I saw this joke the other day:
“What do you call a meal plan wrapped in a Bible verse?”
It is what we in the non-diet eating disorder recovery world call a Jesus Diet, and it makes me the angriest.
A Jesus Diet is when a company uses Scripture to create diets that attempt to use shame and Scripture as a motivator for change and weight loss. Jesus Diets are hugely popular. Diet industries (like so many other industries) have tapped into the fact that many people will purchase anything if it is packaged in Christian-ness. This includes diets.
Here are a few popular Jesus Diets:
- The Daniel Plan: This plan actually has a list of “good” foods, which is very restrictive. The most angering part is that this plan can be sold to an entire church so that everyone can diet together. What a contorting of Scripture! This wasn’t at all the point or focus of the biblical story about Daniel. That story was about bravery and faithfulness in frightening times. Be brave and faithful and kind to your body by not participating in diets that have a 95-98% failure rate, are guaranteed to destroy your relationship with food and your body, lead to disordered eating/eating disorders, and make you less healthy in the long run.
- The New Bible Cure For Weight Loss: I have nothing to say about this except whoever made the title should get fired. Unless this is actually a book that helps people stop losing weight. Which, sadly, it isn’t.
- Faithfully Fit: Because you are unfaithful if you aren’t fit?
- The Hallelujah Diet: The hallelujah part must come when you finally break up with diet culture for good and live your life.
- Take Back Your Temple: I think I will take my temple back from diet culture, which has done more to harm me than dieting has ever done to make me healthier.
- The Eden Diet: Is this a diet where you can eat everything except one type of fruit? I hope it’s not pineapple because pineapple is sort of my jam. I vote that dragon fruit be the fruit we don’t eat. Dragon fruit is the most disappointing of all fruits, unless it’s your thing. You do you.
- Weight Loss, God’s Way: Spoiler alert! I have read the Bible cover to cover, and God never once suggests weight loss methods.
Do you want to give your church something that will promote health? Give them Jesus.
Jesus is the bread of life, but we are all over here hustling for our value and worthiness by eating a no-carb diet.
I am earnestly wondering, do we truly believe he is sustaining us?
He promises to be our very source of life. In Matthew 6 Jesus says “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?”
When Jesus walked this earth health was a very real concern. Many people lived on the verge of starvation, wondering where their next meal might come from. When Jesus tells them don’t worry about what you will eat or drink, or about your body, he was reminding them of God’s sustaining power. God will provide for you, give you what you need, and keep you alive.
Today we worry about what we will eat for completely different reasons. We worry about how many calories we are consuming, the fat content, or total number of grams of sugar in our soda. We worry about our bodies and what size clothing we will wear, all in the name of health. The promise of God is the same. He will sustain you.
Instead of trusting God, we are afraid and feel the need to take matters in our own hands because health, thinness, beauty, and longevity have become the new gods that we worship.
We refuse to believe he will sustain us.
Instead, we run to the gym and participate in self-punishing exercise, so that we can sustain ourselves. We try to control our fate.
We go on the latest diet craze, so that we can make ourselves well. We skip out on meals with friends or spend the whole time talking about how much we hate our bodies and want to change.
And all of this dieting is failing us. Despite all of our best efforts, all of our best denials, all of our street corners filled with gyms and juice cleanse bars and health food, we haven’t gotten any healthier. Now we are all afraid. Food has become scary. Fear, in and of itself, damages health.
Then, there is Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life. Let me sustain you. Seek me. Seek me first. You don’t have to be afraid. You are already so worthy and valuable. You have always been everything to me.”
I am not saying that exercise and nutrition aren’t important–they’re just not as important as Jesus and they aren’t as important as the stuff he is calling you to. If you love a run as much as I hate dragon fruit, by all means enjoy your run. But don’t turn your exercise routine and eating preferences into moral superiority or self punishment.
We have to stop worshipping at the God of health for so many reasons:
- Dieting robs our focus away from the stuff we truly find meaningful.
- Dieting isn’t making us healthier (diets actually predict weight gain; seriously, google it!).
- Dieting is damaging our relationship with food and our bodies.
- Dieting is an unjust system–leaving people out who we assume just “don’t have will power” or “aren’t trying hard enough.” These people may have spent their lives trying to be on the inside of the “health/wellness/thinness” system–but always feel like they fell short. These are amazing people who can do powerful things for the kingdom but are often too busy being sustained by the lie that they can start their lives once they are “fit.”
- Dieting is hurting people by promoting disordered eating/eating disorders.
When you promote Jesus Diets, you are just creating a dual layer of hurt for so many. Even for yourself. After dieting you will have to fight out of an unhealthy relationship with food and your body. If your diet is a Jesus Diet, you will also be fighting out of a spiritual crisis.
Trust him. He created you. Trust your body. It is perfect. He created your body. No, series of external rules will bring you the peace you are seeking but Jesus will. Live life.
Celeste Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate and eating disorder specialist from Tyler, Texas. Celeste and her husband have been in youth ministry for 16 years and currently work for Glenwood Church of Christ. She is passionate about self care, self acceptance, intuitive eating, and the church. Celeste desires to advocate for the church to become a safer space to those experiencing mental health struggles. She loves youth ministry, reading, spending time with her three children, coffee on the porch with her husband, road trips, and backpacking.