The slideshow above is set to the song, "From the Inside Out (Everlasting) by Hillsong. I don't own, nor claim any rights to this song, but I used it for my slideshow because it was instrumental (no pun intended) in my journey.
“From the Inside Out,” written by Joel Houston for Hillsong. Album: Mighty to Save, Hillsong Australia, July 2006
I was a skinny, little kid without much baby fat. I’d never really worried about food or what I ate before the age of twelve. However, around the time my adolescent hormones started kicking in, I suddenly found myself overly consumed with thoughts of food, diet, and my weight. Almost overnight, it seemed, I had grown taller than most of my classmates and I suddenly had curves and “baby fat” where I’d never had it as a baby! Teasing and cruel remarks by some of my peers only increased my self-conscious anxiety. Before long, I had formed a rather long, mental list of things I wished I could change about myself. My weight and pants size became the focus of my angst, and for some reason, all I could think about was food and what or when I would eat next! None of my clothes seemed to fit me anymore, which made me feel even more awkward, and sometimes, I felt like I took up too much space.
The fitness craze was really starting to take off around this time, ushering in the era of leg warmers and cute aerobics gear. Jumping on that train of thought, I decided exercise would be the key to my getting in shape. Oe night — when I was supposed to be in bed asleep — I snuck into my mom’s purse and took a little, paper booklet I had seen her purchase in the grocery checkout line. The title boasted, “Thin Thighs in 30 Days!” and I set about to prove it true. Every night, for nearly two years, I would stay up half an hour past bedtime to go through every exercise in that book.
The middle school years can be brutal on fragile egos, and for me, they were no exception. I’m not sure why, but I often felt like an outsider at my school, unaccepted and unpopular with most of my classmates. Even within my small, close-knit circle of friends, I sometimes felt lonely, isolated, and misunderstood. Being a latchkey kid in a very rural part of Arkansas didn’t help matters, either. We lived in the middle of five, wooded acres, surrounded by cow pastures, with our nearest neighbors a quarter mile away. There was, literally, nothing to do after my sister and I got off the bus each day. Once homework and chores were out of the way, watching TV and snacking on whatever we could find were all we had left. Looking forward to my afternoon snack became the highlight of my day.
The hot and dusty, 40-minute bus ride home was more bearable when I remembered the frosty-cold, ice cream sandwiches waiting for me in our deep freeze chest. I could easily eat three or four of these treats in one afternoon, relishing the creamy cold sensation on my tongue. Not surprisingly, and in spite of my nightly exercise routine, my weight started to reflect these after-school indiscretions. Realizing that my favorite activity was confirming my my worst fears left me feeling completely deflated and depressed. I was already miserable at school, and bored to tears at home, but now, my beloved after school snack was no longer a source of joy. I didn’t stop eating them, mind you. Indeed, I felt powerless to stop myself, and my guilt and shame added to my despair.
At the end of my ninth grade year, my parents announced we were moving to another small town and I would be changing schools. While sad to leave my handful of friends, I was mostly relieved and excited for the change. This was fresh start I needed! Upon entering the new school, I vowed to leave the old me behind. I was still working out in my room most nights — pushups and sit-ups mostly, with the addition of some homemade free weights — but I replaced my afternoon snacking with a severely restrictive diet. Engaging in food deprivation, for days at a time, combined with my consistent growth in height, granted me the figure I’d always wanted. I was finally thin (perhaps too thin) but I couldn’t see this fact for myself. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were the many flaws and issues that still needed work. And in spite of making many friends, and being generally happier at this new school, my confidence and self-esteem were at an all-time low.
I was never a full-fledged anorexic, but I certainly dabbled with dangerous food behaviors, often starving myself for two or three days at a time, hiding food, eating in secret, etc. I pushed my body to the brink of exhaustion, then I would inevitably lose all control and succumb to a full-on food binge. My eating became an exercise in extremes. Once I finally allowed myself to eat after a self-imposed fast, my focus would shift to all the foods I craved: pizza, cake, cookies, and ice cream. It was as if allowing myself any food required me to eat all the food! There was no moderation, whatsoever, and naturally, these binge sessions left me feeling utterly worthless and defeated. Berating myself for my lack of self-control, I would assign myself a day or two without food as a punitive measure for my indiscretion. Thus, beginning the cycle once more.
This completely unhealthy and damaging cycle of food abuse continued for the next several years. I knew what I was doing wasn’t recommended or ideal, but it kept my weight at an acceptable number I could live with, so I didn’t feel compelled to stop. Upon getting married and starting college, however, it became increasingly difficult to deprive myself of meals for more than a few hours. I was still bingeing from time to time, and without my starvation days to keep my food intake in check, my weight inevitably started to climb. That’s when I rediscovered my old friend, exercise, and became what is casually known as an “exercise bulimic.” In short, I would binge eat on all my favorite, forbidden foods, then spend between two to four hours at the gym, the following day, attempting to undo any damage I had done. Once again I had found a less-than-ideal compromise I could live with, and my obsessive exercise managed to keep my weight in check. That is, until two things happened: First, I broke my ankle and then I got pregnant.
It was such a seemingly insignificant, shallow dip in the grassy slope, but it would forever change my life. One evening, as I was leaving to pick up my husband from his school, my heel found that shallow place and my ankle buckled, breaking the tip off of each leg bone at the ankle. After four and a half hours of orthopedic surgery, I emerged with permanent hardware in my right ankle, and I was in a tremendous amount of pain. It would be weeks before I could even go to the bathroom on my own, so my daily trips to the gym came to a screeching halt. To make matters worse, the pain and misery of being cooped up for an entire spring and summer, dependent upon others for nearly everything, drove me to eat more. And when I was finally able to return to the gym, it was with multiple admonitions by my doctor to keep exercise light and brief. My emotional eating and regular binges continued, unabated, but I no longer had a way to offset their effects.
I didn’t give up trying, and I was just getting back into a regular fitness routine when I became pregnant with our first daughter. I was absolutely thrilled to be pregnant and I eagerly read every book I could find on pregnancy, and infant care. Even so, part of me realized that this exciting turn of events meant my return to the gym would have to wait… or, at least, would need to be seriously modified. Subconsciously, I reasoned, If I’m going to gain weight anyway; why fight it? So, I all but abandoned my fitness membership and didn’t even think about dieting over the next nine months. Needless to say, this wasn’t the best approach because I ended up gaining more than 70 pounds with my first pregnancy. By my seventh month, I had random strangers commenting on my girth, insisting that I must be carrying twins! I don’t know which shocked me more: their incredibly rude nerve to say such things to me, or the nerve of my reflection in confirming what they said.
I was surprised just how little weight came off, following the birth of our first precious daughter. I suppose, on some level, I believed it would all just melt away after the pregnancy ended but that was not the case. Already a two-time Weight Watchers drop-out, I decided to try a different approach. Since money was extremely tight for us, my mom paid the initial cost for me to join Jenny Craig. Meeting with the diet counselor every week, and eating their pre-packaged food, I was able to finally start losing weight. That was the good news. The bad news was that it took me nearly two years to lose that weight, and I ended up quitting before I reached my goal. Honestly, I was beyond bored and just couldn’t stomach the thought of eating one more packaged meal, no matter how good it had tasted at the start. But no one foresaw my regaining all the weight within a couple of months of quitting the program.
That’s pretty much how things went for the next ten years. I was the consummate yo-yo dieter, embarking on one strenuous, restrictive diet plan after the other. I would see some progress in the beginning, grow bored with the monotony, or hit an inevitable weight-loss wall, and quit. This went on for several years and my weight seesawed right along with my level of commitment. Eventually, I found my way back to my old fall-back of excessive (if somewhat erratic) exercise. I would wake before dawn to go run for an hour or to meet my trainer at the gym. Returning home as my husband was leaving for work, I would feed and dress my kids, drop them off at school or Mother’s Day Out, and head to a different gym to swim laps for at least an hour. A couple of nights a week, I also attended kickboxing classes at yet, a third gym.
These intense fitness spurts might have made more of an impact on my weight had I not stayed up binge-snacking several nights a week. In spite of my earnest desire to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, I continuously sabotaged my own efforts by giving in to these marathon snacking sessions. I was a typical mother of young children: chronically sleep-deprived, occasionally overwhelmed, and immensely frustrated by (what I perceived were) my many failures. I didn’t want to be working outside the home, but I struggled to see my purpose or worth.
Even being a stay-at-home mom was a challenge; I had trouble finding a good rhythm for cleaning and maintaining my home. To make matters worse, I felt like a failure, compared to the other young moms at our church who had quickly lost their own pregnancy weight and sported darling mommy-and-me outfits. Real or imagined, I was an outsider once again.
My husband worked long hours, and sometimes had to be away overnight, which afforded me little time to myself. And since I was spending most of my spare time trying to lose weight, I began to resent anything related to diet or fitness. The only time I felt free to relax was after my kids were in bed for the night. I am a naturally-inclined night owl, so I began staying up later and later, snacking on various chips, popcorn, or anything else I could find to fuel my late-night “me time.” Never mind that I also desperately needed sleep; This was how I unwound.
After more than a decade, and the births of my three children, it all caught up with me. I was heavier than I’d ever been, and possibly heavier than any woman in my family’s recent history. At 5’ 10” tall, with a large, muscular frame, I can get away with carrying more weight, but the downside of this fact meant that morbid obesity could sneak up on me. I remember the day I stepped on the scale and saw it register nearly 320 pounds. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut; the shock and horror of this revelation left me, quite literally, breathless. Where and how had things gone so horribly wrong?? Did I have nothing to show for all my hard work?? I was very angry and upset, but mostly, I felt overwhelming defeat. Every ounce of hope, ambition, and determination seemed to drain out of me like helium from a sagging balloon.
Some time later, on a bright Sunday morning, I awoke from a curious dream. I don’t usually recall my dreams, but this one was so vivid and real, I couldn’t shake it from my memory. In the dream, I had written a book titled, “From the Inside Out.” The book’s subject was not clear, so I dismissed it as nothing more than a pleasant dream. After all, I had written poetry and stories since childhood, so the idea of writing a book wasn’t inconceivable. I suppose I’d always assumed that someday, perhaps, I would write a book. But it never occurred to me that God would ask me to write about my deepest shame: My struggle with food.
Being a Sunday morning, I went to church with the vague memory of my dream hovering on the periphery of my mind. After a couple of songs, the worship team introduced a new song. I snapped to attention as they revealed the name of that song: From the Inside Out (Everlasting) by Hillsong. Immediately, I recognized this song’s title was the same as the book from my dream, and as I listened to the lyrics, I realized this was no coincidence. I grabbed hold of the chair in front of me to keep from crumpling to the floor. The song spoke of God’s grace and redemption over repeated failures: lyrics so relevant to my life-long struggle with food, I could hardly breathe. Its most compelling message touched a nerve and reverberated through me: Surrendering my control to God’s divine purposes.
How many times had I tried to overcome my issues with food, only to fall flat on my face? I had all but given up on myself; Was it possible God had not given up on me? Could He really use even this for His glory? Only Jesus knew the full extent of my desperation and shame, but as the words of this song washed over me, hope started to rise:
“A thousand times I’ve failed, still Your mercy remains,
and should I stumble again, still I’m caught in Your grace."✱
As I listened to those words, I suddenly understood what my book would be about. I felt sure God had heard the cries of my heart and had answered me through the dream, and confirmed it by this song. I sensed this was a command to step out in faith and write, but fear-filled doubts followed close behind these convictions. Who would listen to me? Moreover, why should they? I had circled this mountain for most of my life, exhausting all familiar avenues to weight loss, and now, I was morbidly obese. Clearly, mine was anything but a success story. If God wanted me to do this, He would need to supply a mountain-sized miracle!
A few months later, I was driving home after lunch with my husband. We were having a heartfelt discussion about our marriage, my weight, and how God was doing something new in all of us. Our family had survived near tragedy and lots of heartache during the previous two years, and personally, I was emerging from one of the darkest seasons of my life. Yet, in the short time since my dream, God had planted new hope in my heart, and my desire to know Him more was transforming my entire outlook on life. Even Clay had noticed the change in me and we both felt a tangible move of God in our lives. I had not yet told him about the dream, or its connection to our now-favorite worship song, but I felt compelled to say: “I can’t explain how, but I just know that I am going to beat this weight problem. Someday, I will be free of this and I think God wants me to help others who have struggled like I have.” Clay had watched me battle my weight, with varying and short-lived success, for most of our marriage, so he would have been justified to respond in cynical disbelief. Instead, my always practical, scientifically-minded spouse replied, without a hint of sarcasm: “You know, I think you should write a book about your struggle, and you could call it, ‘From the Inside Out,’ like that song we sing at church.” I was so startled by his remark, I had to pull pull the car over to the side of the road. Placing the gear in park, I took a deep breath and blurted out the entire story about my dream and the song. Afterward, Clay was quiet for a moment but then he looked at me and said, “Well, I think you’d better write that book.”
I wish I could tell you that I began writing the moment I reached home, but that would be a lie. Despite God’s continued faithfulness in my life, I was in an extremely busy season and I’d almost forgotten about writing the book. More than a month had passed since our remarkable conversation when God managed to get my attention, once more.
Years before, during my low-carb diet phase, I had served as a moderator for a low-carb website and online forum. After years of no contact, I received word that the owner had sold her website to one of our fellow moderators. Remembering that I had written several articles for the website, and had lost my copies due to a corrupted hard drive, I messaged the site’s new owner and asked if I could get copies of my work. She assured me that my articles were still posted online, and I could find them easily because the former owner had compiled them into a feature column. Clicking my way to the resources page, I was stunned to see the name of my column: “’From the Inside Out’ with Summer Ameen Kelly.” Now, I suppose one could argue that I had previously known (but somehow forgotten) about the column and its name, but honestly, I had no memory of this. If God was trying to shock me into obedient action though, it certainly accomplished that effect because I was instantly convicted. Maybe I had forgotten about the book, but clearly, God had not. I sat back in utter amazement and whispered, “Ok, God! You have my attention!”
I still had plenty of doubts and fear, but it didn’t take long for me to realize this book was not mere suggestion; it was a command, sealed with a promise. Clearly, if not audibly, I heard God say: “If you will trust Me, and write this book in faith, you will find healing.” To be honest, it kind of reminded me of Kevin Costner’s film, Field of Dreams – “If you build it, they will come.” – but saying that out loud (even if only to myself) sounded2 utterly ridiculous. Silly or not, I knew I had a choice to make, and I was running out of options. Why shouldn’t I take a chance on God? What did I have to lose? In desperate surrender, I finally began to write. For the first time in my life, I was, literally, stepping out in faith and taking God at His Word. Here I was, writing a book about freedom from food, while weighing more than 300 pounds! I assure you: the irony did not elude me.
It’s important you understand, this is not your typical “diet book.” Much of the information and ideas, herein, might seem to contradict common knowledge about losing weight. But it’s even more important that you learn to think outside the box and realize that God’s ways are above our ways. In short, He has shown me an entirely different path to healing from than anything the world has offered me before. Trusting Jesus with this struggle was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and within these pages, I’ve shared the steps of my journey with you.
This book is meant to serve as both, a road map for you and a record of my own journey to freedom. To date, I have lost more than130 pounds and the Lord is continuing to heal me and change me from within. I can’t take credit for what He has done – indeed, no one can – and from the world’s perspective, none of this makes any sense, but here’s the thing: The world’s perspective is no longer relevant to my success. You see, I have been healed of far more than my issues with food. Jesus has done a miraculous work in my heart, and mind, destroying the bitter roots behind my unhealthy food behaviors, and healing the brokenness inside me. This isn't some quick-fix, superficial diet plan. As the title of this book suggests, God is offering you a truly holistic approach to absolute freedom. I accepted His offer and I’ve been healed and transformed, from the inside, out.
And this is my prayer for you.
— Summer Ameen Kelly
✱ Excerpt from Hillsong’s “From the Inside Out,” written by Joel Houston. Album: Mighty to Save, Hillsong Australia, July 2006
I am currently seeking publication of my book so that others might
find His freedom, too! I will update here once publication is confirmed
and my book becomes available for purchase.
All content on this page (excerpts from my book, title, photos, etc.) have been copyrighted and may not be used, duplicated, or reprinted without my permission.