Health-Food Heresy: When Eating Healthy Becomes Your God
Growing up in my family “eating healthy” meant there’d be a tiny dry chicken breast and a plop of plain rice on the dinner plate that night. I groaned every time my parents announced a new health kick. Instead of Pop-Tarts, there’d be plain Cheerios and I could bet within the week they’d try pushing “fruit” as a dessert. My brother and I prayed for the day they’d fall off the dieting bandwagon and we could go cheerfully back to consuming a diet rich in processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
I’ve never been the kind of girl who craves raw veggies and experiments with hummus, sprouts, or quinoa. I’m the kind of girl who breaks a sweat saying no to carbs and avoids cupcakes by closing my eyes and counting to ten. Eating healthy is a challenge for me and most of the time it takes a conscious effort to run the race at all, let alone with endurance.
I’m not thin and I don’t have the freakishly active metabolism my husband and children seem to have. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life and participated in dozens of diet plans. I can tell you how many Weight Watchers points are in almost any food, how many calories I can burn with each of the aerobic DVDs on my shelf, and I can calculate your personal daily caloric intake needs with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back.
I’m not a dietician; I’m recovering from a lifetime of disordered eating.
I’ve spent most of my life swinging like a pendulum between seasons of careless eating followed by seasons of hard-core health kicks. In the fall of my freshman year of high school my daily lunch consisted of a slice of greasy cheese pizza, a Mr. Pibb, and a candy bar. Then at some point in the spring, consumed by unhealthy-eating-guilt, I replaced the routine with a new one: four saltine crackers, a slice of cheese, and an apple. And though I’m sure my healthy choices seemed an improvement to the girls at my lunch table, my heart was unhealthier than ever as I obsessed over every bite and calorie.
As an adult, it’s easier than ever to obsess about food; I grocery shop and I plan the meals. There are whole television channels devoted to everything food. Label yourself a “foodie” and you’re considered hip. Websites and online communities offer a wealth of tips and tricks making it possible for me to waste limitless amounts of time on meal prep, different taste combinations, and nutritious substitutions for less healthy foods. I can call my fixation a hobby or justify my passion by claiming it serves my family.
What if healthy eating is actually unhealthy?
We can most likely agree that overeating or obsessing about food is sinful idolatry. But could I also be sinning while I’m eating a well-balanced diet, low in carbs and high in protein and losing weight? Or, what if you’re a girl who has never struggled with over-eating but has always been overly cautious about her eating habits?
Have you ever thought that as you’re eating pesticide-free, chemical-free, dye-free, calorie-free, fat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, or carb-free, you may also be eating Jesus-free?
I can nail my calorie intake day in and day out, exercise three to five times a week, and keep of food journal and still be more in bondage than ever before.
Instead of dreaming of Belgian waffles, maybe it’s greek yogurt and granola I long for. Instead of wondering what I’ll eat next, I think about how my lunch calories changed my dinner plans. I go hungry for the better part of the week to bank calories for a weekend out with my husband. I over-exercise to free up calories.
Even when I’m shedding pounds, I live and die by the numbers on the scale each morning.
Not all healthy eating is idolatry. You may be naturally health-conscious; watching your weight, eating the right number of fruits and veggies and limiting carbs may be second nature to you. But if you are living a life consumed by crazed calorie counting, mealtime manipulation, and weigh-in worries, you are most likely staring into the face of your idol.
A heart idolizing food looks the same on the inside whether it’s the overweight gas-station customer snatching up the last box of Twinkies, or the suburban mom driving across town to shop exclusively at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
Whether or not you battle weight, be aware of the battle for your worship. What you may call a healthy lifestyle may actually be Health-Food Heresy. No healthy way of eating is worthy of all your time, devotion, and attention.
Jesus didn’t die for you to be a size two or have low cholesterol, but to forgive your wicked lusting after things of this world.
So how do I battle the idol of healthy eating?
Call it what it is. Admit if you know your eating isn’t simply your preferred way of life. If healthy living is demanding every ounce of your affection, surrender your strivings and confess your idolatry. Ask God to help you pinpoint the idol you’re serving; it could be pride, greed, vanity, or approval of man. Ask the Holy Spirit for specific conviction regarding your struggle.
Stand on His grace. God is righteous and just and requires all sin be accounted for. But for me, by God’s grace, my debt has been paid through Jesus’ death on the cross. I no longer stand on my own righteousness and sin-free eating, I stand on the grace of His unmerited favor. I am forgiven because Jesus was punished in my place.
Walk by faith. I depend fully on the Holy Spirit for moving forward. I ask him to grant me wisdom to make good choices, self-control to obey, and merciful conviction for the times I stumble.
I have often wished I could give up eating altogether. It would be easier if I didn’t have to struggle with food problems at all. Unfortunately, this will never be a viable option. God has purposed food to sustain us with nutrients necessary for survival. Food will always be a part of God’s perfect plan of provision, for our sustenance in this world. Instead of giving up on the battle, I must learn to interact with food in a way that praises the Creator without idolizing the food He created.
Slaying my inner Health-Food Heretic isn’t an overnight accomplishment. It will take time, prayer, surrender, and dependence. In Christ, it is possible to live a life free from bondage to food; both junk-food and health food alike.
Lindsey Carlson lives in Houston, Texas with her winsome-worship-pastor-husband and their four young and busy children. She enjoys giggling with her littles, dating her husband, deep talks with sweet friends, and laughing really loud. Lindsey loves to challenge believers to define their worship as more than songs on Sunday morning. She writes on living the new song of the gospel at Worship Rejoices.