I have “dieted” all my life. At times I could lose some weight, but since adolescence, 90% of the time it was a terrible struggle with food. Binge, shame, defeat, despair, start again. Over and over and over. I hated how I looked, how I felt for years on end. I was a member of Weight Watchers more times than I can guess, as well as other diet programs through the years. Some were online, even designed by psychologists. Others were different Christian-based bible studies. I’ve even seen a dietician and tried to work with her to change my failure with controlling the role of food in my life. This story is one that went on for decades.

In November of 2019, I was at my lowest place ever with this enduring struggle. I could not, absolutely could not, get up again from the food failure. I felt just completely and totally defeated. Nothing worked any more – couldn’t count points, log food, I am not sure I had ever been this defeated. I felt annihilated. I was laid down, on the ground, absolutely powerless to move.

I reached out online to Heidi Bylsma-Epperson and she actually called me back! During the first phone call with Heidi, she explained the Thin Within program. I shared with her my experience with other Christian-based programs that just made me feel more like a loser with my consistent defeat. Heidi assured me that this program, Thin Within, was grace-based and the sense of freedom, hope and encouragement that this gave me was different.

She agreed to work with me as a personal coach and what an answer to prayer she was. I had long prayed for a spiritual mentor and Heidi was God’s extravagant YES answer to that prayer. We spoke weekly and Heidi met me where I was. Each time I would expound on my condemnation of myself and my failure she would stop me and turn it around. This was huge and life changing! In the past, when I failed my thoughts of self-condemnation would hammer me.

This time I was encouraged instead to invite God in to what happened and look at itwith Him – with NO condemnation but rather with curiosity and a desire to learn. “What happened here?” “What would you have me learn from this, Abba?”

In the past when I failed, I would just throw my hands up and make sure I failed really big!! This time, I made the commitment to myself that each time I slipped I would take out a journal and write about it, inviting God in to teach me. So, there was no condemning “You are a loser” tapes running in my head and the resulting permission to just keep eating. This time, these slips would be opportunities to learn about myself, about my emotions, my habits, and about God’s presence in my life.

This new way to look at slips was moving me forward. My old way of handling them just made sure I stayed stuck good! I call them “slips” now rather than “failures” because when I “slip” I haven’t failed but rather I have fallen, slipped in my walk between the edges of the path which I call “hunger and satisfaction” and I get up, with God’s help and keep walking on the path. Very different approach and hugely different outcome.

At one point in the beginning, Heidi and I put the whole “food” thing on hold for a while and read a book together about how to see God at work in our daily lives. The conversations I had with her were such a gift. And this really is the heart of the matter – when we grow spiritually with God, when we go out “into the deep” with Him, when we allow Him more and more space in our lives, it does transform us from the inside out.

Some of those places that I used to fill with food are now full of His presence! My heart-hunger found a well that never runs dry. I don’t do this perfectly by any means. I still stumble and slip. I still have far to go and much to learn. And I admit sometimes I am learning the same lessons over and over again! But I know this path has changed everything for me. It gets to the heart of the matter which is life-giving in more ways than just food! My spiritual life has truly grown.

I told Heidi that the peace I feel now, the calm that I experience around food are incredible. When I walk the path with God, that anxiety or even frenzy/panic about “I need to eat something! What can I eat? Where can I get chocolate? “is gone! When I walk the path. there is clarity, peace, calm. It’s amazing! So why do I still slip?

Old habits are hard to break—old patterns can reemerge for me when I am tired, stressed. Maybe even just bored. So, I find that I do need to recommit often in order to stay the course. That’s why being part of a group of like-minded people who can encourage each other in living free is so vital! Last summer I joined the coaching group with others and made the commitment to show up each week—even weeks when I felt I wasn’t walking well. That’s when many of us don’t want to show up to our group, but paradoxically, that’s absolutely when we need it the most!

We heal best in a healthy, supportive community and we stay well best in such a community.

In a book I read, the author said, “Jesus sanctifies ​over time​, with ​grace​ and with ​truth​.”

It is a walk, a journey, a pilgrimage that takes time—a lifetime—give yourself time!! We all need grace, including a community that absolutely loves and accepts us, that mentors us and supports us and also gently encourages us to grow, and takes truth from God’s Word and truth that we hear from each other.

So though I have not “arrived,” I have experienced freedom! I have breathed the free air! I am calm around food! I have lost 40 pounds. Wow!

To stay free, does take intentionality and commitment. Each morning, by talking with God before the day starts, it is helpful to set my intention for the day including remembering my whys:

1.) For sanity with food, calmness
2.) To lose the belly fat!
3.) To grow spiritually and in character
4.) To be healthier emotionally and physically
5.) To be free from bondage
6.) To be a disciple

Most afternoons during my 20-minute lunch I read through my truth card deck.

At night, if I have time, I also look over the Thin Within Inner Circle Facebook group to see how others are doing, to try to encourage others and to learn myself. I also take part in the book studies keeping up as best as I can.

So very grateful to Heidi, Christina, Michael for your faithfulness to the mission God has called you to. Your work has sincerely been transformative for me and I give thanks to God for you!