A Slow Learner ~ Heidi Bylsma’s Testimony

Heidi in 2000 With Her First Ever TW Accountability Partner

Heidi in 2000 With Her First Ever TW Accountability Partner

I was an obnoxious kid.

I was also an abused kid.

I was abused the most around food. My parents had their hands full with me. I was a lot of kid. And their life plans didn’t include me at that late season of life.

Children were to be Seen and Not Heard, but boy…at meal time, it was ALL about me! My parents force-fed me vegetables. I gagged. I threw up. Then I was beaten.

I now associate anything green (other than mint chip ice cream) with “YUCK!” (I still can’t eat vegetables today without gagging—unless the veggies are in salsa!)

I don’t know how old I was when I learned to sneak food.

I also don’t know how old I was when my father started to molest me.

But the two together were a perfect recipe for extreme weight gain in junior high. Finding comfort in the food that I sneaked, I packed on the pounds. It was one way to guarantee that I would be left alone by groping male hands (not just my Dad’s, but also neighborhood boys).

In high school, my mom put me on a diet–it was just another way of force-feeding me.

Seventeen magazine motivated me at times to whimsically vow to exercise and eat differently. Resolve lagged. My thinking was stuck.

Food had been my “friend” through a tumultuous childhood with two alcoholic parents. As a teen, my best friend and I cut classes to bake and eat an entire pan of brownies on more than one occasion. We routinely downed an entire large pizza together, considering ourselves virtuous for having walked to the pizza parlor and back instead of having our moms drive us.

Once, we ordered a whole mud pie at the local Baskin Robbins. We fabricated a conversation about all the people at home who were (supposedly) waiting for us to bring back the pie. We wouldn’t want the clerk to suspect we planned to sit down with two spoons and eat it all by ourselves.

One of the first church weight-loss support groups I attended was a “Love Hunger” group. I have no memory of the meetings, but on the way home every week I went through the drive-thru, grabbing an “Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger,” fries, and cheesecake. (Maybe it was “second dinner?”)

When my kids were little, I attended Weight Watchers. That, combined with an online support group, moved me to become even more obsessive about food, exercise, and my body. I obsessed away 100 pounds of physical weight! VICTORY!…More chains coiled around my heart. As silly as it sounds, Women’s Day magazine sent a professional photographer and did a story about how I connected with other people online to get and give support to lose weight.

Hydrostatic weighing (“dunk tank”) results indicated I had, indeed, “arrived.” Between training for a marathon and the weight lifting I did, I was at 14.5% body fat.  I was fitter than I had ever been! Excited to help others experience victory, too, I interviewed to work for Weight Watchers as a meeting leader. At my final interview, I was told that I didn’t qualify because of a  policy that, in order to work for WW, I would have to lose more weight to fit in their BMI charts. (My doctor approved weight wasn’t acceptable. She didn’t want me to lose more…) Had I gotten even to WW’s highest acceptable weight, I would have been a mere 11% body fat–a number often associated with women who struggle with anorexia!

At that point, I was so disappointed with dieting. That was THE LAST straw for me.

During all of these many dieting years–back before blogging existed–whatever diet and exercise frenzy I was in, I waxed eloquent for a few paragraphs, slapped a bible verse on it, sending the resultant “Desert Devotion” or “Bread of Life” out to an email distribution list (sort of like a Yahoo group).

My first exposure to “mindful eating,” was in the late 90s.  It was when I was at my fittest externally, but most wretched internally. I took my 14.5% body fat self to a support group meeting. The other ladies, unaware of my ever-changing weight history or my current obsession, encouraged me that I didn’t need to be there. Oh! I SO needed to lose the ball and chain that were strangling my heart!

Shortly after, an overuse injury sidelined me (I trained too much too soon for two marathons). I abruptly stopped running 40 miles each week, while continuing to eat like a runner! Thus began the inevitable leap back up into the “Big and Beautiful” clothing store sizes.

Summer 2006 and Still "Growing"

Summer 2006 and Still “Growing”

An online friend shared the book, Thin Again, by Arthur and Judy Halliday (now called Hunger Within). This book opened my eyes to the “silent hunger” in my soul that I tried to feed with physical food. I began to write about what I was learning for my email devotions distributions list. Someone showed my devotions to Judy Halliday, who happened to need a collaborator for a new book project already under contract with Thomas Nelson Publishers. One thing led to another and I ended up working with the Hallidays for a couple of years on writing projects, including the Thin Within book and the Rebuilding God’s Temple Workbook #1.

Wow. Daily conversations with the Queen of Thin Within, herself! The founder, owner, author, workshop leader, Madame Extraordinaire! How great does it get? (I was sooooo blessed to have this time with Judy Halliday and she continues to be a dear mentor and friend.)

After all of that, you would think that I would have been at my “natural, God-given size,” but I was far from it. The upward weight leap after my post-WW overuse injury continued. On and off over the next 5 years, I “released” and “grabbed a hold” of ten pounds, or two sizes, or twenty-five pounds, or one size until, in spite of my experience with the Hallidays, my knowledge of God’s Word and the Thin Within principles, I was twice the woman I once was. (Well, not quite.) But once again I had almost 100 extra pounds on my frame.

Summer 2006

Summer 2006

It wasn’t until November of 2006 that a switch flipped. I grew a few brain cells and engaged at least one. I strung together enough choices to begin to see victory over the stronghold of over-eating. Baby step by baby step I made one choice in the moment upon another choice in the moment to obey what God said to do. God really WAS doing a new thing. This time, it was a new new thing!

I launched the God is Doing a New Thing blog and began to chronicle my anticipated journey from 250 pounds down to whatever size God had in mind for me. I recorded the lessons learned along the way. (The blog was integrated with the Thin Within site in January of 2014 so you can still find the entire story in the blog archives.)

It took LONG enough! I am convinced that there is no one on this planet as hard-hearted and stiff-necked as me.

Harley and Heidi Fall 2007

Harley and Heidi Fall 2007

So what made the difference? What moved me from knowing and not living what I knew to finally kicking it in to gear?

  1. Practicing gratitude…daily. It keeps me in a humble place where I am less likely to grab for my food, my will, my way.
  2. Practicing praise…daily. Exalting God instead of self like I do when I grab for more food than I need.
  3. Walking in forgiveness. Much of my eating was a product of the abuse from my childhood. Forgiving each and every offense, was vital!
  4. Getting back on the horse when I fall off. No wallowing around on the ground.
  5. Knowing that Failure is a Teacher, learning from my mistakes. The observation and correction tool is indispensable.
  6. Renewing my Mind (Romans 12:2) to think differently about myself, God, food, eating, and failure.
  7. Staying in Community

A year after I “got serious,” 100 pounds were gone. I had “arrived” again! Ta DAH!

You see, I *had* to lose one hundred pounds. HAD to.

96 wouldn’t have been enough.

Yup.

Obsession struck yet again.

May 2008

May 2008

A couple of magazines and a book covered my story and that big ol’

1 – 0 – 0

looked so “purty.”

There was not merely a little bit of pride, too.

The media coverage was great publicity for Thin Within, but it also fed that starving animal inside me…the one that had gotten applause and stickers at the old WW meetings years before! Dormant, but living, it just needed the right prodding to rear its ugly head!

Yes, as I look back now, nothing would have been wrong with “releasing” only 90 pounds. But at the time, old habits of obsession were still alive and well. I lost 100 pounds and some of my friends were concerned that I had allowed it to go too far.

About three years after I was freed from 400 sticks of butter :-), a demon named “Menopause” possessed my body. Betrayed! “0” and “5” were no longer clear! I apparently needed a lot less food in spite of being more active! I was relieved when the demon was finally excised and my eating and size stabilized. Phew!

Heidi and Harley, December 2013

Heidi and Harley, December 2013

Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

– Isaiah 30:21

Often through this journey God has shown me that I am so capable of turning hunger and satisfaction into a god. To whose voice will I respond? Who will have the final say? Will my body’s signals (which, I must admit, after all this time I still sense imperfectly!) or will I ask the Lord what his leading is?  My heart is that I would be ever tender to His call. When he uses my body’s signals to guide me, great. But when I am uncertain what my body needs…if I am hungry or what would best fuel my body, I want to foster a heart that stops, looks, asks, listens for His leading. That is the most precious gift that Thin Within has taught me…intimacy with God. Waiting for him.

UPDATE: July 2016 Well, friends…I have continued my journey imperfectly. During 2015, I am sad to say I reverted to old coping mechanisms. I thought I never could do this after having experienced victory for the better part of 8 years. It began with a health crisis in 2014 causing me to lose an unhealthy amount of weight. Doctors urged me to gain weight, and pride began to flourish (weird, I know). Since I couldn’t eat without pain for the last six months of 2014, I began to think about “What I will eat when I finally feel better again…” In essence, I was not renewing my mind. By allowing thoughts and fantasies about food to go unrestrained, it was like I was undoing the renewing I had done previously. Truly, I discovered just how powerful the continued renewing of my mind is, even when you think you have things figured out. Right now, I don’t know for sure how much I weigh (the scale has never been much of a friend), but I know the pants that I have worn since 2007 don’t fit. I have begun the challenging process of trying to regain the footing I lost while releasing the weight I have regained and never thought I would see again!

I am thankful the Lord is patient with me. Extending appropriate grace (instead of “greasy grace) to myself has been the challenge. The last two years have been overwhelmingly challenging and I haven’t handled the trials very well. I have had to recover from losing the use of my legs (and thankfully have almost fully recovered!), healed after a spinal surgery, dealt with my husband leaving after 30 years of marriage (while I was yet regaining my mobility and had to manage the needs on the ranch without him), coped with his return home nine months later after I discovered he had been having an affair, worked diligently on reconciliation in our marriage…which was most recently followed by his announcement in June that it was time to file for divorce…well, I think I understand why my eating has been a bit out of whack.

Now, I am earnestly applying (with renewed zeal) the very tools that I encourage my clients and classes to use. I know they work. God intends to use these circumstances to refine me. I have sabotaged that a bit by mis-using food and by remaining in denial about it for far too long. I am back on the horse again, my friends!

How About You?

Can you identify with my crazy up and down weight loss/weight gain/ weight loss history? Does the thought of having all that drama stop appeal to you? Which of the seven principles that I have shared that made the difference for me are you willing to apply? When? Do you have a tendency to turn 0 and 5 into an idol?

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29 Responses to A Slow Learner ~ Heidi Bylsma’s Testimony

  1. Rachel January 27, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    Thank you for the reminder that I might not get this “over night”. It’s a journey….I will relax and enjoy the ride!

    • Heidi Bylsma January 27, 2014 at 9:05 am #

      It is hard to remember that, Rachel, when we so desperately want to see changes. But they come in time. 🙂 God is doing a HUGE work inside! 🙂

  2. Molly Wells January 27, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    I loved reading your testimony, Heidi. You are such a gifted writer!

    • Heidi Bylsma January 27, 2014 at 9:05 am #

      Awww…thanks so much, Molly. I appreciate the kind words.

      • Molly Wells January 27, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

        You’re welcome!

  3. Nicole Kotman January 27, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    Your story is such an encouragement to a stubborn-hearted person like me. Reading it made me think of Paul’s claim to be “chief of sinners” and how it gives strength to so many. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing the things that helped lead you to victorious intimacy with God.

    • Heidi Bylsma January 27, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

      Oh, Nicole. Thank you for your kind words. No one is as stubborn as me. Not you. Not anyone. Hang in there, my friend. Get back on the horse and press on!

  4. LaRessie January 27, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    Heidi. I can so relate. I am feeling like I want to give up!!! But this is more than a diet plan… This is about my relationship with Christ. I am SUPER hard headed!!! Thanks for sharing.

    • Heidi Bylsma January 27, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

      Don’t you DARE give up, LaRessie! 🙂 God is at work doing a NEW thing! 🙂

  5. Gillian Klassen January 28, 2014 at 2:14 am #

    I can relate to all those diets over the last 25 years…I have given alot of my money and energy to WW and have finally figured out all the drama and the emotions that go with the scale have really drained me emotionally and spiritually. I was introduced to the TW principles about 6 years ago and God has graciously brought me back to Him, as my heart was hurt and hungry for him. I have been blessed from following up with the Bible study, but I have fallen off the horse for the last 3 days, by the end of the day (late afternoon) I just eat past 5 when I know I need to hide away from the temptation and spent some time with the Lord.. Last Friday I put the scale away and out of sight as I realized it was becoming an idol to me. Thank you for sharing your journey and your 7 points that you have learned.

    • Heidi Bylsma January 28, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Hi, Gillian. Thanks for writing. God has so much in store for us and the weight is such a small part of it. It is amazing to me how he uses that issue to grab our hearts and meet our deepest needs. Hang in there! 🙂

  6. Nicole Davis January 29, 2014 at 12:17 am #

    Heidi,
    Thank you for your great service to God and to others through your testimony and website. I had read through your blog early last year and saved it as a bookmark on my iPad. Somehow, I got lost in other things, and just came across that icon again a few days ago. I am so glad I did! It directed me to Thin Within, and I got reading through the site. I ordered the Thin Within workbook yesterday and started this study. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am so tired of traditional diets that don’t work. I am excited to let God change me, from the inside out.
    God bless you!

    • Heidi Bylsma January 29, 2014 at 7:15 am #

      Hi, Nicole. I am so glad. Thanks for your kind words. I hope you will keep in touch and participate in the class that is going through the material together on Facebook. Let me know if you need the link. Thanks for posting. 🙂

  7. Karon January 29, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    Such an inspiring story! Particularly this part:

    It wasn’t until November of 2006 that a switch flipped. I grew a few brain cells and engaged at least one. I strung together enough choices to begin to see victory over the stronghold of over-eating. Baby step by baby step I made one choice in the moment upon another choice in the moment to obey what God said to do. God really WAS doing a new thing. This time, it was a new new thing!

    I am still waiting for my switch to be flipped but this really encouraged me!

  8. CHELLEY January 30, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    WOW, Heidi — what can I say except thank you for sharing your testimony so far (after all, your testimony continues, PTL!). I can relate to so much, including WW & the “magical” triple-digit 100, & unfortunately the pride associated with it. I’ll simply say the obsession it took to “maintain” landed me in a “slimy pit” & only He can “lift me out” (Ps. 40:2).

    LaRessie, please don’t give up. I am tempted to give up at times, too (& sometimes I do for a short time), but His “unchanging love” (yeah, that song is playing in my thoughts right now!) draws me back. You’re so right, this is all about Him & His love for you. All the 2014 diets & pills & books (“scientific breakthroughs”!) are shifting sand. Hunger/satisfaction does not change because our Creator does not change. He is our Rock & our “firm place to stand” (again Ps. 40:2).

  9. jamie January 31, 2014 at 2:13 am #

    I can relate Heidi,
    thank you for sharing your story of victory with us all. 🙂 I have experienced some abuse growing up with my parents not loving me as they should have and how they used food to punish me. I was rejected and left out of a lot. To this day My mom wants not much to do with me. I love her and reach out to her and she does not return calls and make any efforts. She has recently gone through serious health issues and I reached out to her again to no avail. I did pray with her and tell her how much I love her. She was in a hurry to go! It’s always been that way. I have to forgive her and love her with the love of Christ. Jesus is the only one that can give me the love I need and not food or anything. Only Jesus can feel my heart with his love and tender mercy’s. So I run to Him to fill my cup.
    I have also been going trough the Menopause and it’s a slow release of weight and also as you know from my other post how sick I have been for five months with my asthma. I have been on steroids off and on. it messes with my weight. and feel so bloated. I keep praying and trusting God for my healing and weight release in His time. I have to be patient with things and not get discouraged. These trials are to strengthen us and make us stronger in our Lord. God will work it all out for my good. It has been a long road and hard for me. I pray for more and more grace of God in my life. It has been not about food only but TRUST! Being a surviver of rape and abuse God has a lot of work inside my heart to do has done the past years of my walk with Him. He is still shaping me and molding me into the image of His son Christ Jesus.

    “He who began a good work in you will complete it”

  10. Cath Thorlakson May 19, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

    Hi Heidi. Did you say that at the beginning of menopause, your need to eat goes down, but goes back up to normal after a while? I have been wondering about this…

    • Heidi Bylsma May 20, 2014 at 8:13 am #

      Hi, Cath.

      In retrospect it is hard for me to be positive. I eat very little food and I am pretty sure it is less than I did when I was releasing weight (before menopause). I think the bottom line is, my hunger signals ARE reliable–when submitted to prayer. I definitely need to ask God to show me the truth about what i think my body is signaling. As I listen to Him and obey him, I will be at the size God intends…but I do think that the size I am as a 52 year old post-menopausal woman who has had babies may be different from the size I was (even listening to the same signals and submitting it to prayer) in 2007.

      I think this is why listening to the signals of my body and prayer are the most reliable means. 🙂

  11. Sue Schwabauer January 13, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    Heidi…thank you so much for sharing your testimony. I have been up and down in my weight release journey as all…have tried a multitude of programs over the years. I love the grace that Thin Within offers over and over. It is what I have needed to let go of condemning thoughts in my head. Menopause has made weight release slower for me…but resting in God and listening to the hunger signals like you suggested has made a huge difference for me. You have been such a blessing to me in the past several months. Thank you for allowing God to use you in this way for His glory!!!! I pray abundant blessings for you…..

  12. Barbara B September 4, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    Heidi – I just found your testimony and although I have been blessed by your videos on the FB page, this testimony is beyond words for me. Inspirational, motivating …. you know all the glorious words. But what I didn’t realize is that you had lost so much weight and that’s why drew me in to begin with. But God is leading me to realize and know deep within my heart it is NOT about the weight is about the relationship with HIM.

    What spoke to me the loudest was “My heart is that I would be ever tender to His call” …. that’s the deal ….. that’s the heart-call and all my “stuff” gets in the way of that. I’m working on it!

  13. Isabelle Norris July 9, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    I am with the faith over food group
    I am interested in the combo class July 25
    Thanks
    Isabelle

  14. Dina Hackley-Hunt July 20, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    Heidi- wow… What an amazing testimony. Thank you for your honesty. I have been so discouraged and I asked the Lord to lead me to a testimony of a woman who had struggled with losing and maintaining her weight loss. I couldn’t take another perky testimony from a woman who got it right the first time! You are proof that His love for each of us is unique and He cares about so much more than our size. I will be praying for you as I return to the Thin Within principles.

    • Heidi Bylsma July 21, 2016 at 10:45 am #

      Thank you, Dina. It is amazing to me that God can take all of our “mess ups” and redeem them!!

  15. Denise July 21, 2016 at 6:19 am #

    Heidi, thank you again for sharing your journey with all of us. You are an inspiration to all of us fighting to hear ONLY God’s words for us. I’m more sure each day you are running a distant second in the hardened heart department, but I have hope! Your words encourage me each time I read them. You are loved and appreciated. I look forward to you sharing where God is leading you next! Hugs!

    • Heidi Bylsma July 21, 2016 at 10:43 am #

      Oh, thank you so much, Denise. That means so very much to me. 🙂

  16. Lisa G. July 21, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    Heidi,

    Thank you for being so transparent. Your openness about your struggles with “self” are a blessing to those of us facing the same challenges. I find myself at that lovely age where you have been, where the things that always worked no longer do. An inflatable pool ring has taken up residence around my midsection despite daily exercise and what I think is mindful eating!

    Your words nailed me today–every time I reach for food, I need to make sure I am eating as God wants, not as I want. If it is God’s will that my intake is reduced, then so be it!

    Blessings to you as you emerge from this latest struggle. Praying for you, as you have prayed for so many of us along the way!

  17. Lorna Bunger July 24, 2016 at 5:45 am #

    Heidi thank you so much for your honest sharing. I’ve been so rebellious and hard hearted (hard to admit but true) with my eating. I know the TW principles are what God wants me to eat and live by. But yet I keep rebelling. Only by His grace have I not gained even more weight!!
    I awoke this morning to come down to my chair in the quiet of the morning to check out the TW books for my new kindle and once again continue my journey. I checked email to look for the one from Amazon about setting up the kindle but found yours first. Just what I needed to read.
    God is so good and so faithful!! I will be praying for you as continue your journey and I know God will use you to continue to inspire all of us.
    Love in Christ,
    Lorna

    • Heidi Bylsma July 24, 2016 at 7:44 am #

      Thank you for your kind encouragement, Lorna. I appreciate it. Jesus is with us on our journeys. He won’t waste one moment of it. 🙂

  18. Robyn Martin May 27, 2017 at 10:34 am #

    Thank you Heidi for sharing your testimony. I am new to TWI and 0-5 boundaries. I have been immersing my self in the periscopes and YouTube videos. Jesus has used me to minister to me since Barb Raveling pointed me in your direction in March of this year.

    I need to forgive others and myself. I am also growing in renewing my mind, that has been the missing factor in my journey since I stepped on the dieting roller coaster. Blessing, Robyn

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