Thursday, November 6, 2008

dieting and gluttony (6) my experience

I've written plenty about self-control in this blog, and I'm not sure much more needs to be said! So I thought I'd take this opportunity to wrap up a series I started many, many moons ago, on gluttony and dieting (remember that one?), and tell you how I'm going with this in my own life.

When I look back over my series, I find it interesting that it started with a diet, which I must admit was fairly short-lived, motivated mainly by vanity and/or discomfort (i.e. not fitting into certain pairs of jeans). But as I looked at the Bible more closely, I discovered some far more significant motivations for eating carefully.

I discovered that self-control does have something to do with food; that we are called to glorify God with our eating; that gluttony is idolatrous, unloving and unwise; and that moderation is a bad master, but a useful tool. And I was deeply challenged and encouraged by the wise words of Os Guiness, C.S.Lewis, Richard Gibson, Graham Tomlin, Henry Fairlie, Jerry Bridges, Carolyn Mahaney and John Piper.

Self-control in eating has always been an issue for me. I'm naturally a perfectionist, and I like to be in control, but my body takes revenge on my mind, so I'm also impulsive: I find it easy to spend too much, read too much, and eat too much.

You wouldn't necessarily know it if you saw me. I'm not blessed with a great metabolism (unlike a dear friend of mine, who loves to eat anything sweet with coloured sprinkles, and who stays far thinner than I will ever be) but I weighed myself recently, and I'm (barely!) within the healthy weight-range.

Which was actually a little annoying, because I wanted an excuse to put myself on a diet and lose the spare tyre around my middle (product of 4 children), but health obviously wasn't going to do it for me, I don't want to be motivated by vanity, and I don't need to lose weight to please my husband (I asked).

But I fit Elyse Fitzpatrick's qualifications for "compulsive eating", which she puts right up there with "anorexia" and "bulimia" as dangerous and idolatrous "life-dominating behaviours":

  • habitually overeating when not hungry
  • feeling "out of control" around food
  • eating large amounts of food without tasting or enjoying it
  • habitually eating when emotionally upset or to nurture yourself
Maybe not life-threatening in my case. But certainly idolatrous.

You see, I know perfectly well that I eat even when I know it's unwise. I eat when I know I'll feel sick for the rest of the day. I eat because there's a open packet of chocolates on the shelf and I can't stop myself. I eat when it's unloving, when I know I'll be sluggish and irritable with my family for hours afterwards. I eat when I feel tired, anxious, or stressed, because it's easier than turning to God and dealing with my heart before him, and it makes me feel (very briefly) comforted.

Diets are not the solution. I've been on a few, and they don't last for long. I've never been a great fan of diets anyway, because I like to have my head and heart matching, and I've always thought diets are a bit of a distraction for Christians, more likely to be the product of vanity, and a source of obsession, rather than any great help to long-term godliness.

Strict rules aren't the solution either. Control-freak that I am, I've always been a great one for self-improvement programs: cleaning schedules to help me stay on top of the housework, quiet-time schedules to keep me praying, child-rearing schedules to make me a better mum. I know these programs tend to end in pride, then failure, then despair.

Instead, I'm choosing repentance. Because for me, over-eating is idolatrous, unloving, and unwise. I'm not going on a diet, although I've put a few flexible guidelines for self-discipline in place. I'm choosing moderation over stuffing myself, thoughtful eating over impulsive eating, loving eating over selfish indulgence. I suspect that if more of us ate like this, diets wouldn't be necessary for most of us anyway (and yes, I know this won't be true for everyone).

I expect the struggle for self-control in eating to be a life-long battle, but one worth fighting. I know that self-control in a small area tends to spread to more important areas. I know from experience that the first 6 months are the hardest. I know it gets easier after that, but not necessarily a whole lot easier. I know that if you let indulgence back in the door, it has a way of taking over. So I'm not aiming for some arbitrary goal weight. I'm in for the long haul.

I know there'll be benefits along the way. Losing that spare tyre would be nice. I'll obviously stay healthier this way. I might have more energy. More importantly, I'll be able to make choices about what to eat with wisdom. I'll set a good example for my children. I'll love my family by avoiding food-induced irritability. I'll depend on God, not food, for comfort when I'm stressed or anxious.

I can't do any of this in my own power: I've failed far too many times to believe that! I'm depending on God, because I know his Spirit is producing self-control in me, and that he gives all his children "everything we need for life and godliness" through Christ (2 Cor. 1:3).


Lara said...

That's a great post Jean - thanks! It's something I've always struggled with. I fit all those criteria for compulsive eating, and I have since I was about 12. I realised recently that I have spent more than half my life trying to lose weight, which is a bit depressing, but probably not unusual for a young woman in our society. I'm on a diet at the moment (Lite n' Easy) but mainly to help me to eat healthily without too much effort while I'm desperately trying to finish my PhD.

I really like what you say about seeking comfort in God rather than in food, and about depending on God, not ourselves. However, I'd love to hear any practical advice about how to do this - e.g. how to remind ourselves to turn to God instead of chocolate!

Jean said...

Hi Lara! Great to hear from you.

I don't have time for much reflecting on your question (my computer's down, and I'm typing this on my hubbies!) but some very quick thoughts about how to turn to God instead of chocolate from my experience:

- the main thing is that it's a matter of retraining your brain - the way you think. This will happen as you read the Bible, pray and reflect. You could memorise some verses to say to yourself when you're tempted (I'll try to think of some - but it will depend on what you're turning to food for - e.g. comfort in anxiety: maybe learn some verses from Philippians 4). Catch yourself as you're about to take that piece of chocolate: what thoughts were going through your head? Maybe write them down. Think about what's wrong with what you were saying to yourself. Practise saying something else to yourself.

- it's also a matter of habitual behaviour. This is trickier! Realise it will be tough to change a habit at first - very, very hard - you'll have to tough it out. It will get easier.

- pray for help; ask to be accountable to someone else: realise you're not doing it on your own, but with God's help, and the encouragement of others.

A very quick response, I know! I'll keep thinking, and you keep asking ...

Simone R. said...

After reading your post I think I need to break my (successful!) diet of 3 months and have a big creamy curry with my husband tonight. We're on holidays and he is craving a carb fest! So easy for the diet to become god.