How does the gospel apply to dieting?

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Every week, there seems to be a new fad diet or exercise program sweeping the nation.

The paleo diet. P90X. Insanity. The four-hour body diet. And on and on the list could go.

The fitness and dieting industry is a cash-cow, to be sure. Tens of millions of North Americans struggle to maintain a healthy weight and level of activity—and Christians are clearly among them.

Christians are right to be concerned about their physical health. Our highest priority must always be training ourselves to grow in godliness; nevertheless, “bodily training is of some value” (1 Tim. 4:8a).

I’ve struggled with my weight for my entire life. I’ve tried different fads. I’ve tried strictly regimenting my intake. Try as I might I’ve not found anything that’s had a lasting effect.

But as we examine dieting practices, we need to ask how the gospel applies to dieting.

That might sound ridiculous, but bear with me.

The primary way the gospel applies to dieting is less about identifying a particular program, but understanding the presuppositions that guide them. A key example is the paleo diet.

The underlying assumption of this is that the foods presumed to be eaten during the Paleolithic era are most ideal for human consumption—which, of course, presents a number of challenges for the Christian.

The first issue with this is that of our view of origins—the creators of this diet can only presume what was eaten during this period, and depending on where you land in the origins view spectrum, you may not agree that there even was a Paleolithic era. So basically, it’s just a bunch of guess work.

The second issue is that we need to be very careful of declaring anything bad which God has not. The modern version of it consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.

It’s all about certain foods being entirely bad, and others being kinda good. Therefore, do not eat the bad foods, just the good ones.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Apostle Peter, who grew up a Jew, received a vision from the Lord, a blanket filled with animals of all kinds. He was told to kill and eat from any of them. “But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time,’What God has made clean, do not call common’” (Acts 10:14-15).

Paul, likewise, warned the Colossians about this very thing:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, 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. (Col. 2:20-23)

This is important for us to remember: what God has declared clean—or good for us to eat—we must be wary of declaring bad. It’s not that I’m advocating we all go nuts and eat nothing but refined sugars, but we should remember that all things are intended for our enjoyment.

The greatest concern with many of the fads out there is the almost religious zeal their practitioners have about them—and their certainty to disappoint.

Many people love P90X, but it’s not a sustainable lifestyle activity. It works and gets results, but you can’t do it day in and day out.

Severely restricting your foods too often results in binging if you let yourself off the leash for even a brief period of time.

Instead, we need to treat our diets like we would our growth in godliness—it’s about building a consistent lifestyle of intake and exercise. Just as we fail to grow spiritually if we aren’t creating regular patterns of reading God’s word (intake) and applying what God’s Word says in good works (exercise), we won’t develop healthy bodies that last through extremism and fads.

That’s how the gospel applies to dieting, at least the way I see it (now I only have to act on it).

  • http://www.docsdining.blogspot.com/ Jason Kanz

    Aaron,

    I have also struggled with my weight through my life. After marriage, my weight climbed to 370 pounds as I was apparently on a mission to die early. I started Weight Watchers and lost 175 pounds. I kept it off for a bit of time but then my wife developed cancer and we adopted a baby and I gained 100 back.

    I have tried everything–fad diets, calorie restriction, high protein, blah, blah, blah. Everyone on the planet seems to have an idea about what weight loss must look like. I am sure I am no different.

    I started meeting with a counselor and dealt with some shame based stuff that I didn’t really understand or know, which was good. Through that process, I was reminded of the gospel and God’s passionate love for me. It helped me realize that I do not need to try to hide from God, or others.

    I agree with your verses cited above, but I would add 1 Corinthians 10:23, which reads “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” Yes, for Peter all things were declared clean, but we must also remember that not all things are beneficial for us, so we must apply wisdom as well, I think.

    A few years back, I came up with a slogan that has stuck with me and helps me to remain balanced, so long as I remember it. The slogan is “Make the Better Choice.” Every day, we face choices in our eating. How can we choose wisely? Sometimes it means not taking seconds. Sometimes it means getting the dish without cream sauce. Some days, though, it means getting those and enjoying them to the fullest.

    But I digress. Job once said, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my portion of food.” May that be true for each of us.

    • Amber

      Great post, Aaron, on a topic you know I care about. Jason, I really appreciate your application of 1 Cor 10:23. As you say, so much of our struggles with weight can be shame based. This leads us to label some foods “good” and some “bad” or even “evil.” This moralizing of food can deepen our shame spirals, as we declare ourselves “good” or “bad” based on our food choices. I think a simple wording choice from calling ourselves “bad” to calling our choices “unwise” would make our thinking more healthy.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Absolutely agree, Jason, especially on the addition of explicitly using 1 Cor. 10:23. Wisdom is definitely to the whole discussion. Thanks very much for sharing your own experience and struggles with weight loss. I really appreciate it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.martin.10485 Steve Martin

    Anything that ‘we do’, is more properly aligned with a ‘law’ issue…and not the gospel.

    The gospel is that we are totally forgiven for Jesus’ sake. That has nothing at all to do with what ‘we do’.

    Thanks. Good luck with the diet program. I also battle with being overweight.

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