Recently I had the privilege of serving as an initial reader/evaluator for Teresa Shields Parker’s new memoir, “Sweet Grace: How I Lost 250 Pounds and Stopped Trying to Earn God’s Favor.” Fascinated by her story, I knew it was one I wanted to share with my readers. I had many questions about Teresa’s remarkable journey to emotional and physical health, and she kindly took time out of a hectic schedule to answer them here.
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LW: As someone who’s alternately fretted over, battled and ignored her own weight issues for many years, a book that promised a story of how one person lost over 200 pounds couldn’t help but catch my eye…and of course we all want a formula, or a quick fix. It sounds like you did, too.
TSP: I learned the hard way that there is no easy quick fix. Believe me, I tried all of them. When you are morbidly obese, it’s do or die, literally.
LW: You say in Sweet Grace that sugar and bread are like drugs to you. Can we really be addicted to certain foods?
TSP: Sugar is extremely addictive. There is a lot of research out about that fact. I hadn’t read the research when the light dawned for me. If a person can be addicted to alcohol and get free by not drinking alcohol, I can get free from my cravings by not eating sugar. It’s not just food or alcohol or drugs we can get addicted to, it’s anything that we think we can’t live without.
LW: You’re very open about the indignities and embarrassments you suffered at your heaviest, as well as the ongoing struggles you endured both before and after your major weight loss. In one chapter, you reveal that you were molested as a child. Was there ever a time when you thought, “Oh, no, I can’t share that – it’s too personal”?
TSP: I’ve always been transparent in my writing. I only hesitate when what I share involves other people or the reputation of people who are deceased or for some other reason can’t share their side of the story.
LW: In at least one instance, you changed a name to protect the guilty. In general, how did your family react to the idea of your writing a book? What did your friends think of the idea?
TSP: My friends and family are very supportive of the book. I didn’t reveal the name because finger-pointing does no good to anyone. As a journalist, I have always told both sides of any story. This book was a stretch for me because I am just telling my story, my side. When a person is deceased, they have no voice to combat my point of view.
LW: Your Christian faith played an integral part in your road to health. How do you think your story might have played out differently without it?
TSP: I know that God has placed inside every person, even those who have not accepted Him, the ability to overcome difficulties. The human spirit is very resilient and resourceful. However, even the infamous 12 steps of A.A. talk about submitting to a higher power. When you have developed a harmful pattern with a substance, you need to tap into that power that only God can bring to get totally free. My father’s father was an alcoholic, as well as most of the men in his family. He chose to go the other way. I always say he became addicted to Jesus and set that example for us to follow.
LW: The term “sugar sensitive” was new to me. Tell us about what that really means. Do some people regard the concept as a fad or a largely fictional condition?
TSP: It certainly was not fiction to me. It was the key that set me free. There is a lot of research out there regarding the harmful effects of processed sugar on the body. I even read one article that said we needed to put warning labels on anything with sugar in it. However, people don’t like to think about giving up sugar. I didn’t like to think about it. Here’s the truth: some people can eat sugar and have no issues. Others, like me, cannot eat just one piece of candy or one cookie. I cannot mitigate my desire for sugar. So I totally stay away from it. That boundary I have built in my life sets me free to be whole, healthy and happy. I was not happy with myself when I was morbidly obese. I was not happy that sugar controlled me, pulled me toward it. I think that tree in the Garden was a sugar tree – just sayin’.
LW: The support of others is usually considered vital to successful weight loss. How did your family encourage and/or hold you accountable?
TSP: The first and greatest support has to come from within. In the final analysis, you hold yourself accountable. You are the only one who really knows what you can and cannot eat. You have to be bold and say, “I can’t eat that,” and mean it. I have a weight loss accountability group I go to every week. I know the leader is going to ask, “How did you do this week on your goals?” Since truth is a major value in my life, I’m going to have to answer that question. If I had a slip-up, he is going to ask what caused it. This helps me process what I’m doing. In my family, as in most, I set the tone. I cook the meals, I buy the groceries. That said, my husband is very agreeable about eating whatever I fix. If we go out to eat, he accommodates me by avoiding pasta restaurants where there is really nothing I can eat.
LW: Perhaps the most provocative question in the book, to me at least, was: “If I got rid of the weight, who was I?” You did get rid of the weight…so who are you right now? What should we most know about Teresa?
TSP: I am finally a whole, happy, healthy woman of God. She was hiding beneath a mountain of weight for years. I am more in touch with who I am. I am not afraid to feel more deeply, to express the wide gamut of emotions from joy to sadness. I am more deeply and passionately in love with my husband. I miss my grown children terribly, as one lives in Japan and one in Wisconsin. I want to help every person I see who is morbidly obese. I look at them and feel their pain deeply. I am and always have been a writer. As such, I want to share stories that will cause people to laugh, cry and get the courage to be the best version of themselves they can be.
LW: You indicate your belief that God may have given you the weakness of sugar sensitivity to draw you closer to him. For many, including Christians, that’s going to be a radical statement. Some will undoubtedly say that a loving Creator would not visit such an infliction on His child. How would you respond to that?
TSP: Read what Paul has to say about his “thorn in the flesh.” He prayed not once but three times that God would take it away. I relate very well to Paul. My weakness for sugar and bread is something I prayed for God to remove for years. That would be easy, right? I wouldn’t have to do anything. I gave in to my weakness. We all have weaknesses. I look at some people and think they don’t, but their weakness may not be something they consume. It may be a greed for money or power or sexual exploits outside of marriage. When we begin to admit our weaknesses and deal with them, our character begins to develop. When we say no to the things that we go to instead of God (I went to food for comfort instead of God), that’s when we get closer to God.
LW: Some, like me, know what they should do…what they have to do…yet even as they are encouraged and inspired by your story, and the brave frankness with which you’ve shared it, they’re still “not ready” to take the necessary first steps. Can you offer any words to us?
TSP: People ask me all the time how they can do this. It starts with acceptance of their issue and the knowledge of what they need to do. Then it takes ownership of the issue, which means you were going in one direction, but now you drive a stake in the ground, turn around and go the other way (kind of like repentance). The final step will take you the rest of your life. You act against what you just accepted and owned to become who you really want to be. You have a firm vision of what you want and why. Without that, nothing will change. No magic fairy dust will fall. You have to start walking it out every day, every second with every choice you make. This is where the power of God comes in. As we walk in obedience to what we know He wants us to do, He comes along and propels us forward. It’s amazing, really. I’ve seen miracles in my own life where this is concerned. There was no bigger sugar or bread addict than I was, and there is no stronger proponent of this lifestyle. That’s just unbelievable to me. It’s like I’m two totally different people.
LW: Near the end of your book you talk about “embracing the gold” within you. What exactly does that mean, and how can others do the same?
TSP: That’s a hard question because it’s one I’m still working on. I am wrapping my brain around the fact that I have “gold” inside of me that God has placed there, and to share with and minister to the world is amazing to me. I’ve come to believe God when He whispers to me, “You are beautiful. You are enough, just like you are. I loved you when you weighed 430 pounds. I love you now. I created you for a purpose. Don’t hoard everything I have placed within you. Share it with the world. Give yourself away on behalf of others. Each time you do that, the gold within you shines just a little brighter.”
I’m really learning that I can only embrace the gold within me as I spend time with God. For me that looks like shutting the door of my study and being totally alone with Him, quiet before Him, inviting Him to pour into me, speak to me and share His heart with me. In these times He becomes my gold-polisher. I believe we are too disconnected from God in the hustle and bustle of our lives. It’s only in Him that we discover the gold he placed in us.
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How about you? Have you struggled with weight issues and found victory…or does it seem like an insurmountable battle? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Want to learn more about Teresa’s story? You can pick up a copy of Sweet Grace here. And be sure to tell your friends!