Updated: Jul 5, 2022
Do you ever have those days? I had one the other day.
I slept past my normal waking time because I had worked late the night before. I was tired, groggy, my body ached, and I just had no energy to do much of anything.
I had less than zero desire to cook a healthy breakfast for myself.
And here’s something else to factor in…I had eaten sugar the day before. More sugar than I would normally eat. I had a weak moment and ate some cookies.
Now, cookies aren’t bad. Some might even argue that cookies are good for the soul! And maybe a cookie every now and again is a good thing…
But anyhow, I ate some cookies (plural) because I was hungry, feeling rushed, and had not planned out my lunchtime meal. Basically, I set myself up to fail.
Feeling the Effects
I’ve learned over the past few years that when I eat poorly, I feel poor. No surprise there. It's not rocket science. But it's a fact I had just never thought about, nor cared about.
But what I eat affects how I feel.
I mentioned in a previous post about some of the books I'm currently reading. One of those books is Processed Food Addiction by Dr. Joan Ifland. It's more of a medical textbook, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy reading studies and analyses.
-Anyhow, in the book, Dr. Ifland discusses the effects of sugar and fat addiction, specifically those sugars and fats in the highly processed foods that flood our food options. She writes, “In most industrialized societies, the modern food environment is inundated with highly processed foods manipulated to contain exaggerated levels of sugar and fat. The [overeating] of highly [tasty] foods perpetuates [pleasure] eating by overriding [those natural bodily processes], which under normal circumstances, regulate appetite and body mass.” (Ifland, 67)
Translation: Most of the foods available to us are stripped of their natural nutrition, and pumped full of manipulated/fake stuff to make it taste better and last longer than it should.
AND THEN, when we eat these kinds of processed foods, several negative things begin to happen…
First, because we really like the taste, we keep eating.
Second, because the food has been manipulated, it lacks the natural nutrition that would normally tell our bodies, “Ok, that's enough.” Instead, that natural bodily response does not occur because the nutrients in the food that would trigger it are missing. And that lack of nutrition is masked by the engineered taste, and so we keep eating.
And what's the result? We end up overeating. We overeat because we like the taste and want more, and we overeat because our bodies literally aren't getting the nutrition they need. So we eat until we feel full (volume wise), instead of our bodies sensing that we’ve received enough nutrition.
That’s a bad combination.
Feeling Healthy and Unhealthy
Another fascinating and important aspect of Dr. Ifland’s work is the mental effect of processed foods. She writes, “Research is now showing that chronic consumption of processed foods (of which I’m guilty!) is linked to the development of strong urges to consume these foods [combined, at the same time] with diminished [mental capabilities].” (Ifland, 62).
Dr. Ifland, and others, have done neurological and neuroimaging tests that show a decrease in brain activity at the onset of intense processed food cravings. She writes, “...it could be argued that people simply cannot make a good decision [about their food] because their [mental] functions are suppressed and they simply cannot remember why they are not supposed to be eating sugary processed foods.” (Ifland, 62).
Her point is this: When processed foods make up a large portion of our diets, not only are they working against the physical health of our bodies, they are working against our mental health as well. The more we eat manufactured, highly-processed foods, the more we want such foods, and the less we think about how unhealthy they are as they go into our mouths.
Furthermore, if Dr. Ifland is correct, and I can relate from personal experience, all desire to be healthy goes out the window when a sugar craving hits. I genuinely stop thinking about health and just desire the taste of sugary foods.
-The foods we eat affect our bodies. What I eat affects how I feel.
And because I had not eaten the best, I did not feel my best. I didn't want to eat well, I didn't want to exercise...I just wanted to eat more bad food because I felt bad.
A Personal Takeaway
Here’s a quick personal takeaway from Dr. Ifland’s work: When I’m craving sugary foods, I’m usually only craving a sensation. I’m craving something that is mental, emotional, and physical…but its not usually something healthy. (Every now and then I get a strong craving for a good gala apple).
A Lot of the time, when I’m having a sugar craving, or I’m just struggling to eat healthy, it's usually the result of having eaten something unhealthy the day before. Food affects us, body, mind, and soul.
How Should Christians Think About This?
-First, we need to be honest with ourselves: Food is easy to idolize. It is easy to mistreat and abuse food.
We abuse it by making it meet emotional needs like relieving stress, providing some measure of comfort at the end of a day, or giving us a sense of happiness. We abuse it when we treat it as a cure to boredom. These are things I personally struggle with…maybe you can relate, or maybe you have some other example.
We can easily look to food to meet a need/ or needs that only Jesus can meet. When I start relying on food to meet my emotional needs, I’ve started to abuse it.
We also need to understand that when we abuse food, its also abuses us. It affects our physical bodies, our mental capabilities, and our emotions.
A Gift from God to be Stewarded
Food is a good gift from God to fuel our bodies. When treated rightly, it makes us healthy and it makes us feel good. Food also creates community. There is something special and unifying about sharing a meal with friends and family.
But even in the goodness of the gift of food, there is always the temptation of overdoing it. As Dr. Ifland points out, food not only affects my body, it affects my brain. So, am I just condemned to overeat forever? Is my brain broken? Can it be fixed?
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, the Apostle Paul writes these helpful words, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Sin breaks things. It breaks my relationship with food. Because of sin, I am prone to abuse food and to overdo it. And sin breaks me to the point of messing with my brain. I can’t even think about food the right way sometimes. But, because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, I am not condemned to remain there.
There is freedom in Christ to think about food the right way! Will I be tempted? Absolutely, I will. But, in Christ, I have a way of escape from the temptation. I don’t have to give in. I don’t have to treat food as an idol. I am not enslaved to it.
Jesus can redeem my broken view of food.
-In Romans 12:2, the Apostle appeals to Christians that we might be transformed through the renewal of our minds, and that renewal brings with it an ability to know the will of God.
I'm not condemned to slavery when it comes to food. Even if I’m addicted to bad food. Jesus takes great joy in delivering His children from the things that plague them. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness into His Kingdom (Col. 1:13), and He can deliver us from an unhealthy relationship with food.
One Day at a Time…
-I didn’t want to be healthy that day. I didn’t wake up with my usual zeal to grab the day and make it a healthy one. And many more of those days will come. Struggling is part of life. But, by God’s grace, I made an effort. I ate fairly well, I exercised, I struggled, and I prayed.
And so on it goes. One day at a time.
I keep a quote on my computer desktop: “Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”
I try to make my decisions based on what I want most.