Probably half the members in your church are fat or at least struggling against fat. Many of them diet more religiously than they pray. Yet at the end of this year few of them will weigh appreciably less than they do now.
Some of your members suffer from physical ailments directly related to destructive eating habits and obesity. Chained to favorite foods, they riddle life with failure, self-contempt, and guilt.
And what about the pastor? Black suits come in large sizes, too. Pastors are as vulnerable to fat as their congregation is. Their sedentary occupation dooms them to long hours sitting at a desk, in a car, and in committee meetings. Irregular hours spawn grab-eating and late night comfort-food sprees. Add frequent invitations to the saints' feasts, and it's no wonder many pastors outgrow the suit they wore at ordination.
Because pastors also have consciences, they may eventually join the army of dieters who start a new one every Monday morning. Occupationally handicapped more than many, they ask, "With all I have to do, how can I slice off an hour for exercise?"
Don't despair. You already hold the weight-control key that both you and your fat parishioners are looking for.
But losing weight isn't easy.
I know. Sixteen years ago I was the fat pillar in the church who stood before a Bible class every week wearing a size 22 1/2 dress. I winced when I taught about victory through faith in Christ, all the time recalling my own uncontrolled eating habits.
Eating and sin
One day I read a surprisingly accurate description of a dieter. Substitute the word eat for the word do in the following quotation. Does it sound familiar?
"For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. ... For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that 1 would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (Rom. 7:15-20).
Sin? Eating what I shouldn't and not eating what I should is a sin? Are my uncontrolled indulgences really that serious? I asked myself these questions as I sat in my voluminous muumuu and shivered before God. No fig leaf could cover my many eating pacifiers.
So I dieted more diligently, but the jam on my face at day's end preached my plight. I couldn't stick to a diet. When favorite foods confronted me, I consistently lost not pounds, but the battle. I struggled, but food outwitted me. "For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (verse 18).
Paul was right. "If I do that I would not, ... sin ... dwelleth in me" (verse 20). I had to admit that I, a Bible class teacher, a former foreign missionary, a roly-poly saint, had a sin problem.
With that admission my healing began. My religious upbringing convinced me that God had a cure for sin, so I had hope. That size 22 1/2 muumuu was doomed.
The more I studied, the more I realized how much the Scriptures say about the sin of gluttony. Didn't Eve fall for the first food commercial? Haven't we been in trouble ever since?
Everyone but One. Christ endured the most difficult eating temptation. After forty days of fasting He could say, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Because of His victory, I can win too.
Jesus taught the people, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23). I couldn't label three helpings of potato salad "self-denial." Nor four desserts at the church fellow ship dinner.
Paul could be blunt when it came to eating indulgences. "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Phil. 3:18, 19).
Idolatry? Could it be that my problem in front of the refrigerator was idolatry? Thank God, the same scriptures that condemned my eating binges, gave me the key to conquering them—the only one that works.
Getting the victory
If lack of self-control is a sin problem—a bad one called idolatry—I knew that by the grace of God I could get the victory. The death of Christ paid for my sins. My faith in that gift gives me forgiveness. I am free of the guilt of past indulgences.
But God wants to do more than forgive me. He wants to give me power, through faith in Him, to live above destructive sin. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
How? Still by faith. "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4, 5).
Spas, diet plans, gadgets, didn't really help me. They work from the outside, trying to find the thin person inside. But I was fat at heart. What I needed was a change on the inside that could help me become thin. The principles that worked for me (I now wear a size 10) have now helped hundreds of desperate reducers. And they can help you and those for whom you are concerned.
Lasting dietary changes must work from the inside out. You don't need a new diet, but a new heart. Give it, along with any possible destructive eating habits, again to your Creator. Don't try to put in three good days of controlled eating first to prove that you are serious.
Tell God that you choose to clean up your eating habits. Ask forgiveness for past indulgences. Admit that you won't accomplish anything alone. Let Him do it for you, then give Him all the glory. Don't ask Him just to help you. You must let Him take 100 percent charge of your life, including what you do in the dining room and kitchen. You supply the choice. His power will work out the victory. But you must commit yourself to eating to honor your Creator.
If you believe that He has answered your prayer, you already have victory. The unhealthful food you once loved will lose its appeal. You will gladly, contentedly eat to honor God.
The devil may suggest that such a miracle is preposterous. If he brings to your mind a long list of diet failures, repeat 1 John 3:6 to him as emphatically as Jesus spoke to the devil in the wilderness. "Everyone who lives in union with Christ does not continue to sin" (T.E.V.) If the devil persists, resist him with more Scripture.
"I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. . . . Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. . . . Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me" (John 15:1-5, T.E.V.). The fruit of the Spirit includes temperance, or self-control.
Hurl this text too at Satan: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13, N.I.V.).
So much for the devil. He must leave you as you look to God in faith, just as he left Jesus when He quoted Scripture.
Because you love Jesus and because He has already given you victory, you can now stop eating all sweets except for fruit and foods sweetened with fruit.
"Wait a minute," you say. "That's my big problem. I'm attracted to sweets. Once I start eating them, I can't let them alone."
Can't you? Did you not give yourself to Jesus? Didn't you put Him in charge of your "house"? Didn't He promise that you already have victory?
Then you do have it over your strongest temptation—sweets. Even if sweets are not your biggest enemy, why not stop eating them for a while anyway? In time you will learn to prefer less, but when you first cut them out, you may be surprised at the tenacity sugar has on you.
Strategy for weight loss
Here is your strategy. Every time your favorite sweet food entices you, repeat these words: "Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Ps. 119:11).
You may need to purge some of your sweet caches in desk drawers, car glove compartments, or in your tool chest. You shouldn't force others to do as you do, so if you can't totally remove sweets from your environment, use Scripture weapons and rise above the temptation.
Because you are reeducating your taste for sweets, read food labels. Avoid anything that contains sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, fructose, honey, molasses, sorghum, or any type of artificial sweetener.
Forever? Not necessarily. Later you may be able to eat something sweet occasionally. Most people would profit if they ate much less. So omit sweets for a month or so and experience the advantages.
For the first twenty-four hours of your new weight-control lifestyle, eat nothing but fresh fruit (excluding juice or dried fruit). Eat a reasonable amount, but eat only three times a day.
If you wish, add Rykrisp or other rye flat bread, or whole-wheat zwieback (whole-wheat bread dried on a baking sheet in a 250 F. oven for two hours). Remember to eat only three meals. Space them about five hours apart, the first one soon after you get up.
You should not limit your food to fruit for more than one day, so be prepared to eat a greater variety of food tomorrow. You will be tempted to "go on a diet." Isn't that how all reducing begins? But don't. Simply eat the best way you know how, asking God to teach you when enough is enough.
Strict observance of the usual diet rituals does not lead to permanent reducing success. Deemphasize the ritual and maximize the relationship. Your success is measured not by how well you stick to your diet, but by how well you stick to your Lord.
The best way to live in union with Christ is to occupy the same house, so invite Him into yours. Don't be afraid. He is there not to police you, but to help you learn and follow a far superior plan of eating.
"I stand at the door and knock," He says; "if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him, and he will eat with me" (Rev. 3:20, T.E.V.).
When you realize that Christ is a guest in your house—your body—you won't want to eat between meals when He doesn't eat. Nor will you say to Him, "I know that You prefer to eat the food You Yourself created. But please excuse me while I eat this highly refined, manmade concoction commonly called junk food. It happens to be what I prefer."
If Christ lives in you and He is your guest, you will want to offer Him an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains prepared as closely to the way He created them as possible. You will eat less fat, especially decreasing fat used in cooking. Remember that meat and dairy products contain a fairly high level of fat and cholesterol. Learn to substitute vegetable sources of protein (especially legumes) as you eat less and less of animal products. Choose leaner meats and low-fat dairy products as you move in this direction. Most important, keep an awareness of Christ's presence with you continually.
A more specific diet is beyond the scope of this article. The best one for you needs to be tailor-made for you. Study good nutrition and let the Holy Spirit convict you of changes you need to make. Let Him surprise you with a better way of eating.
Sometimes Christ has to allow you to stumble and fall to help you realize His warning: "You can do nothing without me" (John 15:5, T.E.V.). If you fall down, invite Him back, and tell Him you realize more than ever that you "can do everything through him who gives [you] strength" (Phil. 4:13, N.I.V.).
Managing your life
It is impossible to continue this living union with Christ unless you spend time with Him. Most reducers profit by learning time management. Undisciplined eating often originates with a helter-skelter schedule.
One of the first principles of this science is evaluating priorities. Those who don't evaluate and establish priori ties fall into a pattern of fumbling through the day with no structured plan for accomplishing anything. Soon working and eating occupy most of the time, and sleeping, exercising, and praying much less. The pressure to overwork and overeat intensifies until God and exercise slip off the list, and sleep finds only frazzled remnants of time.
Does that sound like a perfect scenario for hopeless dieting? A successful reducing project doesn't begin with cottage cheese, but with a time slot earmarked for communion with God.
Exercise is essential
If God must take top priority in your schedule, exercise must come second—even above the food you eat. To lose weight, calories eaten must decrease, and calories burned through exercise must increase.
Dieting without exercise is futile. The body mechanism that preserves a normal-weight person in famine defeats dieters who do nothing to keep their metabolic rate up. Within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of going on a diet, the basal metabolic rate decreases. In as little as two weeks it can decline by up to 20 percent. Weight loss slows because the body burns what you eat more slowly. In the second month of a diet the rate of burning fat decreases by 50 percent. In the third month it may be 75 percent below the normal rate. At this point weight loss may stop altogether.1 Every reducer knows how that affects a diet. Without the reward of pounds lost, the diet is lost.
To make matters worse, weight loss slows with every new diet attempt, and weight returns faster when the diet ends. Pounds put on as a result of this phenomenon are more likely to be fat than lean body tissue. 2 So much for dieting without exercise.
To stay on an exercise program requires a behavior change, which seldom appeals to overweight people. Paul described the problem like this: "For the good that I would I do not" (Rom. 7:19). God's true behavior change crucifies human desires and lets Him provide both the "want to" and the "do." "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
But obesity is more complex than a calories-in, calories-out formula. Most reducers need help coping with a thou sand stressful snarls. Satan deluges them with people problems, family, job, and neighbor feuds, and repeated need for control of destructive emotions, all of which complicate the reducing process.
The belly god never solves these problems. But God offers peace in exchange for a troubled heart, which is one more reason reducers need to diet from the inside out. In union with Christ by faith it is our privilege to have a calm, close, happy walk with Jesus every day.
Popular behavior modification techniques often fail. The only true behavior change is the "new birth," God's plan of salvation working in the life. Without it few reducers modify their fat. With it they can unite their weak, wavering human wills to the omnipotent, unwavering will of God and find victory.
How does it work for you, Pastor? Have you learned to eat by principle, not by feelings? And used God's power to accomplish it? Your personal testimony of victory will be proof to your desperate parishioners that God changes lives—even for fat people.
1 A. Stunkard, Obesity (Philadelphia, Pa.: W.
B. Saunders Co., 1980), pp. 300-324.