Here’s the most popular question I get asked via email and everywhere I speak. It has to do with figuring out the difference between staying healthy and body image obsession. If you’re wondering where the line is, read this!
I feel like I need to stay healthy–exercising and eating right–because that’s the right thing to do for my body. But, I’ll admit, sometimes I know, deep down, that I really want to eat healthy and workout because it will help me stay thin. I’m afraid of gaining weight and my motivator to count calories and take jogs is more truly my fear of gaining weight rather than any desire to stay healthy. Because of this, I can slip into becoming obsessed with my body image. I stress over missing a workout or eating too much dessert. I think about my body too much. I measure and track and stare in the mirror looking for changes I may have missed. I know I don’t have an eating disorder. I eat, and eat plenty. But, sometimes I do wonder if I think about food too much.
Where’s the line? How do I legitimately focus on keeping my body healthy without crossing the line into body image obsession? Thanks for your help.
–C in California
My best words of wisdom are this. The line between being a good steward of your body/staying healthy and body image idolatry is, like I write about in my book, identifying where your treasure is.
It’s the Matthew treasure principle. (I talk more about it in the video here.) Where do you spend your time and your money (and your thought life)? If it’s out of proportion–the time you spend thinking, working on, spending money on your body–then it’s idolatry and you’ve crossed that line.
(Good news is there is a cure for idolatry though – repentance and forgiveness!! It doesn’t have to stay an issue forever.) If your gym time, calorie thinking about time, and body thinking about time are pretty minimal in relation to the rest of life, then chances are you are in the clear. But, as I think you’ve identified, whenever you start thinking of these things, and tracking these things more than anything else in your life. When this “health” stuff consumes your thoughts . . . It’s time to call it idolatry and tell it goodbye.
Like you, I didn’t think I had an eating disorder because I ATE! I was never anorexic and didn’t throw up. That said, eating disorders are tricky creatures. I think that over focus on food, calories, or how to burn them off is a form of disordered eating and would encourage you to be careful! It’s great that you are able to stop and clearly see things now, let me encourage you to keep being open with people in your life–parents and friends– and ask them to hold you accountable so you are less likely to face a full blown eating disorder.
I hope this is helpful.
In His Grace-