Idolatry and the Nutrition Facts

For many years, a lot of my time and passion has revolved around food, nutrition and health. In many ways, this has been a valuable passion that has taught me a lot, helped me improve my personal health and allowed me to help others pursue their goals of healthy living. I love cooking and reading recipes is a favorite pastime for me.

I love the we, as a culture, are learning to focus file0001460715847more on our health. It scares me how much we have let ourselves go as a population (guys, in 2010, 75.1% of adults in America are overweight. 42% are obese. OBESE!), so my heart is warmed when I see people making choices that put their health above their comfort or physical desires. Any time I see someone that is clearly out-of-shape out running, I have to fight the urge to roll down my window, pump my fist and cheer them on as they have made the difficult and uncomfortable decision to work to improve their life.

But what happens when you take it too far?

What I can no longer deny is that health and nutrition have frequently become idols for me. Struggles with body image have won the battle of priorities in my life at many times, which means that God and His image of me has taken the backseat to my own earthly image of myself. Even though it has been a while since I have been statistically overweight and even though I know that I am of a healthy weight and size, I still struggle to avoid criticizing myself, to approach food and cravings in a healthy way and to remember that food and nutrition are made for our bodies, not the other way around.

I am very careful to avoid ‘fitsipiration’, a new social media trend (mostly Pinterest) where you use inspirational images and statements to inspire you towards fitness goals. Surely keeping yourself motivated toward fitness goals is not a bad thing; however, most of them feature photos of women with absolutely ripped abs, toned and defined backs, strong and chiseled hips, or men with bulging, billowing biceps, huge and shredded pecs, the quadriceps of Hercules. As much as they can inspire you toward improving your fitness, they can equally remind you just how far from ‘perfection’ you are. It is a reminder of just how far you are from being worthy of being called ‘fit.’ 

As fallen creatures, it is easy for us to fall into the sin of idolatry, and, unfortunately, I think it is more difficult for us to self-identify this in the modern age than it was when our gods came with explicit names like Baal, Dagon or Zeus. At least then we knew they were gods. Now we worship so many things without even realizing that we have turned them into gods.

Our worship comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s where we choose to spend all our money. Sometimes it’s where we choose to spend all our time. Sometimes it’s where we choose to spend all our hope. Sometimes, it’s all of the above. I spend more money on food, supplements, races and athletic equipment than I do serving the kingdom. I spend so much more time thinking about my weight, my eating habits, my meals, my gym routine, my sugar intake than I do about my relationship with my Heavenly Father. But worst of all, I invest much more of my hope in what I can accomplish as a thin, fit, strong woman than I can as a daughter of the living God.

Paul wrote in Colossians 3:5
, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Here, he helps us recognize that sins are in our heart, not just our actions, that idolatry isn’t just worshiping a pagan god, but anything that takes our attention and focus away from him. In Exodus 20, God describes himself as “a jealous god;” I, for one, believe him. I know he wants all of me, no matter what I look like, but I don’t want to give it to him. I want to run after the earthly things, believing that, somehow, achieving the earthly things will make me worthy of the heavenly things that he offers so willingly. I have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23).

But is it idolatry just because it is earthly? Of course not. Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” Clearly, we are not to be gnostics, shunning all things material, seeing our bodies as mere traps for our spiritual selves. Our physical bodies have value to God as his temple, so we have a responsibility to care for his dwelling place. Killing ourselves with nutritional negligence is also offensive to God.

Yet again, the answer seems to be balance. He isn’t asking me to give up my love for cooking and my desire to do so in a nutritionally beneficial way. He doesn’t ask me to stop reading nutrition labels or to give up my gym membership. He isn’t commanding me to walk my next half marathon or to never use a weight plate heavier than 35 lbs.

No, instead he asks me to choose him over my body. He calls me to see my body through his eyes than through my own. He commands me to run with endurance the race of faith with more passion than the race of my feet.

Fortunately, self-control is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23); it is a product of our relationship with Christ. The deeper we dig into Him, the easier it is to deny our earthly desires, to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. I have committed to redirecting some of the time that I would normally spend reading and analyzing recipes to prayer and scripture study. I know that, as I give him back more of myself, it will become easier and easier to lay down my idols, no matter how good they can be, to more fully embrace the promises of Christ, which are infinitely better and more complete than the promises of fitness.


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