What is food to you? Is it comfort? A necessity? A source of family togetherness? Anxiety-causing? An obsession? Something you avoid altogether? Something you use to distract yourself? Food carries many connotations and emotions with it. The way an individual relates to food is completely unique to that person. Unfortunately, in our culture of chronic dieting and body-image obsession, food often becomes something other than what it is meant to be in our lives.
Personally, I have been weight-obsessed since I was a teenager. I’ve gone through seasons of being thin and being overweight, even obese by medical standards. Over the years, I’ve used food for comfort or distraction, it’s caused anxiety and fear, and for awhile, I was indifferent about food. It has taken me far too many years to come to an understanding with my body and to live with food for what it is meant to be – God-given nourishment to benefit my total health.
The way you talk to yourself about your body and your food matters. Staring at yourself in the mirror hating on every dimple and jiggle and pudge starts a tailspin of negative self-talk that will influence the rest of your day. If you start out the morning unhappy with the number on the scale, odds are, when you get to the kitchen to make breakfast, you’re thinking one of two things:
Scenario A) “I shouldn’t eat anything because I’m so fat. I need to lose weight, so I’ll just drink coffee.” The problem with this mindset is that you’ve put yourself at odds with food. It’s your enemy, determined to sabotage your weight and self-esteem. Most likely, you’ll treat it with fear and defensiveness, putting yourself into a state of functional hypoglycemia by waiting far too long between meals or eating tiny little “diet” meals, and then binge on carb-heavy meals when you just can’t take it anymore. Your blood sugar is on a roller-coaster, your mood is all over the place, you can’t focus or sleep, and your gut is telling you something is wrong. Inflammation is systemic and you can’t figure out what is causing the bloating, gas or acid reflux. Anxiety and depression become daily companions as you spiral lower and lower, sure you can’t succeed at anything because you can’t lose the weight. You’re a failure. Your contentious relationship with food continues and your health worsens, hopelessness sets in.
Or, scenario B) “Screw it. I’ll never lose the weight. I might as well quit trying and just figure out how to be happy the way I am.” You pull sugary cereal out of the pantry and drown it in milk, pouring sugar-filled creamer in your coffee and maybe grab a granola bar for the ride to work. The rest of the day you eat whatever sounds good and lifts your mood – burger and fries with a soda for lunch, chips and salsa as a pre-dinner snack, and order out pizza for dinner because you’re too tired to cook and quite frankly, you’re not on friendly terms with your kitchen anyway. All of your hard work in there isn’t paying off, so why bother? This defeatist attitude again puts you at odds with food. Somehow, food has failed you, so you’re turning your back on… what? Food? No, you’re turning your back on any hope of health. You’re turning your back on yourself. And as a result, you also have blood sugar problems, difficulty sleeping, digestive problems that seem to run the gamit and land you with a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (this is a diagnosis of exclusion, which really means the doctor can’t give you an actual explanation for why your digestion is a mess), and you find yourself more negative than ever, which is really making it hard for you to “love yourself” the way you are.
Obviously, these are extreme examples. But I’ll bet there are elements of each scenario that ring true in your life. Maybe parts of each inner conversation and experience relates to different seasons of your life. The truth is that in our culture of selfies and social media comparisons, with the pervasiveness of fitness programs and diet trends all promising great rewards, it’s easy to get stuck in unhealthy patterns of thinking about ourselves and food.
There is a third scenario, and it’s one that I pray you can adopt. In this scenario, after seeing a discouraging number on the scale in the morning, you think, “Ok. That’s not what I want, but I know I’m making healthy choices for my body. I’ll give it time.” You know that weight loss is a happy by-product of eating well and using nutrition to heal and help your body. You know that God gave you food as a special gift. He could have made humans like plants, getting all they need from the soil and sun, but instead, He gave us an incredibly wide variety of foods – different tastes and textures and ways of cooking that guarantee we don’t ever have to be bored. So instead of complaining, you thank God for what you have and what you are learning, knowing that He is providing for all of your needs –physically, mentally and spiritually. You know that you are not a slave to food, rather you get to use food to your benefit. Instead of dwelling on the stubborn weight as a problem, you make yourself a nourishing breakfast with protein, fat and fiber that will sustain you for at least three hours, planning a healthy lunch grounded with protein so that your blood sugar remains steady throughout the day. You have no problem focusing, and whenever negative thoughts threaten to discourage you, you’re able to stop them in their tracks and focus on what is true. Your body thanks you for your kindness; you are sleeping well and you aren’t experiencing the bloating, constipation and other digestive problems of your past. When you get home, you’re able to enjoy making dinner with your family, knowing that your nutritional choices are helping everyone’s health improve so you can all live well together.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is preaching to His followers about anxiety. He tells them not to be anxious about what they will eat, because “life is more than food,” assuring the people that God knows their needs and will provide abundantly (Luke 12:22-31, ESV). When we get caught up in diet culture, we forget this. Food becomes the predominant subject of our thoughts and conversations. We lose our grip on healthy balance and slowly slip into obsessive behavior. Food suddenly controls us, and food becomes our life. This is backwards.
To break out of this unhealthy relationship with food, ask yourself these questions:
Are my eating habits supporting me mentally and spiritually, or creating a stumbling block in my mental and spiritual health? If you’re always finding yourself discouraged, even depressed or physically ill because of your internal monologue and food choices, your nutritional choices are not helping your life.
Am I in bondage? Does food master you, or are you a master over it? 1 Corinthians 6:12 says “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” Sure, you can eat sugar… but can you stop eating it? Or will the addiction master you? You can follow a strict keto or paleo diet… but will it master you and steal your joy? That’s not living.
Does the food I am eating defile God’s temple? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price [the blood of Jesus]: therefore glorify God in your body.” Good food choices will benefit your health, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Does what I eat enable me to praise my Creator? God gave us one life and one body. If we are sick and tired and depressed all the time, we are not living a life that allows us to live freely, full of joy and praise. God gave us food to truly nourish and bless our minds and bodies. Let’s thank Him! Thank God for this life. Thank God for your body, whatever state it’s in. And make choices to respect the body He gave you!