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).