Health. It’s a good thing, right? Our bodies matter. We’re not just spiritual beings, we’re physical, too. That’s how God designed us and ignoring that….well, it’s just silly. And gnostic. So taking care of our bodies matters. Seeking to nourish them with good food and maintain an active lifestyle has a deeply moral dimension. But you know what makes me really uncomfortable? When we turn diets and the pursuit of health into a religion.
When we treat food that doesn’t meet a rigid dietary criteria as “poison” and feel actual guilt when we don’t adhere to strict guidelines of what we should and shouldn’t eat, when we let a health fanaticism steal our joy of food–leaving stress, guilt, and anxiety in it’s place–that is just wrong. It’s not how things were meant to be.
Food is meant to be an experience of joy and community. We eat together. And it’s a beautiful gift from God. What happens when we obsess over food so intensely that it steals our joy? When we can’t even go out to eat with other people because our self-imposed rules get in the way? When eating the right things inhibits us from enjoying food and the people we eat it with? We’ve lost the gift God meant food to be.
How does this warping of our view of food happen? Well, we were designed to be religious creatures. And in our secular culture, when there’s no faith, we seek out other things to be religious about. Like what kind of food to put into our bodies. Don’t believe that it can get that intense? Just check out the fruititarians.
I care about health. We’re the neighborhood weirdos who raise our own chickens. But I also think there are dangers to this Gospel of Health that obsesses over every bite we ingest. Because I think that food and time around the table should be a time of joy. And when all we can think about when we encounter food is calories, rules, and waistlines….well I think our very natural desire to pursue health is becoming twisted into something it was never meant to be–something that deeply hurts us. Because that’s what the devil does–he cannot create so he turns what is good into something warped and ugly.
So as we are all thinking about healthy goals for the coming year, let’s make sure our motivations and desires are in order. Are we pursuing healthy habits to be good stewards of our bodies, to be good parents and spouses? Or are we falling into the ugly grip of orthorexia (an eating disorder that obsesses over eating the right way)? Are we equating the number on the scale with our value? Because that’s not the abundant life God has called us to. It’s just not.
God wants me to care for my body. Yes, he does. And I want to do that well to honor him. But an obsession over my pants size is nothing but darkness. And any compulsive rigid rules that steal joy from my dinner table are from the pit of Hell.
I know that sounds dramatic, but when I look in my little daughters’ faces I want them to see a woman who knows she is valued and why she is valued–and that it has NOTHING to do with the number on the scale or how perfectly she adhered to a set of dietary rules. Because they deserve better than that.
Now I’m not saying, it doesn’t matter what you’re feeding your body. Not at all. It matters. I want my family to be healthy. I want them to have a healthy mother. And I want to teach them about the ethics of food: where did it come from? How were the people who grew/raised this food treated? How were the animals treated? How was the earth treated?
But, I do not want to lose the joy of spending time around the table together. I do not want to equate my value with eating the right thing.
So here’s what I propose. I think we need to start by taking a deep look at what motivates our desire for health. Perhaps we’re obsessing, perhaps we’re ignoring our health. Let’s get things in the proper order.
If you struggle with finding any joy in food because the list of “don’t eats” is becoming longer and the guilt you experience when you break the “rules” is getting deeper….maybe you don’t need a list of new year’s healthy resolutions. Maybe what you need is for the time you spend around the table to be redeemed. Maybe your goal for the new year should be to relax, to enjoy, and to savor. Because God didn’t create food to be our master, he created food to bring us joy and to bring us together.
Update, September 2015: I read over this post a year later with longing because since my autoimmune disease has returned, I’ve HAD to worry about every little thing I eat in order to avoid pain that comes with foods that exacerbate my disease. But I’m hopeful that I can heal and look forward to the day I can enjoy life around the table without anxiety. And I’m even more convicted about the idea that food should be a source of joy! That’s how it’s meant to be.
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