Food for Thought

Proactive or Reactive?

If you take a moment to consider, it becomes apparent that people are generally more reactive than proactive. In other words, rather than taking proactive measures to avoid the crisis altogether, people don’t tend to change unless change is forced upon them, or they are confronted with some sort of crisis that shocks them into action. This might explain why more people will be saved during the Tribulation period before Christ’s return than throughout any other period of human history.

When it comes to our health it seems that a lot of us, Christians included, take this same reactive approach. Although there is a growing trend toward health consciousness in North America, the vast majority of people simply don’t change their habits until they are seriously ill. It is said that more healthcare dollars are spent during the last few days of a person’s life, in a last ditch effort to keep them alive, than is often spent over their entire lifetime. In fact, 99% of all healthcare dollars go into treatment (once the illness is apparent) compared to less than 1% for prevention (the act of simply avoiding the crisis from the get-go).

In this day and age, people have never before been confronted with so many choices when it comes to diet and health. Everyday a new product or philosophy is introduced, many of which are discredited soon after. And, while there is no need for fanaticism, Christians should take more heed to their health and make educated, informed decisions.

Let’s face it. By and large we are a sedentary society. By that I mean that we spend more time physically inactive than any preceding generation ever has. We have come to the point where we actually have to artificially create physical work for ourselves lest our bodies waste away. It’s called ‘working out’ or ‘exercising.’ Nevertheless, with many of us the amount of calories we take in still often exceeds what we burn.

Though there are rough guidelines that address the amount of calories you should take in on a daily basis, a lot depends on you personally. It would be best to talk to someone more knowledgeable in this area in order to get an idea based on your gender, body type and other variables. But you can easily monitor your own intake of calories by reading the labels of the food you buy at the grocery store and by doing the math at the end of the day. “What if I don’t buy food at the grocery store and I just eat out?” Tough luck. You’re at the mercy of the food maker, and when it comes to ingredients, the local fast food joint is not overly concerned about your general health as much as it is in bottom line profits— another good reason to eat nutritious home cooking.

The Fat Scoreboard

Here’s what Dr. Michael Jacobson from the Centre for Science in Public Interest has to say on the matter of health:

“As a society, we do little to encourage people to stay healthy by eating a good diet and exercising. The typical effort – sporadic lessons in school or the occasional public service message – pales in comparison to the billions of dollars the makers of junk food, alcohol and tobacco spend every year to push lifestyles that cause disease. And our mechanized, TV-saturated, information-age culture keeps people in the recliner, desk chair or car while their muscles and metabolisms crumble.”

Largely as a result of ignorance, great marketing, our lust for convenience, and lack of willpower, North America’s #1 Killer – junk food – has crept up on all of us, reducing our quality of life in the long-term. Some people may argue that we are now living longer lives than we ever have. That may be true to a certain extent, but quality of life is just as important, if not more so, than quantity. Consider the following facts:

¨ One out of two North American adults are now overweight or obese.

¨ You’ve probably noticed yourself that the percentage of overweight children in North America has literally doubled since 1981.

¨ In Canada alone, 21,000 people die prematurely every year due to poor physical and eating habits.

But as with many ‘slow killers’, such as smoking or alcoholism, we simply pass on by none the wiser. Our waists expand gradually, while our physical abilities drift away bit by bit. After all, a Whopper and Super-size order of fries never killed anyone single-handedly, just as a single cigarette never gave a person lung cancer. Cigarette smoking is a nasty and damaging habit, but what makes gluttony any better? It would be hypocritical if, in between bites of our greasy burgers, we criticized those more obnoxious habits from our lofty perch while we continue to pollute our own bodies with different, but equally destructive things. Sure enough the gradual accumulation will eventually take its toll.

The Common Sense Approach

Abusing our bodies carries with it consequences that reach far beyond how we look in the mirror. Aside from lack of restraint, which is more a matter of character, people who are obese are also known to be plagued by depression and a number of physical ailments such as heart problems, memory loss, general body pain and loss of hearing. As temples of the Holy Spirit, it is our responsibility to care for and nourish our bodies properly. (1 Cor. 6:19). Again, this is not a matter of obsession, but more a matter of wisdom, and of being more careful and conscious about the things we eat and our need for proper exercise. It is ridiculous to think we can join the prayer line and ask God to heal us of high blood pressure or clogged arteries directly brought on by poor eating and exercise habits when we have no intention of changing our lifestyles.

The simple fact of the matter is that certain principles carry consequences for sinner and saint alike if they are transgressed. No doubt about it, standing in front of a moving freight train or free-falling from a skyscraper will carry rather decisive consequences regardless of how prayed up we are. This is an attitude of presumptuousness, which has sneakily filtered down into our everyday lives.

We all know that the Bible declares that bodily exercise profits little, and in comparison to the soul this is largely true. Concerning matters of health this can easily be addressed by two points. Firstly, we should not see health and spirituality as diametrically opposed to one another. This is a very foolish view. It is possible to be healthy and spiritual as long as priorities are well-defined. One simply does not have to be sacrificed for the other. Secondly, these statements were made in simpler times when the average person actually performed physical work eight to ten hours per day, if not more, ate healthier and was not bombarded with the thousands of food options we have today. If we take in more calories than we expend, it follows that there will be consequences to our weight, health and overall well-being. With all the sly marketing efforts, thousands of food selections at your local grocery store, the temptation to give in to convenience, and the simple fact that junk food tastes good, we have to become more health conscious and make educated choices.

You’re the Battleground

You may not know it, but there is tremendous competition for shelf space at your local grocery store. Companies pay a premium to have their products displayed at eye level or at the ends of the aisle because that’s where most people pass by. Not to mention the ‘impulse buying item’ that seems to call your name as you go through the checkout…

Also consider that companies keep making food more convenient which is the single-most important factor that sells food today. Of course, convenience often comes at a price – processed and fatty foods – that we will physically pay for later on. Convenience is a major reason why pizza is one of North America’s favourite foods. But most pizzas are loaded with over a day’s worth of salt, and a minefield of saturated fats like sausage, and artery-clogging cheese. And though we may console ourselves by pointing out the few strands of mushroom, pineapple and onion, the damage will far outweigh the benefits if consumed too often.

So what’s the Christian’s position in all of this? Moderation. You don’t need to join a gym or spend thousands of dollars on an apparatus for your basement. We simply need to adjust our eating habits and exercise more regularly. The amount of adjustment depends on our current state. But be encouraged, because there are a lot of positive side effects to good physical health. Aside from enhanced mental capabilities and a sharper, more alert mind, you’ll have more energy and feel better about yourself. Whatever you decide to do, remember that it is always better to take action than to have action taken on you.

The Spiritual Side

This discussion on general health opens another interesting discussion when you think about the subtlety of the manufacturers and the ignorance of the general masses. Without any formidable defenses most of us are sitting ducks – physically and spiritually. And like the five foolish virgins of Matthew 25, most people refuse to take things seriously until the crisis is knocking on the door. For some of us, all we have to do is see a photo of a Big Mac and our mouths start watering. Before you know it, we’re in the drive-thru line.

It would be tragic if we resolved to turn our eating and exercise habits around, yet neglected the more important aspect of our salvation and spiritual welfare. We are the battleground in both cases. When it comes to your mind, on a daily basis what do you feed it? How much exercise does it get or is it just being told what to do and think by other people and the media? Do you live according to whatever whims pop up or are you controlled by godly principles? What defenses have you raised to protect your mind from Hollywood, the Internet or your favourite radio station?

Sad but true, we are probably in worse shape spiritually than we are physically. But the same principle applies: what we imbibe affects us. If we never exercise – whether it’s our bodies or our spiritual life – we will decay long before our heart finally stops beating. We possess nothing more important than our souls, and like the negative effects of junk food or smoking, it is not the single act, but rather the accumulation that takes its toll on us spiritually.

Habits are what form our character. If we have no control over our eating habits, how can we possibly show restraint when it comes to the spiritual side of things?

First and foremost we are spiritual beings, and as such, we must ensure the inner man is healthy and active in the work of the Lord. It would profit us nothing to work out vigorously, eat salads everyday and then sit down to watch violent or inappropriate movies.

We must recognize that there is a balance and it is our responsibility to make sure both are well cared for and nourished. After all, if you are on a good diet, then exercising 30 minutes per day, four or five times a week is plenty – that’s only about 1% of your week– leaving sufficient time for spiritual growth!

You be the Judge

So what’s the whole conclusion to the matter? You can draw your own based on the following questions. How much of the word of God that you hear do you expend in Christian exercise? Or would you be considered out of shape spiritually speaking (a hearer of the word only)? How much ‘junk food’ and ‘empty calories’ does your mind feed on daily, and how do these contribute to your spiritual growth? Too much of anything, including the word of God, will kill us unless it finds a healthy outlet.

In all honesty, most of us are ‘out of shape’ and ‘obese’, spiritually speaking, but, as with the physical so with the spiritual. As long as there is breath, there is hope.

If you have lost your healthy eating and exercising habits why not make a decision to get them back? Never started in the first place? There’s never been a better time than now. More importantly, if you have found yourself drifting spiritually, and not implementing the word of God, then maybe it’s time to get back into shape spiritually – for the long-term. Remember, God will help us when we take the first steps.