By: Rachel Dodson, RD, LDN
This month our blog is a bit of a passion project from our incredible RD Rachel Dodson! Rachel is a Young Life leader and passionate believer. In this blog, Rach shares a biblical perspective on God, food, and body image. Please note R and R welcomes all individuals, those of all faiths, genders, cultures, sexual orientations, and ethnicities.
What Does God Have to Say About Food and Your Body?
I think God has more for you, and I don’t want you to miss it. I think God has a beautiful redemptive plan of restoration and healing for your life (Jeremiah 11:29). I think Jesus came that we may have life & life abundant (John 10:10). But I think the enemy has had a plan from the very beginning to make us doubt God’s good plans for us. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). The enemy will try to get us to worship things that aren’t God because the enemy wants to distract us, isolate us, and get us to believe God isn’t really good and doesn’t really love us (Genesis 3:1).
How can the enemy do this? The enemy has specific strategies he uses against us to take advantage of us and distract us from our purpose (2 Corinthians 2:11). I believe your eating disorder may be keeping you distracted from the very calling and purpose you were put on this earth for. When battling an eating disorder, we can become preoccupied with things of the world, like the unrealistic beauty standards of our day. It’s quite a simple tactic from the enemy of our souls - worship food and your body instead of God (Matthew 4:8-10). Pay more attention to food than God. Believe the false gospel that you’ll find freedom when you surrender to the enslavement of your eating disorder’s rules and standards. But I believe God has so much more for you - abundantly more than you could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20). And I believe God cares a lot about our relationship with food and how we care for our bodies.
Bodies Under Attack through Shame
The enemy is the enemy when it comes to body shame and food guilt; the enemy says we aren’t enough; the enemy’s agenda is shame (Connolly). But the Bible says, “...the love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14), not shame. It’s no surprise the enemy will try to attack our bodies and attempt to distort how we view our bodies. Our bodies are where we experience God - in them, we live out our callings and they are where we worship God. And we become what we worship. Today, we are surrounded by lies that tell us daily to worship diet culture and a beauty standard that ultimately leads to a dull and distracted life; and I believe God has so much more for you.
Christy Harrison describes diet culture as the “life thief” in her book, Anti-Diet. She argues, “No matter your body size, organizing your life around weight-loss behaviors creates disorder in your relationship with food and everything else, diverting your time and mental energy from things that really matter.” In her book, she writes, “If women are busy trying to shrink themselves, they won’t have time to shake things up.” If the enemy deceives us just enough to be distracted and uncomfortable in our bodies, think about how much less attentive we are to the kingdom work right in front of us. Jess Connolly, in her book, Breaking Free from Body Shame, argues for a kingdom body mindset:
“Your King loves your body because He made it, in His image, for His glory. Those of us who follow Jesus find ourselves no longer allegiant to the culture around us, but to the kingdom of God. We need a theology that recognizes, responds to, and agrees with the truth of how God made us.”
Now, our bodies' original design and creation were good. But our bodies are subjected to futility (Romans 8:20) and now live under the effects of a fallen world. So our bodies age, they get sick, they experience pain, and can also cause us shame. Unrealistic beauty standards have left 54% of women describing themselves as unhappy with their bodies and 80% of women stated that looking in the mirror made them feel bad (Allberry). And these statistics don’t include men, who are not immune to feeling shame about their bodies (Allberry). The brokenness we may feel is not necessarily about the body itself, but how our experience has taught us to view the body (Allberry). The brokenness of our culture, our family, our friends, our distorted view of who we are meant to be, and what we are meant to look like - these all can contribute to how we see ourselves. But it was for the joy set before Jesus that he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). And the Holy Spirit empowers us to receive the gifts of our bodies and food with gratitude and thanksgiving.
Christy Harrison continues on in her book, “Getting back to your intuition about food - an inner wisdom we were all born with - is a matter of trust, and it’s an entirely different paradigm than having diet culture constantly sowing self-doubt in your mind. Your body must relearn to trust you too - to trust that you’re not going to expose it to deprivation - in order to relax and allow you to stop feeling out of control around food.” Gratitude for the basic gifts of existence - lungs breathing, heart beating, cells regenerating, neurons firing, and a digestive system digesting.”
Christy Harrison is a secular author, but her writing pointed me back to these truths:
God gifted us the ability to know when we need to nourish our bodies. Honoring our hunger allows us to partner with God and participate in the way he designed us instead of distracting ourselves or ignoring how he made us.
1 Timothy 4:4, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” According to scripture, everything created by God is good - both our bodies and food itself. We can fight shame with gratitude.
How God Views Our Bodies
“The truest thing about you is that you are made and loved by God. And the truest thing about God is that He cannot make bad things” - Jess Connolly.
In his book, ‘What God Has to Say About Our Bodies,’ Sam Allberry explains it this way: “God not only thought our bodies up and enjoyed putting several billion of them together, he made one for himself. Bodies matter. He became what he valued to redeem. Every one of us is the product of God’s deliberate choice.” God himself became a human and made his home among us (John 1:14), in a body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - ‘Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.’ “Specifically visualizing my here and now body, with this level of fat and this level of muscle, being a home to the Holy Spirit. This body, regardless of how it shifts, will continue to be the home of the Holy Spirit and the place where I commune with God, therefore my body serves a tremendous purpose and is of great worth.” - Kylie Mitchell, MPH, RDN, LD.
How God Views Food
I believe food and eating deeply matter to God. I mean, why else would He have designed our bodies in a way that requires nourishment in order for our lives to be sustained? God designed food as something to be enjoyed - not something to quantify (Allberry). And the topic of eating is not absent from the Bible. The majority of the Bible has only positive things to say about food.
Eating is not merely bodily, but it’s deeply meaningful. Food is biological but it’s also relational - eating deepens the bonds of friendship and community. It’s a means of cultivating intimacy and celebrating with one another. Why else would we go out to eat on a first date or eat cake at a wedding?! Food is also pleasurable, and it’s meant to be enjoyable. Not eating certain things is not the key to fullness of life. Pleasure and self-control are not mutually exclusive (Allberry).
“Food is part of the creational good that is given by God as a gift to us. Food is an expression of not just God’s provision but also of his kindness. Food is flavorful, not just nutritious, because it is meant to be enjoyed and not just absorbed.” - Sam Allberry
Why Nourishing Our Bodies Matters
The Bible talks a lot about food and eating. Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Go, eat your bread with pleasure, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for God has already accepted your works.” 1 Corinthians 6:13a says, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” We cannot live a full life on empty. Our bodies need nourishment. And God designed our bodies in a way that alarms will sound when we aren’t acknowledging our biological hunger. What do modern-day neuroscientists have to say about our bodies and their need for nourishment?
In the Body Keeps the Score, Dr. van der Kolk states, “One of the clearest lessons from contemporary neuroscience is that our sense of ourselves is anchored in a vital connection with our bodies. We do not truly know ourselves unless we can feel and interpret our physical sensations; we need to register and act on these sensations to navigate safely through life. While numbing may make life tolerable, the price you pay is that you lose awareness of what is going on inside your body and, with that, the sense of being fully alive. If you are not aware of your body's needs, you can’t take care of it. If you don’t feel hunger, you can’t nourish yourself.”
And we cannot regulate our emotions if our brains are physically malnourished, or if our bodies are under the constant stress that disordered behaviors put them under. “Breathing, eating, sleeping, pooping, and peeing are so fundamental that their significance is easily neglected when we’re considering the complexities of mind and behavior. However, if your sleep is disturbed or your bowels don’t work, or if you always feel hungry, the entire organism is thrown into disequilibrium. It is amazing how many psychological problems involve difficulties with sleep, appetite, touch, digestion and arousal. When our senses become muffled, we no longer feel fully alive” (Van Der Kolk).
And if we don’t feel fully alive, we cannot live out our callings. Two stories in scripture came to my mind when I was meditating on how God cares about meeting our physical needs before we step into what He’s calling us to do. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is receiving death threats from Jezebel and flees for refuge in the wilderness. Elijah is depressed and distraught - he felt like he hadn’t done enough and felt unworthy of the Lord’s call to use him to bring revival to God’s people. But God met Elijah in his distress and refreshed him with food and water. God acknowledged Elijah’s physical needs, even stating, “get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you,” after presenting him with bread and water. What happens next? God speaks to Elijah in a quiet whisper and instructs him on what to do next. God gave Elijah strength through food - God made sure Elijah’s physical needs were met before he stepped into his greater calling. In John 21, Peter is fishing after what he thought was the death of his Lord Jesus. But the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore. Now Peter has some unfinished business with Jesus since their last interaction before Jesus went to the cross was Peter denying he ever knew Jesus. But even before Jesus initiated reconciliation and offered grace to Peter, He made him breakfast. Jesus showed his love and compassion to his friends by making them a meal and meeting their physical needs. After Peter ate, Jesus offered him restoration in relationship. After restoration, Peter went on to heal others, preach boldly, and grow the Church (you can read all about that in the Book of Acts). Again, we see someone nourished, restored, and equipped to live out their calling. I believe there is something there for us - don’t miss it.
Living Out Your Calling
Romans 12: 1-6: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way, we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts.”
As Christians, we are called not to conform to what the world says is beautiful and healthy and right, but to be transformed by the Gospel and what God says about us. And the Gospel has nothing to do with a diet. We all have different gifts and play many parts in the body of Christ. You matter and your uniqueness plays a vital role in the kingdom of God.
“We won’t step into our God-given calling if we don’t feel capable because our bodies aren’t ‘good’ aka lining up with what culture says about us. But God made our bodies good. And he gives us everything we need” - Jess Connolly
Restored and Still Being Restored
Our bodies carry our wounds and tell our stories (Kolber). So often, an eating disorder is birthed out of a response to trauma someone has endured, but an eating disorder itself is traumatic for the body. In her book, Strong Like Water, Aundi Kolber states, “When we are speaking of the wounds trauma imprints on our bodies, experiences of safety are a vital piece of the repair. The more safety that is anchored in our bodies and the more positive experiences we have to draw from, the more intuitive it will become to stay within our window of tolerance.” In learning to listen and honor the signals from our bodies, such as hunger, we can move towards healing.
When our bodies belong to Jesus, we have hope and faith in the fact that they will be redeemed and restored. God will never reject us or the body we offer to him (Romans 12:1). God is always saving us from something for something else. If you are a follower of Jesus, I challenge you to ask yourself, ‘What steps do I need to take in my recovery that will help me move towards who God is calling me to be?’ Because I believe God has so much more in store for you. And here is the beautiful thing about Jesus - He is able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15-16). If you feel stuck in your recovery, ask him for help; ask him to be with you in the midst of your suffering and ask him to reveal next steps. He is with you (Matthew 28:20) and he himself is restoring you (1 Peter 5:10-11).
Aundi Kolber says, “We are invited to carry around in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:8-10) a love that does not disappoint or put us to shame (Romans 5:5). This is how we come alive. Resurrection is in our cells. Every time we help our body feel safe, we are practicing hope and resurrection. Every time we turn with compassion to ourselves and others, we practice resurrection. Every time we feel the sun on our cheeks and the wind in our hair and the breath in our lungs; when we laugh at a joke or feel the embrace of people who love us, we are practicing the brave work of resurrection.” And might I add, every time you eat a meal, you are practicing the brave work of resurrection. Day by day, one meal at a time, you are being healed. Freedom is possible. Thanks be to God.
References & Helpful Resources
The Idol of Thinness by Kylie Mitchell
But What About Gluttony by Kevin DeYoung
Breaking Free from Body Shame by Jess Connolly
Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison
What God has to Say About Our Bodies by Sam Allberry
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
Strong Like Water by Aundi Kolber
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