Ah, the holidays—when we’re bombarded with all things buttery and comforting. It begins the week of Halloween, with the deluge of sugary bite-sized treats my daughters bring home and it ends around January 2 . . . or 5 . . . or 8.
Or whenever I get tired of squeezing into my jeans.
This season can pose some real challenges for people like myself whose relationship status with food is . . . complicated. Since high school I’ve struggled to love my body and nourish it well. I’ve tried many of the name-brand diet and exercise programs, some quite successfully. But I’ve also fallen off the wagon too many times to count.
I know I’m not alone in this. Many of us use food or exercise to try and fill gaping emotional holes that only God can fill. We eat when we feel sad, overwhelmed, or crave escape. We run until we can’t think straight. Or, we idolize a certain body shape so much that we avoid entire food groups in hopes of changing our figures.
The ‘little’ sin of body image obsession
My husband has dubbed body image obsession as the “Christian woman’s drug of choice.” While this preoccupation affects us, it typically doesn’t have the overt or legal consequences of other sins. It can stay hidden, making it even more dangerous. It festers in the dark, creating a cloud of shame. Yet it’s prevalent.
Obviously, unlike other drugs or addictions, we cannot avoid food altogether. So, how do we find that holy balance of treating our bodies like temples, as we’re asked to do in 1 Corinthians, but not to the extent that we become body image obsessed—particularly in this celebratory season?
I think the specific answer to that conundrum will vary person to person. Diet and exercise plans are not one-size-fits-all. What my 62-year-old father eats and how much he moves will look different than the needs of my 31-year-old body. However, my prayer is that all of us, no matter our specific health needs, can find some freedom this holiday season by applying these principles.
1. Be present.
The reason we’re surrounded by so many treats this season is because there is so much to celebrate! Choose to be truly present at each gathering you attend, focusing on the people you’re with more than the plates. Aim to love and serve the people around you as Jesus would by engaging them. The more you devote your attention to people, the less you’ll devote to what you are or aren’t consuming.
2. Avoid legalism.
I love the words in Colossians 2:20-23: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—’Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Judging yourself based on what you eat, labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” or creating a complicated system of dos and don’ts for your eating only furthers this body image obsession.
3. Pray and seek wisdom.
Remember that you have a built-in life coach! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you navigate this tension and help you be a good steward of your body. James 1:5 invites us to ask for help. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
I pray that this holiday season will be different for you and me. Let’s seek to follow the Spirit away from self-obsession on body image and toward Him.
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