Interview with Gayle Ellis

Interview with GAYLE  ELLIS, author of Weight Expectations (a copy of which you can request at the end of this interview–see below.)

This interview with my friend, Gayle, helps us answer that question “What am I longing for?” when we continue to find ourselves in front of the fridge or pantry.  If you relate to this question, I think you’ll find her insights well worth your time!  Grab a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes with us. 

August 21, 2011

Priscilla:  Today my guest is Gayle Ellis, author of Weight Expectations.  I recently met Gayle when my daughter, Susanna, had us both to lunch.  I was immediately drawn to her, and have subsequently talked to her on such topics as food, guilt, idols, and God’s grace.  She’s been a great help and I thought many of you could benefit from hearing her story.  Gayle,  Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Gayle:   Bit of a bio—Born  in Kentucky, I moved often as a military child but claim Annapolis, MD, as my home town where we lived for 7 years.  I graduated Covenant College in 1976 where I met my husband. During his seminary days I was a  Mental Health Geriatric Social Worker and Medical Social Worker at Abington Hospital in PA.   I am now 57, married to a Pastor in the OPC, and we are empty nesters after 31 years of raising 4 children who are each 4 years apart.  I love being a mom.  We homeschooled at times, also sent our children to Christian school and public—schooled prayerfully seeking the best for each child at each season of his or her life.

The short answer is:  I am a signpost.  I desire to point people to Jesus.  I used to think I was supposed to be a billboard, attractive, together and polished, no wonder I had problems with food!

Priscilla:  How did you come to write Weight Expectations?

Gayle:  I began working for Weight Watchers in 1982. Through the years I grew in my desire to seize opportunities God would bring my way, but I was frustrated because I didn’t have the time to get together with women outside of the WW meetings.  Betsy Lalley, a good friend, encouraged and helped me write Weight Expectations  so that people could take it and read it.  It was originally written for those not familiar with the gospel.  My hope was to point to Jesus’ invitation as living water to our weary, thirsty souls.

Priscilla:   Personally, I have struggled for years with the same ten to twenty pounds, but more importantly with my attitude toward food.   I vacillate between trying to be ultra-disciplined and giving in and putting anything that isn’t nailed down into my mouth.   Like so many, I can take off the weight but it comes right back on again.  Then there’s lots of accompanying guilt and hopelessness.  What do you think about that?

Gayle:  My first response is one of compassion.  What you are describing is hard and so common. You are describing a battle.  The fight is not just within, but we have an enemy who loves to amplify any feelings we have about failing or even success for that matter.  His goal is to keep our eyes off of Jesus and onto ourselves.  Looking unto Jesus, as Hebrews 12:1&2 describes, helps us in the battle.  But it will still be a battle.   Perhaps what fuels discouragement is that we think we should be “victorious”.  So, I seek to remind myself that a success/fail mentality can be a snare.  If my goal is to grow in knowledge of my Savior and to draw near to Him in all that is going on in my life, the battle gets a little less intense.  There are longer periods of making better choices and there is an ability to handle the over indulgences through the power of the cross which grants cleansing from a guilty conscience, and consequently where joy and hope grow.

Priscilla:   You mention that we often have a shallow view of what the Bible calls our “flesh” (desires, drives, appetites).  Can you explain?

Gayle:   I am suggesting that we do not see the power of our flesh and, therefore, do not take it seriously.  We label it, put it in a box hoping to contain it, and seek to manage it.  But rarely are we willing to die to it or, as Paul says, “count ourselves dead to it”.   Paul speaks directly against making strict rules “which appear to be wise”, yet have “no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).  Rather, we live in the Spirit who reminds us of our being united to Christ.  Faith then flows from the truths of being in Him, raised with Him, knowing Him and we are changed.

Priscilla:   Weight Expectations reminded me that God gives us foods to enjoy.   I want to focus more on enjoying what He’s giving me yet consciously aware of the fact that it’s a gift from Him—not something to be abused.

I also like the fact that you make us ask ourselves, “What are we believing?”   Can you elaborate on how that relates to our eating habits?  Do you think that’s a fundamental question we need to ask ourselves in other areas of our lives?  For instance, when we’re fearful, or when we’re doubting God has the situation under control.  I always have to remind myself of what I know to be true.

Gayle:  We act according to what we are believing.  You mentioned a good example.  What we believe about food is linked to our behaviors with food.  Expectations, past experiences, our records of success or failure, what others think of us (just to name a few) shape what we believe.  Our thoughts are like the heat beneath a pot that boils over with emotion or out-of-control behavior.   It is not wise to put a lid on boiling pasta; so it is not wise to just seek to control our “over” sins (over-eating, over-spending, over-working, over-sleeping) or troublesome emotions by putting lids on them with strict rules and harsh counsel.  Praying Psalm 139:23,24 is an invitation asking God to help us see what we are really believing in order to set us free.   He loves this prayer and will answer through the help of His Spirit, another person, or a resource of good questions aimed at unveiling wrong or misplaced goals, motives and desires.   The Spirit will lead us into truth through the Word.  As you said, Priscilla, truth always helps to dispel  lies.

The short answer:   Yes.  I think this is the “walk” of the Christian.  Ask for light to see.  Own  what you see .   Repent where light has exposed lies and then disown it all on the cross.  The transaction is always mysterious.  We give our sins and He gives us grace.  This is available to us anytime, anywhere, for any need.

Priscilla:   And how does our identity factor in?

Gayle:   Our identity is rooted in our new nature, not the old.  The old is our record of success/ failure.  Our old thoughts about what we can and cannot do, abilities and inabilities, etc..   As I mentioned above, being in Christ.  I am His and He is mine.  In Him are all the resources for life and godliness (II Peter 1:3).  He is all wisdom.  As you learn of him by reading the Word, watch how Jesus lives, loves and chooses what to do and what not to do, you will grow in love of him.  Our being linked to him is our hope, not just for now in our momentary struggles, but for our eternal good, hope and joy.

Priscilla:   How do I balance my need  to keep up a good exercise and eating program  with changing my focus to be one of desiring Jesus more instead of overeating for comfort?  The one seems like a physical goal and the other a spiritual one.

Gayle:   Are you juxtaposing exercise with having time with the Lord?

Priscilla:  Perhaps.  Can you elaborate on that?

Gayle:   Do you  feel the pull to choose between either doing exercise or spending time with the Lord? The reason I ask is we can learn to meet with Jesus in whatever we need to do.  Exercise can be a good time to remind ourselves that we can, at the same time, exercise our bodies and our ‘looking unto Jesus’ ( Hebrews 12:1&2) We can ponder Jesus’ promises by meditating and memorizing His Word while we’re exercising.  We can prayerfully lift up our concerns to Him knowing He is with us and in us working to build, strengthen, and grow faith so we can run the race that is set before us with joy.  It is the reality of Jesus with us  that transforms us as we look to Him.  His resources, His comfort , His steadfast love go with us where we go and do with us what we must accomplish.  Practicing Jesus’ presence leads us to worship. This is our ultimate goal.  Jesus came to gather worshipers.   As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.

Priscilla:  I see…like Brother Lawrence’s practicing the presence of God.  When I find myself standing in front of the fridge or pantry again and I’m not even hungry, I need to ask myself, “What am I wanting?”   ” Have I spent time with Him who has promised to satisfy my longings?”

Gayle:  You nailed the 2 best questions that help!  You first asked if you were really hungry.  A good follow-up question may be, if not for food, then what am I looking or longing for?  If we can pinpoint it—for  example, “Well, I really just don’t want to do my desk work.”—then we can talk to the Lord about what is really going on.  Own up, disown, own Him.  If it is because I was really hurt by a loved one, than I go to the One who never disappoints.  That is where the truth of your question draws us… to the one who alone truly satisfies.

Priscilla:  I also know sugar is a trigger food for me that increases, not only my desire for more sugar but, my entire appetite.  Trying to plan healthy meals, exercise, getting things done around the house  can lure me into a “works” mentality and crossing off my to do list.  How do I keep from having the “diet mentality” and still have these daily goals?

Gayle: Perfectionism is the pendulum swing to out of control behaviors. It is a fear response.  It is why strict rules and discipline sound “wise”.  I think stewardship of resources is a better goal.  A steward is first seeking to please the master while keeping things in order.  The way we determine what may be good stewardship in a given situation is to live asking our Father.  The life of dependence frees us from strict rules.  Rules “free” us from depending on anyone but ourselves.  Learning to manage time, our money, our eating, exercise and outreach to others, for example,  can be overwhelming or very self-satisfying if you think you are doing it.  We are called to live by Faith.   Developing a life of faith is to choose wise ways to guide us, more like writing in pencil the plans for the day and handing God the eraser, and being OK with that, even having a thankful heart.

Priscilla:  I like what you say on p. 19 in Weight Expectations—and it’s key for me:

Food is a ‘broken cistern’.   It will not satisfy and it cannot provide what I am really longing for.  Neither can numbers on a scale.  Neither can the approval of others.   All this only distracts me from dealing with deeper issues in my heart.  Realizing God loves me and has provided a way for me to have fellowship with Him and desire His good ways stirs in me a deeper longing for  living water!… This is the first step that pleases God and restores us to fellowship with Him.

Like you said, repenting and believing.   We sometimes feel discouraged when we know we need to repent, but if we remind ourselves it is what Christ asks for, it actually is the very thing that brings joy.  And then it’s easier to have faith in His power to set us free.

Gayle:   I do love the picture painted in Jeremiah 2:13,

For my people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters
and hewn themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water.

I have to sometimes admit to God that I need Him to give me a thirst for Himself.  I would rather make myself feel better with lower numbers on the scale or working harder.  We have given way too much power to the numbers on a scale.  They are A measure of change, but not THE measure of our identity. As they change, we are either elated or despairing.  The righteousness, or right standing and security Jesus has secured for us, never changes.  That is the  platform I need to stand on each day.

Priscilla:  So would you say it’s basically a spiritual issue?  Like I’ve said, that’s a big part for me.  But I’ve also had to make some pretty basic changes to my eating.  If it’s junk, I don’t bring it home.  At home, I try to eat foods as they come to us—from God, not Betty Crocker.  In other words, I avoid processed foods.  I focus on vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, legumes and lean meats.  I cook with all whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat, etc.)  These simple changes have helped me.  So when I get a craving, I have to come up with something from a healthy selection.  I indulge in special treats when I’m out.  (I do keep dark chocolate on hand at home, but my limit is one serving or less/day.)

Gayle:  I would hesitate to say it is basically a spiritual issue.  Only because the implication of that is guilt producing. I would say all of life provides opportunities where we either trust in ourselves or in the Lord’s power, presence and provision.  Often we vacillate between the 2 or flip flop back and forth. The wonderful news is that Jesus is our faithful high priest who sends His Spirit to draw us to himself, so it is His faithfulness, not mine, that I try to think about and celebrate.

The one thing I love about Weight Watchers is that they see the benefit of healthy eating as well as treating yourself like you mentioned.  Weight Watchers offers a program where you can choose to eat out or enjoy other people’s lasagna. Because of the points plus values you rarely feel like you are blowing it. What makes this work is that the points plus values are directly related to the portion size. So, if you want cheesecake you plan to get the  portion you think is worth ‘spending’ the points plus values . So the issue is stewardship, not ‘good’ verses ‘bad’ food.  I think this approach is especially good for Christians because it can be tempting to think you are “good “ when eating healthy foods and feel like you are being ‘bad’ when having a dessert or chips.  Instead WW makes it a choice. The points plus plan nudges you to make healthy choices because you get more and you feel more satisfied with ‘whole foods’ but you can still enjoy and have success if you have processed foods at times. It also helps because it takes away the ability for anyone to judge you for what you are eating. It is nice to not have to defend a choice to eat something or explain why  which often is fueled by a diet mentality and a guilty conscience.

Accountability and being weighed by someone else really works. Tracking is a way to get honest. If you bite it, write it. If you drink it, ink it.  Most of us are familiar with believing we were pretty good and then being really disappointed with the results . Research states that most Americans underestimate how much we eat and over estimate how much we move.  Writing it down and tracking helps us to see what we are really doing and then we can decide if  change is needed.

Priscilla:  That’s very helpful, Gayle.  A whole new focus!

It seems that weight problems are epidemic in our country.  Do you ever lead retreats on this topic?  If a group wanted to have you come and speak, how would they go about that?

Gayle:   Yes, I love to do retreats.  Most of my topics revolve around the Love of God and how that applies to temptations women face. Those interested may call me at (856)521-0199. I live in South Jersey near Philadelphia and the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

Priscilla:   I am so looking forward to attending one of those retreats.   I’m sure some of our readers  would like their own copy of Weight Expectations.  Gayle has graciously offered them through our website free of charge.  Click here to read Weight Expectations.  To save a copy of Weight Expectations on your computer, simply right click the link and choose “Save…”

If you are unable to download and print your own free copy, you may write Gayle at her address below, and please include a check made payable to Faith OPC for $5 to cover the cost of printing and shipping.
Gayle Ellis
165 Watsons Mill Rd.
Elmer, NJ  08318

Well, Gayle, thanks so much for giving of your time and helping us go a few layers deeper to identify our root problems.  It’s so encouraging to know there’s hope!   This has been so helpful and we look forward to having you back.


  1. Patti Fish says:

    Greatly enjoyed this interview. Full of spiritual and practical wisdom. It’s particularly helpful for the person newly “at home” in a new phase of life–trying to fill the day with something to replace kids, work, housekeeping, etc. Having moved recently, I find myself in the position of looking up “old friends” like coffee, chocolate…anything to fill the hours and the vacuum left by my former life. This reminds me that my best “old friend” is Jesus, the Living Water, the Bread from heaven. He can, and does, fill me when I turn to Him.

    I’m going to send it to a dear friend who struggles with weight, as most of us post-50 somethings do.

    • The Control Switch says:

      Chocolate…yes, I know him well. At least the latest research says it’s good for us (dark, that is)! But yes, Patti, our real longings can only be satisfied by Jesus. His Spirit is the One who takes us there. A few months ago, I felt very frustrated over my continual struggle with food. I read an article by a woman named Libbie Groves who shared how she realized when she asked the Lord to change her, she meant “change on a lifetime scale…for good, completely, right away. Then once the change is made in that moment, I can go on and handle each individual incident correctly.” An “aha” moment for me if ever there were one. I wanted to be done with the weight/food struggle. What I wanted was independence, no longer needing to ask the Spirit for help. But the Christian life is not designed to be one of independence but rather total dependence. It should be a red flag when we find ourselves veering in that direction. 🙂

  2. Sue Garrison says:

    Everything in this interview is TRUE! I really enjoyed reading the interview and would love to go to one of Gayle’s retreats. Keep speaking the TRUTH, Gayle, as we all need to be reminded of it every day.
    I really enjoy being in your Weight Watchers group especially with the deeper spiritual connection.

    Sue Garrison

    • The Control Switch says:

      Sue, thanks for stopping by and for sharing your heart. I don’t know Gayle’s entire schedule but I do know she’s leading the Immanuel OPC (Bellmawr, NJ) retreat this coming November, God willing. Hope you can make it!

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