A lifetime of love for fitness, four years of working in the fitness industry in some capacity, and growing closer to God daily have all led me to one question about “health and fitness.” What is it really about for me and for others who are constantly struggling with weight loss? I think the answer to why we are constantly struggling lies in the answer to what it’s really about for us.
I have spent a lot of time building a lot of relationships with clients in the fitness industry. Interestingly enough, it has become clear to me that exercise and healthy eating are very often not actually the solution to weight loss.
Some of you might be thinking that I clearly don’t deserve my personal training certification or nutrition program certificates. I swear I passed them. I have proof. And do you know what else I have proof of? I have proof that over half of Americans are trying to lose weight and according to clinical studies, that only 10 to 20 percent of those who do will maintain that weight loss long-term.
Why is that? Your first thought is probably, “because they aren’t exercising and eating right!” Well sure, but why aren’t they exercising or eating right? You see, what I’ve learned about people (and myself) is that weight gain is not the only symptom we are dealing with. Not eating well and not exercising are actually symptoms themselves. They are obviously part of a final solution, but only once the root cause of the problem has been addressed can we even deploy those strategies. Until then, forcing ourselves to go on diets and hit the gym six days a week just creates more problems.
The relief is in the surrender
Most of us lack a healthy relationship with food. Sometimes food is a coping mechanism for stress. Sometimes convenience foods become prominent in our diets because we stay too busy and don’t prioritize our health. There are so many different ways we fall into survival mode where anything goes. This keeps us in a cycle of guilt and shame. But again, it’s not the lack of healthy diet and exercise that are the problem. So how do we move past all that? The answer is the same for weight loss as it is for any area of your life as a Christian. Surrender.
My refusal or hesitation to surrender every area of my life to God creates problems. God is not just a part of our lives, we would not even exist without him. The most substantial ah-ha moment I’ve had was realizing that I cannot compartmentalize God. He isn’t a category like my work, relationships, hobbies, etc. I have to hand over my relationships, my job, my hobbies, my health and every corner of my heart and soul to God. I can’t say, “God, have your way in my marriage, but I can handle my career.”
When we surrender our weight loss to God we aren’t surrendering the act of doing the work to lose weight. We have to do the work. We are surrendering the guilt, shame, pressure, failure, all the ways we think we should be or look, the deadline, and the obsession with our appearance. God doesn’t care what your body looks like, but he does care about you.
The approval of God > approval of people
My nephew was three years old when he felt the pressure of appearance for the first time. That is mind boggling to me. He had these awesome army green and black converse shoes and he loved them. Until one day he just didn’t anymore. He started absolutely refusing to wear them. Why? Because some kid(s) at daycare made fun of them. That was like five years ago and it has stuck with me like glue. Guess who else it stuck with? That sweet little boy who one day had no concept of the pressures and expectations of our society and the next day started fighting a battle that will last as long as it takes him to realize he only needs the approval of God. And speaking from experience, that can take a while.
At three years old he started the work of cultivating a physical presence that others approve of. We all do it. And while those shoes were a different issue than being overweight, the reason behind the way we feel in those situations remains the same. We worry about what people think about us, every part of us. Pressure, pressure, pressure. But just like my now eight year old nephew, we have the option to surrender and relieve that pressure. Because God does not have conditions on his love and acceptance of us like people do. He doesn’t care what we wear or what our bodies look like — except in regard to honoring and glorifying him. His Word transcends culture and trends. He is the final say and what he’s looking for is “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV
What God thinks about your appearance
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.“1 Samuel 16:7 ESV
The context here is that the Lord has rejected Saul as king of Israel because he turned against God. So he tells the prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint the new king from the sons of Jesse. The first son that he is presented with is Eliab. Apparently he looks like he fits the role of a king because as soon as Samuel sees him he says, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” That’s when God says (and I’m paraphrasing), nope, you’re only seeing his outward appearance which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans to me. So he goes to the next son and then the next and then seven sons later, still nothing.
Samuel asks if he has seen all of Jesse’s sons. Jesse said he hasn’t met his youngest son, David, but he’s out keeping the sheep. So Samuel asks Jesse to send for him. David shows up and God tells Samuel that he is the one. It’s not clear yet in this passage exactly why God chose David but God did make it clear that his choice was not based on appearance. He doesn’t look on the outward appearance the way man does.
Honoring God with your body
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
The context here is sexual immorality but these verses also imply that we should refrain from doing harmful things to our bodies. If the Holy Spirit is within us, if our bodies are a temple, surely the health of our bodies should matter to us. So that unhealthy relationship we have with food, we have a responsibility to change those habits. Those underlying issues, we have a responsibility to get to the bottom of them and give them to God. We have a responsibility to God, not people. That means that the process, the progress or lack thereof, the success or failure — it’s all God (grace) focused. It’s not about perfection, it’s about obedience and worship because we are grateful.
Putting and keeping first things first
So what, specifically, is the thing that I mentioned earlier that answers the problem of weight loss struggles — before exercise and healthy eating? It’s pursing God, knowing who you are in Christ, and knowing why honoring God with your body is important. It’s worship and gratitude that God created us in his image — he created our body and soul.
Get to know your creator. Because until you know, I mean really know him, you won’t even see the option to surrender your weight loss to God. You won’t see the option to rely on the approval of God over the approval of people. You will fearfully carry the weight, literally and figuratively, no matter how much pressure you put on yourself to change.
God’s connection to our weight loss isn’t just about losing the weight off of our physical bodies, it’s also and even more so about losing the weight of the world.