Body Image and the Idolatry of Control

 

 

Ep 7 | Body Image and the Idolatry of Control with Carter Leach

 

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We sit down with Trinity Christian School graduate, Carter Leach ’18, as he shares his struggle and victory in his fight against an eating disorder. Now, almost a year into recovery, Carter explains how community and scripture have empowered his healing, and emphasizes the importance of finding one’s identity in Christ.

Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders

 

Worshiping the way you look is just a horrible thing because it's never going to give you what you want. It's never going to fulfill you in the way that God can.

Carter Leach

Carter Leach is a TCS alum and senior at Liberty University. He will be graduating this spring with a major in digital media. Carter is passionate about helping other believers create healthy relationships with food  through dwelling on scripture and their purpose in Jesus Christ.

Jo Wilbur

Jo Wilbur is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at Trinity Christian School and proud JMU grad who loves writing, shopping, and making new friends. She and her husband live in Paeonian Springs and spend time together cooking plant-based meals, singing worship songs, and volunteering as Young Life leaders in their community.

 

I know for me a big part in recovery was [reading my Bible] first thing in the morning, because I used to always wake up and go to the gym first thing in the morning. And so for me, putting the word of God before the gym is kind of like this practical way, both spiritually and physically, to get my head right for the day, and show what's most important in my life now.


 

Transcript

 

Disclaimer: This is a direct transcript of the podcast audio and may not be grammatically correct.

 


Jo Wilbur:

Hello, and welcome to Mind and Heart, a podcast by Trinity Christian School. I'm your host, Jo Wilbur. And today I'm sitting down with 2018 TCS graduate Carter Leach. Thank you for joining us today, Carter.

Carter Leach:

Yes, of course. Thank you so much for having me.

Jo Wilbur:

Absolutely. How are you doing?

Carter Leach:

I'm good. I'm good. How are you?

Jo Wilbur:

Good, thank you. I'm doing very well. So I would love to have you start just sharing with me and sharing with our audience a little bit about you and what you've been up to since you've graduated Trinity in 2018.

Carter Leach:

I came to Trinity my sophomore year of high school and through just the Bible classes and fellowship and things like that came to knowledge of Christ, and junior to senior year gave my life to Christ. And then freshman year of college, I went to VCU majoring in cinema. It wasn't like a super great fit, so transferred over to Liberty University and am majoring in digital media. And now it's senior year. So looking at jobs and applying to places. It's definitely crazy, but it's kind of little bird’s eye view of what I've been up to.

Jo Wilbur:

Well, that's awesome. It sounds like you're really thriving at school and now getting ready to graduate. Now, you recently posted something on your social media pages about something you'd been struggling with for quite some time behind the scenes, and you were very open and honest about it. Can you share with us a little bit about out that post?

Carter Leach:

So sophomore year of high school, so kind of when I made the switch over to Trinity, I was just kind of living like an unhealthy lifestyle. I was slightly overweight and I wasn't super, super unhealthy or anything like that, but I just wasn't like confident and feeling good and things like that. So kind of like that sophomore year into junior year just developed healthy habits and started really working out and going to the gym, just eating a little bit healthier here and there. I had lost a good amount of weight and was just at a healthy weight and just felt really good. And then it's kind of hard to tell when it happened, just because it did go on for so long, but it was almost like this switch kind of went off in my brain where I was like, you know what, eating is kind of bad and if I stop doing it, I can be even more effective in my weight loss and kind of get to this place where appearance-wise, I can feel confident and good and was kind of just like seeking for more control in that area of my life.

So kind of the end of senior year of high school into freshman year, and especially going to college without having parents around and family and support, just went into a place where I like really started restricting what I was eating. Then it got to the point sophomore year of college where I was eating like 200 to 400 calories a day. And just had absolutely just no energy, mental health wise was just so hard off, because like, if you're not nourishing yourself correctly, it's like everything kind of falls off. And spiritually, I was still seeking the Lord, but it was like, I had this one area of sin in my life where I was not giving it up and just really seeking control. And yeah, just got to this place where I just kind of hit rock bottom. And I was like, I really feel like I like can't do this anymore.

During a campus community sermon at Liberty, we have pastors come in and just kind of give a word to the students. It was a sermon on the importance of community and just kind of through that, like the Spirit convicted me of the ways I'd been withdrawing from community and the ways in which I'd been kind of like hiding my sin from community and I opened up to a buddy on my hall about it. And he just gave me a hug and was like, dude, like I'm here for you. And we can really kind of work through this together and I started going to therapy and making good progress in recovery.

Jo Wilbur:

So it was that emphasis on community, and the fact that you had that community at school that really led you to seek help, would you say?

Carter Leach:

Exactly, yeah. And the first person I ended up telling about the issue was my community group leader. And so for people who are like unfamiliar with Liberty, when you move onto your hall, you have leadership who are like put in place to kind of pour into you spiritually. And we did a thing at the beginning of the semester where you kind of like speed date with leaders. And so you go around to like seven different group of leaders and they would kind of give a pitch and then you'd pick kind of who you got along with best. And so the leader that I had, we just got along so well and he was just, you know, loved the word and theology, but also was just so loving. And his theology really translated to the way that he lived his life. And so that kind of drew me toward him. He was kind of like the first person, I just like, felt comfortable opening up to. And the night when I like first told him everything that was going on, it was such a showcase of Christ’s love. I just remember him just giving me a hug and he's like, you're going to get through this. And I don't even know exactly like what to say, but I just want to let you know, like, I'm here for you and obviously, you know, God, hasn't forgotten you through this.

Jo Wilbur:

Thank the Lord that you had that community surrounding you at that time. I mean, that sounds like that was a huge blessing.

Carter Leach:

Oh, for sure.

Jo Wilbur:

I noticed that you are referencing this internal struggle as sin or an area of sin in your life. I find that interesting. What about that do you think is sinful or sort of rebellious toward God?

Carter Leach:

It's just so interesting because you have like the areas of unintentional sin in your life, and then you have the areas of intentional sin. I feel like disordered eating patterns in general can kind of like combine the two. And so for a lot of the time, this kind of struggle and desire for control that I had overtook just my view of like God's will in my life. And I was living contrary to his word and seeing myself in ways that he didn't see me just based off of this desire to have control. I mean, it goes back to the garden. Like we want to be like God, we want to have control. Without the Spirit working in us, like, I don't even know where we would be right now.

Jo Wilbur:

Well, you know, it's interesting that it really comes down to that need for control because I think for so many of us, at least I can say in my life, it seems to be at the root of so many other problems and so many other sins. It all seems to come back to that need for control, but ultimately the desire to be our own God. So I would love to know why you decided to speak out about this publicly on social media.

Carter Leach:

I remember like telling my community group leader about it that night and there was just such a relief in telling somebody. When I was like in the midst of the struggle, it just, it felt like I could never come to anyone or never talk about it. It just felt like it was so unrealistic to ever even think about telling someone. And just like through the Spirit’s work in me, I was able to tell him about it. And as soon as I told him, it's kind of indescribable, it literally felt like just this weight off my shoulders. And it's just like the power of like confession and community and telling people the things that you're struggling with. And so from that moment, I was never really like, opposed to talking about it. Like the people closest to me knew that it was going on, but it was also something that like, I didn't want to find my identity in either, you know, my identity is in Christ.

So it was like this balance of like, if it would come up, I would talk about it and I would pour into people. But then also like, I wouldn't like, you know, force it to come up. And then going on to social media, like, I'll just see so many struggle with it. And so many people struggle with where to get their identity. And I know just through being at VCU my freshman year of college and just through the people I've met, I kind of had this space where I could speak to a lot of unbelievers and really showcase like the way that God has worked through me and the way he's just been so gracious to me through this whole struggle. I was kind of just hoping, like if I posted this on Instagram, you know, it would glorify him and hopefully just open up the doors for conversation.

Jo Wilbur:

What kind of response did you get on that post or did you get a response?

Carter Leach:

Yeah, I was like, I don't really know what I was expecting. I really just kind of put it up and was just like, you know, God, like, whatever way you want to be glorified, like go ahead and be glorified. And there was just like, it was like such a good response, I had so many people just from Trinity and from Liberty and, and just kind of all areas of life, just comment and text me and stuff like that. And it was just like, it was so cool too. And I really tried to craft the wording in a way where it was like, you know, not necessarily about me, but it was about God and everything that he had done. So it was cool to even, like I said earlier, like have unbelieving friends comment and just be able to read it and yeah, it was super cool. So it was a good response for sure.

Jo Wilbur:

I would love to talk to you about some of the stigmas surrounding disordered eating. I think it seems to be more commonly associated with women or seen as even a female problem. And I think because of that, so many men end up struggling in silence and feel like they can't talk about it openly or reach out to get help. Why do you think that is? Why do you think there's that differentiation?

Carter Leach:

It really is just something that's like so deeply rooted in society. And I don't really know like how we got to that point, but I will say like going on like social media platforms, like TikTok and obviously like Instagram and Twitter and things like that. I definitely see like this culture amongst men of like kind of like extreme dieting in terms of like lifting. So they'll go through seasons where they're consuming a very high amount of calories and then they'll be trying to like cut and then we'll consume a lot less calories. Being mindful of the things that you're eating and being healthy is like such a great thing, but there's so much room to like bring it to different extremes too. And so I think with men, like, it definitely manifests itself within like that lifting culture. And obviously not everyone who lives or cares about fitness struggles with this, but it's definitely something that I've seen and it's kind of like disguised and packaged as like, you know, just bulking and like, this is like what you're supposed to do in order to look a certain way, but it is like, you know, unhealthy and anytime that you drastically change, you know, what you're consuming and what you're eating it can lead to so many health complications, which I definitely experienced as well in terms of restrictions.

So yeah, I think it is an issue and it's just not really talked about that often. And I don't know why, but I'm hoping to kind of change that a little bit.

Jo Wilbur:

That's awesome. Maybe that's a calling on your life that God has for you. And yeah, I do think that's a good point. You make that it does go both ways, right? I mean, the Bible even talks about overeating… gluttony. So both ways I think it's something we need to be aware of and check ourselves and check our motivations.

Carter Leach:

I feel like the word just has so much to say when it comes to this. Recently, I've really like dove into the Old Testament and just realizing… I forget exactly what chapter it is in, but Moses is discussing, I believe it's with his father-in-law, about just the faithfulness of God and the ways that he has moved within the Israelites. And in order to celebrate, they like sit down and they have a meal together and it's like an act of worship. And so even within the Old Testament, I've seen so many times within Exodus and Numbers and Deuteronomy and even in Leviticus of, you know, sharing food and within like fellowship offerings and things like that, like it's an act of worship to have a meal with God and to be able to have fellowship with him. And so when we enjoy good food, like we should give glory to God and thank him for the gift. But also too, like you were saying, it's like so easy to be abused, just like kind of anything in life. So it's cool to see like how much the Bible has to say about food as well.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. It's easy to think that the Bible has nothing to say about that or, oh, there wasn't social media back then, so people, it wasn't really a thing and Jesus doesn't care about that. Right? Which is not true.

 Carter Leach:

Even before social media, everyone had their own problems. And I mean, you just read about, you know, the rebellion of the Israelites and you can see like sin’s been a problem since day one. It hasn't been, there's nothing new under the sun.

Jo Wilbur:

Very true amen to that. I know for women, this is often talked about as it becomes really an identity issue, ultimately. I mean a sin issue certainly for Christians. But it's really a question of identity and finding value in the way that we look. And for women, I think it's often how, how small we are, how thin. Do you think that also applies to men, you know, for men who are in this situation, is it ultimately an identity struggle or is there something else there?

Carter Leach:

I mean, I would say like the two biggest things are it's an identity struggle and it's also an idolatry issue. And so the two kind of go hand in hand and, and kind of play into people's lives in different ways. But I know for me, like I was so concerned with how I looked and the way that people had perceived me. One of the things that really just kind of like shot a light bulb off in my head was the story of the golden calf and how Moses is up on the mountain. He's receiving the law and, and God's glory is, is falling. And literally like the mountain, like on fire, it's just like engulfed in God's glory and the Israelites, they were like, you know what, 40 days is too long. And we don't really, we don't see God working. So they turn and they worship this golden calf.

And when Moses comes down from the mountain, obviously he slams the tablets on the ground that God literally wrote with his hand. But the thing that caught me was like, how easily he able to destroy the golden calf. And he just like destroyed it so easily and threw it into the river. And so these things that, that we hold in such high regards and specifically in my life, like the amount of hold the way that I looked had on me, it was just like, it was of such high significance in my life, but in like the scope of eternity and in the scope of who I am in God, it's of such low significance and, you know, worshiping the way you look is just, it's a horrible thing because it's never gonna give you what you want. It's never gonna fulfill you in the way that God can.

And it's something that can so easily be destroyed, you know, and just be crumbled up into dust and thrown into the river, like the golden calf. And yeah, when I was reading that, it really was just like, it was such a light bulb moment. It was such a spark in recovery and God was so gracious to me to really speak through his word in that. So it was kind of like a long answer to your question, but like in short, I think it really is an identity issue and an idolatry issue, and God's ready with his grace to work through you and it's just something that, that you have to confess and his kindness is the thing that leads us to repentance. So it's good news.

Jo Wilbur:

Well, you know, you talk about identity and idolatry, and I know you mentioned the physiques that we see on social media. Was there something for you personally in your journey, and everyone's might not be the same, that triggered that negative self image for you?

Carter Leach:

I think there was a need to kind of build my foundation in Christ and build my identity in Christ. And so one thing that I've found really helpful recently in recovery is just being so secure in my calling that as long as I'm doing the will of the Lord, like, I don't really care how I look, like I don't really care how people perceive me. And kind of holding the will of God above all of those things in my life. And so really like when we talk about, you know, coming to an answer on the identity question and on the idolatry question it’s really about like holding God's will and is accomplishing God's will, you know, the greatest priority in our lives are not, you know?  

Jo Wilbur:

I would love to hear a little bit more about what recovery has looked like for you. And I know you mentioned therapy and talking to someone, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Carter Leach:

It's honestly, it's like so weird to talk about and to say, because it seems so I guess non-traditional but reading the Old Testament and the law of God has been so therapeutic and it's so odd because I feel like when you think about like identity and you think about, you know, like coming to terms with like the way that you look, certain things like that, Old Testament law is not really like the first thing that like pops into your head right away. But just seeing the Lord's holiness and seeing his desire for us to be devoted to his cause and to his will, and just seeing how set apart he is, really lit like a fresh flame in me to just go after the will of God and to share the gospel and to just like be wherever God has called me.

And so in that I feel like I've really been able to find my identity in God and just find joy in the will and in the word of God. And so that's been super therapeutic. And obviously you can find that in all parts of scripture, but really just meditating on the law and meditating on what Christ has done for us and being perfectly obedient to the law has been extremely therapeutic. And then, more practically, finding a therapist who was a Christian and could really pour into my life in a valuable way, that was super important as well. So definitely a lot of hard work and a lot of hard conversations has gone on, but being able to talk to someone who's knowledgeable and who just like can easily put certain ways to recover and just have practical things that you can do in order to just shape your mind to the word of God has been super helpful.

And one of like the super helpful things that I didn't even know about was, if you do just go on like the Psychology Today website, they have like a bunch of filters and you can kind of, if you're looking for a therapist, filter out like the things that you're looking for. And so I just like checked Christian and eating disorders and just by the will of God found literally like the best therapist ever. And she went to Dallas Theological Seminary and she just loves the word of God so much. And it's so cool. And so that's been super great too and just such a blessing. So I would say really just diving into the word and having hard conversations and then therapy has played a huge part in that. And just talking to people and pressing into community.

Jo Wilbur:

That's amazing. And there's two really good pieces. Right? You've got the scripture, which you've talked so much about. And also therapy. I want to ask you about both. So scripture, you've talked a lot about that and I can tell you're very passionate about the word, which is amazing. Throughout your recovery journey, which can I ask? How long has it been that you've been recovering now?

Carter Leach:

Last April was when I officially told my community group leader. So all throughout this past summer was super, super hard. And then coming back to school for senior year, just got like a little bit easier. And so yeah, it's been like, it's crazy. It's gonna be like a year in April.

Jo Wilbur:

Congratulations. That's amazing. Throughout this journey of almost going on a year here, has there been maybe a particular passage of scripture or a verse that you've really clung to to give you strength as you're, you know, struggling with this?

Carter Leach:

Yeah. I think just meditating in the Psalms has been super helpful. I feel like I always used to take the Psalms for granted or only go to them when I was like in the midst of a crisis, but it's like, the Psalms are good for all times. So I would not be, not be afraid to get into those. And I think just like, no matter what book you're reading, just kind of sitting down, having that daily time sketched out. And I know for me a big part in recovery was like doing it first thing in the morning because I used to always wake up and go to the gym first thing in the morning. And so for me putting the word of God before the gym in the morning is kind of like this practical way, both spiritually and physically to kind of like get my head right for the day, and just show like, this is what's most important in my life now. So kind of just having like that daily time in scripture and you know, no matter what you read, if you just have a good, good study Bible with you and are faithfully interpreting it, the Lord's gonna show up and that's like the coolest part.

Jo Wilbur:

That's amazing. And he is the ultimate counselor.

Carter Leach:

Exactly.

Jo Wilbur:

And he’s there to comfort us when we're brokenhearted and we're struggling.

Carter Leach:

Exactly.

Jo Wilbur:

And then the other piece of that is therapy, right? And I think that too is something that perhaps has a stigma attached to it as well. Even though I think so many of us have sought therapy at one point or another in our life. Did you, I don't know, feel like you experienced any of that stigma when you sought help? You clearly aren't afraid to talk about it openly now, which I think is amazing. Have you experienced any of that stigma, do you think?

Carter Leach:

I’ve just been like so blessed with like the circle that I've had around me where I haven't experienced much of that in my own life. But I think before I told people, like I was definitely scared that I would experience that stigma. So rather than experiencing it itself, it was more of like the fear of that. But it's really like, it's just kind of funny too, because a lot of the times like we'll talk about like discipleship in such a positive light because obviously discipleship is great and we're commanded to make disciples. But then we kind of look at therapy and we're like, oh, like talking through things with people? Like that's a little weird. Which like doesn't really make like that much sense to me. But like as soon as I kind of thought about it as like my therapist loves the Lord, I'm just kind of sitting down with them and talking about life and the things that I'm struggling with and and working on this sin issue in order to glorify God more… kind of just became like more normal and it all started making sense and that fear of like the stigma kind of just rolled away.

So I would say too, like if you're listening to this and you're like, thinking like therapy might be something that you want to do or a path you want to go down, I wouldn't worry about the stigma. And at the end of the day if you're confident in the Lord's will in your life and you know that you're doing the right thing and seeking him through it, you really got nothing to lose.

Jo Wilbur:

Yeah. And when you break it down for what it really is, what you just did, it's, you know, you're talking to a sister in Christ, a fellow believer, about something that you need to work through. There's really nothing weird about that at all. It's definitely a good thing.

Carter Leach:

And it's like, they're trained in it too. So they, they know the ins and outs of it. So if I'm talking to my buddy, like, of course that's great. And of course he's going to point me towards scripture, but you know, it's also great to sit down and talk about someone who knows how your brain functions and how to kind of bring in a normal function and get your brain working in the right way. Because when you're thinking in a certain way, it's like your brain almost works like a highway. So like the things that you think the most about are like the most taken roads. And then, you know, in my case, like the right ways of thinking or like the healthy ways of thinking, like weren't really roads that were taken. So it was like going to this therapist and being like, Hey, this is where I want to go. Can you help me kind of go down these roads? It was just super practical and like made so much sense.

Jo Wilbur:

I love that. I love that way of looking at it.  You have sort of spoken to anyone who's listening who might be in a similar struggle and recommending, Hey, don't be afraid of that stigma. Is there anything else that you would share with anyone who might be listening, who might be struggling with disordered eating or maybe just any other kind of mental health struggle?

Carter Leach:

We've talked a lot about like the sinful nature of it, but I think it's also important to kind of emphasize that like the Lord cares so much about what you're going through and he sees you going through it and you know, he wants you to get better. And so really like God's grace is there and it's accessible for you. And he is willing to help you through it. And not only is he willing to help you through it, like he's going to use your struggles in order to glorify himself, which is like the greatest honor ever. So, you know, the Lord is so merciful and he's full of grace and it's his kindness that brings us to repentance. So I also want to like make sure to emphasize like the kindness of God and like he truly, truly cares for you. And he's here for you in every aspect of life. The biggest thing for me was trying to convince myself that like I didn't have a problem and it wasn't a big deal when it really was. So I think just being honest and just leaning into God's goodness and grace, and there's no other way that you're going to truly get through it and truly find healing without him. And he's here for you every step of the way.

 Jo Wilbur:

Amen. Very well said. Carter, thank you so, so much for sitting down and for everything you've said, it's just, I feel encouraged and I know that our listeners are going to feel so encouraged too. So thank you so much.

Carter Leach:

Thank you for having me, absolutely.

Jo Wilbur:

Thanks for joining us for this episode of Mind and Heart, a podcast by Trinity Christian School for more information, visit us at tcsfairfax.org

 

 

 

 

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