Anyone at all familiar with Elyse Fitzpatrick knows of her prolific, incredibly insightful writing on eating disorders, idolatry, and recovery through the powerful work of Christ. Fitzpatrick has counseled countless women to victory throughout her ministry through her unapologetically biblical view of counseling and heart-focused recovery. We're so excited to share with you her video and short responses to questions on food and sin. I've re-crafted the format of her writing on this topic to flow with our series's Q & A format, without changing any of the content.
Q: What is the root of sinful habits with food?
Fitzpatrick (adapted from ch. 16 of "Women Helping Women: a Biblical Guide to the Major Issues Women Face"):
God's original purpose in creating food for nourishment and pleasure (Psalm 104:14-15; Acts 14:17). Our response, should be one of thanksgiving, and condemnation of asceticism (1 Timothy 4:3-5).
It is when we fail to regulate legitimate physical needs and pleasure under His guidance that we get into trouble. Declaring independance from God's commands - rebellion - takes several forms in individuals with sinful eating problems:
- using food to declare independance
- satiating own uncontrollable desires for pleasure (being unable to stop)
- frequently worrying about food and drink (violation of Matt. 6:31)
- failure to prioritize (seeking to fulfill desires before His kingdom and righteousness)
This type of backwards-thinking lets greedy desires grow unchecked, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5). When sinful eating habits become a life-dominating pattern, the one enslaved is "worshipping" the false gods of Taste, Pleasure, and Self-Sufficiency. The antidote to this struggle with greed and the flesh is, of course, to remind ourselves that we are not alone in our struggle with greed (1 Cor. 10:13) as we learn to recognize this heart issue.
Q: What are some ways the Christian women struggling with disordered eating can strive to change their thinking about their bodies?
Fitzpatrick: Our self-centered desires and idolatry toward food and our bodies must be replaced with biblical, God-honoring motives for change.
1.) Being Conformed to the Image of Christ. Dress size is unimportant to God. Having our old nature fully transformed is His priority, and it must be ours, as well (Romans 8:28-29).
2.) Everything is to be for the Glory and Pleasure of God. Obedience by glorifying Him with our eating habits must be primarily for His sake; not ours alone. (1 Cor. 10:31).
3.) Your Body is the Holy Spirit's Home. We belong to Him, body and soul, and need to be good stewards. (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
4.) All of Life is His. No activity is morally neutral - not even eating. Avoid the temptation of separating life into the sacred and secular - even the most mundane activities are either acts of worship or irreverance. (Romans 14:23).
5.) He Redeemed You from Slavery. Don't jump back into the pit (Romans 6:12-13).
As you begin to develop correct motives, you must remember that although these habits seem overpowering at times, you can change because of the work of Christ. Remember that one of the results of the work of the Holy Spirit is "self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Q: What practical suggestions do you have for someone struggling toward recovery with food?
To help spot motivating factors of excessive or out-of-control eating, try recording every instance of undisciplined eating and the emotions that are driving these sin cycles. This will help you identify problem patterns and "triggers" to which Scriptural principles can then be applied (lies confronted with the Truth from God's Word; using the "put off/put on" dynamic to overcome temptation when it hits).
This isn't to say that the temptation toward bingeing is weak. On the contrary, our compulsions are often so overpowering many of us feel defenseless against them:
"As she begins the binge she may not even taste the food. She may not consciously think about what she is doing as she crams food into her mouth. She may lose track of time and how much she has consumed. She may sit in front of the television and concentrate on some meaningless program while she shovels in baked potatoes, cartons of ice cream, boxes of cereal, or bags of cookies. She will experience a certain pleasure (euphoria) from eating. The pleasure is not simply from the taste or texture of the food, or the chemical reaction of raised blood sugar levels, but it is an experienced release and calm that comes after a hurried and frantic self-indulgence....Make no mistake - this compulsion to binge is as strong as any faced by the habitual heavy drinker." -(Fitzpatrick, Ch. 16)
Although the binge is compelling, we must trust in Christ's power to transform our hearts, making what was once dead, alive. Once the heart's sinful desires have been identified and rejected, we can pursue recovery through reading, memorization, and meditation on the word. Coupled with this, daily prayer; deliberate thankfulness, will help our spirits as we strive for moderate exercise and controlled eating. Find accountability through confession to friends, family, or even frequent sessions with a biblical counselor.
How can we be self-controlled in our eating? Does that mean that we should eat only a certain number of calories, avoid sugar, eliminate foods with fat, or perhaps a combination of all three?
The easiest thing in the world for me to do would be to tell you exactly what you should eat. But that’s a rather simplistic approach that doesn’t take into consideration a variety of factors. Besides, chances are you have been on diets like that before, and you and I both know how they usually end. I’m not saying that it is wrong to follow a preplanned diet, as long as it is not a fad diet. But even if you are following a preplanned diet perfectly, that doesn’t mean that your eating is pleasing to the Lord.
I can lust over a cup of nonfat frozen yogurt in exactly the same way that I can over a chocolate shake. I can also become enamored with my appearance and worry that I might gain weight, which wouldn’t please God. No, there are other criteria for you and me to consider as we develop our personal plan for disciplined eating.
I have listed twelve questions you can ask yourself in order to determine whether your eating is sinful or not. To help you remember these points, I’ve developed the acrostic “D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E-D Eating.”
As you consider the following, some of the answers will be obvious. Others will take some time and careful thought. Stop now and prayerfully ask God to help you as you think about how to make your eating habits more pleasing to Him.
- Doubt: Do I doubt (for whatever reason) that I can eat this food without sinning?
- Idolatry: Does eating this particular food demonstrate a heart either of independence—“I can do whatever I want”—or a heart longing for pleasure—“I know that I don’t need this for my sustenance, but I love the feeling of the sweet coldness”?
- Stumble: If I eat this, will it cause a weaker Christian to stumble?
- Coveting: Am I eating this just because I saw someone else with it and I’m coveting it?
- Inroad: If I eat this, will it create an inroad for sin?
- Praise: Can I eat this food with thanks and gratitude? Is my heart overflowing with songs of praise to God?
- Life: Would eating this food harm my health in any way?
- Illustrate: Am I modeling good eating habits for others and encouraging them to be self-disciplined, or do I encourage others to self-indulge?
- No: Am I able to say no to this even if I know that I can eat it without sin?
- Emotions: Does the desire to eat this flow out of a heart of anger, fear, frustration, or depression?
- Distract: Will preparing or eating this food distract me from something better that God has for me to do?
- Enslaved: Does it bring me under any kind of bondage?
All of this, of course, can be summed up by one question: In my eating and drinking, am I glorifying God? (1 Corinthians 10:31).
(Excerpted from Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick, published by Harvest House Publishers.)
Elyse is the author of two books on eating: Love to Eat, Hate to Eat: Breaking the Bondage of Destructive Eating Habits and Uncommon Vessels: A Program for Developing Godly Eating Habits. She has also contributed articles to The Journal of Biblical Counseling on Helping Overeaters, Helping Anorexics, Helping Bulimics, and Disorderly Eating for the Rest of Us.