Being in the health and fitness industry for the better part of the last 10 years, I’m obviously a person who is happy when others are able to make healthy changes and stick to them. I believe that God made us to move and to need certain nutrients in order to work optimally. When we meet the needs he created for us, they can make us feel great and become more effective servants for Him.
And I think, on the whole, Christians are realising this. They are trying to make healthy changes to the best of their knowledge. They are trying to eat better, move more, and love the temple God has given them.
But as healthy as a lot of these changes are, for a lot of us (myself included) the tendency is for the pendulum to then swing too far to the other side. While before we were sitting on the couch, guzzling down every doughnut and vanilla latte (with whipped cream) in sight, we are now becoming obsessed with exactly how much of everything we are eating and whether we got our HIIT session in for the day. We quickly become obsessive over whether there’s gluten in our toast, whether it’s organic, whether we should have eaten it at all, how many calories it has, and how many minutes it will take to burn everything off on the treadmill.
So where do we draw the line? We know that healthy habits are something we are allowed to have – and even something that can be beneficial to us – yet at the same time we need to be aware that they can hurt our walk with Christ if we aren’t careful. When our healthy habits and lifestyles become all-consuming, they have gotten to a point where they are more of a hindrance in our lives than a help.
How do you know when you’ve taken your healthy habit too far? You’ve gone too crunchy granola/fitness addict/clean eater when:
1 | YOU HAVE BECOME OBSESSED WITH MAKING HEALTHY CHOICES
It’s all you think about. It’s all you talk about. If you are honest with yourself, it’s all you really care about. Every conversation you are a part of seems to drift to that topic and every post on social media is centred around it.
But it’s not just that. Maybe you don’t even talk about it, but you obsess over it. You feel bad when you don’t make a healthy choice. Not bad as in, “Ugh, that made my body feel bad,” but bad as in “I feel so guilty for not making that healthy choice. I can’t believe I did that!”
You’ve started to assign an extremely high moral value upon being healthy and ascribing to your chosen set of healthy habits – to the point where you feel guilty if you break one of your health or fitness rules. This is a sign of orthorexia – “a fixation on righteous eating” (also commonly associated with a fixation on exercise or other “healthy” lifestyle choices).
I get this, I’ve been there. I’ve been obsessive over my choices and still struggle with the temptation to be that way again at times. It’s something that makes you feel in control, and gains you a lot of praise and adoration. But the truth of the matter is that the Christian life leaves no room for an obsession with anything other than Christ and following His ways. When we feel like something other than Christ is being set up in our hearts as our first love, we need to reprioritise. He has asked that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He wants us to preach Him first, not healthy living. We need to realise that even something that’s beneficial to us can become a stumbling block in the way of our service to Christ.
“Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8)
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
2 | YOU ARE USING SCRIPTURE TO SAY YOUR WAY IS THE RIGHT ONE
You love to tell others about your healthy way of life. But here’s the thing – all your close friends are Christians (great!) and don’t really see the benefits of healthy changes (not-so-great) or perhaps they just don’t agree with your version of “healthy” (how can they not?!). Rather than simply leaving your friends to make their own healthy decisions, you find a way to make your choice the moral, religious choice.
While God’s book has a lot of wisdom for us on a lot of different topics – it was not meant to be a healthy living guide book. When you use the Bible to justify your healthy choices you (1) make others feel like their choices are ungodly, (2) turn God’s Word into something it’s not meant to be, (3) use scriptures out of their intended context and meaning, and (4) turn seekers away from the real life-saving message. While God wants us to practice good stewardship, He doesn’t advocate any one way of living healthy – there are many different expressions of a healthy lifestyle. On all issues health and fitness, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats” (Romans 14:17-20).
3 | YOU THINK LESS OF OTHERS WHO DON’T DO THE SAME AS YOU
You see a lady eating a doughnut. “No wonder she’s fat. Doesn’t she know about gluten?!” You see a woman running on the treadmill. “Pfft, waste of time! If only she knew how good weightlifting was for her!” You hear that someone has gone to the doctor and gets a prescription. “Well, SHE obviously doesn’t know what’s good for her health, following a defunct system!” Someone tells you about their epidural during birth or that they had a c-section. “She obviously didn’t do her homework! She hardly even gave birth!” A woman you know chooses to vaccinate her child. “How could she subject her child to that?!”
And on and on.
Again, this is something I have been guilty of in the past – looking down on others for not making the same healthy choices at me. This isn’t right or good, and here’s why:
First of all, love thinks no evil. If you want to cultivate a servant’s heart and start really drawing people to Christ, these thoughts need to stop. Secondly, you have no idea what these other people have gone through to get to their decision. Thirdly, you have no right to assign any moral value to any health, wellness, and fitness endeavour and judge people according to your perceived values. The message of Christ is weakened when you bind where He hasn’t bound and judge where you have no right to judge.
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? […] Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:10, 14)
“The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6).
4 | YOU REFUSE FOOD AT OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES
There are legitimate reasons for refusing food (such as an allergy or some other harmful reaction – if this is you then please ignore this point!) – but this is more than that. This is a matter of choice. You refuse a dish served you because it has gluten, is non-organic, or doesn’t meet with your approval in some other way. Maybe you even call ahead and tell people what certain things you prefer to eat, or perhaps you even refuse to eat at certain people’s houses at all.
While as hosts we should seek to accommodate to people’s preferences, likes, and dislikes – the truth is that when we are the guests we need to be as unoffensive as possible. I used to be the kind of person that would write ahead and tell the family I ate gluten free – but I stopped that and now just eat what is served. You know why? I saw how uncomfortable it made people (I visibly saw this when I would travel). I realised that I cared more about what I thought would keep me skinny than I cared about my influence. In most families and cultures, food means a lot more than just food. To most people (probably even you, if you’re honest), an acceptance of their food is an acceptance of their very selves.
Still not convinced? Remember that Jesus told the disciples to eat what was given to them when He sent them out on the limited commission. There is wisdom in this, even for us today.
“And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give […] And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you” (Luke 10:7, 8).
5 | YOU ARE RUINING YOUR INFLUENCE BY TRYING TO TURN FRIENDS INTO CUSTOMERS
“Every person is a potential customer” you subconsciously (or consciously) think as you post on social media and go about your daily interactions. In every conversation, as soon as you see an opportunity to convert a friend to your way of life, you jump on it. You even cold contact friends of your friends to try and sell them your product.
It is important to keep business and friendships separate as much as possible. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had tell me that they feel frustrated, annoyed, or pressured by people who’s primary objective seems to be the sale of some product to their friends. While “Every person is a potential customer” works in the entrepreneurial world, as Christians we primarily need to think, “Every person is a soul that needs salvation.”
I’m not saying stop selling (I’ve been in sales before, I know what it’s like!) – just don’t let healthy living be your main message. We are to spread the good news of Christ first and foremost before everything else we see as good news. There are ways to sell and still maintain your integrity and relationships. Look to how you can serve others, rather than how they can bring you more revenue – and keep that at the front of your mind as you look to spread your message of healthy living.
“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
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The bottom line: As we pursue healthy choices, let’s seek to pursue God first. Let us never forget that God should be the reason we choose to look after our health – and therefore His law should govern how we exercise our free will in this area. Health is important but not more important than our sanity, influence, relationships, or spirituality. In all things, let’s seek to have the correct balance of our priorities.
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Think you or someone close to you might struggle with orthorexia? Click here for more information.