The Consequences of Pursuing Perfection with Johnna Myers

When you’re all-consumed with something, it drains you. It takes everything you have and you can’t think about anything else. For 20 years, Johnna Myers listened to the fear and the lies that she would never be good enough and that how she looked defined who she was. Finally brought to her knees, she asked for help and began to untangle her identity from the thoughts and words of others.

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“My fear was I wouldn't matter to anyone. In a world where we are told your size matters, your size is what gets you love, your size is what gets you attention, I didn’t want to go unnoticed.” —Johnna

Johnna Myers is an ambassador for truth. As a part of that calling she joins Tiffany to talk about her struggle in overcoming body obsession and an eating disorder.

When you’re all-consumed with something, it drains you. It takes everything you have and you can’t think about anything else. For 20 years, Johnna listened to the fear and the lies that she would never be good enough and that how she looked defined who she was. Finally brought to her knees, she asked for help and began to untangle her identity from the thoughts and words of others.

As you listen to Johnna’s story, it's important to ask yourself if what you’re pursuing is bringing you true satisfaction.

Live Q&A with Johnna Myers

Johnna: all I can obsess about is like feeling guilty and feeling ashamed for what I did. Or what I didn't eat or we, you know, like I didn't get to the gym and now I'm at, and so I started taking it out on them. Like, of course you take it out on the people that are closest to you. So my husband got the brunt of that anger. My girls got the brunt of that anger and it really, I was mad at myself because I wasn't self-disciplined enough. I didn't have the willpower to stick to that diet or to get to the gym or to burn X amount of calories. So I was so mad at myself that I'd take it out on them and now it's their fault. And I just remember thinking. Live this way anymore.

Tiffany: I'm your host, Tiffany Sauder. And this is Scared Confident. I look in my own life. I know that the way I look and feel physically connects to my self-confidence because when I'm pregnant, I lose a sense of self-confidence.

I know it's connected. If you were to ask me. When I'm not pregnant, I'm like, oh no, no, like I'm totally good, but I know it is. And I think for a lot of us, it can take up a lot of head space and part of chasing down fear for me in this project of scare company. Is getting to a place where we are so free of our own head trash that we can like authentically be present and serve others.

And when we have the stuff going on in our head and these records playing all day long, they're trying to quiet who we were supposed to be. It becomes a massive distraction in the impact that we can have on the world. So, Johnna, good morning. Good morning. It's fun to have you here this morning. Thanks for having the courage to come on and to just talk about your story a little bit, and we're going to talk a bit about some challenges that you had in your life around eating disorders.

So I'll kind of let you start where you want to, but just give us a little background into who you are and a little bit about your journey. And then we'll go from there.

Johnna: I am the youngest of eight kids and I married my high school sweetheart and went on to have two kids. Two girls. Who are about to exit their teenage years.

So that's kind of scary. We'll be empty-nesters sooner than we can imagine. We will be. I did a couple of things out of college. Worked in ministry, worked in medical sales, but then I was a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. I've just recently reentered the workforce. I work at our church now as director of connections and I love.

Getting people connected to Jesus by connecting them to our church. So there's a lot of things that are exciting and fun right now with that though. There's been a lot of, you know, of course hurdles along the way.

And so a little bit about my story and why you even asked me here today is it's nothing that I could have pinpointed years ago, but now looking back and having.

Just the therapy and the self-awareness and the truth of scripture just really divide my soul and spirit. I now see what I was actually going for, but I had a 20 year battle with eating disorders, disordered eating body obsession, exercise, obsession. And like you said, like it sucks the life out of you, and you're all consumed with something.

Takes everything you have and you can't think about anything else. And so that's where I lived for almost 20 years. And as I look back, I can see some of the roots, but it's not about the body. It's not about the food. It goes much deeper. And I didn't know that at the time. And so I went through years of behavior modification and changing. What I would eat or how much I would exercise, but I never really dealt with the heart until almost eight years ago. And then I started dealing with the heart and once I dealt with that and got to the root of it, God just transformed my life, redeemed me from so much. And I'm literally

Tiffany: what got your attention.

you think when you. Are insecure about your body. You get married, all that's going to change because you no longer need to care about what you look like or those kinds of things, you know? Well, that didn't change anything. And then you get pregnant and you have kids and your body changes. And you're like, oh, okay, well, this is the new me, but I don't really like the new me.

Johnna: I don't know what the world tells you. It's supposed to be look different. So I lived with a lot of that. Always striving, even though I thought it was going to go away, like, why does this matter? Pursuing weight loss kept pursuing thinness. And when our girls were young, I just remember like, not being able to think about anything besides what I had eaten, what I would eat, what the girls would eat when I would get to the gym and, you know, by the world standards.

That's what we were supposed to think about. That's normal in the world standards. You think about those things, you care about it, you obsess about it. You, you count calories, you count carbs. Like all of that stuff you're supposed to. And so I was in that and it was all consuming. All my energy was spent there.

And I remember standing at our pantry doors and just like in a fog. What am I doing? My girls don't even get my attention. Like they're young. They don't know any different. They just want their mama to play with them. And all I can obsess about is like feeling guilty and feeling ashamed for what I did.

Or what I didn't eat or we, you know, like I didn't get to the gym and now I'm at, and so I started taking it out on them. Like, of course you take it out on the people that are closest to you. So my husband got the brunt of that anger. My girls got the brunt of that anger and it really, I was mad at myself because I wasn't self-disciplined enough.

I didn't have the willpower to stick to that diet or to get to the gym or to burn X amount of calories. So I was so mad at myself that I'd take it out on them and now it's their fault. And I just remember thinking. Live this way anymore. Like, this is exhausting. It's not fair to them. I feel like I'm missing out on their childhood.

And I was like, something's got to change. And so that sent me on a journey to try to change. And that's where. I made some behavior changes and it got a little better as I gave myself a little more freedom to eat things that would have been on my, you know, good and bad food list and went against the food police rules.

So that was kind of a wake up call, but then the other wake up call was just, I had just come to the end of myself and I'm like, Lord, I can't do this anymore. I'm exhausted. This is sucking the life out of me. I felt like I was just walking around in a shell, like a shell of a person, just not being able to engage.

you can't connect with people on a deeper level when you constantly have these voices going on and this tape plane saying you're not skinny enough, go run more, go eat less when you're constantly hearing those voices. Any conversation you're in, you're not really engaged in that was then the ultimate wake up, call that the Lord just brought me to my knees.

Tiffany: When you got to that place, was it difficult for you to say out loud? Like I need help?

Johnna: Oh yeah, for sure. Because this wake up call like smack in the face literally was in a span of minutes at the end. Of a message at church.

So it was hard to say it out loud, but I knew I had to, the issue was, as I dug in more, it was an identity issue that I had placed my identity in my looks for so long. And being the youngest of eight kids, I realized, even though I came from a great family, My family loved me.

My parents love me. We're all best friends. Like I have a great family, but being the youngest, I just was always clamoring for attention. So now I can look back and say that I wanted to get noticed. I wanted to know that I mattered that I was important. And so I, in high school, like growing up in high school, I was thin just naturally.

And so I got attention. I didn't realize that that was part of that, but then going to college and realizing. That didn't really matter anymore. There were a lot of thin people in this world that wasn't getting me the attention that I needed, which is what kind of catapulted me into pursuing thinness and losing weight drastically.

But because that was part of my identity, because I was trying to just get attention. I just wanted to matter. There was this fear and you've talked a lot about fear. My fear was I wouldn't matter to anyone and in a world where we are told your side. Matters your size is what gets you love your size is what gets you attention and, and the opposite of that, right?

So the inverse is if you're bigger, you don't get love. You're not accepted people look down upon you. They talk bad about you. And so I worked so hard to fight, cause I didn't know. To not matter, I didn't want to not get noticed. The root of it was, my identity was caught up so much in what other people thought of me and if I would be accepted by them and loved by them.

And to me thinness was that vehicle to get there. And so that's what I was going after, because I had carried the identity for so long and I married my high school, sweetheart. You know, when you're 15, you look a lot different than when you're 35 and you've had two children.

And so what was really hard. Speaking that out and actually saying it was the fear that if I let go of this dieting and this constant pursuit of weight loss, what's going to happen to me. Am I going to gain weight? And if I gain weight, is my husband even going to find me attractive? Or is he going to leave me for someone that's.

Are my sisters, my family, are they all going to talk about me? Because people talk about people that gain weight,  And I didn't want to be talked bad about, and so there was this fear of I'm going to say it, and now I'm taking this risk that I'm going to be. The one that people talk about, I'm going to be the one that they gossip about. I'm no longer going to have the identity that like, oh, she's got self-disciplined oh, she's healthy because she let herself go. She's out of shape. And so now I'm no longer living out of the identity of who I thought. Okay. And that's why it was so hard to say it out loud is because like now I say it out loud, I got to live up to this.

And if I live up to this, I might gain weight and gaining weight is going to maybe not bring me the love that I've been looking for. And that's scary.

Tiffany: Were people around you surprised to hear that your healthy discipline was actually an underlying for your brain was just destroying

Johnna: you all day. They were definitely surprised because in my small world, like I was the one people came to asking questions.

I was the one that they wanted exercise tips on. They wanted to know how to have more willpower to say no to things. So, yeah, they were surprised because by the world's standards again, like this is what we're looking at the world standard says you do these things that you should always be trying to lose weight.

Like the world tells us that. And so everyone around me believed that I believe that lie. when you believe that lie, you see someone that's doing it, you want more of it. And so then it's like, well, wait, you're just doing what you're supposed to be doing because isn't that what we're all supposed to be doing is losing weight all the time.

You're not supposed to grow old and gain weight. There's no permission given for a girl to go to college and gain weight. There's no prep like you are supposed to not gain weight when you go to college. But the reality is that's how God designed our bodies like that time in your life, your body's changing and that. That's normal. That's okay. You're supposed to gain weight. When you get pregnant, you don't have to lose the baby weight. You don't have to get back to a certain size, but our world tells you, you do. Or I just remember my mom, even growing old, always wanting. To lose her belly. Like even in her last days, she wanted to lose her belly.

If I could just lose the spell and I'm like, mom, is that what we're living for?the fact that it's so normalized that people don't think twice about it, that's what you're supposed to do. They looked at me and what I don't understand, this is what we're supposed to do. You're doing it.

Well. Why would you change anything? You don't have an eating disorder. That's, that's just what you're supposed to do.

Tiffany: Talk me through the story arc of the last 10, 15 years through the eyes of your husband and what you guys have been through and then your kids.

they recognize the difference in mine. They can totally see a shift in that and they appreciate that and they can speak to it. So that's really good. with my husband, it was really scary for him because in some ways he's also believed those lies. I mean, I trained him in those lies.

Johnna: I trained him to. Have food rules and be obsessive and, you know, care about things like that. So part of it is my own coaching of him, but because he had also believed those lies and he didn't have the same interaction with the Lord at that moment telling him the same things God was telling me. So he's like, what's going to happen to us, to me.

Like, what does this mean for our relationship now that you're not going to obsess about food and, and exercising and things like that.

Tiffany: It was a big part of your culture as a couple too?

Johnna: Yes. Yeah, exactly. Because he loves to exercise. Like he just really enjoys it. So there was fear, like, was that going to change us?

Are we going to still do that together? Even going to want to exercise? And I want to, I want to make that clear. I'm not anti health and I'm not anti exercise and I'm not anti. Like good food. I am anti pursuing weight loss to bring you a satisfaction that only God can give you. And so that's what I'm against and that's where I was.

So it was scary for him in that sense, because it was going to be a mind shift. And as God broke, that really thick, outer shell of the very disordered eating and all of that. He just started removing layers and layers of fears and shame and regret. And I think that was even scarier because being with your husband, since you were 15, we grew up together.

And so he was so intertwined into a lot of those things that, and now it involved him now it's personal. And so we've had to work through a lot in that way, but. In the last couple years, he now sees that I'm a different person. It has affected and changed the trajectory of our family life of our marriage.

And so he's my number one cheerleader.

Tiffany: So if the narrative used to sound like good food, bad food, how many calories go exercise more? What have you replaced it?

Johnna: A lot of the truths that I now have to remind myself of are, I'm not what I eat like that doesn't matter. There are a lot of slogans out there that talk about being thin tastes better than skinny tastes better than yes, whatever that is.

And then, you know, the, you are what you eat, those kinds of things. And I just have to remind myself that's not true. Food is food, it's energy, and it's better. To eat McDonald's for lunch than to skip lunch because my body needs food. And so if I ever question, should I eat this or should I not eat this? I think it's just food.

You know, if I'm doing it unto the glory of the Lord, it's food, I'm going to be thankful that I have something to eat. Then in regards to my body, that narrative is. That doesn't matter. My body does not define me. That's not where I find my value. It's not where I find my worth and the same. I think a lot of people, they go a lot of hand in hand, you know, what you eat and how you feel about the way you look and things like that.

And so a lot of people will place their identity in their ability to follow a food plan. Whether they say it's about the look of the body or not, but a lot of times they will place their value in. A food plan and trust in a food plan or an exercise plan. And now I just remind myself, that's not where I place my trust.

That's not where I'm going to find true satisfaction. And so that makes me quick to remember. It doesn't matter. That doesn't matter.

Tiffany: So I also want to just hear having gone through this as an adult and you have two daughters and I have four. I want them to understand good food choices and how like calories work, but I don't want them to like obsess over it, but I do think it's good to educate them.

I think about that a lot. And so I'd just be curious, sort of what's guided your own parenting and your girls are a little older than mine. And I know for me, I felt the pressure really. Rise as you get to late middle school and high school of like just socially aware of yourself and of the way you experience yourself starts to become kind of new.

So I'd love to hear how you think about that. What you've taught your girls

Johnna: Our kids are growing up in an age of social media where I didn't have that. I just compared myself to the people at school and that was it. And now they are being bombarded with even more messaging, more comparison and all of that.

And so. It's even more important to ground them in the truth. So when the girls were younger and I was obsessed with all of this stuff, I was like, you can't have any more sugar don't you had enough sugar for the day or no more snacks, or you need to eat everything. That's on your plate. I grew up in the clean plate club, but I forced those things on them, out of my fears, my own fear.

That they would also turn out in a way that's not going to be acceptable by this world. And so my own fears about not being accepted now have been pushed on then because I want them to be loved and accepted and in a world where it's the newness. A lot of times I want them to have that. And so my parents and them out of my own fears, which then led into giving them food rules, giving them.

All these like crazy things. You need to go run around the house seven times, cause you need to burn calories and making them do things. My motives were never out of a, let's just move our body for health or let's eat to fuel ourselves. It was, it was out of fear. And so I had to face the fact that I was looking to this identity to bring me love.

And I remember just talking with the Lord and saying, put God. What if, what if I gained weight? What if I eat a certain way? And people talk about me? What if this happens and what would have known accepts me anymore? And the Lord just kept telling. I accept you. I love you. It doesn't matter what the world says about you, because I love you.

And I will always be for the, be there for you. I'll never leave you. I'm never gonna depart from you. Like I'm here, I've got you. And I'm like, no matter what. And he said, no matter what, and that was what I needed to hear is that my God's never going to leave me no matter what. And so I can rest on that truth and I can place my security, my trust there, even.

Yeah. All of these other things actually do happen because we can't say that these things aren't gonna happen. And no matter what I know my God has for me. And so that is what began to shape how I lived my everyday and filtered all of my decisions. And so then that bled into my parenting. Even if my kids are chubby, according to the world standards.

That's okay. God still loves them. I'm still gonna love them. I'm still going to accept them. Even if they eat a lot of sugar. You know, it's going to be all right. Tomorrow's a new day. And so I had to take a lot of those food rules that we had lived by for so long. And throw them out the window and literally that's what we did.

So even just practically speaking, this is, this is science, this isn't anything spiritual or emotional or anything, but this is science. There's like a P a pendulum where restriction is on one side and bingeing is on the other. And if you've ever experienced any kind of dieting, you know, as soon as you start to restrict and you, as soon as you start to tell yourself, no, I can't have that.

I won't have that. I won't eat sugar. I'm going on a cruise. That chemically changes the way your brain works and the way your body is crying out for nutrition. And as soon as you get in the presence of any of that stuff, and you're like, screw it, I'm eating it. You, that pendulum swings all the way over to the other side.

You binge everything sight, you eat, whatever you can, you feel the guilt and the shame of it. And you swing back to the restriction side. It's on Monday, I'll start the new diet on my I'll start the new day on January 1st. The majority of this world swings back and forth between the restrictive dieting and the binging and nowhere in between where the Lord helped me land was right in the middle.

And this was a lot of help through counseling and a recovery team and things like that. It wasn't me all on my own, but I've been able to just live there in the middle where I don't swing back and forth. And because I don't restrict, I don't binge and I don't have the guilt and the shame that goes. The bingeing and I don't have the high that comes from the restriction.

And so, as I've learned to live there, my girls have watched me live there. And so that's the narrative at our house now is, as mom has gotten healthier emotionally, spiritually, physically, then they have been a by-product of that because I don't bring attention. To the areas of my body that I don't like, or I don't bring attention to how many calories are in something or whether we should or shouldn't eat something.

And so we just don't talk about those things. And we talk about food in a way that your tank needs gas. What are you going to fill it with? You could fill it with donuts all day. You'll get sick of those. Eventually just like you get sick of broccoli. If you ate broccoli and salads all the time, there needs to be a balance.

And so as I've gotten healthier, They too, just that's the way we do it in our household to the point where now they can sit at the lunch table, they hear things and they come home and they're like, mom, I don't think so-and-so is eating. I think, I think she might be purging or whatever. And so they're picking up on cues and they're able to have conversations with other people and their friends about some of the same things that we've talked about.

Tiffany: Was there

ever a time in your journey where you weren't sure if you wanted to be public about this being part of your journey that people knew about.

Johnna: I'm kind of an open book anyways, but when it came to this, I knew that if I went public with. My weight or not watching my weight.

Yeah. Then all eyes might be on me waiting for me just to gain weight. And I remember that my sister saying, oh, just wait until you have a baby. I can't wait till you gain weight. Oh, just wait, do you have a second baby? Like, can't wait for you to gain weight. And so that I felt that pressure of people are going to be waiting for me to gain weight.

And then finally be like, I knew it. I knew she couldn't do it. And so there was a little bit of that, but again, I came back to it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. I'm not going to have fear of man, because I don't need to have,

What does fear say to you now?

Johnna: There are still times where fear says you don't matter. You're a burden. Keep your voice quiet. Don't say anything, whether it's regarding this topic or anything, because you don't really matter. I think with parenting soon to be adult children, that's a lot of the fear of losing my place in their life as a voice and thinking that I have a right to speak into it as that changes everything.

So there's fear there. There's fear of that. You know, at work and gaining ground there and thinking, do I really have a place to step up and speak my opinion or do I just defer to everyone else? Because I'm too afraid that my opinion is wrong. And that's a lot of it too. I don't ever want to be wrong. I don't want to be flawed if I'm going to say something I have to know for sure that it's right. Or else I'll just defer because I don't want anyone to see me as messy now.

Tiffany: We'll close out with this question while this is your story of struggling with eating disorders. It really is anything that like just has control of the mind And so what advice do you have for people listening or if they know someone in their life, what advice do you have about how to begin to break sort of that first chain of bondage?

Johnna: I think the first thing is to stop and ask yourself why why am I doing that? What am I going after? what is it filling in me? Or what am I thinking it's filling in me and then starting to get to the root of that.

And as you uncover the layers of the whys, you'll find a lot of times, I think at the root is fear of man of what people are gonna think of you. What. Someone's opinion is and looking good and in man's eyes. And so I think that first thing is ask yourself, why am I doing this? What satisfaction am I getting from it?

And is there something else that I should be looking to instead of this, to give me the feeling and the satisfaction that I'm looking for it that I'm craving.

So what else is on your mind? Text

Tiffany: me 3, 1 7. 3 5 0 8 9 2 1 3 1 7 3 5 0 8 9 2 1. And be sure to follow along on your favorite podcast app. Thanks for listening today.

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