Biggest barrier to having a relationship with God was being a “good steward” of my body.
For years, when it came to exercise and eating, I confused desires of the flesh with what I’ve now come to believe being a good steward of my body actually means. Specifically, a desire to be thin + fit and, therefore, viewed highly by others (doctors, friends, family, strangers) confused with being in pursuit of a level of health that actually connects me to God.
The worldly definition (at the moment) of being a good steward of our body has been watered down by our thinness/wellness obsessed world to (in my experience): you need to be in pursuit of thinness and talk poorly about carbs/simple sugars. Separating what being a good steward of your body means from unrealistic (and, I’d say, harmful) health goals our culture encourages is something worth pondering on.
Before we get into the meat of this post, I do want to say that I have a lot of compassion for myself (and you!) around why I ended up taking being a good steward of my body to extremes. The obsession with self that developed in me was a symptom of low self esteem, intense loneliness in college that was unlike any loneliness I’ve ever experienced (the first couple years of college was the worst time of my life), test taking/social anxiety, and I feel all of those were based in my self worth being highly determined by my performance (excellent grades, thin body, nice to everyone). At the root of my eating disorder and extreme exercise behaviors was me being in a lot of pain. And that pain still exists in my life which is why I still go to therapy. One of my clients said one time after a relapse that the mistake she made was trying to pretend she didn’t have anxiety. Recovery from an eating disorder/disordered eating/excessive exercise is so much about figuring out the root cause of your eating disorder (aka what is the thing that makes you feel unsafe in this world) and then building skills in that area.
Disordered eating can save you from drowning in a world that feels hard for awhile, but engaging in disordered eating and exercise behaviors are not an effective longterm solution. What I really want to come across in these couple of paragraphs is that I don’t view an eating disorder as a sin someone is choosing to engage in, but instead an outcome resulting from certain genetics and numerous environmental factors. There are particular components of eating disorder recovery you do have control over and you can make the choose to stay in your ED instead of pursue recovery, such as following a meal plan or food challenges set by your dietitian, respecting exercise plans (whether that means exploring movement or exploring rest), or seeking out ED recovery resources and unfollowing things that make you dislike yourself. Any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear your opinions on mental health and God.
OKAY! On to the post.
For me, here’s what I’ve found being a good steward of my body actually means. I imagine it has to be a group of things that connects you to Him rather than separates you from Him, so here are some things I’ve realized for myself over the past couple years:
Let’s walk through these a bit.
This is because a growling stomach is distracting. Low blood sugar for many results in a distracting headache, a brain foggy feeling, or some less than optimal bodily sensations. In my opinion, intuitive eating is good for connecting you with God because it is an approach that over time allows you to think about your body and food less and function as God designed your body to work (by eating and moving in response to your hunger cues and cravings for movement).
In the beginning of your IE journey, first you become hyperaware of food and your body size so it can feel all consuming and for many it’s like WHAT IS GOING ON I FEEL MORE OBSESSED WITH FOOD AND MYSELF, but that doesn’t last forever. It’s similar to when you’re learning to drive a car. At first you have to be hyperaware of everything you are doing, but then it becomes more natural and automatic to put the car in reverse, check mirrors and drive. So natural that you don’t even have to think about it. The same can be true for your relationship with food and your body. It becomes more and more natural to care for your body well as you have awareness of your body’s needs (and you allow yourself to respond to them).
I feel like this can very easily lead to a conversation on how eating everything you want, when you want it is gluttony. Proverbs 23:2 even says, “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.” This is when it’s good to challenge black and white thinking and remember that gluttony and permission are not the same thing. Marci Evan articulated this well recently on Instagram:
Since we are so conditioned to always be on a diet, we believe that anything that isn’t a diet (i.e. intuitive eating) is a massive free-for-all eating experience that parallels gluttony. Yes, you have full permission to eat, but that doesn’t mean you’ve given yourself to gluttony. Intuitive Eating is about increasing awareness of:
- when you need food and when you need something else
- what you are feeling and how you’d like to care for yourself when feeling that
Overtime intuitive eating and HAES are approaches that allow you to live according to your values without eating and being in your body feeling unnecessarily complicated.
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:8 that, “bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”. Because of how thinness is valued in our culture it’s easy to fall into the trap of neglecting spiritual fitness in favor of physical fitness. At this season of my life, I find that both too much movement and zero movement are distracting. One makes me exhausted and the other makes me sluggish.
[Note: If you are trying to get away from compulsive exercise, when you stop exercising for a bit (which is an important part of healing) and begin to diversify ways to cope with the stress in your life, you will likely think about exercising way more than when you were compulsively exercising. But this is expected in treatment from compulsive exercise and won’t last forever.]
One thing I’ve thought about lately is that if form follows function, what would be the form of a person who pursue’s Christ? In Proverbs 31, when a Godly woman is being described, the only physical attribute that is named is that she has strong arms. How many Christ-following women in our culture are in pursuit of having huge arms? Many are instead in pursuit of toned and lean arms that don’t appear bulky.
Our broken world says certain things are you being a good steward, but upon further analysis they may actually be things that disconnect you from Him. Obsessing over not eating certain foods, disregarding your hunger cue, pursing thinness instead of health, and overexercising (things our world will praise you for) can be very distracting from forming a meaningful relationship with God. When sent through the wellness and thinness obsessed world we live in, our definition of being a good steward of our bodies can lead to pursing the idol of our ideal body.
I wanted to end with a mention on getting help. If you have a broken arm, you go to a doctor. If you have broken hunger and fullness cues and an obsession with food, you should go to non-diet RD + eating disorder trained therapist. Developing skills to reconnect you to how God designed your body to work and an understanding of why you disconnected from your body’s needs in the first place is a huge part of healing from idolizing one’s body. (again, this post isn’t supposed to be shaming if that is you. See paragraphs 3 & 4 again if this feels that way.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is pursuit of thinness and villainization of carbs something you see the church encouraging a person to do in order to be a good steward of his/her body? Does pursing thinness help you be better connected to Him? I’m all for healthful behaviors that make us feel refreshed and good, but I don’t think engaging in those behaviors guarantees a certain level of thinness. Pursuit of that thinness can be very distracting. What do you think? What did I leave out?