How the Bible informs our view of fatness

A foundational part of making peace with food is letting go of controlling our body size. With this comes the uncertainty of what will happen to it and the potential of weight gain. And to be honest, the potential of weight gain that isn’t acceptable to our thin-obsessed culture. This is something that almost all of my clients struggle with: “but what if I become fat”?? I think we need to address what is at the root of our fear of fatness. Is it fear of losing some part of our pseudo identity (I say pseudo because your identity is not truly found in your body)? Is it fear of being ostracized by friends or family? Is it rooted in our own negative assumptions about people in fat bodies?

 
How the Bible informs our view of fatness
 

If I’m being transparent, I used to have a lot of negative assumptions about fat people (I say “fat people” because it is simply a description, not a negative judgment). When I learned about intuitive eating, I had to work through those assumptions and decide whether or not they were true and whether or not they were in-line with Scripture. There was no way I was going to be able to accept my body getting bigger if I made judgments about other people’s big bodies. As I started to explore my view of fatness and fat people, I realized that I had a lot of untrue beliefs about the behaviors of fat people as well as my own bias about it.

First, let’s address that our body weight is LARGELY out of our control and is determined by a host of factors, namely genetics. Socioeconomic status, education level, and stigma also play a huge role. When we recognize that our weight isn’t always a direct result of our behaviors, we no longer have space to blame the individual for the size of their body—it’s not because they are lazy, undisciplined, or gluttonous. And yet, these are stigmas that are very much attributed to people in large bodies. I assure you that there are people in large bodies who eat very little and move a lot, and that there are people in thin bodies who eat a lot and move very little. We canNOT know a person’s behaviors around food simply by looking at them.

Not only is it assumptions about their health or their food habits that we have to address, it’s also beliefs about their character. Again, I cannot know someone’s character or morality by looking at them. The size of a person’s body has no bearing on either. When we are quick to judge someone by the size of their body, not only are we acting out of step with the Holy Spirit, we may also be missing out on an opportunity to know that person deeply because of our preconceived ideas and stigma. 1 Samuel 16:7 teaches about the character of God and how He does not look at outward appearance as we do, but instead He looks at and judges the heart (which make me realize I need to be less concerned with others hearts and more concerned about my own). Furthermore, multiple times throughout Scripture, it says that God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11, 10:12, Acts 10:34, Galatians 3:28 just to name a few). In fact, all throughout the Gospels we see Jesus pursuing and loving the poor, sick, marginalized, and outcast.

 
How the Bible informs our view of fatness
 

Let me briefly address the identity issue: I completely understand finding identity in what your body looks like or how you exercise or what food you put in your mouth—I’ve been there. But trying to find my identity in how my body looked was anxiety-provoking, ever-changing, and ultimately, fruitless. Who I am and Whose I am are firmly rooted in the person and work of Jesus. Trying to find my identity in body doesn’t work because that’s not where its found. So if my body changes (which it WILL throughout life), my identity is not affected.

Now, I completely affirm people’s fear of becoming a size that is not acceptable. People in larger bodies are ostracized, judged, and treated poorly. For those accepting their natural size beyond cultural standards, there is the potential for experiencing real discrimination and emotional trauma. That’s not a position any of us want to willingly put ourselves in. But instead of constantly fighting body size, we need to be fighting culture. I hope to live in a society where all bodies are seen as good and that everyone has the space to pursue whole health (physical, emotional, spiritual, relational).  For those of you in large bodies, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the messages you’ve received about your body. And for the way you’ve been treated differently. You are seen, loved, and cherished by your heavenly Father.

This is a difficult topic and I’m sure there are some who have lots of questions or issues with what I’ve brought up (the church at large teaches a thin=healthy=holy message). I’d love to hear what you’re struggling with when it comes to fatness and the Christian faith. I’d love to be able to address them in further posts, so comment below!

Thoughts on Overeating on Thanksgiving

Dreading Thanksgiving tomorrow? I can relate. Maybe family dynamics are difficult and bring pain. Maybe you have no family to celebrate with tomorrow (I am so so sorry if this is your circumstance). Maybe you’re afraid of how to navigate conversations around food and body. Maybe you’re terrified about all of the food that’s going to be available. Or maybe you’re already dreading the shame and guilt you foresee yourself experiencing. For me, Thanksgiving (and any food gathering) brought on so much anxiety, shame, and guilt.

I remember one Thanksgiving in particular that we spent with my sister’s in-laws. The morning of, I bathed the day in prayer, asking the Lord to give me discipline around the food that was going to be there. I asked him to help me focus on the people and conversations instead of the food available. I begged him to help me put food in the “proper” place and to eat until comfortably full instead of stuffed. And don’t get me wrong, these are not wrong prayers; in fact, I think they are wonderful in the right context. But I fundamentally misunderstood something—my overeating in these occasions was not due to a lack of love for the Lord or lack of discipline. My overeating in these occasions was simply due to the fact I WAS HUNGRY. I would feel so much spiritual shame and guilt about eating high caloric foods, desserts, and overall too much. What I didn't realize was that my body was hungry and wanted food and therefore drove me to eat too much on occasions like these. Food was an idol, but not because I loved it more than God. Food was an idol because I restricted it and made the size of my body the most important thing in my life.

 
Thoughts on overeating on thanksgiving
 

So I want to encourage you about tomorrow. If you have been manipulating your food intake, reducing portion sizes, exercises solely for caloric burn, OR if you’re a normal eater, you may end up overeating tomorrow. And that’s OKAY. In fact, if you’ve been underfeeding, it might actually be a good thing (getting out of calorie deficit is absolutely essential for eating disorder recovery). Realize that it’s not some moral flaw. It might be because you’ve been undereating. Or restricting. Or simply because you love a certain food or were enjoying time with family. Give yourself permission to eat tomorrow, and to possibly eat until you’re uncomfortable. And then move on and continue to feed your body regularly and enough. It might just impact your experience next time.

In defense of sugar

I kid you not, as I'm beginning to type out this blog, I'm eating a chocolate chip cookie...and it's delicious.

 
In defense of sugar
 

There is a lot of controversy in the health and fitness world over what diet is healthiest, what foods should be avoided, what should be consumed, the optimal ratios of foods, etc. But what most people can seem to agree on is their take on sugar. I mean, there seems to be an all-out war on it. I hear people talking about it ALL the time: "that has way too much sugar," "that yogurt is practically like eating ice cream," "sugar is the cause of all of our health problems, and we should cut it out", and on and on. 

And while I don't encourage people to eat donuts for breakfast, Little Debbies for lunch, skittles for a snack, and cake and a coke for dinner, I do think we need to give sugar a break. You guys, ANYTHING in excess is harmful. You can drown by drinking too much water. Vitamin A in high doses can cause tumors. Too much calcium causes painful bone deposits in the joints. So I would agree that too much sugar is not a good thing. But sugar in itself is not the problem--it's about the totality of the diet. 

It's interesting to me that major proponents of cutting out simple sugars or refined sugars often turn to alternative sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, organic sugar, dates, etc. because they are "healthier" (don't get me started on people who say we should cut out fruit because of the sugar content...). But can we break those things down for a second? All carbohydrates--I'm talking ALL of them--regardless of whether they come from table sugar, maple syrup, white pasta, or beloved sweet potatoes (side note: did you guys know sweet potatoes are rated the #1 most nutritious vegetable?) are eventually broken down into the same three molecules--fructose, glucose, and galactose. The foods we eat are a complicated combination of those three molecules with varying linkages. Some have linkages that are easily digestible and some have linkages that our body can't actually digest (fiber). BUT, they are all going to be broken down into fructose, glucose, and galactose.

In defense  of sugar...carbohydrate breakdown

I get that this is an oversimplification and that a lot of other factors come into play. And I'm not saying that we should just forgo our veggies and whole grains and instead eat all refined carbs and simple sugars, but what I am saying is that we need to let go of the fear of refined sugar. It's broken down into useable energy, just as our sweet potato is. And energy isn't a bad thing. And if our sweet potato is broken down into glucose and fructose, then why do we fear table sugar that is broken down into glucose and fructose? The fear and morality we form around eating sugar is going to do far more harm that the sugar itself. Restricting sugar and then overeating/bingeing on it is far less healthy physically and emotionally than having moderate amounts on a regular basis. Fearing any food is going to wreak havoc physically on your body (um, hello cortisol!), your ability to foster relationships, and your ability to truly nourish yourself.

So I encourage you to challenge those beliefs you have around sugar. It's broken down into the exact same molecules as other types of carbs, and your body knows how to handle those other carbs. Again, I'm not promoting eating sugar all day everyday--your body is not going to feel good, and I promote eating in a way that makes you feel energized and good. But let's stop the fear-mongering that is going on around sugar and just eat our food, enjoy it, and move on.