Should Christians diet? Should we, as Christians, always be “on a diet”? Read more on this important topic, here!
Eight pounds. That’s what I’ve gained since I started actively pursuing a sedentary lifestyle. It wasn’t my intention to spend the first four months of the year sitting still. Rather, it just happened that way. Seems it’s easier to write a book while sitting on the sofa than it is while doing Cross Fit-caliber burpees.
Now, I want to go on diet. I mean, I really, really want to go on a diet. I know diets. I love diets. I drool over Facebook posts that feature miracle potions to help me “lose weight.” They tempt me. A lot. If I could pay someone–pretty much any amount that is currently less than the amount in my bank account–to take this extra weight off me AND not have to change the way I eat or workout, I would do it. Lazy, I know. But, I know I’m not alone. That’s why those companies are successful.
Notice, I said the diet companies are successful. Not the dieters, necessarily. Shelling out cash for some diet pills doesn’t fix my problem long term. Though I could probably lose some weight with an appropriate amount of discipline, I’d probably find a way to gain it back next year.
And, that’s the problem with diets.
The reason diets don’t last is they don’t touch your heart.
Diets rarely change your attitude about food. Chances are, by following the program–no matter how great–you never actually convince yourself that brownies are no longer desirable. Rather (what’s more likely), while dieting, you look longingly at the forbidden, wanting it to be yours. You smell their aroma and think about how deliciously warm and gooey they would be in your mouth.
Angrily, you take another bite of your dry lettuce.
I am a serial dieter in recovery.
Calorie counting. Serving measuring. Exercise-points-credit writing-off. I know the game. I know it well. I also know that after a while of eating clean you do stop craving junk. But for most women (myself included) that heart level love of food doesn’t dissipate completely after a few months of green smoothies and sprout covered salads.
I love diets. Results just a few weeks away combined with specific plans to keep me in a comfy food prison where I won’t break any rules that cause me to have to buy bigger pants… What’s not to love? Restriction is as comfortable as my Crocs.
But, I’m not going to diet this time. I’m convinced that God doesn’t want his daughters to live like serial dieters.
Diets and Religions
Diets are a whole lot like religion. They give you rules without improving your relationship with food. They give you things to do, checklists to follow, but they don’t give you grace. Religion is often marked by hardness. (If you aren’t convinced there is a similarity, I ask you to consider how angry the average woman is by day four of any new “eating program.” Case and point?)
Though Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers and every other plan out there tells you how “free” you are by following their program. It’s just not true. You aren’t free. You have a specified food structure to fit into and weigh-ins to keep you accountable.
And, I understand. You may be saying right now, “But I NEED that if I’m ever going to lose the weight.”
Or, do we only need diets to lose weight because we haven’t found the heart of our issue with food?
I wonder… are we trapped in a cycle of doing the “crime” and paying the “time” over and over again without ever addressing the root of the problem?
This morning I noticed a half-paragraph in the Bible that I swear I’ve never seen before. It’s in Luke 2:37-38 and it’s about a woman named Anna. The passage tells us that Anna was married for seven years but then lost her husband. She remained a widow until the age of 84–which is her age at the time Luke observes her. Anna had a reputation for being a woman committed to three things: fasting, prayer, and telling others about the coming Messiah.
The Bible app I read includes cross references. This morning it sent me to 1 Timothy 5:5. Here Paul juxtaposes the behavior of a woman like Anna to that of other women. Read this:
She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.
Let me repeat that last part: the self-indulgent woman is dead…even while she’s alive.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m on a diet, I feel like the living dead. I’m not joyful while exerting all of my energy avoiding carbs, sugar and anything white. I feel restricted, metaphorically handcuffed.
But, I need diets because I have the problem called out in that verse: self-indulgence. Thus, I need a way to fence in my sinful desires.
What does the Bible actually prescribe for me to do with those desires? God tells me to kill them. I have to put those desires to death if I am to live. Keeping them on a short leash isn’t the Biblical prescription for freedom.
Truth is, I don’t believe that God is as keen on eating restrictions as popular Christian diet books lead you to believe. Granted there is valuable health wisdom in some, I just don’t see a lot of evidence in the New Testament of Jesus putting people on diets or telling them to only eat what he ate. In fact, God freed Peter (in Acts 10) from his legalistic views of what was acceptable for his diet.
There is, however, one spiritual discipline that involves food restriction that Jesus does seem to model and encourage. That is: fasting.
Fasting is hard, especially for dieters like me. Keeping my heart pure while restricting my food intake is difficult because I don’t want to fast to gain God, I want to fast to lose weight. In fact, anyone with an eating disorder or disordered eating background should probably NOT fast. A better fast for those (like me) in this category may be to actually EAT more.
Yes, fasting attempts to kill the lustful way my flesh thinks about food — like how some evenings I think I need ice cream to be happy. Just like a drug addict or drunk, I use food to cope with how hard this life can be, and that’s a heart issue that fasting can address but a diet can’t. But, if you’re still in recovery or if you find yourself thinking more about the weight loss results of your fast than the getting closer to God aspect, then that’s not a biblical fast. That’s a diet.
Diets don’t address the problems in my heart. Diets can help me stay away from the cookie-dough-covered-comfort I love for a little while, but they don’t show me a better answer: that when I’m emotional Jesus wants me to run to him and not the pantry.
When we diet we spend a lot of time hungry. But, the idea behind fasting is to spend time being filled up. The end result of spiritual fasting is feeling full of God.
But, again, there is no condemnation for the Christian who can’t fast because of a difficult history with food and eating disorders. I also recommend that teenagers never be encouraged to fast because it can quickly turn into an anorexia trigger.
Back to Anna the widow. Though I have no actual evidence of this, I doubt Anna had a weight issue that consumed her. But, it’s clear she was too busy focusing on God through prayer, sharing his message, and fasting, to be counting the fat grams in her olive oil.
Maybe we can also learn from her example to focus less on our waistline and more on God.
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