Friday, November 7, 2008

dieting and gluttony (7) Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick

If you came to me asking for advice about compulsive eating, obsessive dieting or exercising, food abuse, anorexia or bulimia, or simply lack of self-control around food, Elyse Fitzpatrick's Love to Eat, Hate to Eat is the book I would encourage you to read, or even better, read with you.

Elyse Fitzpatrick is an experienced Biblical counsellor, who fights her own daily battle against compulsive eating. Her book is so far beyond any other Christian book you're likely to find on this topic, which has probably produced more nonsense than just about any other issue, that it might be from another planet!

She quickly makes it clear that this is not another dieting book. While she does include food diaries and practical suggestions, her main goal is not to influence behaviour, but to change the heart.

She takes destructive eating back to its most basic level: enslavement to idolatry. Instead of seeking mere outward change, aiming for weight-loss or even healthy eating, or settling for a fad diet, she calls us to pursue inner rather than outer beauty, to change sinful thinking patterns, and to glorify and enjoy God in our eating, with the confidence that God, by his Spirit, can change even our most deeply ingrained habits.

She encourages us not to blame our poor eating habits on upbringing, illness, or low self-esteem, as if it's someone else's fault. Instead, we need to realise that our behaviour stems from the sinful desires of our heart (James 1:14). So, for example, we may eat in an ungodly way because we want to be in control, or because we love pleasure, or because we think satisfaction lies in earthly things.

Her solution is four-fold, and she emphasises that each of these can only be done with the help of God's Spirit:
  1. Become convinced that your present method of eating is (not just unhealthy or embarrassing but) sinful (enslaving, idolatrous, disobedient, gluttonous) and cease from it (repent and resist);
  2. Become convinced that God's methods for disciplined eating (self-control) are right and begin practising them (see the DISCIPLINED Eating acronym below);
  3. Seek diligently to change your mind and become conformed to God's thinking, especially in the area of your eating habits (she outlines the relationship between body, mind and emotions, and how to influence feelings through behaviour and thoughts, for example by putting off wrong thinking and putting on godly thinking); and
  4. Continue to practice these new thoughts and behaviours, even when the struggle gets hard (she calls us to the long haul, to slow, steady growth, to a daily, painful battle, to developing new habits, and gives some very practical guidelines).
I found her book a bit rambly at times (I like my points neat and in order!) but when I stopped taking notes and started reading, it was easy to follow and enjoyable to read. Her theological points and use of the Bible weren't always as tight as I would have liked: for example, I think God's call to be a "temple of the Spirit" is about avoiding defiling our bodies with (sexual) immorality (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20), although at least her focus was less on health, and more on not using our bodies for sin, and caring for our bodies so we can use them in God's service. But the book's overall theological structure was excellent.

I particularly liked her chapter on anorexia, bulemia and compulsive eating. She refuses to call these behaviours "diseases", although they are so powerful and seemingly so involuntary that they mimic diseases. Instead, she calls them "chosen, life-dominating behaviours" which can be changed with the help of God's Spirit.

She explores in detail the kinds of idolatrous, unbelieving, self-focussed thoughts which can lead to such self-destructive behaviours - perhaps "I must be thin so I can have worth", or "I need to be in control", or "I deserve comfort and love" - and shows how to replace these thoughts with God's truth.

I appreciated the way she exposed my own temptation to create an idol out of control, develop commandments to serve it, fail these false standards, give in to despair, and give up trying: the cycle of the dieter. Her answers aren't slick or superficial, but I'll leave you to read the chapter and see for yourself!

Let me share with you her very practical DISCIPLINED Eating acronym, which you can learn, and use to determine whether eating a certain food is godly or not:

Doubt - am I eating even though I'm not sure it's sinful (Rom. 14:23)?
Idolatry - am I serving control, pleasure, or comfort (Ex. 20:3)?
Stumble - will I cause someone to stumble (Rom. 14:21)?
Covet - am I eating because I'm discontent and wanting something someone else has (Ex. 20:17)?
Inroad - will eating or doing this lead to sinful behaviour (Rom. 13:14)?
Praise - can I eat this with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4)?
Life - will eating this harm my health (Ex. 20:13)?
Illustrate - am I setting a good example for others, including my family (1 Tim. 4:12)?
No - can I say no? is my body under my control (1 Cor. 9:27)?
Emotions - am I eating out of anger, fear, frustration or depression (Gen. 4:7)?
Distract - will this distract me from something better e.g. time with guests or God (Lk. 10:41-2)?
Enslaved - will this lead to bondage to something I can't say no to (1 Cor. 6:12)?

If you struggle with destructive eating habits, I recommend Elyse Fitzpatrick's Love to Eat, Hate to Eat to you. It will encourage you to feast on God, not on mud-pies.


Donners said...

Hi Jean, we met briefly at mentiring one-on-one, I'm Amy ( not Just, the 'other one'!)
I also read this book and found it interesting and helpful, but a little disjointed. I found I jumped around and read it in bits and pieces.

Re: this whole series, thanks so much for posting your thoughts on this. It is a topic that I have been exploring and praying about myself. In the process of trying to work this out I've loved your thoughts, particularly the puritan comments.

A link I'd like to share with you is a talk by Crystal Munson at Mars Hill church, on gluttony. I got quite a bit out of this and if you felt like revisiting the topic again yourself, you may too :)

Jean said...

Thanks, Amy. Oh, dear, remind me when I met you, I am so bad at names and I met so many people briefly!!

Yes, the book was a little disjointed, wan't it? One reason I wanted to summarise it in this post was to get it clear in my head. I find that many Christian books are like this.

One reason I like Tim Chester's "You can change" (which I recommended yesterday) is because it's from the same kind of biblical counselling convictions as EFitzpatrick's book, but it's actually methodical and CLEAR!

What puritan comments did I make in my posts on this topic? I can't remember after all this time!! I am planning an extra post on this topic soon, about the link between gluttony and selfishness (a personal take from my own recent experience) so keep a look out if you visit here again!

Good to hear from you. Looks like we're checking our computers at the same time.

Anonymous said...


Coming to this series really late. I've appreciated some of the insights and thoughts - I've definitely been challenged.

But as a Christian woman in ministry, who has suffered in the past with an eating disorder (EDNOS) over a long time (17 years and counting), I've found them quite hard. I've read Elyse's book, but in the end thought it was quite unhelpful.

An eating disorder is just that dis-order. So many things are mixed up in your head. EDs are often accompanied by depression and anxiety, and it can be hard to work out what comes first! Sin is a factor, but doesn't explain all of what is going on in our messed up heads. And for many, if we could just change they way we think and act differently, we would.

I guess I'm just trying to ask for grace and gentleness in the way we speak about this whole issue. There is a world of difference between ordinary women caught in the trap of putting her value n how she looks or what she weighs and those enslaved by ED's, especially those who are Christian who know that their identity is found in Christ and are whole in him, who want to change, yet at times unable to see any way out.

Jean said...

Thank you, anon, for your honesty and for sharing. I'm sure you're right: that the issues are complex and mixed up with lots of other issues for many women. I find it hard enough to deal with this whole issue myself, without a lot of the other baggage! Let's keep praying for each other.