How should a Christian view weight loss?Question: "How should a Christian view weight loss? What does the Bible say about obesity and weight loss?"
Answer: While nothing in the Bible specifically addresses obesity and weight loss, there is much in God’s Word about the importance of our health and of taking care of our bodies. God warns us against gluttony. In the Old Testament God gave specific instructions about what His people, the Israelites, were to eat (Deuteronomy 14:1–21). Most of these commands were designed to keep the Israelites from eating harmful foods that would negatively impact their health. Some of the commands were also given so God’s people wouldn’t imitate the habits of the idolatrous people around them.
Gluttony, which is overeating or drinking to excess, is condemned in the Bible (Proverbs 23:20–21). Gluttony can lead to health risks and become a drain on one’s finances. Plus, the love of food and drink can all too easily become an idol in our lives. Anything that takes the place of God or becomes our number-one focus is, by definition, an idol and thus a sin against God (Exodus 20:3–6). Proverbs 23:2 exhorts us to “put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony”; in other words, we are admonished to restrain our appetites.
In the New Testament, Paul tells followers of Jesus Christ that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). That being the case, we should take care of our bodies and keep them as healthy as possible. Knowing that being obese can lead to multiple health problems, including back and knee pain and cardio-vascular complications, we should make wise choices regarding food, drink, and exercise.
We should be careful not to imply that being overweight is synonymous with gluttony. That would be an over-simplification. There are indeed medical conditions and medicines that lead to weight gain and situations that prevent proper exercise. Such circumstances require a much greater effort than the average person expends to keep one’s weight under control.
If there are no extenuating circumstances, then being overweight is usually an outward sign of a life out of balance. Anxiety and depression are a couple of the most common reasons to eat out of balance. “Anxious eating” is much more common than most people realize. Of course, the Bible has plenty to say about how to deal with anxiety and depression. God repeatedly tells His children not to fear and to cast their cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).
Jesus taught us to seek a balance between the physical and the spiritual: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Striving for balance in our eating habits—and balancing our physical needs with our spiritual necessities—requires wisdom.
Weight loss requires more than simply desiring to lose weight. It’s possible to desire something and never attain it. In the Christian life, we must make decisions that “take off the old self” and “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22–24). Similarly, to attain a balance in our diet, we must put aside old habits and develop new ones. Also, the Christian life teaches us that success is easier when we are sharing the journey with others. In the same way, weight loss is best accomplished with others who can provide some degree of accountability.
While obesity and weight loss are valid concerns, we must be careful not to become obsessed with body image. Again, when something besides God becomes the major focus of life, it is sin. To constantly obsess about exercise, diet, and weight loss means we’ve allowed our bodies to become the center of our lives. Someone with a toned, fit body can be just as idolatrous as a glutton. Also, an obsession with weight loss can tip over into anorexia or bulimia, which also has a negative impact on health.
The bottom line is that the Lord wants His children to take good care of their bodies since their bodies are the residence of the Holy Spirit. A strong, healthy body helps us better serve God and thus bring glory and honor to Him, our principal reason for living. The Lord wants us to keep our focus on Him and not fall into obsessing about weight gain, weight loss, or food and drink, any of which can become an idol in our lives.
At the end of the day, God wants our hearts. Body weight and outward image are over-emphasized in our society, at the expense of inward character. While we should strive to honor God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20), God is more interested in how we treat others and our loyalty to Him than our physical weight.
Recommended Resource: Thin Within: A Grace-Oriented Approach to Lasting Weight Loss by Judy & Arthur Halliday
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