But the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control Galatians 5:22-23
Some 20-30% of all Americans are significantly overweight. Almost 20% of Americans are currently involved in some kind of weight-loss program, some on their fourth or fifth try. Makers of diet foods, pills, and exercise programs gross more than $10 billion per year!
Why are some people totally out of control with their eating? Several reasons stand out:
- Overeating is a way of escape for some. One overweight man confided that he ate almost continuously to escape the huge financial pressures bearing down on his business. He relied on food – especially sweets late at night – to get his mind off the constant concerns about how to stave off bankruptcy. Many women eat excessively to escape unhappy marriages. Many wheelchair bound people eat to forget the fact that they will probably never walk again. Others who are physically scarred or otherwise marred eat to forget about their appearance.
- Overeating is often an attempt to cover a guilt-ridden conscience. Unfortunately, some people gorge as a denial technique, attempting to hide their guilt from others, even from themselves. Eating becomes a substitute, albeit a poor substitute, for facing and dealing with guilt caused by unresolved sin. One woman confided that she would rather be large than try to deal with the guilt caused from her past, when she was illicitly involved with a man not her husband.
- Much overeating results from a skewed self-image. Though the Bible makes it clear we’re not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12:3), God never intended that we go around downgrading ourselves and feeling a sense of worthlessness. True, in order to come to Christ and be saved, we must acknowledge our utter and total depravity, confess our sin, and admit that we can’t save ourselves because we’re sinners. But once we’ve accepted Christ, we become somebody in God’s eyes!
- Overeating is sometimes a coping mechanism when everything else is out of control in a person’s life. Most people addicted to food find themselves undisciplined in other areas of their lives, as well. They find it difficult to get up early, get things done on time, or have any kind of consistent schedule in their lives. In most cases, they are people whose lives are completely out of control. Self-discipline is missing.
- Some overeat out of nervous energy. Those with a “hyper” personality often find themselves smoking one cigarette after another, constantly drinking a glass of something, or snacking and eating almost non-stop. This is perhaps why many people who give up smoking gain weight rather rapidly. Used to having something in their hands (namely a cigarette), they feel a compulsion to continue having something in their hands and turn to food. Soon, they become addicted to food and cannot stop.
- Overeating may stem from one’s childhood. For some who grew up in poverty, sudden access to an abundance of food as an adult is more than they can handle, and they get into the habit of gluttony. Others, while growing up, learned to always clean their plates, and to have seconds to finish up any leftovers. This also may cause overeating later in life.
- Overeating masks some people’s pain. For still others, food fills a void, not just a physical hunger. It dulls the pain of their loneliness, and gives them a sense of temporary pleasure. If those are some of the reasons someone may start overeating, why in the world would anyone keep right on overeating after becoming extremely overweight?
In a word, denial. I suppose all of us have been in denial about something in our lives. Food addicts, however, usually have a serious problem here, because they fear to admit they are addicted to something will cause others to think less of them.
Most food addicts already feel badly about themselves, but withdraw into denial rather than face what others might think of them. They brush off any attempts by friends or loved ones to confront their problem. How? By justifying their situation:
“I’m not really that much overweight, I’m just big-boned."
“I’ve got a glandular problem I’ve struggled with for years.
“I’m under a little stress right now, and I always eat more when the pressure gets to me.”
But to come out and say, “I have an addiction to food, and it’s beyond my own ability to do anything about it,” seems almost impossible for some.
Making such an admission goes against their strong desire to be accepted and liked by others. It is as if they hope that denying their problems will cause others not to notice them.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M ADDICTED?
Here are a series of questions you need to ask yourself:
- Do you find yourself often thinking about food?
- Do you anticipate eating long before your next meal?
- Do you tend to eat when you’re bored?
- Do you hide food in your desk or drawer at work? At home?
- Do you try to cover how much you take out of the refrigerator?
- Do you look forward to functions that have food more than functions that don’t?
- Do you find yourself lying to others about how much you eat?
- Are you disgusted with your physical appearance?
- Do you find yourself postponing a plan to do something about your addiction?
Of you answer “yes” to many of these questions, you may have a serious addiction to food?
COUNSEL FROM GOD’S WORD
Is there hope? Yes!
Acknowledge that you are in over your head.
In other words, confess that you have an addiction to food and that – in and of yourself – you cannot get a victory in this area. Acknowledge you need the intervening hand of God.
I can’t, but You never said I could; You can, and You always said You could.
That’s a good prayer to pray when your back is against the wall. Go back and read the story of Jeheshaphat. When he had his back against the wall, and the ensuing enemy was ready to decimate him and his army, he gladly confessed to God:
“For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12b)
Remember, you can’t break this addiction by your own will power. The apostle Paul said it well: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
Acknowledge that your addiction is sin.
Don’t attempt to dismiss the spiritual nature of your problem, as if it were only psychological or physiological. It is a spiritual problem that demands a spiritual solution. Why? Because you’ve allowed something (in this case, a food addiction) to gain control of part of your life. This is clearly a violation of Scripture.
Paul put it succinctly:
“Everything is permissible for me…but I will not be mastered by anything. Food for the stomach, and the stomach for food, but God will destroy them both.”
(1 Corinthians 6:12-13)
As believers, we’re not to be mastered by anything or anyone except Jesus Christ. Peter reminds us that “a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Peter 2:19b). Paul adds that “sin shall not be your master” (Romans 6:14).
Addiction to anything – including food – is sin. If we want deliverance God’s way, we need to confess it as sin (1 John 1:9) and repent (Acts 3:19). Repenting means changing our actions.
Take steps to show the sincerity of your repentance.
This means God expects some action from us. John the Baptist urged people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
This gets into the obedience department. What specifically are we to do if we have a food addiction? For one thing, we need to avoid those occasions that bring us together with those who eat much and often.
“Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”
God expects us to take some action. Diets are not the answer, because diets are not where the problem lies. It lies in a person’s attitude toward food. We need to heed the advice of Solomon again:
“When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.” (Proverbs 23:1-2)
With God’s power, we need to begin to take charge of our life. We need to learn to eat to live, not live to eat.
Find someone to whom you can be totally accountable.
You need a Paul in your life who will mentor you and ask the hard questions, keeping your feet to the fire. You need a Nathan, who came to David and told him: “You are the man.”
You may ask, “Is this scriptural?”
The answer is “yes”! All Christians are to “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). That doesn’t simply mean to be humble before one another, it means we’re to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16). That’s accountability.
Spend much time in Bible study and prayer.
Allow meditation and obedience to God’s Word to be your food, in a sense. Jesus once said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32). He spoke these words when His disciples encouraged him to eat some food. Jesus implied by this statement that He derived His satisfaction from the work God had called Him to do. Jesus wasn’t saying it isn’t good to eat, but He was saying that we sometimes place too much emphasis on food.
One of the amazing effects of God’s Word dwelling in us is that it changes our affections and brings them in line with God’s heart.
Do your best to avoid social events where large amounts of food are served.
Our culture celebrates eating. Almost every social function and business transaction is done over breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Avoid smorgasbord, cafeterias, buffets, and parties until your self-discipline is what it needs to be.
Paul put it this way: “do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). Why? Because Satan is always trying to outwit us by one scheme or another (2 Corinthians 2:10). You need to make sure you don’t invite temptation by browsing a bakery, or by feeling you need to try out every new restaurant in town.
Remember God is stronger than any temptation.
Everyone is tempted to live beneath his/her highest and best. People with addiction can easily lose heart, thinking the thing that lures them into sin is somehow stronger than God Himself. But don’t forget:
“No temptation has seized you, except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
This verse tells us three things about temptation. First, temptations come to one and all. Second, the lure of temptation will never be stronger than the Lord. Finally, there always is a way to escape temptation.
If you are addicted to food, and feeling guilty because you are terribly overweight, let me encourage you to start by turning your problem over – once and for all – to the Lord.
You might want to pray a prayer like this:
Lord, I confess to You that I am addicted to food. I am out of control when it comes to satisfying my appetite. Furthermore, in and of myself, I am powerless to break this addiction. I turn this addiction completely over to You, and claim Your power to enable my behavior to change. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
More biblical counsel:
- Matthew 4:1-11
- Proverbs 25:16
- Proverbs 28:7
- Proverbs 3:5-6
- Psalm 23
- Isaiah 54:17
- Isaiah 49:5-6
- Philippians 4:19
- Revelation 12:10-11
- Jeremiah 32:17
- Jeremiah 32:26
- Jeremiah 33:3