A Christian View of Dieting, Part 1
In this series of posts, I want to think through dieting and its implications, not only for our physical bodies, but for our spiritual bodies as well. Lots of people diet. Lots of people are repeat dieters. And lots of people struggle with weight. So, let’s think about it…
Dieting is Big Business
-The weight-loss industry is big business. In 2019-20 (the year before Covid), the weight-loss market hit a record $78 billion dollars (fad-diets, books, exercise programs, weight-loss surgeries, etc). Covid had a significant impact on the industry, with a nearly 25% market loss in 2020, but 2021 regained almost the entire loss coming in at $72.5 billion in market value.
We all know the big names in the diet and weight-loss world: Atkins, Jenny Craig, Keto, Beach Body, Herbalife, Nurtri-system, Slim-fast, Weight-Watchers. The list goes on…
There are also numerous tv-shows built around weight-loss: The Biggest Loser, My 600lb life, 1,000lb Sisters, etc.
It’s big business.
-So, why the long list of diets and an ever-increasing market value for weight-loss? Shouldn't it work the other way? More diets, more weight-loss? The reason is simple: People aren’t losing weight. And, if they do lose it, they tend to regain it fairly quickly.
The Cleveland clinic reports that as many as 80-95% of dieters tend to regain the weight they’ve worked so hard to lose.
The Cleveland Clinic reports a number of factors involved with regaining weight, but I have found that my own struggles tend to come back to two things.
First, I have idolized food and its effects in my life. I look to food to do things it shouldn’t do, like comfort me, relieve stress, ease worry and anxiety, an emotional mood adjustment, etc.
Second, I don’t understand food and healthy eating.
-The weight-loss industry thrives because so many people—so many people—never do anything to educate themselves about food, personal health, and long-term food behaviors.
Let's think about it…
What is a Diet?
-What's the last diet you started? Did it work?
How long did it last?
Did you keep the weight off?
-Simply stated, a diet is a way of eating; such as, “The Mediterranean diet.” This is a way of eating derived from the peoples living in and around the Mediterranean coast. It emphasizes healthy fats like olive oils and nuts, naturally occurring carbs in fruits and whole grains, and lean, healthy proteins like fish and chicken.
This is not a specific type of diet, like a weight-loss diet. This is a way of eating and interacting with food that is healthy and sustainable.
Numerous studies have shown that those who eat the Mediterranean diet tend to live longer, have healthier hearts, and less chronic issues. In other words, eating this way is good for the body.
But, back to the question: What is a diet? As we said, it is a way of eating. For many, especially in the West, where the weight-loss industry is booming, our idea of "a diet" is a bit skewed and messed up. Instead of learning how to understand food in a manageable and sustainable way, we tend to opt for someone who will tell us what foods to eat, how much, and when to eat them.
It's almost like tv dinners. We've been conditioned to expect things fast and without any real effort. (For more on this idea, see here.)
We tend to look to the diet experts for quick weight-loss. We see our bodies, we’re unhappy, and so we decide to take action. The only problem is we don’t know what to do. And instead of learning to manage our own bodies, we “hire” someone to do it for us by buying their book, subscribing to their program, or something similar.
We decide that, for the sake of weight-loss, we can endure a short-term change for our long-term goals. The only problem is, as the Cleveland Clinic reports, is that 80-95% of us put the weight right back on.
So, are our long-term goals really our goals?
I think one of the problems is that we diet for the wrong reasons, and we tend to choose the wrong kinds of diets.
Most people typically embark on a weight-loss diet. That's the overwhelming majority of the market. This is some change of food behavior—some minor, some major—in an attempt to get excess weight off the body; usually for a limited period of time. This is where the big names come in: Atkins, Weight-watchers, Noom, Slim-fast, etc.
A major problem with these approaches is that they only give us temporary behavioral instructions — but they never teach us how to think about food or our bodies. They never help us evaluate the food behaviors that were harmful—the ones that caused us to gain weight—nor do they help us with gaining a right food perspective going forward.
-And, if we stop and think about it, we see that they really appeal to the worst parts of us: Our vain desire to be attractive and pleased with our physical bodies.
But, is that really the answer?
-And, what happens when the diet ends? These companies tend to avoid this question…probably because avoiding it keeps them in business.
But, statistically, when the diet ends, so does the weight loss. And the weight-gain usually returns.
Because, we go back to what we know.
-It was our own bad food behaviors and practices that got us into the problem. So, if we never fix what we know, we’ll always return to it.
The First Question…
-We tend to start our dieting by asking this question: What diet should I choose?
A better question would be: What is my goal for dieting?
-A lot of times, we enter into diets without really working through the answer to this question. And, when we do try to answer it, it's usually only with, “I want to lose weight.”
But for Christians, before we ever get to our dieting question, our first and primary question should be: Am I managing my body in a way that glorifies God?
Am I stewarding my body according to God’s Word?
Am I stewarding food according to God's Word?
Once we've answered those questions, then we can move to other questions like: Am I pleased with my body? Should I lose weight? What's the best method? Etc…