I am one of the 3% of people who do not regain weight after significant weight loss. I used to weigh over 300 pounds, and I got my weight down to 205. Praise God for physical health! But what did it cost? As Christians, the intersection of our faith and health must result in the proper stewardship of our bodies – this expands not just to the scale, blood pressure and cholesterol, but to physical, mental and emotional health as well.
When I lost 100 pounds, I also lost a lot of self-respect for my body and gained tendencies that are congruent with eating disorders. Because I was so focused on the mirror, I actually cultivated an unhealthy relationship with food.
How we care for and view our bodies’ health magnifies what we give ultimate importance. Is it vanity? Is it indulgence? Or is it self-control and stewardship?
So, What’s an Eating Disorder Like – for a Guy?
I’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I do have strong tendencies that are congruent with those who do. Usually, as a male, when I bring up struggling with weight and body image, I get really funny looks. It’s culturally weird for guys to struggle with body dysmorphia or have any type of eating disorder. After all, dadbods are a thing, right? When we think of eating disorders, we typically imagine one of three scenarios: a girl who starves herself to “look good,” a girl who makes herself sick after eating to “look good,” or someone who is overweight and can’t control herself. Whether we like it or not, this is the stereotypical presupposition that we have – at least the one that I’ve ran into most living in the American South.
I imagine a male having an eating disorder differs little from a female with an eating disorder. Sure, the lies we hear and listen to may seem different. A girl may want to be as little as possible, while a guy will usually spend an inordinate amount of time and money in the gym and on nutritional supplements. But, the core lie is the same: You’re not good enough. You don’t look good enough. You’re not skinny enough. You’re not fit enough.
Health is so much more than just staying away from certain ingredients and watching a number go down.
Learning to Eat Again
If you haven’t checked it out, you need to go listen to the talk Benjamin Quinn gave at the recent Wisdom Forum entitled “How to Walk Again.” I bring this up by analogy. Of course, I didn’t forget how to eat (if you’ve been around me at all, you know eating is one of my greatest talents). I did, however, have to learn what the purpose of eating is: to glorify God and steward the resources he’s given me.
Health is enigmatic in our culture. We don’t know what to do with it. What is health? Is it not eating after 7pm? Is it going to the gym every day? Is it staying away from processed foods and scary chemicals like dihydrogen-monoxide (give that a Google)? Is it merely losing weight? Ask a different doctor, and they give you different answers. For me, the lie that I believed was that the mirror dictated health. As long as the mirror approved, and the scale went down, I was healthy – no matter what else.
What I’ve learned, and am continuing to learn, is that health is so much more than just staying away from certain ingredients and watching a number go down. Health is the intersection of our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. We all have different snares that we are tricked into believing. For many of us, it involves the poor stewardship of food. So, what have I learned from my journey?
- Health is Holistic. We cannot segregate our physical health from our emotional health from spiritual health, etc. Our tendency to compartmentalize our lives is simply unhelpful and untrue. The question is: “Am I healthy?” not “Is my body healthy?” Physical health means little if you’re an emotional wreck lacking self-control.
- Health is Different for Everyone. This one’s tough. In the same way that some people are drawn towards sexual sin and others are drawn towards pride and others have other vices, people are different when it comes to health. Some people can eat whatever they want and maintain pretty good health. They’re not physically unhealthy; they’re not gluttonous. This is just not a struggle for them. For some of us, it’s the opposite. And that’s just something we have to deal with.
- Our Goal is Stewardship. We need to steward the resources God has given us, and this includes our bodies. Why? Because if we are to make disciples for many years, then we need to be alive for many years.
A Word for Everyone
Maybe you’ve stuck with me to the end of this, but you’re one of those people who simply doesn’t struggle with any of this. That’s great! But I guarantee that someone you’re close to does, even if you don’t know it. Here’s a few things that I’ve learned for you:
- Don’t Food Shame. Listen, we all know that guy. You’re at the best barbeque spot in town, and he gets a salad (guilty). It’s okay to pick on him, but know your limits. You may have no idea that he binge-ate the night before and is struggling with guilt. There’s a time and place for everything.
- You Have Your Own Struggles. The beauty of the church body is that we’re not all hands or toes or kidneys. We all have different functions and different weaknesses. While you may not understand the struggle your brother or sister is going through, you may be going through something on your own. Walk with that person the same way you would want them to walk with you.
- Learn Discernment about Situations. This is definitely the most complex encouragement. Sometimes, I would ridiculously restrict myself. Other times, I would be gluttonous (all after I lost weight). It took key people in my life to speak to me telling me that sometimes I needed to eat that cookie. Other times, I needed people to slap me when I couldn’t stop eating cookies. It’s discernment and discipline.
Maybe you’re not one of the 3%, and that’s okay. What’s more important is that you steward what God has given you. Maybe, you’re the person that needs to walk alongside someone struggling with an eating disorder. Whatever your role is, my prayer for you is that you act wisely and lovingly towards your own body and towards people who are struggling with things that may puzzle you.