I’ve been on Facebook for a few years now. One notification that always gets my attention centers on my photos. A college friend will load a photo from days gone by, and I’ll be confronted with the younger version of myself: smooth-skinned, smiling, and thin. If an old friend comments on a current photo, I’ll scrutinize it. How much heavier do I look in this photo? Did they notice how much weight I’ve gained?
I don’t like this impulse in myself, but it’s with me all the time. I’m not the girl I used to be. In many ways I’ve changed for the better--but those changes don’t show up so well in the photos on my Facebook wall.
As Christians, we talk a lot about sin. We try to guard our thoughts and control our tongues. We install filters on our computers and are mindful of the movies we watch. If a friend confesses a struggle with lust or alcohol, we rush in to help.
Gluttony and sloth we don’t take so seriously. Some of that is understandable. Overeating doesn’t destroy lives like adultery and alcoholism do. But though there’s no immediate fallout if I overeat and don't take care of my body, it doesn’t honor God, and the impact goes far deeper than how I look in photos.
Weight wasn’t always an issue with me. I remember several trips home from college where my only company for the two hour trip was the radio and a bag of bite-size Snickers. I would wash it all down with a Coke and not give a thought to fitting into my jeans the next day.
It wasn’t until my 30s that I had to start thinking about it. The numbers on the scale crept higher and the clothes got bigger. I’ve gone on a handful of successful diets, but my motivation had nothing to do with pleasing God and building his kingdom. It was always triggered by what I thought others might see when I showed up at the wedding or class reunion. If the diet was successful I felt triumphant. If I failed I felt self-conscious.
What I’ve had to learn, though, is that my problems with food didn’t start in my thirties. That just happened to be the age that I couldn’t hide it any longer. Losing weight and exercise are good things to do, but when my motivation is only to look good to others, I need to examine my heart before I worry about the size of my hips.
As Elyse Fitzpatrck says in her book “Love to Eat, Hate to Eat,” God doesn’t call us to be thin, he calls us to take care of our bodies. Many people who are heavier than I am have much healthier eating habits. And just as I used to, some people use food in unhealthy ways, it’s just that their metabolism allows it to go unchecked.
Food is a gift from God that we are to enjoy and receive with thanksgiving, but my enjoyment goes beyond what is good for me. When I reach for the chips not because I’m hungry, but because I’m bored or tired or just want to feel the crunch and taste the salt over and over again, I’ve crossed the line into sinful self-indulgence.
This New Year, like the last ten, I have goals that include a healthier body. This time, though, I won’t be measuring my success by a number on the scale or a smaller pants size. I hope to focus instead on whether I’ve been a better steward of my body. I want to eat for my health and not my appearance. I want to receive treats with a joy that is balanced with self control. I hope I meet those goals. If the number on the scale happens to remain the same, I hope I will have peace with that as well.