So...I've never really written an article like this. In past blogposts I've alluded to the fact that I'm a Christian. I've mentioned church, a Bible study, or something about God, but I've never really fully discussed my relationship with Christ. I want to be transparent about what I believe, while cognizant of the fact that not everyone that reads my blog believes the way I do. Talking about Biblical principles or concepts just isn't going to resonate with someone who doesn't believe. However, I know that several of you readers DO believe the same things I do, which is why I thought I would write this article. If this blogpost isn't for you, that's okay, but I'm hoping that it will resonate with some of you and that you will find it very encouraging.
I work in a Christian counseling center as an outpatient dietitian. Some of my clients come specifically because it is a Christian environment, while others are a little wary of it. With those clients who are Christians, we often talk about our food/body struggles through the lens of Scripture. This is not a comprehensive list, but a few of my thoughts regarding a Biblical view of food and our weight.
God created food for our good and His glory. It's something that should be enjoyed. I tell my clients all the time that if God didn't want us to enjoy the taste of food, He wouldn't have given us tastebuds. Food is not just simply fuel. Food is a common grace that I can enjoy, recognizing God's provision, and praise Him for. I actually believe that choosing to eat foods that are scary during eating disorder recovery can be an act of worship because it's choosing freedom and health over the comforts of your destructive disorder. I think we should start enjoying this good gift that He has given us!!
How we eat has nothing to do with our morality, worth, value, or right-standing with God. In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks a lot about food offered to idols and how we have the freedom to eat it. In chapter 8 he says, "But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do." In other words, no food is inherently good or bad, it's amoral and won't do anything to bring me closer or further away from God. Now, I will say that when we become obsessed with food, that the obsession and idolatry of food (or level of health) takes us away from God, but the food itself is not the issue. Eating broccoli doesn't make me more holy, nor does eating brownies make me less holy (my righteousness comes from Christ alone--and He doesn't change). Sadly, a lot of people in the church have used food as a moral stick for how well we're doing spiritually or have even used it as an area of pride (more on that below!).
God doesn't care how much you weigh or what you look like. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the "your body is a temple of the Lord, so you better take care of it" argument as a reason for why Christians shouldn't be fat or eat x,y,z. I agree that we are called to be good stewards of our bodies. But does taking care of our bodies mean that we'll be thin? Research is pointing to the fact that we actually don't have much control over our body size and that our weight doesn't have to be an indicator of health. Being fat doesn't make you unhealthy and it certainly doesn't make you a poor steward of the body God has given you.
As far as what we look like, we're told that God doesn't look at the outward appearance like we do, instead He looks at our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). He is pleased when someone loves Him, serves Him, and loves His people--not when someone achieves thinness.
Not all overeating a sin. This is a tricky one that I still am trying to figure out. I think this topic could have entire blog posts to fully discuss this issue. I know that the Bible does talk about gluttony, but it's used in the context of all areas of life, not just food. I'm not going to go too in-depth on this topic since I'm not an expert, but I do want to speak on a few things. I don't believe the act of overeating is a sin. There are times that you aren't paying attention to the food you're eating or that you go to the table overly hungry and then leave overly full. It's a simple mistake and not an issue of the heart. Furthermore, there are numerous times in the Old Testament that God calls His people to feast for multiple days. Let's not be silly and say that "feasting" meant eating only fruits and vegetables in amounts that just met physical needs. These were lavish celebrations with lots of good food and I'm sure that the Israelites consumed more energy than their bodies could use at that time. God never calls His people to do something that is a sin, so I have confidence that the simple act of overeating is not a sin (and again, can be something that brings Him glory).
I used to struggle a LOT with guilt and shame around my eating behaviors because I felt like "a glutton"--like I loved food more than I did God. Food WAS an idol in my life. Food DID consume my every thought. I DID overeat regularly in social situations or at night. But I did this not because food is bad or because I loved food more than God. I did these things because my body was hungry. I thought about food all the time because my body was malnourished and needed more fuel. I overate at parties because my body was gasping for food and I could only restrict for so long. Food (and the perfect bod I was trying to achieve) was an idol because I wasn't willing to give up "control" of my food intake and body size. When I introduced all foods back into my diet and stopped trying to control my weight, the food obsession and compulsion to overeat in social situations went away. The issue was not food or the consumption of it, the issue was my view of food and my body and the way that I tried to control it.
Dieting can be another form of slavery and can be a way of returning back to the Law. I truly believe dieting/restriction is one of the biggest forms of slavery within the church. Being healthy is very much praised and seen as a godly attribute. I'm not saying that pursuing health is a bad thing--it's something that I want for everyone! It's just that my definition of health and society's definition of health are two different things. The desire to honor God through our food and exercise choices often becomes an obsession and something that controls our every thought, emotion, and action (a good thing gone wrong). We like concrete rules--some sort of rubric to be able to compare to so that we can know if we are "doing it right" or measuring up to the standard. I mean, that's why people always ask for a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid, or some sort of meal plan. We want to be able to know that we are following the rules. If we are following them, we are doing good (and are good), and if we aren't following them, then we are doing bad (and are bad). We want to be able to earn our worth and identity. And yet we simply canNOT earn our worth or identity in how we are eating or moving our bodies.
In the New Testament, the Pharisees created all sorts of laws to keep the flesh in-check and to be able to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in their ability to follow the law. And yet, over and over again, Jesus and His disciples tell us that we are no longer under the Law. We cannot earn our salvation through following a bunch of rules. Our right-standing with God cannot be accomplished through sticking to the Law. When I read this from Colossians 2:20-23 I immediately thought about diets:
" why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."
Making foods such as sweets off-limits never made my cravings and overeating episodes disappear, they only made them worse. I think we like going to dieting because it gives us the appearance of having it together, of being righteous, of measuring up. Yet, these rules of no real value in transforming our hearts to be more like Jesus.
It is for freedom that Jesus has set us free. When I tried to control my body through restrictive eating and exercising out the wazoo, I was anything but free. My every thought centered around how an activity would impact my ability to pursue thinness. I thought about what and when I would be able to eat, when and how I would be able to move my body. I was consumed with myself and my body. I didn't have the free mental space to focus on other things or other people. God desires that you be free in your relationship with food and your body so that you can love Him and love others. You can't go out to coffee and get to know a friend at the heart level if you're too worried about the calories in the coffee. Or you can't serve on the weekends if you have to go for your long run. You can't go to a church social event and focus on the people there because you're too worried about what you can or can't eat at the function. You're not free to serve on mission trips because you won't be able to control the food available. The list goes on and on. Any area of bondage keeps us from fully knowing and loving those around us. And it keeps us from fully knowing and loving God because our heart and mind is in a different place (our body).
"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1
I say these things not as a form of judgment or condemnation, but as a form of encouragement! Know that God desires you to live a free and abundant life outside of your obsession with food and your body. He wants you to enjoy His good gift of food to His glory and your good. So today take a step to walk and live in that freedom, friends!