Guest post by Eliza Wood, from Progress Planet.
Is being overweight a sin?
Perhaps life’s demands during Biblical times were such that the problem of obesity was rather small. And perhaps being overweight may have even been a luxury position, implying a person had ample food and others to perform the necessary physical labor. It must have happened to some, but didn’t warrant a specific law, chapter or verse aside from some interpretations of gluttony (there are some 166 verses about that), which, at least in modern times, is not the same as obesity. Heredity, habits, stress and foods themselves all contribute today to this phenomenon.
While being thin is often referred to as a blessing, is being fat considered some kind of curse? Maybe not officially, Biblically speaking, but it sure feels that way to a lot of people unable to shed their unwanted girth.
It is a challenge for many. In the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control, all 50 states have more than 20% obesity. Some states hover at about 25%, and in the 12 most obese states, about 30% of their people are suffering with the problem of obesity — and all the other health challenges that go along with it, including diabetes, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack, diminished sleep, etc.
The Bible belt and obesity
These states that have a third of their people larger than they might like to be include some of the most religious Christians among as a nation. The Bible belt has added a few notches to its original design. Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia are those suffering the most.
With a problem of that scale, one that impacts so many important areas of people’s lives, it is only logical that while God may not be to blame, God is certainly part of the solution for many.
God, support groups and diet books
Rick Warren, author of the bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, has a lot to say about dieting too. His Daniel Plan is quite the rage.
New books abound, such as God’s Diet: A Short and Simple Way to Eat Naturally, Lose Weight, and Live a Healthier Life by Dr. Dorothy Gault-McNemee and What the Bible Says About Healthy Living: 3 Principles that Will Change Your Diet and Improve Your Health by Dr. Rex Russell. There are twenty or so others as well, if one is the kind of dieter who can read a book and implement the solution privately.
In prayer circles, there is a whole new emerging approach to overcoming the temptation of food and prioritizing fitness and overall wellness by replacing thoughts of food with thoughts of God.
Churches are often offering walking groups, Yoga classes (perhaps under another name so they don’t encourage Hinduism), and encouraging weight loss goals. There is plenty of faithful support for those who give weight loss a try and plenty of acceptance and forgiveness for those who fail.
Selling out in Christian bookstores is Gwen Shamblin’s The Weigh-Down Diet, already more than one million books are in the hands of those who need them. The Hallelujah Diet has been rumored to have been adopted by a hospital, claiming simplicity is the key to weight loss.
Weight loss might be simple, but it usually isn’t much fun. In this day and age of extreme convenience and instant results, we just aren’t used to doing things that are hard and that have way-out-in-the-distance delayed gratification.
An all-time favorite book of mine was Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It’s not particularly a Christian or a God-focused book, but it does expose some of the challenges we Americans face with our food itself — in these days of mass food production and food technology. Who knew that eating meat and dairy products from animals given growth hormones actually causes humans to grow perpetually larger? That’s right. The food itself is certainly part of the problem we face. Short of eating all organic food, there is really no way to avoid getting some growth hormones into one’s body.
Food for many is all mixed up with emotions and thoughts. Meals are often the fun, relaxing parts of one’s day, often the few moments of connecting with the ones we love. We are taught to give thanks and praise to God for food. We are not so thankful for the problems that result from food, however.
No way. There are those among the religious who may feel things are the way they are for a reason. There are others who choose to take their weight, nutrition and fitness into their worldly hands, and there are plenty who don’t have a clue about what to do.
With so many diets on the market, each one promoting something great, such as ease, affordability, painlessness, fast results, lasting results or endless other promises, it is easy to get confused. Failing at one diet does harm on two levels. First, it causes the person to feel like a failure, which is a very detrimental event. Second, it slows the metabolism each time we reduce our food intake, which can be an even bigger problem when one abandons hope for improvement and goes back to old eating habits.
In other words, it is tricky to get it right. If it were easy to fix, we wouldn’t have this problem.
If one does well in small group settings and needs a lot of support, that can be found at church. If prayer and solitude works better for others, that can be done too.
Just beware that in the effort to lose weight, many get drawn into subscription programs that charge a monthly fortune. If religious- or Christian-specific diet books might do the trick, that is possibly the cheapest way to approach dieting.
Sadly, the problem of obesity won’t go away by itself. It appears to be getting worse, not better. For the faithful, it can help to remember that God, in a variety of forms, can be a support.