I went on my first diet in 1975—I was just 6 years old. I remember Tab cola was popular with some of my mom’s friends.  Diet drinks like Tab promoted the idea that women should be on a diet.

Though they didn’t consciously realize it, the generation ahead of me was effortlessly teaching me that eating wasn’t about fueling my body; rather, it was a tool I should use to judge myself.

I heard women reveal how bad they had been when they gave in to cheesecake. I heard them re-commit to being good by controlling their eating.

I remember feeling it was imperative that I learn the secret to being skinny; somehow my very place in the world rested upon figuring out how thin girls stayed thin.

When my stomach stuck out a little bit over my little girl bikini, I hoped no one else noticed. Getting fat meant I was doing something wrong.

The obstacle to being thin

But I had a big obstacle in the way of being thin: I got hungry.

Why did I get hungry? Other females seem to have control over hunger. I decided there must be something wrong with me because I kept getting hungry!

All the grown-up women I knew were always on a diet—hunger was irrelevant.

Diets didn’t talk about hunger. Diets gave the prescription, which includes:

  • when to eat
  • what to eat
  • how much to eat

Diets weren’t about fueling your body or listening to your body: diets were about learning how to ignore your body. Diets taught me that in order to be “good”, I needed to learn to disconnect from the messages my body sent me; I needed to separate me from myself.

I tried to repress the signals from my body by building a wall between us.

My body and its signals became my enemy.

I knew if I ever gave in to my cravings, my hunger would betray me and I wouldn’t ever stop eating.

My hunger felt endless.

And frightening.

Rather than listening to hunger, I practiced controlling and regulating my food. Sometimes I ate the same thing three times a day for months at a time.

  • Yogurt for breakfast.
  • Yogurt for lunch.
  • Yogurt for dinner.

When the season changed:

  • Malt-o-meal for breakfast.
  • Malt-o-meal for lunch.
  • Malt-o-meal for dinner.

Controlling food felt good. It simplified my life. It meant I was good.

At least that’s what I believed.

I didn’t realize that my control over food was an illusion. I wasn’t controlling food—food was controlling me.

This became clear to me one day when I ate something I didn’t mean to eat.

I walked into the bathroom and thought how easy it would be to stick my finger down my throat. Then, some long-suppressed voice inside me yelled “STOP! DON’T GO THERE!”

I nearly jumped.

Where did that come from?

Was there some part of me that cared about me?

I began to wonder what else I had been suppressing besides my desire for food…

My new beginning

This question marked the beginning of a new journey. I began reading a book by Geneen Roth, a woman who had spent her life dieting and finally decided to try something else. She encourages this approach instead:

Eat when you are hungry.

Stop when you are full.

Geneen said that people who did this would eventually find their natural weight and stay there.

For some people, this suggestion might sound simple.

For me, not only was this idea terrifying—it seemed impossible.

I had been on a diet for so many years, I no longer knew what true hunger felt like! I couldn’t tell the difference between hunger or anxiety or boredom or a variety of other uncomfortable emotions.

Diets had rendered me completely out of touch with my body.

Re-connecting with myself

To figure out when I was hungry, I had to stop ignoring myself and instead practice connecting to myself. I had to learn to tune in to sensations in my body, to notice them, and to wonder about them.

The process of re-discovering hunger took time.

The journey was full of trepidation, progression, regression, occasional giant strides, and frequent mini–steps back. Eventually, I figured out that hunger wasn’t what I thought it was at all.

It was my repression of hunger that made it grow even bigger.  It put me at war with myself.

Eventually, I figured out there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I didn’t have to fear hunger and I didn’t have to fear food. I’ve learned to eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, enjoy my eating experiences, and look forward to other areas of my life.

Mormonism taught me to ignore myself

So why do I share this story?

Because, as I have moved away from Mormonism, I have come to realize that the LDS church claimed to be spiritually feeding me when actually it put me on a spiritual diet!

Just as diets taught me to disconnect from myself and ignore my hunger, the LDS church taught me to disconnect from myself in order to follow its obedience-based structure.

I was told I don’t need to look internally for a moral compass because the church would prescribe what I should do.

The church taught me that I could only trust my conscience if it’s in alignment with church teachings. If my conscience was not in alignment, it meant there was something wrong with my conscious. According to the church, it was me that needed to change—not the church.

Many of us learned the same lesson: If we repress our internal voice enough, we become “church–broke.” We lose access to what’s inside us the same way I lost access to hunger.

Ignoring our inner voice comes at a cost whether we know it or not.

The cost for my husband

My husband suffered from depression nearly all of our married life. He tried everything presented to him as a solution:

  • Prayer
  • Blessings
  • Time at the temple
  • Magnifying callings and “forgetting” himself with service
  • Therapy and counseling
  • Medication
  • Happy lights
  • Music
  • Exercise
  • Alternative and herbal remedies
  • Real sunshine (in California) and trips to the beach

Medication, sunshine, and therapy all helped a little.

But by far the most effective anti-depressant for him has been leaving the LDS church.

I am BLOWN AWAY by the positive changes I see.

He’s always been a good husband to me and a good father to our children, but he has never had hope that his life could be meaningful for him. He was using up all his energy fighting off cognitive dissonance, ignoring himself, and digesting the shame that there must be something wrong with him because he wasn’t happy.

He wasn’t happy because he wasn’t really whole. He had been repeatedly taught to ignore his logic and his internal voice. After decades of living as a Mormon, he’s learning to trust himself.

Both of us have discovered we don’t need to look to outside sources for answers about how to live our lives. And it’s beautiful. And freeing.

Being connected to ourselves is exactly what we’ve been craving all along.