her time traveling both across the state of Texas, and the country speaking to groups of women for retreats and women’s conferences. Her longing to have a bigger reach with the truth and knowledge of food and the body became a reality with the co-founding of the Peace With Food App: the opportunity to pour years of her experience into a personalized application for anyone to use. Amy and her husband have been happily married for over 20 years and together they live a busy and active life with their four beautiful children.