In the last few weeks, I’ve begun to hear, from various sources, about yet another thing I ought to watch about food and health. I won’t even name it here, because the thing itself doesn’t really matter, and this particular post I’m writing isn’t a response to that one thing.
But suffice to say, this thing I ought to watch is yet another in a long line of documentaries, books, blogs, articles that sweep through our culture and informs us all that we’ve got to drastically upend all of our eating habits because we’ve actually been getting it all wrong, etc. etc.
It’s this trend that I’ve got something to say about. However, lest you think I’m going to be one of those “I’m too cool for all of these trends and you should be, too” types, let me assure you that I respond to these things from a place of experience, not judgment, by listing a few of the health and fitness trends I’ve attempted (with varying levels of success) in the last several years.
In no particular order:
- Whole30 (YOU MEAN I CAN’T PUT CREAM IN MY COFFEE??)
- Paleo (see: Whole30)
- All organic ($$$$$$$$$$$)
- Cutting out just dairy (but…what about pizza?)
- Cutting out just gluten (but…what about bagels?)
- Cutting out just sugar (but…what about everything I love?)
- Eating more kale than I’ve ever wanted to eat (let’s leave chips to potatoes, please)
- All of the above but with a cheat day every week (I lost 4 pounds! Let me gain it back in one day!)
- Juice Plus (see: all organic)
- Shakeology (drank ONE. Consistency about killed me. Never again)
- Crossfit (dead)
- Running (the one thing that stuck)
- Pilates (you want me to do what with my hips?)
- Jillian Michaels DVDs (conclusion: I’m slightly afraid of her, but that stuff is legit)
And honestly, I’m sure there’s more, but that at least informs you that rather than being too cool for these things, I’m actually a total sucker for them. AND, I’d say that, whether any of those stuck or not, I benefited at least a little from all of them (Except that shake. Sorry guys).
So now that you know I’m not judging you, here are just a few thoughts regarding the trends that come and go, and how we ought to respond to them as believers.
A Little Perspective Goes A Long Way
Several years ago I was talking to a dear friend and mentor about these things. She wisely said that although there’s nothing wrong with certain preferences and methods, it’s hard to imagine that it’s a good thing to prescribe a way of eating that 99% of the world couldn’t possibly follow, let alone even conceive of.
This has really stuck with me. Now, having lived with a family in a developing country for a month, I see the real wisdom in such a statement. Let us not forget that the privilege to buy or not buy organic, or choose which gym to join, or take a particular supplement, is pretty unique to a very small subset of the world’s population.
To remember this can help us to have a clear perspective about our own methods of healthy living, and to receive those methods with gratitude, rather than as a necessary way of life.
It’s Never Just About the Physical
For some reason, the way we eat and exercise has somehow ceased to exist in the spiritual realm for us Christians. Sure we pray before we eat, and maybe occasionally pray about our health when it doesn’t act that way we want it to, but on the whole, God doesn’t really enter the equation.
I’m not sure if it’s due to the fact that it’s so a part of the air we breathe (Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter – all inundated with health and fitness fads, trends, and manifestos). Or maybe we miss the spiritual because caring for our health seems so inherently good, what could possibly be wrong with it?
Whatever the case, let’s go ahead and be honest right now and agree that these things are actually more spiritual issues than physical ones.
In the garden, before the fall into sin, God gave mankind “every plant yielding seed…and every tree with seed in its fruit” for food, then called it “good.” In our perfected state, human beings were meant to receive and enjoy food from the creator.
In Exodus, when Moses led the people into the wilderness, food is all OVER the place. It’s in the Passover ritual, and in the grumbling of the people, and in the way God provides for them when they desperately need it, and in the description of the promised land. In God’s deliverance of His people are the mundane details of what and how and when they will eat.
It’s in the law, as God commands very specific restrictions regarding how people handle their food and their bodies. This points to His holiness, but also to His care for them because their very lives depend on protecting against widespread infections and diseases within the camp.
We see times of feasting for God’s people, in which they get to party and enjoy food and wine as an act of worship and praise, and times of fasting, in which His people deprive themselves of food for the purpose of prayer or mourning.
We find Jesus Himself eating with His disciples and providing for the physical needs of people. In fact, this is the main focus of many of his signs and miracles. Healing diseases – caring for the fitness of the body. Creating fish and bread where there was none – meeting the hunger of a crowd. Turning water into wine – celebrating with friends.
One of the ways that the Lord invites gentiles in is by removing the burden of ceremonial laws regarding food, revealing to Peter in a dream that animals were good and acceptable forms of food.
And, of course, the final images in scripture, picturing the wedding feast of the lamb, wherein we’ll be back where we were meant to be – receiving and eating food with total gratitude and worship, content in the presence of our God.
Our relationship to the health of the body and to food is in no way separate from our relationship with the Lord. In fact, I’d argue that it points us to what we really believe about Him, just as money often does.
The Way We Relate To Food And Exercise Matters
If it’s true that the way we view food and our health reveals something about our hearts, then we should pay close attention to what’s going on behind our preferences and tendencies in these areas.
The hard thing – but maybe also liberating? – about this is that if it’s more about your heart attitude than anything, then it can’t be prescriptive. You must come to decisions about how you will care for and feed your body without imposing them on others. Because we are all different, and all of our hearts reveal unique things about who we are.
So, example? My temptation to sin will always be to find comfort in food. I have to be careful to check what’s going on when I have an overwhelming desire to eat a pint of ice cream. I have to say no when it’s because I think that will make me feel better.
And, in turn, I find that my desire to exercise can sometimes just be a desire to make it possible to eat for comfort without negative physical effects (i.e. none of my pants fitting).
However, there’s someone out there who rigidly controls his food intake because control makes him feel safe, and that’s what food and exercise are all about. Control.
Still, someone else goes to the gym for 3 hours every day because she knows her identity is in Christ, but secretly believes it’s also in being beautiful and maintaining a youthful body.
You see, there is always a heart motivation that tells us why we do what we do. But maybe you read all this and throw your hands up and say, “Well how on earth do you have a healthy relationship with food and exercise then? What’s the point?!” However, the answer is weirdly simple.
Do All To The Glory of God
“So, whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
This is how Paul concludes his warnings against idolatry and his encouragement to serve others with our eating choices in 1 Corinthians 10. This frees us from crazy sweeping rules about what and how we eat. Do I honor the Lord with this?
This means that when someone who is allergic to gluten or is diabetic or doesn’t eat dairy, and so on, comes to your home for dinner, you honor the Lord by considering this more important than your own preferences. Paul points out in the previous chapter that He is free, but He sets his freedom aside for the sake of others. This is how we ought to treat our freedoms regarding food and drink.
But it also means that in your own heart you thank the Lord for His provision of food and receive food with thanksgiving, while acknowledging that the food itself is not worthy of your praise or your derision. It is simply a created object. And we’re meant to praise the creator, not the created thing.
The same goes for exercise. I can think of so many ways to glorify God with it. In my own life, it was one of His answers to my battle with anxiety, and I know that exercise is a gift that enables me to feel better emotionally.
For many, it’s communal, and it can be an opportunity to fellowship with a brother or sister (a morning run, an hour at the gym) or to preach the gospel to a non-believer. Or, if it’s a solitary experience, perhaps a way to recharge after a long day, or an opportunity to pray, or listen to a sermon.
Whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, we do it all to the glory of God.
He Gives More Grace
Lest we begin to freak out about every tiny little decision we make and whether or not it’s perfectly honoring to the Lord, let’s remember that every single act of the believer is dependent upon the grace of our Lord. And praise Him, every failure is covered by it, too.
His grace also allows us to apply healthy living methods according to our needs. Some choose to eat a certain way, but many must eat a certain way. His grace enables you to do so, whether you’d wish it or not.
His grace allows for seasons. For instance, running is an important part of my health routine, but last week my husband was gone all week, so it was a no go.
I planned to get back in the routine this week, but this morning I hurt my back (ahem, reaching behind my head with a curling iron…it wasn’t a proud moment), so it looks like I’ll wait a bit longer. And that’s ok. He will meet me if I’m a little more tired and anxious without my exercise.
These bodies, these temples of ours, are indeed gifts, to be stewarded for His glory. But it’s never on our own terms. He tells us how he wants us to use them, and thanks be to God, He gives us the grace to do it.