Food and the Body: A Christian Perspective
I have had food and body issues since I was a young girl. And there's nothing shocking about that. What would be shocking is a woman that is deeply secure in the way she feels about her body and the way she treats it. But that's not me. I don't even pretend to know what that feels like (but probably like a super power).
In our food and image-obsessed culture, food is enemy and savior. We use it to comfort, punish, reward, and judge. We treat our bodies as idols by obsessing over our appearance, counting every calorie, and exercising excessively. We literally eat ourselves to death while making jokes about the sin of gluttony.
If we don't lose control, we become control freaks.
A couple of months ago, I was at a Burger King eating my fried mac and cheese and rodeo burger (with cheese), and my heart just starting breaking. Because here was something that had me in a way that only God should. I tried over and over to stop binge eating, but I was losing. I was left feeling completely hopeless and ashamed. My eating habits were feeding my self-hatred and leaving my soul bruised and shattered. But there was grace in that moment. God was changing me because my heart was finally broken for the right reasons.
And I've realized since that God is the only one who can truly break the cycle of sin in our lives. No matter how hard we may try to defeat it, it refuses to be conquered by human means. Addiction takes many forms-you may think you've been freed from one habit only to see something else take its place. This is what life looks like when we operate as free agents, apart from the grace of God.
We have to make room for God to heal and change the way we think about our bodies and what we eat. So what is a Christian food perspective? How should a Christian treat their body and why?
Our body is meant for the Lord, not for food. Food is meant for the body, not the other way around. And our bodies are meant for Christ. That means the way we eat should give glory to God. It should not lead to shame, condemnation, or poor health. It should not enslave. It does not own us, and it can never offer us more than what God can give us in times of weakness and craving (and boredom). Jesus is the bread of life. He asks us to taste and see that he is good, and that he is far more satisfying than our most outlandish food fantasies.
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything. "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food"-and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as is is written, "The two will become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (1 Cor. 6:12-17 ESV)
The Corinthians had effectively detached themselves from the body. They had started to see it as separate from the soul, evident in the way they were making allowances for the flesh. That's what it's for, right? The body has certain functions and needs that must be met, which is true. But Paul immediately makes the jump from indulging in food to sexual immorality. He makes the point that what we do with our bodies has consequences for our soul. The two are intimately connected and cannot be separated.
Gluttony is a sin meant to be taken seriously and repented of. Sin is a snare, especially the ones we disregard and give into again and again. It is the less obvious, tolerated sins that have such a stranglehold on us, and gluttony is a sin that leads to a host of health problems and issues. Somehow we've put this sin in the category of "not that big of a deal", but it ruins lives. I have seen its deadly fruit in my own family tree, and the way it destroys quality of life and relationships.
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Phil. 3:19-21 ESV)
Food is a gift, meant for our good. Jesus was thankful for food. We see him turn towards heaven and thank the Father before breaking bread, and our attitude should be the same. Food is a good gift given by God and it is an expression of his provision. But when it doesn't produce gratitude, there is a connection that isn't being made. The problem with having access to excessive material and physical goods is that we forget where it all comes from. When we neglect to see God's hand in giving us our daily bread, we begin to see food in a twisted way. And I would go so far as to say that we are destined to see food this way, because everything has been marred by sin. We do nothing in holiness apart from Christ Jesus.
There can also be deep emotional wounds that lead to food addictions and issues. Abuse leaves you broken in many ways, and food can become a coping mechanism. I am coming from this background. Along the way, food became an escape for me. It was just another addiction. I took to drugs and alcohol at a very young age for the same reasons. I wanted out. I wanted instant pleasure. And I didn't really care if it killed me. Jesus delivered me from much, but I have carried this sin-marred broken view of food into my Christianity. But this is what sanctification looks like. We are not made perfect overnight or ever in this lifetime. Sin is revealed as God chooses to reveal it in us, and our only response should be to repent and obey.
Jesus died for my body and cares about it. We should honor what God has created (our bodies) and treat them with respect and care, so that they can be used for his purpose and glory. The fact that Jesus himself took on human flesh, and today exists in a resurrected body means that the body is not irrelevant. Although it is dying, it is still the physical structure in which we live out our lives. It will be raised, just as Jesus Christ was raised. Jesus is for my body, not in opposition to it. This has revolutionized the way I see my physical self.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20 ESV)
I believe that scripture is our only method for truly discerning how we should view our bodies. Health care professionals can provide us with the practical tools and information we need, but until we know that our bodies have been bled over by Jesus Christ himself, we are left with only a worldly perspective and an image of promised perfection that we will never attain in this lifetime. We are left in our sinful attitudes and addictions, craving something that only God can give.
About a year ago, my family and I did Whole 30. We wanted to see if it would help our son's ADHD (it did). But I had less than pure motives for doing it myself. I thought that if I lost weight, then I would like my body. Until then I would keep on hating it in various ways. I had very little concern for what God had to say about that. My view of food and body was more worldly that I would like to admit, partitioned away from my Christianity.
But now we're doing Whole 30 a second time (we're on Day 13) and it's different. My deepest underlying desire is to serve and love God with my anatomy, to inhabit the dignity of a body died for. And as I do life without sugar, grains, alcohol, dairy, soy, etc., I am not praying that I would lose weight. I'm praying that God would heal my brokenness towards food and free me from body hatred. I am asking that I would see the body's worth and value as an inhabited holy vessel, lovingly created and care for by God himself.
In other words, I am praying for impossible things, truly. I am praying that God would correct a deeply held belief about myself, one that was solidified before my earliest memories. It is not a self-esteem issue. It is an issue of reality, and a matter of being molded to God's perspective, becoming more like him in all my ways.
More Resources on Food and Body:
A Bite-Sized Theology of Food from Desiring God
Four Signs Food Has Become An Idol from Desiring God
Eating, Body Image, and the Gospel from the Gospel Coalition
Does God Want Me to Look Good? by Rebekah Hannah
Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food by Lysa TerKeurst
The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig