It’s More Than a Year of Health

I don’t like it when I read about anyone calling any year “a year of health.” Celebrities do this. Normal people don’t. And as I think about 2021, it’s clear to me that I didn’t begin it with a goal of it being a “year of health.” In fact, I didn’t really begin it with anything much in mind at all beyond just trying to get through it.

There were aspects I was excited about, of course. On January 1, my family had lived in our brand-new home for a whopping 2 days. I still had a job—something so many others couldn’t say in 2020. Emily was going to be ready to take her first steps toward putting together a new care plan for herself, now that we knew she did not have epilepsy.

But I was tired—really tired. And not just tired of the mess of 2020 (aka the dumpster fire year).

Weary and Worn Out

Five years into our time in the United States, I was weary and worn out. I had been under unrelenting and extreme stress for over six years from many sources:

  • The initial immigration process
  • Finishing well at my job in Canada while preparing to leave
  • An eight-week turnaround from visa approval to an international move
  • The culture shock of moving to Williamson County, Tennessee1
  • Starting a new job
  • Work-related crises of various sorts and kinds
  • The kids starting public school
  • Buying a house
  • Culture shock again2

And then there was all that 2020 alone brought with the pandemic. I was tired of seeing friends lose their jobs, and of wondering if I was next. Tired of working 7 days a week and of vacation days turning into work days. Of scandals and controversies within a certain denomination.

Beginning with Baby Steps

I was weary and worn out, but I wanted to change. My Bible reading was kind of pitiful in 2020, so I started fresh using a reader’s Bible. I read every morning as I made and drank my coffee at the island in the kitchen. Some days, I read a few chapters; others, just a couple pages. And it was good; it helped start my morning in a positive way. But reading my Bible, praying, all the basics—these were necessary, but they weren’t enough to deal with some of the other issues.

And as my year went on, I couldn’t ignore those issues anymore.

Fast forward to March 2021, when my so-called “year of health” really began.

From Weariness to Weeping

My doctor has been concerned about my weight for the entirety of my time as her patient. She always encouraged the basics—eat right and exercise—which is sensible. But whatever I tried didn’t stick, and not just because I live in the only part of the world where mac and cheese is considered a vegetable. (And the mac and cheese stuck.)

The problem is that I tend to deal with stress primarily by eating it instead of addressing it. Not looking forward to a meeting? Trip to the pantry. Wrapped a meeting? Open the fridge. Got an email? Might be a good time for a cookie.

So in March 2021, I was in my doctor’s office for my physical. My weight was at a lifetime high; my maladaptive coping strategies had taken a toll. As I talked with my doctor, as she once again raised the issue of my weight, I broke down. I let out everything that I’d been holding in for years.

And she listened; she asked probing questions. She expressed horror and disgust at the appropriate times. For the first time in our doctor-patient relationship, the treatment I needed clicked.

A Recommendation for Change

So, she said, “Okay, so a diet isn’t going to help you. That’s not going to do any good and it’s not what you need. You need to work on why you use food to cope with your stress.” She pointed me to an app and program called Noom. Because I’m posting this at the end of the year, I can guarantee you’re seeing ads for this all over Instagram and Facebook. What she liked about the program was that it applied cognitive behavioral therapy practices to weight loss. The goal with it is to figure out why you eat the way you eat and to build better habits, rather than losing weight by depriving yourself of foods that are fun and taste good.

I was skeptical but intrigued. I’d tried so-called lifestyle change programs before. Back in the early 2000s, I lost over 120 pounds with a combination of eating foods that were low on the glycemic index and an insane amount of exercise every week. Then I had kids and remembered that I liked food that tasted good.

But after my appointment, while sitting in the parking lot, I signed up to give it a shot. It wasn’t free, but it had a free trial and a decent refund policy, so what the heck. The first question the app asked was “why”. Why did I want to lose weight? I wrote an answer. It asked why again. And again. And again. It kept asking until I couldn’t go any deeper, when I reached my primary motivations for why I wanted to lose weight and what I wanted to really change.

When I got to the end I was surprised.

Value, Values, and Milestones

I was surprised because what I wrote wasn’t what I expected. What I expected I would write is that I wanted to lose weight because I wanted to be healthy, have more energy, and engage with my family.

And I started there, but I went a lot deeper. As I wrote, I started digging into why I didn’t take care of myself—why I was working myself to death, and why I used food to cope. And it surprised me because my answer was that I didn’t value myself the way that I knew, intellectually, that God did.

Writing that—”I don’t value myself the way God does”—made a whole lot of things click for me. It shaped how I worked, how I dealt with stress, everything. And I kept coming back to that truth again and again throughout the process. The reason I wanted to change was because I wanted to value myself the way God does.

I had a goal in mind, but it was a big one. I figured I wanted to get back down to around 200 pounds. That seemed like a good number to me. It was more than my scientifically pre-determined ideal weight, but whatever. But it was also a number that had me almost guaranteed to fail. I might as well have put a million pounds in. So I started smaller, with a more realistic number of (I think) 20 pounds.

I started reading the micro-course lessons, and putting what I was learning into practice; walked a bit every day; tracked everything I ate meticulously; and weighed myself regularly.

Seven weeks in, I exceeded my first goal and lost 24 pounds. After 15 weeks, 24 became 47. And 47 became 70, which became 90, and continues on today, a little at a time.

Why I Don’t Call it a “Year of Health”

We’re nearly at the end of the year, this year that I don’t want to call a year of health. My progress continues, although it’s a bit slower. This is partly because of holidays and all the rich foods that come with them, and partly because I’m much closer to my body’s natural set point than I was nine months ago.

Regardless, I’m slimmer, more active, more energetic, and generally a lot happier than I was at the beginning of the year. (Losing somewhere in the neighborhood of 135 pounds will do that.) And the reason I don’t want to call it a “year of health” is because that implies a temporariness to it, something that won’t or can’t last. I don’t want that. I want my year of health to be a lifestyle of health, to be one marked by the key value that I realized I was out of alignment: I want to value myself as a beloved child of God, adopted through the gospel. Regardless of what the numbers on my scale say, I want that to be reflected in how I live:

How I deal with stress, the value I place on my day-to-day work, the choices I make with what to (and not to) eat—everything.

And as I look to 2022 and beyond, I don’t feel like my goal is to simply survive. I don’t need to just get by and get through it. I know that there will be difficulties, but I am excited about the year ahead, because I want to live it in light of that truth. In a true sense, being an imitator of God, as a beloved child (Eph. 5:1), living in light of His love for me in Jesus.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

  1. Better known as South-Lite[]
  2. Because Marshall County, Tennessee is legit South, y’all[]

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.