Under the umbrella of discontent, you identify two biblical categories of sinful eating. One is idolatry, which we discussed yesterday, and the other is foolishness. What does foolish eating look like and how can we avoid it?
Unfortunately, some Christians believe they are eating for God’s glory, but are foolishly unaware that they are overeating. In the Bible, foolishness is more than immaturity associated with youth. Biblical foolishness is morally wrong, just as the fool says in his heart, “There is no God,” (Psalm 14:1). In contrast, the sanctification of believers can be considered as a journey from foolishness to wisdom in all areas of life, including eating. One of our obligations as Christians is to have a biblically correct understanding of what we are eating so that we increasingly can make wise choices.
In addition, our wisdom must be informed by medically correct information. This does not mean we should be tossed about by every sensational diet headline or be slaves to a method of categorizing and counting every calorie we consume. Rather we should be familiar with the best medical evidence that is increasingly available. Understanding a few key principles is one of the responsibilities that we inherit along with the incredible abundance of food that we now enjoy.
You talk about the concept of a “sanctified weight.” What do you mean? Eat and Be Content will claim that a specific sanctified weight is given by God to every believer just like eye color or height. This is the weight that would result over time if a believer were to turn from sinful eating and make wise food and exercise choices. This weight can be medically estimated to within a few pounds based on gender, height, frame size and activity level. A specific amount of energy is required to maintain this sanctified weight, and this defines for each individual how much food is “just enough” (Proverbs 25:16). In our book we are able to give a more complete explanation of how to define what is eating “just enough” for the glory of God. We also provide believers with scientific but sensible ways to utilize these measures in daily life.
Idolatrous eating or gluttony can be defined as regularly and knowingly eating more food than is required to maintain this sanctified weight. Unknowingly eating beyond this requirement is defined as foolishness. Both are morally wrong and over time make believers overweight. Turning from these sins cannot be accomplished through sheer dint of will, embarking on the latest diet plan or following the latest eating guru. Fundamental changes in eating can only flow from the power of the gospel.
Please join us tomorrow for some practical advice from Dr. Trimark on how to maintain a “sanctified weight.”
This week we continue an interview with David Kotter and Dr. Jeffrey Trimark on the topic of eating for the glory of God. These two men are the authors of Eat and Be Content, which is due to be published by Crossway in 2008.
David, last week we learned about both the physical cause and the spiritual root of overeating. You described the sin of “discontent” as the primary culprit. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Thank you, Nicole. Yes, our book Eat and Be Content will help believers identify discontent in eating using two biblical categories: idolatry and foolishness. Idolatry in this context means turning to food to indulge lusts of the flesh rather than satisfy bodily hunger. Eating to comfort anxiety, relieve guilt, or gratify desires apart from God are ways of making an idol out of food. Alternatively, it is no more pleasing to God to remain thin by making an idol of physical fitness or personal attractiveness. Foolish eating goes beyond ignorance or immaturity and refers to the ethical transgressions ascribed to the fool of Proverbs. The blessing of an abundant variety of foods also carries a moral responsibility for understanding and eating “just enough” (Proverbs 25:16). Unlike other sins of the heart, discontent with food is a sin that has long lasting and cumulative physical effects like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.
Let’s talk about idolatry first. What is idolatry and how does it affect the way we eat?
Idols are more than the wood or metal statues condemned in the Old Testament. New Testament believers were exhorted to “Flee idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). Calvin referred to our hearts as “idol factories” always producing substitutes for the one true God. An idol can be anything, even a good thing that attracts our affections and attention away from the living God. By its very nature, food can make an especially attractive idol for comfort, encouragement and even greedy enjoyment. This can lead unsuspecting Christians to worship God’s good gift of food.
Idols expressed in eating include fear, greed, anger, self-pity, and many others. The scenarios are common. A person in the grip of anxiety mulls over a personal problem and automatically reaches for a bag of chips. Chip after chip provides a momentary relief from worry until the bag is empty. Rather than turning to God with anxious thoughts (Phil. 4:6), food becomes an idol of comfort replacing the living God. For another person, mint chocolate chip ice cream can deliver a temporary feeling of relief from guilt, and thus becomes an idolatrous substitute for the forgiving Savior. Even apart from anxiety and guilt, there are many other ways to make an idol of eating. Since idols are never satisfied, idolatrous eating draws people again and again to food. Sadly, this particular sin has a cumulative physical effect and unchecked will result in obesity.
On the other hand, idolatry can lead people to eat too much or too little. Some people successfully lose hundreds of pounds, only by turning to the alternative idol of health and attractiveness. In this case, rigorous dieting and strenuous exercise become a consuming focus of life, much like an idol. Fleeing from idolatry of any kind is one of the ways that Christians will eat and drink differently than nonbelievers, and one of the primary ways that we can glorify God as we eat. The gospel can break the power of this sin and enable people to eat for the glory of God.
More about eating for the glory of God as we continue our interview tomorrow…
While you believe it is important for people to understand the relationship between food and energy, you both take care to stress that there is a deeper problem here than simple thermodynamics…
Quite true. At its heart, overeating is not an issue of thermodynamics or economics but is primarily the result of a spiritual problem. Food is a gift from God to be enjoyed, but only with His purposes in mind. Paul exhorted believers, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” The Bible is a guide for eating to God’s glory and by design this is intended for our well-being. We are not restricted to specific foods only found in the book of Genesis or the clean animals of Leviticus. Rather, the Bible addresses the fundamental problem of sin in the human heart and its effect on how we eat.
Eat and Be Content will argue that obesity is primarily a symptom of the spiritual problem of discontentment, and therefore governmental, sociological, or economic solutions in isolation will necessarily fall short. Contentment results from either having all that is desired or not desiring all that could be obtained. Since food is required to survive, hungering and eating to contentment is part of the necessary rhythm of life. In the past, the primary challenge for most people was to obtain enough food to avoid famine and possibly even to satisfy hunger. Eating to excess was reserved for kings and the wealthy who could afford all the food they desired. Since then, dramatic improvements in agricultural technology have made an enticing variety of foods widely available. Rather than gnawing hunger, most people today face the spiritual problem of abundant food and unbounded desires. God’s original design is for people to enjoy and be sustained by food. The challenge is to understand how to limit desire in a way that is consistent with God’s good design. Like the apostle Paul, we must learn to eat and be content (Philippians 4:11, 12).
And the good news is that we can learn to eat and be content…
Yes, while people will never be content with the gift of food apart from the gospel, the simple truth that the death of Jesus Christ has broken the dominion of sin and accomplished reconciliation with a holy God for all those who believe. The power of the gospel brings salvation to believers, transforms desires through sanctification, and empowers obedience to the will of God even in the area of eating. Thus the only long-term solution to eating problems consists not of simply dieting and taking more exercise, but in repentance, fleeing temptation, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit for self-control, praying for wisdom, searching the scriptures for direction, and caring more for God’s glory than our own satisfaction in eating. Only by hungering for God Himself will we ever be able to eat and be content (1 Timothy 6:8).
Thank you David and Jeff for your helpful perspective on both the problem of overeating and it’s ultimate solution in the power of the gospel. We look forward to continuing this interview next week.
Welcome back for day three of our interview with David Kotter and Dr. Jeff Trimark…
Dr. Trimark, while over-eating is primarily a spiritual problem and thus has a biblical solution, what are the physical causes behind excess weight gain?
In its simplest sense, obesity can be understood as a thermodynamic problem. Food contains energy, and all the energy that is eaten is either burned by metabolic functions like exercise or is stored in fat cells in anticipation of future use. (A third option, discarding energy with laxatives or vomiting is clearly not part of a healthy solution.) Simple thermodynamics explains that as people exercise less and eat more, more energy is stored. Despite marketing claims to the contrary, we are sad to report that medical science has yet to discover any revolutionary herb, dietary supplement, miracle food, ancient remedy, pharmaceutical drug, or mechanical device that can change this simple principle of thermodynamics. In a direct way, obesity is caused by overeating and under-exercising.
Nevertheless, something unprecedented has happened in the past few decades to cause a broad change in eating and exercise. What is this? Why are we experiencing an “epidemic” of obesity all around the world for the first time in history?
The simple economics of supply and demand speak to these changes. Relentless advances in agricultural technology have greatly reduced the real cost of food and its energy content. For example, a 3 lb. frying chicken cost two hours of wages for the average laborer in 1920, but only 12 minutes of labor in 1970. This represents a 90% reduction in real prices, even though inflation has increased both nominal wages and prices over time. (While the number you see on the price tag, the nominal price, increases every year, wages have increased much faster over time. Even though it’s still hard to make ends meet because of the cost of food, it is dramatically easier than a hundred years ago because the real cost of food is lower.)
As the real price of food decreases, economists agree that more food and energy will be consumed. For example, supersizing a fast food meal costs only slightly more, but also can increase the caloric energy by as much as one third. As a result of trends like this, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the poorest 20% of the people now have the highest rates of obesity. Instead of subsisting on the edge of starvation, for the first time in history the poorest people are among the heaviest.
Technological advances have also decreased the need for physical exertion to obtain food. At the turn of the last century, more than 80% of the workforce was employed in agriculture. For the vast majority, obtaining daily bread was a lot of work. They expended a lot of energy plowing, planting, weeding, harvesting, transporting, grinding, kneading, baking, and finally slicing their bread. The energy in bread was generally equal to the effort of obtaining it, and therefore little was ever stored as fat. In contrast, it is not uncommon today for a restaurant to supply all the bread you can eat along with a meal. The bread is not served alone; butter, jam or honey can double or triple the energy at no extra charge.
The human body carefully stockpiles all of this extra energy for the future. The stockpiled energy remains in fat cells and weighs heavily both on the bathroom scale and the national statistics. Thank you, Dr. Trimark for this helpful explanation. Please join us tomorrow for the conclusion of week one of our interview.
Today we continue our interview with David Kotter and Dr. Jeff Trimark about their upcoming book, Eat and Be Content.
David, as you learned healthy eating habits from Dr. Trimark you also prepared a sermon on this topic, and you were somewhat surprised at what you discovered, correct?
Yes, that’s true. Preparing that sermon over the next several weeks showed me a whole new spiritual side to eating. I learned for the first time that Proverbs discussed food in many verses, and that these were consistent with the rest of the Bible’s considerable material on eating. Although I hadn’t noticed before, God seemed to care a lot about what and how I ate.
Not only did I learn a lot in preparation, the sermon struck a chord with many people in the congregation. The response showed that I was not the only one who was interested in what God had to say about eating. I also discovered people who felt condemned and dominated by sin in this area of their life. Many people seemed to struggle because they did not understand the spiritual implications of eating.
It was clear that the Bible didn’t provide a menu for every day, or restrict people to only foods mentioned in the Bible for health. Nor was there a requirement for believers to be a certain size, shape or weight. But the Bible did speak to the heart of the issue. The focus was not on food but on the act of eating. Eating for ungodly reasons, such as reducing anxiety or masking feelings of guilt, is really a form of idolatry in the heart. I learned that overeating was a moral problem. Believers were exhorted to eat for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Only through the gospel can believers hope to eat this way. Only the gospel empowers believers to overcome these sins and gain discerning wisdom. All other diet plans and good intentions by themselves were bound to fail.
Tomorrow we’ll get a medical perspective on the effects of overeating from Dr. Trimark…
Dr. Jeff Trimark is the President of the Medical Staff of the United Hospital System in Kenosha, Wisconsin. For five years Jeff has served as an elder on the leadership team of CrossWay Community Church.
Together, Jeff and David have developed and taught the workshop “Eat and Be Content” over the last three years. (Download this extended bio to learn more about their background and qualifications.)
Thank you both for being our guests here at girltalk and thank you for being willing to share with our readers the combined insight God has given you about eating to the glory of God.
Because you are a pastor and a medical doctor respectively, your book offers a unique perspective. There is humble, caring, and straight-shooting counsel that is rooted in God’s Word. But you also provide sensible advice for healthy eating that is based on sound medical research. We know our readers will greatly benefit from your book—which is due out by the end of 2008.
To begin with, David Kotter, can you give us a short summary of what your book is about, and also what it is not?
Thank you, Nicole. We are glad to have this opportunity to speak with the girltalk readers. First of all, let me clarify that Eat and Be Content is not a diet book. This book is not about the stomach, but the human heart—not the cardiac muscle, but the biblical seat of the mind, will and emotions. It is not about losing weight in a Christian way, but about understanding eating as a moral act and learning to eat for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The ultimate goal is not to be trim and attractive but to be content with the good gift of food, grow in sanctification, and increasingly hunger for God Himself. The purpose of Eat and Be Content is to enable Christians to turn from sinful to godly eating through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. David, the genesis of this book began, as you say, “with a gripping headline from a local paper.” Tell us about it:
Yes, I picked up the morning newspaper one day and the headlines stated that the rates of obesity in the country were at unhealthy and unprecedented levels. But that was not all; a chart showed that the state where I lived was above the national average. Specifically the chart revealed my county was above the state average. Slowly my brain assimilated the information: I was living in one of the heaviest communities of one of the heaviest states ever in the history of man.
My own bathroom scale mechanically declared the rest of the story: I was heavier than I had ever been in my life. Heavier than I wanted to be. Both the national and personal realities vaguely bothered me in the back of my mind, but never enough to make any significant changes. I tried to ignore these annoying thoughts. Even if I had wanted to make a change, I didn’t really know what to do. I ate and exercised just about the same as everyone else I knew. Yet every year I gained weight, and apparently from the newspaper, so did just about everyone else.
Soon after that, you had breakfast with your good friend, and medical doctor, Jeff Trimark. What happened at that breakfast?
As I settled in to talk, I ordered “the usual”: eggs, bacon, toast and hash browns. But God had something unusual in mind for us: Jeff asked to substitute Canadian bacon for the regular bacon in his breakfast. I don’t normally analyze what people order, but this was different and for some reason it stuck in my brain. To me, bacon was bacon, sausage was sausage, and I always ordered what looked good and was affordable. In fact, bigger was often better, by my reckoning.
When the steaming food, arrived I asked about the substitution. Jeff answered that Canadian bacon tasted just as good to him, but had several fewer grams of saturated fat per slice. I glanced down and realized that I really had no idea what was on my plate. It was affordable (it was a daily special), and it would taste good (I had eaten that breakfast many times before), but in four decades of life I had never stopped to seriously consider the nutritional content of anything that I ate.
Over the next several months, under Dr. Trimark’s patient tutelage, I realized how many foolish choices I had been making at mealtimes, and that it was no surprise that I was heavier than ever. I also learned that I did not need to hire a professional dietician, carry a little scale around to weigh out meager portions of food, or track the latest medical research trumpeted in headlines and echoed in advertisements. Just a few simple “rules of thumb” based on well-established medical research could guide a typical guy like me through a typical day. I was actually enjoying eating more.
That’s a great place to stop…tomorrow we’ll pick up with more of our interview with David Kotter and Dr. Jeffrey Trimark.
They say a little thing can make a big difference. In this case, a little recipe, posted by Janelle, brought on an avalanche of emails from you, our readers, on the topic of food. In two plus years of posting, we have never received so many requests to address a topic. So, we took the hint.
As we began to discuss a possible series, one thing became painfully clear: between the four of us there was about two grams of medical knowledge and about three verses worth of biblical understanding. It didn’t take much humble self-assessment to realize we were vastly under qualified and unprepared to address this topic.
It was time for a few emergency emails to some friends—and experts. And we’re very excited about what we have to share with you over the next few weeks.
First off, we have asked David Kotter and Dr. Jeffrey Trimark to join us for an interview. They are authors of a forthcoming book from Crossway entitled Eat and Be Content. As a pastor and a medical doctor, they’ve conducted seminars to help people eat for the glory of God. The result is this book, and we here at girltalk will enjoy an exclusive preview.
Secondly, Elyse Fitzpatrick, known to so many of you as the author of Love to Eat, Hate to Eat, has graciously agreed to an interview as well—not only about eating in general, but also on eating disorders in particular. We are very much looking forward to our conversation with her.
By pulling together the combined wisdom of these three authors, we hope we will be able to answer many of your questions. Most of all we hope that we will all be challenged to live for God’s glory and equipped to do so in every day life.
So, grab your diet coke and carrot sticks (I’m just kidding!) and let’s talk food.