Weight-Loss, Fear, and Eating Cheeseburgers for the Glory of God

October 9, 2012

Heath Lambert

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Heath Lambert

Weight-Loss, Fear, and Eating Cheeseburgers for the Glory of God

The other day I was at lunch with a friend (who shall remain nameless, but he knows who he is).  On that particular day I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. My friend ordered a salad with no dressing. You read that correctly—there was no dressing on the salad. We each stared at the other’s plate judging one-another for our food choices when my friend broke the silence: You shouldn’t eat that. Those things are bad for you. He proceeded to explain that I needed to eat healthier as he choked back his dry lettuce.

A Guilt Trip

He should’ve been a travel agent because he booked me on a rather extended guilt trip.

Do you feel the pressure? I do. Everywhere you look there is a new diet and exercise regimen being hailed: Weight Watchers, Weigh Down (remember?), Jenny Craig, Atkins, South Beach, Cross Fit, Curves, your best friend’s unique method. Everyone—everyone—has a different take on the best way to lose weight, but they all have one thing in common: we must get skinny.

As I listen to the cacophony of voices impressing thinness on us, I hear two dominate concerns. The first concern is the one for health. Many look at the diet of most western Christians high in fat and sugar, and are concerned that we are hastening to a death by caloric intake.

The other concern is appearance. The wealth of Western culture affords a unique opportunity to consider aesthetics, and everything here is beautiful. Our cultural role models are beautiful. The people on television, in movies, and splashed on the cover of magazines are all beautiful. This beauty is usually measured in inches. I am convinced that many Christians concerned about weight are more concentrated on their appearance than anything else.

There is some value in these concerns. I am all for stewardship of your body in health and appearance. There’s no virtue in not bathing or in constantly eating deep-fried double-decker bacon burgers (a real menu item in the restaurant I am sitting in as I write). Though there is some value, I am absolutely persuaded that what drives most of these concerns is fear. Concern for health and appearance is one thing; fear is another.

We’re Afraid

We’re afraid we’re going to die. And we’re afraid people will think we don’t look good. There are a couple of problems with this. First, in the Bible we are not called to be motivated by fear. Fear is at odds with faith (Matt 6:30) and believers are urged to be motivated by faith in the son of God (Galatians 2:20). The second problem is that these fears—like all other fears (Matthew 6:27)—are a waste of time. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are going to die. One day all of us will be in a car accident, contract cancer, get caught in a crossfire, have a heart-attack, or look into the sky and see the Son of Man coming on the clouds. When that happens, life as we know it on earth will end. You can’t stop it.

To keep the bad news coming—if you live long enough sooner or later nobody will think you’re physically attractive. You’ll get liver spots, wrinkles, white hair, lose your colorful hair, and have your body parts spread out.

On the day we meet Jesus or find ourselves sitting in a rocking chair decades removed from a body once smooth and svelte the only thing that will matter is the character we forged during the years we spent obsessing over our food intake. Because that is true, I want to remind us of a few virtues we should pursue when we eat. I think these virtues are often forgotten as Christians talk about eating fewer calories in order to lose weight, look good, and live longer. We’re told in Scripture that whatever we do—whether eating or drinking—we should do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Surely that means there should be more on our radar than adding years and attractiveness to our life.

Here’s a crack at several other things we should keep in mind.

1. We should eat in a spirit of discipline and self-control.

For Christians, eating ought to happen along a spectrum of feasting and fasting. There will be seasons of fasting when we avoid food so we can draw near to God. There will be seasons of feasting when we celebrate God’s blessings to us. Most of our lives, however, should be lived in the middle of these two poles as we eat in a self-controlled and disciplined way. Many Christians I know select diet plans that will allow them to eat the maximum amount of food without ever feeling hungry. I am far from an ascetic, but when did mild feelings of hunger become torture? These feelings of hunger give Christians an opportunity to be self-controlled—to say no to our appetites. They afford an opportunity to do as the Apostle Paul commended, beating our body and making it our own (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). This will look different for different people (especially when they have health struggles like diabetes), but many of us need to view food—not only as an opportunity for satisfaction—but also as an opportunity to say no and mortify the flesh.

2. We should eat in a spirit of thankfulness.

The biblical balance to this previous point is to eat with a heart full of gratitude. Our responsibility to food is not merely to say no to it for the purpose of discipline. We should also say yes to it for the purpose of receiving God’s good gifts. As I ate my cheeseburger that afternoon at lunch I was aware that I am the recipient of uncommon blessings. I ate more that day at lunch than some Christians across the world will eat in a week. It is possible for us to get desensitized in American culture by the vast amounts of food available to us, rail against the unhealthy stuff, and fail to be thankful for the good hand of God in overwhelming us with blessing. Try eating with thankfulness. Sometimes when eating a meal I make a self-conscious effort to be thankful for every bite

3. We should eat in a spirit of service.

A problem with a picky eaters is that they can be rude. I am not talking about people who have legitimate dietary restrictions because of allergies and other health issues. I’m talking about unkind people who exalt their preferences over others. I know a lot of people who have been guests in someone’s home and rudely reject food they are served because it doesn’t fit with their diet or they think they might not like it. That’s rude. Philippians 2:3 says, “In humility, count others more significant than yourselves.” That applies to people on a diet as much as anybody else. I have been a guest in many homes where I ate things that weren’t my favorite or else clashed with my dietary sensibilities because God thinks it’s important to serve the interests of others and not try and get my way all of the time. Think about serving your brother or sister in how you eat, and not just enforcing your dietary restrictions. They’ll appreciate you, God will be honored, and you won’t die because of it.

4. We should eat in faith.

This gets back to what I mentioned at the very beginning. Whenever we eat in fear we’re wrong even if there is justification for dietary behavior because “anything not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). In Matthew 6:27 Jesus asked, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  That means fear-motived eating won’t extend your life. Don’t you know God cares for you? Don’t you know the hairs of your head and the length of your days are numbered? Don’t you know that when you do die you’ll be in heaven and get a glorified body? Obviously you can go overboard with this and fail to be a disciplined steward of your body. What I’m concerned about here though is when we go overboard on stewardship believing it is ultimately our role to care for our bodies and forgetting that’s a job God does best.

Be biblical in how you eat! If nothing else that means we won’t eat with fretful anxiety that we might not be as good-looking as that other guy or girl or that we might—perish the thought!—die. It means we are free to eat serving God and others with discipline, gratitude, and faith.

That means you can eat a cheeseburger every now and then. At least you can put some dressing on your salad.

Join the Conversation

What is your assessment of these four principles for eating?

What other biblical principles would you add?

20 thoughts on “Weight-Loss, Fear, and Eating Cheeseburgers for the Glory of God

  1. Excellent post. I have lost over 25 pounds very slowly through Weight Watchers. My motivation is so I can be my husband’s caregiver and not get a heart attack myself. 60% of Alzheimer’s caregivers die before their loved ones.

  2. Excellent points. I, too, decided to begin to eat healthier. It wasn’t so much an obsession, as a feeling of lethargy and unhealthiness. While I know that my body is deteriorating and aging; I need to be healthy for my husband, as his is doing the same thing – and his knees are injured, so there may come a day when I’ll be doing most (if not all) of the things around the house. That day, I’ll be glad not to lug around extra weight and sickness that the excess caused. If the Lord takes us to Heaven before then; great. If not; then I intend to keep up with my marriage vows and stick with hubby till death us do part.

  3. I agree with your points but in regards to “picky eaters” I think that turning away food you know you are not going eat or even worse might make you gag and throw up…is not being rude….what would be rude is to accept it and then vomit all over their floor….some people have a higher gag reflex than others….now turning away food because it’s not your favorite is another story…but being a picky eater does not make a person rude….

  4. I agree totally! The comments made by some of those commenting about being able to care for one’s family is a good reason to care for our bodies.This falls in line with Ephesians 2:10, the good works God has prepared for us to do. I don’t want my lack of caring for my body to interfere with my obedience to those works

  5. That’s a legitimate concern, Katie. I would argue that the author addresses this when he makes the caveat: “I am not talking about people who have legitimate dietary restrictions because of allergies and other health issues.” This statement would rightly include food choices that would cause vomiting.

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  7. Can I offer a different starting point which might change some of your (good) points a bit? For background – I’m in the beginning stages of a master’s program in nutrition and hope to become a registered dietician, specifically so I can help the Christian community be more mindful of the real relationship between their spiritual life and physical life.

    My starting point would be to consider why we need to eat at all. Hint – it’s not to keep us from dying. Our need to eat was part of our pre-Fall, perfect design. Our need to eat expresses our need for life outside ourself. Ultimately, it expresses our need to, as Jesus himself said so shockingly to a room full of Kosher-keeping Jews, eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood to truly have life in Him. When we try to get life in any other way (and there’s a host of ways people do that through food – all organic, anorexia, binge eating, religious rituals), we “die”.

    When we see food as a means of expressing our need for life in Christ, it has a host of implications for how we view what we eat, and how we eat with one another, like some of the points you mention. We are the only faith who has zero restrictions on eating as a means of gaining favor with God, because of the cross. We’re literally free to eat anything the world calls food, as a means of loving our neighbor. But, as is the case with all freedoms, we can abuse it. It’s ironic that we spend so much time, necessary as it is, fighting against what the world wants to feed our minds, but we give the world a total pass when it proposes what we should feed our bodies. It definitely is likely that you ate more calories in one meal than some people ingest in a week. That, honestly, from a health perspective, isn’t a good thing. 🙂 And if all that your friend had was an undressed salad, he was likely getting too few, another not-good thing. 🙂

    Sorry for the lengthy comment. This topic is one that most Christians brush aside. It certainly doesn’t get much time from the pulpit! Thanks for letting me think out loud with you.

  8. I agree with your 4 main points… completely. And you are right – as believers our main motivations CANNOT be fear or appearance. Both of those lead us down the “idolatry” path, to one degree or another. For me, the true conviction (that enabled me and my wife to lose over 50 pounds and keep it off) was a deep, heart-felt conviction that I was dishonoring the LORD by abusing the body He has given me (being unhealthy). Once that conviction was in place, all I needed was accurate information on the foods I was eating to know what would be honoring and what would not. I know everyone’s journey is different and the LORD takes us all where we need to be as He will – but that’s my experience and my suggestion. Start with responsibility before the LORD, and let Him lead you from there.

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  12. I am a professor at a small Christian liberal arts college in rural MS with a student population that matches the state- 1/3 obese, 1/3 overweight. Seeing a student heaving herself up the stairs to class, gasping for breath, at age 20, is not pleasant at all. I went vegetarian except for fish years ago as a result of health issues, so I feel that modeling proper diet and exercise for the students is my moral responsibility. I tell them how my joint inflammation decreased, my digestive issues disappeared, and my night vision improved dramatically. I also let them know that I do not see what has happened to their bodies as their fault- they are in a horrid food environment, with limited exercise opportunities. Our bodies are not designed for the modern American lifestyle.
    I do not rudely refuse food at friend’s homes or potlucks at church. My friends know how I eat, and that I’ll be glad to bring veggie burgers or kabobs and a big salad for the grilling party. I quietly fill up on veggies at the potluck or family gatherings. Some friends actually go out of their way to make a vegetarian meal, and are surprised at how well it turns out.
    And I don’t eat dressing on my salad, either. I weigh half what my mother did at my age. The crippling arthritis that disabled her in her 40s has not gotten me yet. Many of my students are facing futures of diabetes, arthritis, and premature grief if they do not change their habits for the better. To deliver the message of Christ, you must not kill the horse you ride prematurely. You’re right about the once-in-a-while burger. No harm done. But for kids who have been reared to hate vegetables and eat nothing but burgers, fries, chicken, and cheesy pasta- something must be done.
    My basic Biblical guidelines:

    Adam and Eve were placed in a garden, not a burger joint.
    According to Daniel chapter one, if you don’t know what’s in your food (whether it is kosher or not, in his case), or can’t pronounce it, or know it will do you harm, you should stick to what you recognize as real, good food (veggies and water, in his case). Feasts are fine, but everyday food should be plant-based.

  13. Good points. thanks. I’ve lost 56 pounds and continue to work hard to remove the evidence of bad habits. I fight against the idolatry issue too. I felt convicted about being a Christian and looking like I did. What kind of testimony are we when we are huge, unhealthy people? Christians should exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, one of which is self-control. I feel closer to God when I eat in obedience. Looking better has also made my husband very happy, and he deserves a healthy wife. That being said, your friend needs to relax a bit about your cheeseburger!

  14. I think the original post here was very balanced and I appreciated it. However, on the flip side of this issue: as someone with significant health issues, I think the church body can sometimes be quite inconsiderate. Frankly, I’m tired of only being able to bring a veggie plate to church gatherings because I know nobody else will bring much of anything healthy. I’m tired of having to go to “ministry lunches” where we are fed sandwiches, chips and cookies. Oh, and soda. It sometimes is as if one does not participate in the feast, it’s considered rude. I’m sick of having to grab something unhealthy and try to scarf it down in the car if I have a meeting at 6pm at the church because I can’t take a salad into the meeting. Oh, and let’s not forget the donuts/bagels that someone has to bring on Sunday mornings! It’s crazy, really. Church events and ministry meetings are one of the biggest barriers I have to being consistent with what I need for my health. I wish we could just have healthy and balanced events and leave the enormous feasts for holidays and significant celebrations.

  15. My hubby and I went vegan last fall. It was a great disappointment to me that some of my health issues got in the way and I actually now have to eat quite alot more meat/poultry than I would like. I do eat alternative proteins as well and really enjoy those too. Good on ya for your pescatarian ways! Going vegan for awhile really helped me see some healthy alternatives that I still use now. Best of luck with those kids!!!

  16. Yes, avoiding vomiting would be advisable i almost any situation. Personally, even the smell of sauerkraut can cause a gag reflex in me. God has a sense of humor that I married a man with a German heritage! Oh yeah, I don’t like sausage either. 🙂

  17. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I have gained 60 pounds since beginning in church 4 years ago. Battling with the last 20 and that’s my biggest issue too – do I forego fellowship in order to keep a handle on my eating, or do I exercise superhuman self-control and offend people, or do I just join the party and chow down? *sigh* There is a very helpful (and theologically sound) study at setting captives free (dot) com (all one word) called The Lord’s Table that sets aside all the secular weight loss programs and focuses on the glory of God and on feasting on Christ. Helpful, but it doesn’t change the environment of gluttony in our churches. At least, not yet.

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  19. So basically, don’t worship the food you’re eating or your body image or your health. Instead, fix your entire focus on loving God, and the rest will follow. That’s my synopsis of the article here, but I may be reading my own personal growth zones into it.

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