Food is everywhere! Enticing ads fill the pages of magazines. Billboards loaded with images of pizzas and burgers grab our attention. Television commercials lure us to the refrigerator in search of late-night, feel-good snacks. And if we really want to be scintillated, we can tune in to an entire television network dedicated to scrumptious food preparation, as well as experiencing (however vicariously) the ecstasy associated with eating those specialties. Anyone who is triggered to eat by the mere mention of food or easy access to it is in big trouble in this snack-infested, food-congested society of ours.
Hurried schedules give way to too many fast food meals eaten on the go. And fast food almost always means fat food. Portions are super-sized and a bargain to boot. Some authorities insist that much of our society's obesity comes from one source: Carbonated soft drinks--a fancy name for flavored sugar water--are consumed in vat-like 32- to 64-ounce containers called "Big Gulps" and "Giant Swallows." High prices discourage the purchase of organic and whole foods, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Public high schools subsidize their funding by placing soda and snack machines in their halls of learning. And school lunches are filled with nutritionally bankrupt food.
The food industry isn't soley to blame for amplifying our problems with food. The multi-billion dollar fashion industry promotes an ideal body image that is nearly impossible to replicate, so we give up and collapse into the extreme opposite of the ideal. Guilt and shame glare back from the mirror as we camouflage our thighs and secretly purchase cellulite-reducing creams. Thanks to media, any chance for a healthy body image is gone before puberty hits. Food becomes our enemy and our lover, truly a relationship as complicated as any other.
When it comes to eating, American culture is toxic. As consumers, we are encouraged to ignore the consequences of overindulgence and our mentality of always needing more. Among the "You deserve a break today" mantras, the messages are consistent: You are entitled to what you want, and you should be immediately gratified (whenever you wish!). However, giving in to these hedonistic messages has led to a serious fall out. As a country, we are fatter than ever and playing roulette with our physical health, mental health, and spiritual lives. Our sedentary lifestyles, combined with a poor diet, have led to an obesity epidemic.
American culture promises satisfaction from the pursuit of pleasure. Yet one of the richest and wisest kings of all time (Solomon) concluded that chasing pleasure as an end unto itself only leads to despair. When we lose sight of the Giver of all pleasure (food, taste, and eating included), we carry a burden of excess, both physically and spiritually.
Even the church culture can add to our difficulties. So much of what goes on outside of Sunday service, most of the social opportunities of the church, in fact, revolve around food. Surely the potluck was invented in a church somewhere in the Midwest. It is almost as if we look for occasions to get together and eat. Additionally, we hear sermons about the evils of alcohol, drugs and sex outside of marriage, but we seldom hear the Word on gluttony. In fact, some of the best Christian speakers have never resolved their own food issues, so they do not address them with their followers. They would be fired if they entered the pulpit drunk, drugged, or holding a pornographic magazine, but they are excused from taking an extra two hundred pounds up onto the platform. They scream an uspoken message that food is the one acceptable addiction of the church.
In society at large, there is a strange dichotomy surrounding food and weight. Our culture simultaneously encourages gorging at the fast food trough and the all-you-can-eat buffets, while also frowning deeply on those who pack on extra pounds and look anything less than walking advertisements for anorexia. It is an unwritten American eleventh commandment: Thou shall not be fat. Yet like the original Law, we are living evidence that this commandment cannot be carried out in our own power. With more than 120 million overweight people, another 5-10 million suffering from eating disorders, and still another 25 million suffering from binge-eating disorders, more than willpower is involved in this battle.
The cultural vilification of overweight people guarantees we will try anything to escape the stigma. The billion-dollar dieting industry plays us like a fine violin. When we aren't feeling momentarily defeated, we will embrace another gimmick and believe in its power even when the claims defy all logic. Our sensibilities are lost on the fact that if any of these dieting schemes actually worked, all serious weight-loss programs would go our of business.
But desperation leads to drastic measures--we will try anything for the promise of becoming the incredible shrinking woman or man. The industry knows this and persuades us to keep trying to be thin. And if we buy into the seduction, we can live our lives chasing false images perpetuated by the media. Witness the horror and fascination on MTV as people spend thousands of dollars and suffer intense pain under the knives of plastic surgeons in order to have their frames and faces remade to physically look like famous stars they idolize. What isn't often shown to the general public are the horror stories of such procedures. A recent television story shared the despair of a mother whose daughter choked to death on her own blood while she recovered from a liposuction procedure in the office of a local plastic surgeon. Truly, does a sixteen-year-old really need to undergo such a surgery in order to live a happy and fulfilled life?
And we forget, or never realize, that our spiritual connection to a loving heavenly Father offers real help and truth without distortion in a way no advertiser or program could ever deliver. Dissatisfied and unhappy with life, the hope is that external beauty will translate into opportunity, acceptance, and new life. But as the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, this is vanity and only leads to emptiness. Lasting happiness and a rich and fulfilling life will only be found in a right relationship with God an others.
So what's the message? This culture is not going to endorse your decision to change. It will not help you control your eating nor offer friendly support. In fact, it may oppose the very measures that contribute to you successfully losing weight for life. But there is reason to hope. In the midst of all the negative influences of our food-saturated society and weight-conscious culture, there is another message: It is possible to lose weight and keep it off.
Seven Keys to Lose It For Life
1. Surrender. "So humble yourselves under the might power of God, and in his good time he will honor you" (1 Peter 5:6 NLT). You must be willing to discover what is driving the hunger and want healing more than you want food. You are unable to accomplish your goals without relinquishing control and surrendering to His way of doing things.
2. Acceptance. "O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me" (Psalm 139:1 NLT). You must be determined to face and own the emotional issues, pain, and loss that you uncover behind the hunger. Accept the reality of your weight and the need for help. Stay in the reality of your life, accepting your need for help. God sees your heart. He knows your need and will provide the help you require.
3. Confession. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16 NLT). Come out of hiding. Open up to God and others about the reality of your struggles. While it is often difficult to admit your shortcomings and areas of weakness, it is what keeps us honest and real with each other. Confession truly is good for the soul. You must find people you can trust who can handle your secrets and help you heal.
4. Responsibility. "For we are each responsible for our own conduct" (Galatians 6:5 NLT). Taking responsibility for change, moving out of the victim position, and owning up to your mistakes is necessary to lose it for life. When you are hurt or experience loss, it's easy to blame others or fell like a victim. However, you must believe that God will bring purpose and meaning out of pain, and then you must move on.
5. Forgiveness. "If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you" (Matthew 6:14 NLT). Forgive your own failures and the failures of those who have hurt you. Forgiveness is not optional in the Christian life and yet many of us hold on to bitterness and wonder why we don't experience joy and other benefits of the Christian life. When you give up grudges and make restitution for past wrongs, you experience spiritual blessings.
6. Transformation. "All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT). Transform your struggle, pain, and loss into a purposeful mission. God's way is to take those things you have suffered and use them for His glory. Out of pain and difficulty come compassion for others and a willingness to reach out because of the grace and mercy shown to you.
7. Preservation. "So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence. A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better" (2 Peter 1:5 NLT). Perseverance is required to make it through life's inevitable struggles and keep the spiritual gains made. When you discover the signs and phases of relapse, you will learn to maintain your weight loss for life.