Meet the Author:
With her husband, Phil, Amy Parham co-authored The 90-Day Fitness Challenge and The 90-Day Fitness Challenge DVD. She and Phil were contestants on Season 6 of NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Over a seven-month period, they recorded the highest percentage of weight loss of any couple in the program’s history. Married for more than twenty years, they live in South Carolina with their three boys, Austin, Pearson, and Rhett.
About the Book:
Former fat girl Amy Parham offers a practical, proven plan for changing not only the fat-girl body, but also the fat-girl mentality. Focusing on the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our relationship with food and exercise, Amy shows how readers can make this a healthy partnership that brings permanent change.
“We’re all searching for something to fill up what I like to call that big, God-shaped hole in our souls. Some people use alcohol, or sex, or their children, or food, or money, or music, or heroin. A lot of people even use the concept of God itself. I could go on and on. I used to know a girl who used shoes. She had over two-hundred pairs. But it’s all the same thing, really. People, for some stupid reason, think they can escape their sorrows.” (Tiffanie DeBartolo, God-Shaped Hole)
My earliest memories were such happy ones. Mom had dinner on the table when Dad came home from work, and my two sisters and I laughed and talked about our day with our parents. It was the best feeling. Everything about our family felt so right and secure. I remember Mom walking me to kindergarten every day at a church around the corner from my house. In that same church parking lot, my dad taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels. He also taught me to fly a kite, and with his help, I won a blue ribbon in a kite-flying competition at my school.
I had my own bedroom with a yellow gingham canopy bed and a playhouse in the backyard. There was also a dogwood tree that I climbed all the time. My best friend, Teresa, lived across the street, and my grandparents lived nearby. Life was good and felt normal, but when I turned eight years old, my seemingly perfect life changed forever.
A Growing Hole
Dad quit his longtime job at a local radio station in South Carolina to pursue a job at another radio station in West Palm Beach, Florida. We had to sell our house immediately and move to what seemed to me to be a different planet. I will never forget the image of Teresa and me standing by the “For Sale” sign in our front yard. We bawled our eyes out and held each other so tight because we knew we might not ever see each other again.
When we got to Florida, the five of us moved into a tiny apartment. There was nothing wrong with the apartment, but I was uncomfortable because I was used to living in a larger space and having a big yard to play in. My sisters and I barely had enough room to squeeze past each other on the way to the bathroom. My new school was huge compared to the one I attended in South Carolina. But the worst thing was that while everyone knew and loved me at my old school, I was now the new girl at school, and I got ridiculed for it. I felt insecure, unsure of myself, and alone. I wanted to go back to my happy, carefree life.
This was the first time I remember being unhappy and having no control over my circumstances. I was deeply sad, and it felt like I had an empty hole in my soul. Thankfully, we only stayed in Florida for one year, but things would never go back to how they were before. I would never regain the sense of normalcy I had so desperately craved.
When we came back to South Carolina, we moved to a different city, and my parents bought a restaurant and ice-cream parlor. It was hard work building a new business, and the stress took a toll on Mom and Dad. They began to fight all the time about money and other issues. It got so bad that they divorced.
When my parental situation turned upside down, I found myself in a world that lacked security and stability. Suddenly, I was being raised by a single mother, and as the oldest daughter at ten years old, there was a lot of pressure on me to help my mom care for my two sisters. She worked very hard (sometimes up to 18 hours a day), and I know she did her best to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs. She usually had no time to tuck us in at night and tell us bedtime stories because she worked such long hours.
My sisters (who were four and six years old) and I spent a lot of time at home alone. As much as we tried to pick up after ourselves, you can imagine how messy three kids can be. I felt terrible when my mother would come home, tired from working so much, and be cranky because the house was such a disaster. I never felt like I could do enough to make Mom happy or fix our broken home life.
Many mornings she had to get to work at the crack of dawn and woke us up at three in the morning to take us to the restaurant. She made us a makeshift bed on the concrete floor in the back room and let us sleep there while she worked. This was not an ideal environment for kids, but she was doing the best she could.
It wasn’t her fault. The problem was me. I felt the hole inside my heart growing bigger and bigger, and I desperately needed something to fill it.
Enter the Banana Split
I remember one particular day when I was playing outside the restaurant and decided to go visit the couple who worked at the dry cleaners next door. The owners were in their late twenties and had no children of their own. They were kind enough to let me hang out with them sometimes, and it made me feel good.
In my mind, I felt “less than” because my life had changed so drastically in only two years. I was nothing like the other kids at school and always felt out of place. This couple welcomed, accepted, and loved me just the way I was. They talked to me like I was one of their peers, and I appreciated the kindness and warmth they showed me.
This day was like any other day that I would drop by for a visit. I had been sitting at the counter and talking to the wife for about 20 minutes when her husband walked in. He abruptly told me that it was time for me to go. He said that their business was no place for children and that I shouldn’t hang out there so much.
I was hurt to my core and very embarrassed. I thought they were my friends, but they were abandoning me. I tried my best to maintain my composure and make myself believe that it didn’t matter. I reassured myself that I didn’t need them and was fine on my own. I remember announcing to them that I was leaving, anyway, to go to make a banana split for myself.
I guess in my own childlike way, I was trying to hold on to my self-respect by pointing out that I could have a banana split anytime I wanted one. Maybe it seems silly, but for me that moment was a turning point because it concerned food. I ended up making myself that banana split and hoping it would fill some of the rejection and the emptiness I had been feeling for so long. It was the first time I used food for comfort, but it would definitely not be the last time.
Bigger and Bigger
As I got older, I gained weight and came under the attack of my grandmother who constantly told me I was chubby. My two sisters were in this weight battle with me. What else would anyone expect from kids who ate fast food and ice cream every day for years? Being overweight compounded our problems in school. Not only were we still the new kids on the block, but we had also become the fat kids.
My youngest sister had an especially hard time with children teasing her. To this day, she talks about the negative memories?—?one of which was having to shop for clothes in the husky department at Sears?—?that have haunted her through the years. Not only did she suffer from a kidney problem that made her gain even more weight, she also had an eye condition and had to wear coke-bottle glasses. She felt like such an outcast, and it broke my heart. At this point, I had taken on the role of surrogate mother for my sisters. I felt responsible for them and believed it was my job to protect them. I hated to see them suffer so much.
I don’t say all of this to blame my parents. I know they both loved us girls very much and did their best at the time, but the fact was I felt very alone and abandoned. While my mom worked long hours to support us, my father took up a new life. He started dating a woman soon after the divorce. We didn’t realize how serious the relationship was until we found out they had gotten married. My sisters and I weren’t even invited to the wedding.
Yet again, I felt I was left behind as he started a whole new life without my sisters and me. This feeling was further reinforced when he purchased a two-seater sports car. I remember thinking that there wasn’t enough room for my sisters and me. Where were we going to fit in? To me, the car was a symbol of how we weren’t a part of Dad’s life anymore.
My void grew deeper with each passing day. As I shoved more food into my mouth to soothe the pain that wouldn’t go away, my weight crept up.
When I was eleven years old, my friend Beth invited me to attend her church youth group one night. My grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher, and church was a big part of our lives. We visited many churches through the years and spent many weeks during the summers at different vacation Bible schools, which were hosted by local congregations. I had even accepted Christ into my heart at a young age.
Since moving back to South Carolina, however, our family had stopped going to church. I missed it. The thought of visiting one with my friend absolutely thrilled me. When I arrived at the service, I immediately felt as if I belonged. I was in a wonderful place where people loved and cared about each other. It felt like I was home again. Church became my refuge. I especially felt drawn to the youth pastor, Sam. He quickly became a father figure to me, and I felt like I could tell him anything.
This reconnection with church sparked the beginning of a deepening relationship with God. Every Tuesday night, the church bus would drive to my house and take me to church. It was there that I experienced overwhelming love from others, and I discovered that God wanted to fill up the empty hole inside of my heart.
My faith commitment didn’t mean that my problems were suddenly solved. I didn’t ride off into the sunset of my new, happily-ever-after future. It just meant that for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had a lifeline. I had hope. My heart had a chance to become whole.
By learning about God’s love for me, I realized that because we are all human, we all carry with us a certain measure of hurt and pain. This is a part of the sin nature of humankind. But that was not all. I also discovered that God created us with a space that only He can fill. He wanted to be the one to fill my voids and heal my hurts. The pain I was trying to mask with ice cream was a pain that only He could mend.
The Fat Girl Thinks She Is in Control
I want you to know that emptiness is normal. If you feel as if you need to numb the pain or soothe your soul with something outside of yourself, you are not alone. We all endure suffering from time to time. It’s a normal process of living in a sinful world.
While emptiness is normal, it is how you fill the emptiness that will determine whether you are a fat girl or a fit girl. These two chicks cope with problems in different ways. The fit girl chooses God. The fat girl chooses unhealthy addictions. The fat girl can use many different ways to try to heal the hurt on the inside. Some abuse food, drugs, or alcohol or become addicted to work, hobbies, or unhealthy relationships. It might be hard to believe, but some folks can even abuse exercise to an addictive level.
Let me tell you something. The hole that is formed inside of us is not shaped like an ice-cream cone, a vodka bottle, a cigarette, or a good-looking guy. The hole is shaped like the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. He is the one who is meant to fill our empty places and heal our hurts.
I like to think about it this way. We have been created like puzzles with a missing piece. That piece is a relationship with God. He wants us to invite Him into our hearts. The closer we walk with God, the less we will search for other things to fill the hole. This is something the fit girl knows and understands.
I will be honest with you. There have been many times in my life, especially as a fat girl, when I have drifted away from my relationship with the Lord. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I believe that because of the instability I felt as a result of my parent’s divorce, I made a decision as a little girl that when I became an adult, I would be self-sufficient. I would take care of myself so that bad things would never happen to me again.
As most of us know, life usually doesn’t turn out as smooth as we hope it will. Bad things happen to everyone. Here’s a reality check. In life, people will disappoint us one way or another. If you have never been hurt or offended by someone, then you just might be an alien from outer space. The fact is none of us can measure up to perfection, and since we can’t, then certainly life will never be perfect.
My sense of independence severely impaired me when it came to trusting God with my life. I voiced my commitment to Him, but when things got tough or trials came my way, I wanted to take back my commitment. I wanted to do things my way instead of His way. When I turned away from God, that original hole in my heart would reappear, and I temporarily filled it with something. My choices were usually food, of course, and sometimes alcohol or the attention of the opposite sex. None of those things ever gave me true contentment because nothing outside of God could fulfill me.
A significant time I pulled away from God was when my son Rhett was diagnosed with autism. I was 35 at the time, and Rhett was 3. Autism is a spectrum disorder that presents different social and psychological abnormalities in some children. The main challenges we had with Rhett were that he screamed nonstop and was very sensitive to certain sounds. He also had a high threshold for pain. If he was hurting, he didn’t know how to tell us, and so my husband and I were always afraid that he might be sick and we would never know.
We faced other obstacles with our son. Rhett acted as if he had no fear. He was always jumping off the top of the sliding board, and one time he even climbed out of his bedroom window and onto the roof. He exhibited destructive behaviors, colored on the walls, overfilled the bathroom sink or tub with water, and broke things around the house at random. Because he couldn’t communicate in a normal manner, he was easily frustrated.
It was a very sad and dark time in our lives. I was utterly exhausted. I couldn’t believe that God would allow my child to be this way, especially because I tried to live a good Christian life. For goodness sake, I even served Him in ministry at church! Why me? This was the question I constantly asked myself whenever I threw a pity party, which was quite often. This should not happen to someone like me, I thought.
I determined that if my son could suffer from autism when God was supposed to be in control, then maybe I should take back the reins of my life and chart my own course. I would figure out how to fix Rhett. I would find a way to make him better by myself. Who needed God? I was pretty sure I could handle things on my own.
As I focused on being in control, guess what happened? That’s right. The hole that formed when my family fell apart grew bigger. And that’s when the fat girl came out in full force. When it came time for bed, I was so exhausted from trying to do everything on my own that I would fall into a heap on the sofa. I spent many nights with my new comforters—a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips. Oh, I still had conversations with God, but they were more like yelling matches. I would demand that He fix Rhett in the spirit of “You got me into this mess, God, so You’d better get me out of it.”
One day as I was driving down the road and screaming at God yet again, He gently put me in my place. A still, small voice spoke quietly to my heart and said, “Amy, you aren’t perfect, and I love you. Why does Rhett have to be perfect for you to love him?” Talk about getting hit right between the eyes! I knew that God was absolutely right. I was definitely not perfect, and instead of loving Rhett for who he was and dealing with the situation at hand, I had been focusing on making him normal (whatever that even means). At that moment I shifted my focus and asked God to forgive me. I asked Him to help me trust Him with Rhett and the other challenges in my life.
I quickly came to the realization that when I controlled my life, I only made more of a mess of it. It was a lesson I would continue to learn even after I lost the weight and transformed into a fit girl. (By the way, you’ll quickly find out that the fit girl is always learning!)
A week later, I was at church, and as I listened to the sermon, the pastor stopped in the middle of what he was saying and told the congregation that he felt led to say something specific. He said that there was someone in the service who didn’t know how much longer they could hang on, and that they should be encouraged because God was about to perform a miracle in their life.
I was stunned. Only a few days earlier, I mumbled something to myself about not being able to take these problems anymore. Not only was I dealing with my weight — I was 230 pounds at that point — and Rhett’s autism diagnosis, but my husband, Phillip, and I had also lost a business right after we had purchased a home that needed thousands of dollars worth of renovations. I was emotionally drained by these problems. It seemed I couldn’t get a break.
I felt as if the pastor was talking to me. It was the encouragement I needed to hear. Maybe my life would get better! Within days, the miracles started happening. First, we found out about a therapy called “audio integration” that proved to be a miracle cure for Rhett. It stopped his sensitivity to sound and his constant screaming. We were able to catch and keep his attention for a long period of time, and for the first time, I felt he could actually begin to learn. Second, our financial situation started to turn around as we found new careers in real estate.
When things started changing for the better, Phil and I specifically realized we had been feeding our physical bodies instead of filling our spiritual bodies. In the process, we had become morbidly obese. It was time to begin the journey to lose the weight. For me, it was time to say good-bye to the fat girl and hello to the fit girl.
What about you? What’s your story? I have met people all over the country who have stories that make mine seem like a walk in the park. One such lady that I met recently told me that her problems with her weight began right after her husband committed suicide. That in itself is a horrifying traumatic event, and now this woman is left to pick up the pieces of a family torn apart by tragedy. This affected her and her family emotionally, mentally, and financially. Five years later this lady is obese, depressed, and struggling to support her family. My heart goes out to people like this because I see the magnitude of their holes and how they are desperately trying to fill them.
Pascal wrote, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” In this he describes the search that is familiar to the fat girl. So many people are on this journey to fill that hole in their hearts.
Another time I met a beautiful young woman with an incredible singing talent. She is tall and blonde and beautiful in spite of the more than 100 pounds she wants to lose. She shared with me that when she was in high school, her stepfather was murdered. Before that she had never had a weight problem, but that event threw her into such a depression that she could hardly get out of bed in the morning. Her grades suffered, and she had to drop out of school for a while. She began eating to comfort herself in her grief.
These people suffered a pain that pierced their hearts like a bullet and left a hole that couldn’t be healed. They needed the Comforter to heal them, but instead they turned to food. Does this sound familiar? Have your fat-girl tendencies to heal yourself left you more depressed and burdened with extra weight? Have you suffered in a way that you feel no one can understand? Do you feel that there is no way out of the pain that plagues you day and night? It’s time to become the fit girl.
What a Fit Girl Knows
Fit girls know that making the right nutrition choices and getting regular exercise are only half the battle. The real key to losing weight and keeping it off is in fighting a spiritual and mental battle. When I lost all the weight while on The Biggest Loser, I found that many issues from my past reappeared. When it was time for the fit girl to deal with her internal fears and let go of the crutches the fat girl held on to for dear life, I felt like a scared kid curled up in a corner in a fetal position. I had to give that scared little girl permission to rise up and be strong. Why? Because fit girls are strong and are not afraid to face challenges, obstacles, or their fears. I had to show the fat girl what a fit girl is capable of.
As a fat girl, I focused on naming things I couldn’t do. After I started losing weight, I was on a mission to prove the fat girl wrong. I climbed mountains, kayaked rivers, hiked the Grand Canyon, and endured physical challenges that I never thought I could face. Being able to witness my own strength for the first time in my life and overcome the impossible was just the beginning of my fit-girl transformation. Healing my heart on the inside would prove to be a bigger challenge than climbing the biggest mountain I could find, but it was only when my heart healed that I was able to find the fit girl.
You may be asking, “Who is the fit girl?” The fit girl is you when you discover that the hole on the inside of you is designed to be filled by God, your heavenly Father and the Creator of the universe. The fit girl is you when you realize that the compulsion to fill an internal void with food, alcohol, or other stuff is futile because only God can fill that place. The fit girl is you when you realize that you don’t need to comfort yourself with anything but God because you know He loves you very much and wants nothing but the best for your life.
The Bible says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (see Hebrews 11:1) Faith in God is the belief that He is the substance you need for the life you dream of but have yet to see. For the fit girl, a life worth dreaming about is one where she doesn’t have to fill the empty places in her life with things outside of God when pressures get to her.
Remember how I said I would continue to learn this lesson? Well, when I was going through the process of losing weight, I faced different kinds of temptations to fill the void. My new alternatives to filling the void were worse than the food addiction.
For instance, as I got thinner, I was getting attention from men other than my husband. I hadn’t experienced that kind of attention in years, and to be honest, I liked it. In fact, I liked it so much that I realized that even though I was a happily married woman, I still sought after male attention to prove that I was attractive. I liked it when other men thought I was pretty, and so I didn’t discourage harmless flirtations. As you can imagine, my husband didn’t find this behavior an acceptable replacement for my food cravings.
Before I knew it, I found myself switching from one addiction to another. I stopped caring about welcoming glances from men and started drinking red wine. That occasional one glass of wine quickly turned into two or three glasses a few nights a week. Obviously the fat girl wasn’t just an outside issue but an issue of the heart. I had a heart problem, and I needed a healer.
So once again I turned to the Lord and asked Him to heal me and be my guide. I asked Him to fill me with His Holy Spirit and show me how to change my heart. I asked Him to reveal to me the keys to change my reactions to life and its challenges and pressures. It was then that God, once again, asked me to have faith in Him and trust Him with my life. He didn’t want to be my acquaintance. He wanted to be my Lord. Thankfully, I said yes to that process. I haven’t looked back since.
What about you? Have you noticed that your struggles are similar to mine? Do you have a hole in your heart that you are trying to fill up with addictive behaviors like compulsive shopping, drinking too much, or smoking cigarettes? Have you lost weight and found yourself holding on to things that have replaced a food addiction? What’s your new drug of choice?
Often weight can be a security blanket to keep from having to deal with sensitive things going on in the heart, and uncovering those hurts can be a painful process. Know this: God loves you and wants you to be whole and fit. He wants to build a relationship with you so that you can allow Him to fill every part of your life. It’s not enough to occasionally chat with Him through a prayer. God wants to be your partner and your friend. He wants to transform you from the inside out! He wants you to be a fit girl.
“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
I want you to do something for me. Find a really quiet place and go there by yourself. I know this might be hard if you have little kids or a busy schedule, but carve out some time to sit in the quiet and set your daily routine aside for a while. This is important. (By the way, finding a few minutes alone to meditate and pray is a great thing to do at the end of each of these lessons.)
During this quiet time, pray and ask God to reveal some things that may be holding you back from being the fit girl He made you to be. He may bring things to your mind that you haven’t thought about in years. You may have buried feelings, situations, or experiences you didn’t want to deal with back then — things God wants you to uncover today. God can show you these things through dreams or even nightmares. Identify whatever comes to your mind and write them down in a journal.
Here is a list of questions that will help you with this process and show you some things that may be keeping the fit girl at bay. Take some time to meditate on these questions and pray about your answers. Ask God to speak into your heart.
These might be hard questions for you to think about, but it’s what you have to do if you want to transform yourself into a fit girl. Finally, I want you to pray about each revelation and ask God to show you how to make changes in the areas that need some work. Trust that He will give you the strategies to heal the places that need healing.
Commit to having a closer relationship with God and listening more closely when He speaks to your heart. He may ask you to call someone and ask them to forgive you for being angry with them. He may tell you that you are going to have to end relationships in your life that are unhealthy. Whatever it is you feel He is leading you to do, do it. This is the beginning of the healing journey and finding the fit girl in you!
Many thanks to Christianne Debysingh, Senior Publicist, Harvest House Publishers, for providing me a review copy of the book.