Stress—a feeling of mental or emotional tension. It creeps up on us slowly and then before we know it will totally overtake our lives to the point that we feel like it is just a byproduct of life.
Most of the time we can’t even pinpoint when it began. It just feels like it’s always been there. Our bodies can’t take a constant state of stress so we try to do things to make the stress go away.
For most of my adult life I lived in a state of constant stress and I overate whatever I wanted to try to get rid of the level of stress I felt. Since understanding that stress is a major reason I was eating all the time, I’ve lost 250 pounds and kept it off since 2013.
The weight loss, of course, is great, but even greater is now I can more readily recognize when I am in a state of stress or headed towards a state of chronic stress and deal with it in ways that actually reduce the stress rather than add to it.
One thing God had wanted me to do for years was give up foods made with processed sugar or flour. These were my go-to foods in times of stress which I seemed to live in constantly. I thought eating numbed the pain of having to deal with whatever was stressing me out.
Like any addiction, it will do that or a short time and then I needed more food to numb the feelings some more. This endless cycle defined my life.
Who Am I?
One of the reasons I lived in chronic stress is because I put myself there with my constant striving to be better and do more. Part of the reason I do that is that I am an achiever. Every personality test I take I come out as some version of an achiever. It’s who I am. It’s the way God made me. But just because He made me this way doesn’t mean I have to push so hard that I make myself ill.
Still, for so many years I lived in chronic stress by overworking. I was driven to succeed. I wanted to succeed as a mother to my two children, to make money to help pay bills and to shine in God’s eyes.
One thing we did during my children’s growing up years was take care of mentally and behaviorally challenged teens and young adults. This paid good money and I was able to be home with my children.
However it added a level of stress that I didn’t even realize at the time. I didn’t realize I was in chronic stress. I just thought it was dealing with life. But the toll it took on my body rose to a crescendo in 1999 when a cardiac surgeon told me I had five years to live if I didn’t lose weight. Trying to eat away my stress wasn’t working for me at all.
This wasn’t the first time a doctor had told me I needed to lose weight. But this was the first time a doctor said it in such a way that it made me mad, but also got my full attention because he had added an expiration date!
For the first time I faced my own mortality. It was the moment that Duet 30:19-20 NLT talks about. “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying Him, and committing yourself firmly to Him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land.”
I saw that my way of dealing with the stress of everyday life was killing me and had to change. I wanted to live to see my children grow up, get married and do all the great things I knew they’d do. I wanted to be around to love on my grandchildren (still waiting for grandchildren to happen). And I wanted to grow old with my husband.
I was determined to choose life. However, this was just the start of my turn-around point. It should have motivated me to do what God told me in 1977, but I still had many more years to wallow through my difficulties.
What Is Sin?
I didn’t see what I was doing by overeating as a sin. I just thought my problem was stress. I thought if my stress would go away, then I would be able to lose weight.
However, when a sin becomes common place, meaning everyone is doing it without thinking, it becomes a normal lifestyle. We don’t even think about it because everywhere we look we are being enticed towards our one main vice—for me that was eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it.
Galatians 5:25 TPT really gives us an answer to how to live a stress-free life and how to stop doing things we know are against what God wants for our lives. “ If the Spirit is the source of our life, we must also allow the Spirit to direct every aspect of our lives.”
For me overeating had very little to do with weight, though that was the most obvious issue. I needed to learn how to manage my stress. If I could do that I could start towards a healthier way of eating because I did understand that what I was doing was against what God wanted for me.
Caring for Myself
I finally saw that what God wanted for me was for my best because He wanted me to take care of myself so I could then take care of others. I focused on managing our foster care business and my health and got out of everything else I was doing.
What I really want you to understand is no matter who you are, chronic stress can overwhelm you and cause you to run to something that feels like it is making the stress go away, but it is really causing your demise.
Stress is insidious. It doesn’t announce itself as stress. But when you examine your life and see the signs in your body, you will begin to understand. I’ve learned my body tells me I am stressed by shutting down my brain about 6 pm if I’ve been working all day.
This usually happens when I’m pushing hard on a self-imposed deadline. I’ve learned to just walk away and spend some quiet time with God, soaking in His presence.
There are many things we can do besides overeating to handle stress. I’ll have some action steps in the transcript for this episode which along with the video for this episode, will be in the free Eating Stress course.
Sign up at https://TeresashieldsParker.com/stress/.