In the new book, "Sweet Freedom: Losing Weight and Keeping It Off With God's Help," author Teresa Shields Parker shares how to get free from emotional, spiritual and physical bondages holding us captive from realizing our true destiny in Christ. "Sweet Freedom" is a follow-up to her 2013 weight loss memoir, "Sweet Grace: How I Lost 250 Pounds," which is the longstanding #1 Christian Weight Loss memoir on Amazon.
Hallels: Congratulations on the release of your new book "Sweet Freedom: Losing Weight and Keeping It Off With God's Help." When did you first discover you have had a weight issue?
I don't think one wakes up one morning and says, "I have a weight problem." It really is a culmination of things that leads you there. I've always felt I was fat, but looking back at my grade school pictures you don't see a chubby kid. You see an 8 year old that looks like a 10 year old. So I always felt fat because I was larger. But the first time I was confronted with the fact I was officially overweight was in 1976 when I was turned down to a two-year missionary appointment because I was over 20% of normal body weight.
In 1977, I had gained probably 50 pounds and that's when I cried out to God to ask Him how to move my mountain of flesh. I didn't listen to His answer and spent the next 30 plus years in disobedience adding to my problem.
Hallels: How much weight did you lose? And how long did it take you to lose that amount of weight?
I've lost 260 pounds from my highest weight. It's been 12 years since I weighed 430 pounds, but one doesn't lose 260 pounds quickly. A slow, steady weight loss is best. My journey is long and involved with many twists and turns.
Hallels: I am very intrigued when you said in your book that the key to weight loss is when we are free from emotional, spiritual and physical bondages. How is weight loss an emotional and spiritual problem?
We always surmise our presenting issue is the problem. So I have a weight issue, so that has to be a physical problem, right? That's definitely where we are wrong. We are complex human beings. We are a body, soul and spirit. When one part of us has a problem, all of us has a problem. Losing weight is physical. Keeping it off is emotional. Dealing with emotions is very spiritual.
One of my issues is I ate to keep my emotions at an even level. I didn't want to be too emotional because I grew up with a mother who had emotional problems. I ate to not get angry. I ate when I was sad. I ate when I was happy. I ate when I felt overwhelmed. I ate as a kind of protection. I did not eat because I was physically hungry. I ate because I was emotionally hungry.
I should have to turned to God to fill my emotional emptiness. I was saved at 7, grew up in the home of a bi-vocational preacher. I've been in church since before I was born. I know a lot about who God is, but for some reason food was more tangible to take care of my immediate needs.
Hallels: What are some of these emotional and spiritual bondages?
For me, the emotional bondages began because I ate for comfort. Mother or mother figures are supposed to fill the role of bringing comfort when we are young. My mother was not emotionally present as I was growing up. From my grandmother, another of my mother figures, I learned that food was comfort. Because I couldn't be with her all the time, when I felt uncomfortable I would go to food. This subtle hand-off of allowing food to comfort me instead of the Holy Spirit who is our comforter, continued even when I became an adult. I didn't realize I had allowed myself to be captured by food to fill both an emotional and spiritual role in my life.
In a similar way, when I was molested at 11 by family friend, who was a father figure, I felt unprotected. I didn't feel I could tell anyone because they might side with him instead of me. After all, I was just a kid. So I self-protected by staying away from him, but also by allowing myself to stuff that fear with food. And to me, it was ok because making myself larger meant maybe men would stay away. It also put distance between me and my image of God the Father, who is my protector. Even when I became an adult and cognitively knew this wasn't correct I had allowed the fear to become so embedded in me, I believed it was true that I still had to do something to protect myself because no one, not even God could protect me.
There are many ways this dependence on food enticed me to just stuff my emotions and not deal with them. It's like I had a deep, dark pit with a locked door. When an emotion I didn't like, such as shame or anger would come up, I would open the door and throw that emotion and the situation that caused it into the pit. I'd throw some food down there to keep that emotion quiet, lock the door and keep stuffing down the food so that emotion would shut up. However, the emotion was still there. I hadn't dealt with it. Because of that it became a huge burden I carried with me continually.
I could have dealt with it spiritually, however I had become to believe I had to handle this on my own. It was my problem and I didn't want to do what God said, which was to stop eating sugar, eat more meats, fruits and vegetables and stop eating so much bread. I don't call that a spiritual bondage so much as a spiritual misbelief. A plain out and out lie I believed because of the emotional turmoil I was trying to placate with food.
Hallels: What are some ways to break these bondages?
We must recognize the source of our issue. When the first time we felt we needed comfort and used food to take care of that need. Or the first time we began to self-protect. Then simply forgive the person in that situation, renounce the lie that God will treat us that same way, hear His truth and then reconnect with Him.
We have to allow God to transform us from the inside out because until we do that, until we deal with the core emotional issues, we will always be in caught in the cycle of trying to lose weight and gaining it back plus more. It is an extremely frustrating and unsatisfying way to live.
Hallels: Besides the physical benefits, what are the spiritual and emotional benefits of weight loss?
Emotionally I now can embrace my emotions. If they are positive I allow myself to be in the moment, to enjoy them and feel them completely, no holds barred. IF they are negative, I am able to take them to God and ask Him, is this an emotion You have given me to teach me something or right an injustice or do something positive with or is it something I need to simply submit to You and allow You to help me deal with.
God gave us emotions for a purpose. They make life extremely enjoyable. They teach us about ourselves. Life trying to stuff emotions and act like they don't exist only leads to being in bondage to them.
Spiritually I am much more in touch with who God is in my life, how He is working and how He is leading me. When I was eating everything in sight, food was my God. When I was ignoring what my body needed to be a healthy and fit home for God's Holy Spirit I was not caring about God. I wanted Him to do stuff FOR ME, sure. And if I did something for Him, I wanted it to be because He would do something back for me. Now, I just love Him and do what He says and let the outcome be whatever He wants. I'm along for the ride, willing to have Him direct me.
Life is so much more enjoyable. My relationships are more real and deep. I enjoy being able to write books, which was always a passion of mine. As a journalist for over 40 years I could write articles but never a book. It wasn't until I had lost 250 pounds that God said, "Now is the time to write the book." I was surprised to learn He wanted me to write about my weight loss journey. SO many ups and downs, twists and turns, that it didn't seem anyone would want to read it. That my first book, Sweet Grace has the #1 Christian Weight Loss Memoir on Amazon for over two years is astounding to me.
Hallels: What lessons about God have you learnt through this entire ordeal?
Psalm 115:3 in The Passion Translation says God rules from Heaven and does whatever He wants. I used to always have the mindset that loving God was really about me, but it's not. It's about Him. When I love God passionately, so passionately that I give up the foods I crave, those things I used to love more than Him, it does something inside of me. It elevates me to the status of a true believer and a passionate lover of God. It doesn't matter what happens to me because this life is not about me and what I want or what I crave, it is about Him. God's people have to realize that whatever we put higher than God becomes God to us. Food was my God for years. In essence my own desire were my God. May it never be so again.
2 Cor 12:9 in the Message says, "My grace is enough. It's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness." When I admit I have a weakness for sugar and flour, comfort foods, and I lay it at His feet, only then can His power become strong in me. I am no longer relying on myself. I am relying on Him completely. Believe me, there is no better way to live.
Living to eat does not work. Now the only reason I eat is to fuel my body to serve my Lord.
Hallels: What do you have to say to some of our readers who may be suffering from these bondages today?
You have the power to set yourself free. You probably already know that but you're holding on tightly to the things that you have run to all your life, the things you think are working for you. But if you look at your growing waistline, and yes pastors, traveling evangelists and wonderful Christian musicians, I'm talking to you as well. Just because we don't talk about being a glutton does not mean we are not indulging our fleshly desires in the only "Christianized" way we can. If you want to break the bondage, the first way is to admit it is there, then lay it down, just like an alcoholic lays down alcohol, lay down the foods that are causing you to bring harm to your body. Ask for God's help on the journey. Ask Him to teach you what emotions you are avoiding confronting when you are stuffing yourself and are really not physically hungry. You may say you are hungry, but is that your emotions speaking or do you even know any more. God wants your total transformation-physically, emotionally and spiritually. This weight thing is just the thing He wants to use to bring you so close to His presence you can't even stand. That, my friend, is where the glory lies.
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