My wife and I received an urgent call from an elderly church friend asking whether we would come and visit her as soon as possible. That evening, as she greeted us at the door, we could see worry and concern written all over her face. With tension in her voice and tears in her eyes she informed us that earlier that day her doctor had informed her that a small lump in one breast was cancerous.
Her very next words were directed at me, “Do you think I have this cancer because once in a while I enjoy a small serving of ice cream?”
We had known this dear saint for many, many years. She had eaten many meals in our home, and we in hers. She was a lifetime vegetarian and had sought to live and eat healthfully her entire life. Now in her mid-seventies, she was wracked with guilt as she faced a very early and treatable diagnosis of breast cancer.
How was I to respond to this urgent question? She expected an answer from me as a friend and as a nutrition professional. Should I dismiss it as nonsense or add to her fears by agreeing her cancer was caused by her occasional consumption of ice cream?
My response was this: “The chances of this being caused by the ice cream you have eaten are very, very small. We will probably never understand exactly why you have this diagnosis, but you can look to the Great Physician for guidance and healing.” (She had successful surgery, no recurrence, and lived a fulfilled life until her mid 90s.)
Most diseases are the result of a long series of mutations in genes that are vital in supporting the integrity of thousands of other genes. Disease results in the complex interactions of our lifestyle choices, diet, physical activity, environment, even our thoughts and attitudes. It is impossible to single out one isolated element to blame for disease.
Can we get sick because we disregard the principles of health? Absolutely! Millions suffer today because of their choices or the choices of their parents. This knowledge should motivate us to make the best choices we can through the power and grace of Jesus Christ.
Yet, sometimes a passion for living healthfully combined with misunderstandings of the cause of disease can lead to three very unhealthy responses:
1. Unfounded guilt: This was well illustrated by our elderly friend’s experience when diagnosed with breast cancer. She needed assurance, acceptance, and Christ’s love.
2. Blame and judgment: When a man born blind encountered Jesus, the disciples asked Him, “ ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ” (John 9:2, NKJV). They knew nothing of germ theory, lifestyle, or genomics, but they wanted to answer the question “why” so they could put a finger on the cause. Jesus refused to play their game. Even today many of Christ’s disciples are the same. When someone in the church gets sick, we question whether it was their dietary pattern, sedentary living, overwork, or lack of sleep. However, when sickness strikes, we should point them to the Great Physician and His love and healing power.
3. Obsession: There are some people who, in their desire to eat right, develop an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. This is an eating disorder increasingly referred to as orthorexia nervosa.1
These individuals, referred to as orthorexics, have an idealistic and spiritual obsession that focuses on eating only “pure” food, and are constantly struggling with feelings of being polluted by what they eat.
Consumption of unhealthy foods is far more prevalent than obsession with good food. Yet, balance is very important in life. Making careful, whole-some choices is vital to maintaining our health. As a Christian, I am so grateful we do not need to worry when we choose the best available and ask God for His blessing: “Some are continually anxious lest their food, however simple and healthful, may hurt them. To these let me say, Do not think that your food will injure you; do not think about it at all. Eat according to your best judgment; and when you have asked the Lord to bless the food for the strengthening of your body, believe that He hears your prayer, and be at rest.”2
We know anorexics often become malnourished and benefit from professional help. Likewise, orthorexics may also benefit from knowledgeable counsel. All of us can place our trust in this thought: “Many are lifelong invalids who might be well if they only thought so. Many imagine that every slight exposure will cause illness, and the evil effect is produced because it is expected. Many die from disease the cause of which is wholly imaginary.”3
Don’t worry. Choose wisely and trust God.
1 “Definition of Orthorexia nervosa,” MedicineNet.com, www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=19891.
2 Ellen G. White, Ministry ofHealing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 321, emphasis supplied.
3 Ibid., 241, emphasis supplied.