Note: I asked the readers of this blog to finish this sentence “Is it okay to . . .?” Many of you wrote in with deep questions about what’s okay (and what’s not) for girls who love Jesus. Here’s a great one from Natalie . . .
“Is it okay to diet (not dangerously so) for the sake of looking nice and skinny? Or is that considered vanity?”
To answer that question, I need to take you to lunch with some of my friends.
Christy the crash dieter
Christy eats well most of the time, but occasionally she freaks out about her beauty. Maybe someone makes a comment that causes her to question if she is thin enough. Maybe she passes a mirror that offers a reflection that is unflattering. Maybe she allows herself to play the comparison game. For whatever reason, she starts to diet. One week she’s carb free. The next week she eats only fruits and veggies. She never has much luck in loosing weight, but dieting gives her a sense of control for a little while.
Christy is in good company. Almost 100% of college girls report they have tried to control their weight through dieting and 22% diet “often” or “always.” What Christy doesn’t realize is that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieters and of those, 20-25% develop eating disorders.
Molly the meal skipper
Molly is healthy. No one would accuse her of having an eating disorder, but occasionally she skips a meal or two. Sometimes she skips meals because she’s feeling fat. Sometimes she just gets busy and forgets to eat.
But Molly has forgotten that the Bible says her body is a temple (1 Cor. 6:19–20). By regularly skipping meals, she is depriving her body of what it needs. Just like Christy, Molly is putting herself at risk for developing an eating disorder.
Jessica the junk-food junkie
Jessica doesn’t put much thought into what makes it past her lips. Nutrition doesn’t matter much to her, and she is a slave to her sweet tooth. Just like Molly, Jessica makes choices that deprive her body of what it needs, and she fails to treat it like the temple of the Most High God.
Maybe she’s never read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that he takes care of his body in order to run the race of faith at top speed.
Olivia the Overeater and Stressed-out Susan
They have similar relationships with food. Both of them use food to soothe them when life feels hectic and out of control. Olivia fills the voids in her heart with too much food. If she feels emotionally or spiritually empty, she makes sure that she is physically stuffed. She is among a growing group of girls who have become overweight because they can’t control their eating patterns. Susan looks fit as a fiddle, but catch her on the day of a big test or a relationship crisis and you’ll find her dipping deep into a tub of Rocky Road. Food has become her coping mechanism.
Instead of casting their cares onto Christ (1 Pet. 5:7), these girls have developed a tendency to seek the counsel of Ben and Jerry.
My fictitious friends don’t necessarily have eating disorders, but they have developed some patterns of disordered eating. Where would you fit in at this table? Christ cares about every nook and cranny of your life. His words offer guidance for daily living, and we can find many scriptures devoted to the topic of food. So what does the Bible say about food?
Food Is God’s Provision
It is easy for us to forget that God is our provider when we can easily go to the grocery store or a drive-thru any time hunger strikes. But God is the one who created our food sources. He is the maker and sustainer or all life. Psalm 104:14 says, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Here are some other verses about how God provides food for us:
- Psalm 145:13, 15–16
- Psalm 136:25–26
- Psalm 111:15
- Ecclesiastes 2:24–25
- Matthew 14:13–21
- Matthew 15:32–37
- John 21:1-13
Food Is Good!
In Matthew 15:10 Jesus said, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.'” The early church in Rome got so wrapped up in defining which foods were good and which foods were bad that Paul was forced to address it in a letter to them. He said, “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14).
Food Shouldn’t Make You Worry
Jesus said it this way,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important that food, and the body more important that clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:25–27).
In our world of carb- and calorie-consciousness, it’s easy to believe that food is the enemy and to get stressed out every time we have to make a food choice. According to the culture, we are supposed to limit carbs, say no to gluten, eat five fruits and veggies a day, and drink at least eight glasses of water; and if we do not, we feel guilty and stressed. But the Bible does not take this approach to food.
So, What About That Diet?
I love that you are brave enough to ask tough questions, but tough questions rarely come with easy answers. It’s possible that some of us do need to shed some pounds in order to be at a healthier weight. It’s also possible that many of us are putting junk into our bodies that doesn’t honor the way God created us to live. In those cases, changing the way we eat is likely a wise choice. But there are other times when a diet is not God’s best for you. If we look at food through the lens of God’s Word, we come up with a set of questions beyond simply, “Should I go on a diet to get skinnier?”
Here they are:
- Do I believe that my worth comes from who I am in Christ, not what I see on the scale? Do I get that I am not more valuable if I weigh less and less valuable if I weigh more?
- Do I thank God for the provision of food?
- Do I think that food is good or the enemy?
- Do I worry about what I eat?
- Do I eat like my body is a temple?
- Do I recognize any patterns of disordered eating in my life?
PS: I have lots more to say on this subject! Most of this post is taken from my book on true beauty, Graffiti: Learning to See the Art in Ourselves.