Food and Lifestyle · Tara Jane

Dieting: The Acceptable Idol

I don’t remember when I knew I wanted to lose weight. But I do remember the ridiculous apple diet I went on at the start of year eight. It involved cutting an apple in half, eating half for recess and saving half for lunch. No wonder I ate the entire kitchen every afternoon when I got home.

I also remember the time I tried the Atkins diet during our trip to Ireland in 2003. I don’t remember much from our bus tour of Dublin except bacon, soup and falling asleep for most of the trip because I just had no energy.

Then came was the carrot diet I went on in year ten (partially for health reasons, partially because I wanted to test the theory that eating a carrot every day for five years turned you orange. I lasted two weeks.)

There was the time I inherited a series of Weight Watchers books and proceeded to inform anyone who would listen to me that sausages were worth eight points each, and a packet of Migoreng was more than half your daily allowance of points. They all banned me from using the word points on our camping trip.

In hindsight, some of these stories make me giggle. Some make me cringe (I can’t believe I was that ridiculous), and others make me sigh because I realise how annoying I must have been. But here’s the thing: nobody taught me I needed to lose weight, or worry about those numbers on the scale. I just knew and I just did.

I find myself, even more so now than ever before, surrounded by this diet culture where losing weight, being healthy and active are key messages. New gyms keep opening and my news feed is full of people “checking in” at the start of their workout. Coles now has a home-brand diet range of products. Apps like MyFitnessPal have over one million monthly users.

As a Christian trying to scrutinize and evaluate the world through the lens of the cross, I find myself struggling to find balance and truth in this crazy health/diet/body-obsessed culture. There is so much I want to write and explore when it comes to Jesus vs diets, and hopefully this blog will give me space to do that.

But today I wanted to think about the influence the world’s wisdom has on us when it comes to the reasons why we might want to get healthy. Because being healthy in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It’s so often the motivation behind our actions that taints what we are doing.

I can only evaluate and speak for myself here.

Sometimes I am motivated to be healthy by a desire to keep my body well and serve others. Taking care of my body by eating healthy foods and exercising regularly is a good thing to do, according to most doctors. It gives me energy. It allows me to serve others around me and go the distance in ministry. It makes my body feel good and my digestive system regular. It’s not a failsafe way to never get sick, but being healthy is meant to reduce the risk of a lot of illnesses. I enjoy eating fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods. It’s nice knowing that you’re looking after your body, and encouraging others to look after theirs as well. It’s good to keep yourself in shape so that you can be available to serve others. It’s good to prevent what illnesses you can by being healthy so that you can be well enough to care for others. Exercise makes you feel good and is great for combating stress. Last year I did the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation and loved it because I learned so much about cooking, eating healthy and exercise. There are so many good motivations and great reasons to be healthy.

Other times, I am motivated by less honorable desires.

There are days when I look in the mirror, or step on the scales, and decide that “I’m going to do better” because I don’t like what I see. My motivation is self focused – I want to weigh less, look younger and thinner and stronger, I want to make these changes to my body and manipulate it for my own benefit. And herein lies the problem: the world will always say “you are not enough.” And I will never be enough, according to the world. I will never be thin enough, I will never be young enough, I will never be healthy enough, and the world says that my worth depends on this. The world is quick to place our worth as people on unattainable goals.

If my motivation for being healthy is tied in with my worth and how I value myself as a person, this does three very destructive things. Firstly, it causes me to tie the value of others with these superficial markers. People are amazing individuals, each with their own stories, experiences and personalities. It is grossly unfair to boil them down to a number on a scale, or a size on a clothing rack. It is a lie, an inaccurate representation of who they are, and it’s a result of the way the world teaches us to think.

Secondly, it sets me up for failure. These goals are goals that nobody can attain. Who gets to say what is thin enough anyway? What is the perfect number on the scales? And besides, even if two people weigh the same, body shapes are all different – they are going to look different and then we will only be dissatisfied with something else! We will always fail trying to reach these goals, because you can never be thin enough, strong enough, healthy enough for the world. There will always be someone better out there. And even if we are just doing this for ourselves, we will always fail ourselves eventually.

Most dangerously though, it makes me lose sight of the cross. My attention is not on Jesus anymore, instead it is on myself. I have instead become completely self focused. I am the god that I worship and make sacrifices to, not Jesus, because my goal is to bring myself glory.

So there you have it. This is the fine line that I balance most days. I know who the cross makes me: I am a child of God, saved by the blood of Jesus. The very fact that God chose to save me gives me worth as a person. The fact that I was created by God and given life gives me worth as a person.

However, the world will always try and tie my worth into other things. The world will always tell me otherwise.

So as I look in the mirror, step on the scales, or look back on a weekend of wicked over-eating, and make the decision to be healthy, I need to keep asking myself the big question: why?

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