We live in a society that privileges people who are able to maintain a healthy weight (according to a subjective standard) and condemns those who are perceived as unhealthily overweight. Losing weight is more complicated than our culture would make it seem. So, as we seek to live out the call of God in Micah 6:8--to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God--changing our perceptions of overweight people is a vital. Losing weight or even maintaining a healthy weight can be very expensive, and as Christians, we need to recognize that what might seem easy for one person is incredibly challenging for another person.
Here are three things to keep in mind as you navigate the seas of healthy body image in the body of Christ:
1. Healthy food is more expensive than less-healthy food.
When I was pregnant with my second child, my husband and I were barely making ends meet. He had just graduated with his Ph.D., but we were on Medicaid and WIC. We could have been on food stamps if I had pursued it, but I was struggling with the social consequences of needing government help and so I declined.
We moved to be nearer to my family during the pregnancy and I had to switch healthcare providers for my pregnancy. My new doctor was a kind man and an old family friend, and I was thankful that he took me on as a patient on Medicaid, mid-pregnancy. In an effort to control my weight and avoid a diagnosis of gestational diabetes, he urged me to cut down on carbohydrates and focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and protein.
I knew that eating like this would be good for both my baby and for me, but I was overwhelmed with the idea of making it through a day without bread.
Yes, I love bread (like the author of this insightful HuffPo piece). But more than that--bread is inexpensive. So is cereal. And crackers. Bananas, apples, spinach, and carrots? Those cost more money. My husband was working a full-time job for part-time pay. And though I wanted to give my body the best nutritional building blocks I could as God knit my son together in my womb, we were overwhelmed financially. It was all I could do to just pay the bills and make the WIC assistance stretch for my little family.
That, my friends, is an important thing to remember when making decisions about nutrition: How much is it going to cost to feed my family well?
2. Exercise is costly.
If you’re a busy employee or if you have children depending on you, making time to exercise is a costly thing. Kids are not great walking companions (I’ve tried--they like to pick flowers, which is super cute but not great for keeping my heart rate consistent during cardio). Jobs absorb a lot of our days. Sometimes, there is simply not time or energy to exercise.
Lupus sufferer and activist Christine Miserandino articulated the cost of living with a chronic illness in her Spoon Theory, which compares the emotional and physical energy you have for one day to a handful of spoons--a limited number for each day. If you’re young and healthy, you probably have an abundance of energy both emotional and physical. Getting out of bed and getting ready for work or school are easy and require next to nothing of your body and psyche, and thus you don’t have to spend one of your precious spoons. But when you have a chronic illness? Opening your eyes, willing yourself to get out of bed, fixing your meal--all these cost you. If you spend six of your 12 spoons just getting ready for the day to make it to work on time, you have to be very careful with the spoons you have left, just so you can make it through the day.
While I don’t want to characterize being overweight as a chronic illness, I do want to emphasize that the people that you meet in your day-to-day routine have lots of things going on under the surface. Maybe they are overweight because of a chronic illness that limits their ability to be active. Maybe they, like me, struggle with anxiety and depression, and food and exercise need to be the last thing they are worrying and fretting about at this point. Maybe they are learning to love themselves instead of participating in a harmful diet culture than isn’t good for your heart.
Which takes me to my last point:
3. Let’s listen better.
Our culture demands physical perfection, but such demands come at a cost, physical and spiritual. When I can remember--for my own sake and the sake of others--that the pressure to conform to a certain body type or number on a scale is a very costly endeavor, I can begin to question what it is I am actually called to spend my time, money, and emotional and physical energy on.
Listen to Jesus’s words in Luke 4:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
This is the mission of Jesus--proclaiming good news to the poor, setting captives free, opening the eyes of the blind, conquering oppression, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. And this is the mission that I’m called to as his follower. As I have written before (here), it is easy for the message we carry as Christians to stray from this mark. Physical perfection or even health is not the goal, because the Kingdom is for the weak, the broken, and the rejected.
As a Christian, I am called to love with the same love I have been given. Jesus meets me where I am and loves me. No matter where I’m at. No matter what size, or spoons, or income. I take great comfort in that love when I feel on the edge of social acceptance because of my size.
My dream is that the Church would be full of people who listen for the stories of those people they don’t know. That towards people of girth, we would have compassion (even and especially if that is toward ourselves). That we would let go of shaming others because of how much they weigh or what they eat. That we would embrace the love of Jesus that turns things upside down--social norms, cultural expectations, and who gets to bring something to the table.
There is space for all of us at the table of Jesus, and we need to make room, in our hearts and in our churches.
Originally posted at FatinChurch.com in April of 2016.