Is Food Your Idol?
About the Guest
Christian counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of the book "Love to Eat, Hate to Eat," talks about the pleasures of eating, and warns us not to make food our Savior or a salve for our discontent. She also explains how we can take a biblical approach to food.
Elyse Fitzpatrick explores the connection between idolatry and our abuse of food.
Is Food Your Idol?
Elyse: If I need to have a bagel, and cream cheese, and coffee or my Starbucks® made exactly the way that I want it—then, I have a problem! The problem is that, at that moment, that food—that substance—is more important to me than my relationship with Jesus Christ—His great love for me sort of fades in importance. What becomes very important is, “I've just got to go get that bagel. I've got to have a bagel! I don't feel good if I....” So, my question is, “Can you just say, “No,”?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to talk today about the Bible and food. We may do a little meddling, too, so be warned!
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Dennis?
Dennis: Barbara and I went out to eat, recently, at a brand-new Mexican restaurant.
Bob: You did?
Dennis: Yes. And I've never seen such service. We actually were served in less than two minutes—and I'm talking about fajitas, steaming hot.
Bob: In two minutes?
Dennis: It had to be less than 120 seconds.
Dennis: It was unbelievable. But here is the interesting thing. As Barbara and I were sitting there, eating, we kind of looked around the restaurant. We started talking, "You know, in America today, we really do have a problem with food.” I mean, we either suffer from eating disorders— like some young people do of anorexia or bulimia—or, as we grow up and become adults, I think we can make it an idol. Personally, I love food. I've sinned by eating too much. About a year ago, I went on my first diet I've ever been on in my life and lost about 30 pounds. I'm kind of looking at food differently than I ever have in the past.
That's why I'm excited about talking to the author of a book called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. It's subtitled Breaking the Bondage of Destructive Eating Habits. Elyse Fitzpatrick joins us on FamilyLife Today. Elyse, I want to thank you for writing this book. I think it's a timely piece of work for the Christian community, and I really like your approach. It's a balanced approach toward food. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Elyse: Thank you, thank you. It's my honor to be here.
Dennis: Elyse is a counselor, a speaker at retreats and conferences. She and her husband have three adult children. You struggled with food, as a young person growing up; is that right?
Elyse: Yes, I did, very much. I can remember, growing up, I was always overweight. As a young person, I can remember my mom taking me to buy clothes for school and going to the chubby department. It was very, very embarrassing and humiliating, as a child.
Then as I got older and had children, it became much more of an issue for me so that I would find myself really binge-eating a lot when I was in high school. A number of friends of mine— we would just generally throw up after eating—make ourselves throw up if we thought we had eaten too much. At that point, when I was in high school, nobody was talking about bulimia and anorexia. It wasn't what it is today.
Dennis: Where did you get the idea to throw up, though? I mean, did a group of young ladies get together one time and say, "You know, this is the way we can control our weight,”?
Elyse: I don't know where the idea came from. It's been around since the days of Rome. They actually had vomitoriums—that's a horrid word—but they had vomitoriums in ancient Rome, where people would go and banquet. Then, they would be ill from having eaten so much; so they would go make themselves throw up.
Dennis: So it's not a new phenomenon?
Elyse: It's not new. It's not new in that people have been doing it for thousands of years. I think what is new about it is that it now has celebrity status—and a number of the young women celebrities who have these habits—practice anorexia, practice habits of bulimia—have really made it almost something that girls want to do.
I was talking to someone who is a resident dorm assistant at a Christian college in the Chicago area. She said that she thought that a full 40 percent of the girls in her dorms had some sort of eating disorder. So it's very, very much in our culture. It's very celebrity status.
The problem, of course, I think, in America, is that we have so much food to eat at such great variety. There is so much we can have. So, on one hand, we get a message that says, "Have it your way, and have it all the time." Then, on another hand, we get the message that looking good—looking thin—is the point of life. So you have these two messages, which really are antithetical to each other. You have girls who really don't know how to control their eating, on one hand, and then want to be a size two.
Bob: You mentioned shopping in the chubby section, as you were growing up. Is that your first recollection of even awareness? I'm trying to think, “When was I aware of body shape and size, as a child; and did it trouble me?” What do you remember about that?
Elyse: Yes. I think that my first awareness of that would have been my mother was very concerned about how I looked. I can remember, on a number of occasions, her making comments about how I looked and how important it was for me, as a young girl, at that time, or as a woman, to be thin. Part, of course, of the problem is that we all have different body types.
Elyse: But, from my mom, I can remember feeling like I was rather a disappointment in some ways because I didn't look the way she wanted me to look.
Dennis: When we talk about food, it's not just an issue with the young, however. It's back to that Mexican restaurant where Barbara and I were eating and looking around. It was like, "Man! We're an obese nation."
Elyse: Yes we are.
Dennis: I mean—we really are an overweight country. The Bible does speak about the issue of food and how we approach it. Food can be an idol; can't it?
Elyse: Absolutely, absolutely. It can be an idol on a number of levels. It can be an idol at the Mexican restaurant when I go there and have to have it a certain way. You see, I want my enchiladas with this certain sauce at a certain temperature. I am longing for it, craving it, desiring it.
Dennis: Now, wait a second, because I kind of like those enchiladas that way myself. I'm looking at Bob. He's over here, salivating! [Laughter]
Bob: I've packed away a few enchiladas in my time, too!
Dennis: Are you saying that's wrong—to want something that way?
Elyse: No, it's not wrong to desire God's good gifts. Food is a good gift from God. Psalms tells us that God opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. He gives us all good things to enjoy. So, it's perfectly right and good for us to love to eat the things that He has given us.
Our problem, of course, is that we have to have it a certain way. We become demanding with people who serve us. We are discontent when we can't get what we want or, of course, when we overeat, to the point that we harm our health. That, I think, is what the Lord would be more concerned about—not so much, “Are you eating three enchiladas?” —but, “How does this reveal your heart, and how does it impact your health?”
Bob: I’m trying to think—at some points in history, people who were heavy—that was considered the popular look. You tried to put on weight; right?
Dennis: When was that, Bob?
Bob: Well, you look at pictures of the Renaissance period. Many of the women pictured there are what we would consider heavy, in today’s eyes. I’m thinking of the Bible story of one of the judges. His name was Eglon, and his name meant “fat bullock”. When Ehud, the judge, went and killed him—
Dennis: You’re talking about a biblical—
Bob: This is in the book of Judges. Ehud went in. Eglon was back, in the back room; and Ehud went in. It said he stuck his knife in to kill Eglon—
Dennis: I remember this picture. This was not pretty. [Laughter]
Bob: —and he kind of lost the knife. It just went—
Dennis: —blubber—in the blubber.
Bob: Yes. And so, again, I’m trying to think, “Where does the Bible talk about body size, or body shape, or body style in either flattering or unflattering ways?” That’s the only thing I’m coming up with. What am I missing here?
Elyse: Yes. It’s really interesting how what is desirable, in body types, changes with culture. In our culture, right now, we have, generally speaking, homosexual fashion designers talking about how women should look—and they should look, generally, like little boys. So, we have to not listen to that part of the culture. On the other hand, we do need to listen to the part of the culture—the medical part of the culture—that would tell us, “What is health....”
The Bible talks a lot about what we love, what we serve, what we live for, what we crave, what we worship; but the Bible is generally fairly silent about how much we weigh. As a matter of fact, there is no place in the Bible that it says that being thin is something good. The Bible talks about fatness being something good. Now, in an agricultural society like that, fatness would be thought of as God’s blessing.
Elyse: Fruitfulness. So we don’t want to conform ourselves to the world’s image. On the other hand, we don’t want to give in to the thought that we ought to be just able to eat whatever we want, whenever we want. All of God’s good gifts must be had in moderation; but we have to also remember that Scripture tells us that our body is a gift to us from God, and that we must steward it properly.
Being thin is not the point. The point is, “In my eating and drinking, am I glorifying God?” and, “Am I using my body—am I stewarding it—as the temple of the Holy Spirit for the Lord?” In other words, what I want to do is, I want to be as healthy as I can be for as long as I can be so that I can have the strength to do things that the Lord asks me to do—
Bob: —to serve the Lord. Health is one issue I hear you saying; and then, not making food into an object of lustful desire or an idol, as Dennis called it.
Bob: If I look at it and say, “Okay, I don’t have this lustful problem with food and I’m relatively healthy. Then, am I okay?”
Elyse: I think it’s really easy for us to think we don’t have a lustful problem with food.
Bob: Oh see, now she’s going to go to meddling, here. Yes, alright?
Elyse: I think it’s very easy for us to think that we don’t have a problem with it; but the question would be, “How do you respond when someone serves it to you in a way you don’t like?” or, “...when it’s not ready when you get home? How much time do you spend thinking about it?”
Dennis: Now, that’s a convicting issue there. Anyone who’s ever done a fast—
Dennis: If you’ve ever fasted from food for 24 hours or longer, you begin to realize how much our society and our lives revolve around food.
Dennis: Now, what I want you to do, just real quickly for our listeners is, in your book, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat, you have 12 questions that a person can ask him or herself to determine whether eating—their eating—is sinful or not. If you want to get all 12 of the questions, you can go to FamilyLife.com; but, Elyse, I think this addresses what Bob is talking about. When does our eating become sinful?
Elyse: I guess one question would be, “Am I able to just say, “No,”?
Dennis: —as in “no food”, or "no" to dessert, or—
Elyse: "No," to dessert, or, “I have a habit of” —I don't, personally; but let's say that you have a habit of—“eating a bagel and having a cup of coffee with it every morning.” What is life like if you can't have it?
Dennis: Well, now, why would I want to do that, though? I mean, if I like a bagel— [Laughter]
Elyse: Am I getting personal now?
Dennis: No, no, I like my cup of coffee because you can switch it from a bagel and coffee to just coffee; or you could have a Krispy Kreme®, which is what Bob probably would have.
Bob: Oh, thank you very much. I think the point is there are going to be some mornings— you get up, and circumstances don't allow you to have your bagel and your cup of coffee. “Do you have the joy of the Lord in those moments;” right?
Elyse: Exactly, exactly. You see, I don't want to be enslaved to any particular substance. So, if, for me—what I have to have in the morning—to make my day go right, to feel good, to feel like all is right with the world—if I need to have a bagel, and cream cheese, and coffee or my Starbucks made, exactly the way that I want it—then, I have a problem!
The problem is that, at that moment, that food—that substance—is more important to me than my relationship with Jesus Christ—His great love for me, the cross. God's sovereign rule in my life sort of fades in importance; and what becomes very important is, “I've just got to go get that bagel. I've got to have a bagel! I don't feel good if I....” So, my question is, “Can you just say, “No,”? Paul said, "I buffet my body," and the word is "buffet" [Emphasis on first syllable] not "buffet" [Emphasis on last syllable]. [Laughter]
Yes. "I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others I, myself, should be disqualified." So, is it sinful to eat a bagel? No, absolutely not. Is it sinful to drink a cup of coffee? No, it's not. But can it be sinful? Yes, it can when not having it would produce anger or discontent in my heart. It tells me something about my relationship with that substance.
Bob: Okay, let me ask you this—because yesterday afternoon, about 3:00 in the afternoon, I just—I started having a little craving, you know, for just something sweet. It just sounded good. We've got a snack machine, down on the first floor; right? I thought, “I'll just wander down there and see if there's anything down in that snack” —actually—what it was—I walked by Tonda's desk. She had peanut M&Ms® open, on her desk. Do you remember this? I looked at those peanut M&M's; and I said, "I want something like that." So, I went down, and I bought something out of the snack machine. Now, I could have real easily, I think, said, "Nah, I'm not going to do that;" but I had the craving, and so I indulged it. How can I tell whether I'm enslaved or whether I'm just responding to a bodily craving?
Elyse: Can you say, “No,”?
Bob: Well, I think I could have. I guess I have to try, on occasion; don't I? [Laughter]
Dennis: Hold it. Tonda is shaking her head. Would you get Tonda? Keith, I want to ask Tonda—“Tonda, why did you shake your head, “No,”?
Tonda: He's always snacking!
Dennis: He's always snacking?
Tonda: He's always snacking. He doesn't need to go down to the snack machine. We have them in the cabinet next to me.
Bob: I didn't know that! You've got that stuff in the cabinet next to you?
Dennis: Do you have a root of bitterness about Bob ripping off your chocolate-covered M&Ms?
Bob: Yes, her root of bitterness is that I mentioned on the air that she was snacking on M&Ms yesterday afternoon! She doesn't want the whole world to know about that.
[Laughter] So, the question is, “Can I say, “No,”? I say, “Well, I think I can.” You're saying, "Well, try it sometime"?
Elyse: Sure, right. I don't think it's sinful to eat M&Ms. It would probably be sinful for me to eat M&Ms if I was severely obese and eating extra calories would be harming my life. Generally-speaking, though, it's not sinful for you to eat a piece of chocolate or to have some little something that you want for a snack.
The question is, “Are you enslaved to it?” You see, because we've been called to freedom—and so I don't want there to be anything—any created substance that I am enslaved to—that I have to have in order for my day to go well.
Dennis: For me, Elyse, it was realizing that my weight was putting me in a category of becoming a diabetic. The combination of my age and being overweight was putting me in a category where the doctor looked at me, when I did my physical, and he said, "You know, here are the facts. At your height and this weight, you will develop Type II diabetes." I thought, “You know what? That's not good.”
Barbara, my wife, had been talking with me about perhaps losing a little weight. So, I decided, “You know what? I've got to do this. I've got to do it for the people I love. I don't want to grow old and have my life defined, if at all possible, around a hospital and around constant medical procedures because I didn't care for myself at a younger age.”
I really hadn't ever been on a diet before. You know, I'd cut back on food; but I can say this—one of the things I had to eliminate—the very thing you're talking about—I felt like it was an American right and my right, at the end of the day, after I'd had my meal—to have a nice bowl of chilly ice cream, with cascading fudge and almonds, sprinkled on top. [Laughter]
Bob: When you say "chilly" ice cream, you don't mean—
Dennis: Chilly—really cold.
Bob: Oh, that wasn't the flavor? I was imagining something that tasted terrible.
Dennis: Actually, Vanilla Nut Bean. Anyway, the point is—that discipline, now, over a year-and-a-half later—has really been good for me because I've noticed I'm not—now, it's not that I can't overeat, but I'm not overeating like I used to. I think I was making food into some kind of an idol, you know—enjoying the pleasure just a little too much— where it was too central to my life.
Frankly, if you go to most churches in the Christian community—the Christian community is well-fed.
Elyse: Fellowship tends to be, in church, about food, as well. In one sense that's appropriate, though, because what are we going to spend time doing at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb? I mean, there is a supper going to happen—so fellowship around food is probably appropriate—but I think our churches would be better served to not always have to incorporate food in every single function that we have. We want to be hospitable to each other—and I think that's good—but I just think we need to rethink this a little bit, here in America, particularly because—
Dennis: —we have so much.
Elyse: We have so much. We have so many people in our churches who are so overweight—that it's just such an issue—but, again, you know, God has given us food to eat and the pleasure of food to eat as a good gift. As a matter of fact, there is a verse in Deuteronomy that talks about the second tithe in that passage. It says, "When you are celebrating before the Lord, you can eat or drink anything you want as you celebrate before the Lord." See, that's very interesting. We can use food in celebration before the Lord; but we have to be very careful, with our hearts, because we are, by nature, idolaters. We will serve the food instead of the Lord.
Dennis: I find it interesting that Jesus made a statement to His disciples, over in Luke, Chapter 12, verse 22 and 23. He said, "And for this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life as to what you shall eat, nor for your body as to what you shall put on"—and here is the statement. This is really a good statement for Americans—"for life is more than food, and the body more than clothing."
Now, you know, those are pretty simple words; but Jesus really nailed it. He said life is more than food. There are some people, I know, whose lives revolve around food—the preparation of it, the enjoyment of it, the satisfaction from it. It is the center point of their lives—their idol, as we say.
What you're pointing out, in your book, is that food is not bad—it's a pleasure that God has given us. We just need to pull back and ask ourselves a number of questions. I want our listeners to make sure they go to FamilyLife.com and get all 12 of those questions, from your book, about food and our attitude toward food. I think we have to pull back and ask ourselves, "Do we really have God's perspective on eating, and drinking, and how we approach the dinner table?”
Bob: I think one of the things that we are trying to say here, this week, is that to simply take an approach that says, “I’m going to try and modify my behavior and use my willpower,” —to do that is probably setting you up for failure. We do have to recalibrate and get God’s perspective on eating and drinking.
Rather than the world’s perspective on what kind of body shape you ought to have, or how thin is too thin, or how fat is too fat, you really need God’s perspective on how we handle food and drink. That’s where Elyse is steering us in this book, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. We have copies of it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Starting off a new year, this might be the book you need to dive into; right? Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free: 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
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So again, we want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who helped support the ministry and for those of you who continue to support the ministry, month-in and month-out. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. We really appreciate those of you who partner with us and who share our mission to see every home become a godly home—starting with our homes; right? So, “Thanks,” again, for your support; and we look forward to a great 2013 together.
And we hope you can tune in to be with us again tomorrow. Elyse Fitzpatrick is going to be back. We’re going to talk about how it is that we can eat and drink, and glorify God in the process. I hope you can tune in for that conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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