Our On-Again, Off-Again Relationship with Food
About the Guest
Christian counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of the book "Love to Eat, Hate to Eat," talks about the pleasures of eating, and warns us not to make food our Savior or a salve for our discontent. She also explains how we can take a biblical approach to food.
Elyse FitzpatrickElyse Fitzpatrick is a nationally sought-after speaker and author, speaking at the Gospel Coalition’s conference and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Revive Our Hearts. She holds a certificate in biblical counseling and has an MA in biblical counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary. She has authored 23 books and lives in California with her husband, Phil. Learn more at elysefitzpatrick.com.
Elyse Fitzpatrick explains how we can take a biblical approach to food.
Our On-Again, Off-Again Relationship with Food
Orphan: Please, sir, I want some more.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to talk today about, “food—glorious food,” and about the glory of God. So, stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. It's gotten a little depressing this week.
Dennis: Haven't had much to eat; huh?
Bob: Well, I just keep looking at my little mug of Diet Coke® over here and thinking, "Okay, is this the Lord speaking?” or, “Am I okay on this?" —you know?
Dennis: Is God speaking through your Diet Coke? What do you mean?
Bob: I mean, we're talking, this week, about food and about—
Dennis: You think Diet Coke—
Bob: —is a food? It doesn't even qualify; does it? [Laughter]
Bob: The point is that—
Dennis: Put it right in there with tootsie rolls and—
Bob: Anything can become an idol; right? —if you feel like you have to have it? I guess I don't feel like I have to have a Diet Coke, but I do like to have a Diet Coke from time to time. I do carry it around in this mug so that I've got it with me. I feel happier when it's nearby. [Laughter] I'm just wondering if there's anything I need to deal with, spiritually, here.
Here’s that other part of the problem—I was over, recently, in Australia; you know?
Bob: And over in Australia, they don't serve it over ice the way they do in the United States. I was a little put out by the fact that they don't do it right over there. [Laughter] Now, we sit down with our guest this week; and she starts telling us that—you know—if you get upset by these things, maybe it is an idol. I’m going, "Why did we invite her?" [Laughter] That’s really the question I keep asking. [Laughter]
Dennis: Elyse Fitzpatrick joins us again. Elyse, welcome back, I think.
Elyse: Thank you.
Dennis: Elyse, as we mentioned earlier, is a trained biblical counselor. She is a speaker at retreats, author of a number of books, including the one we've been talking about—Love to Eat, Hate to Eat.
Elyse: That's actually a title that our publisher came up with, but it's a wonderful title because it really does properly represent the relationship that a lot of people have with food. They really love to eat, but then they hate the fact that they ate; or some people really hate food, generally, and struggle in a different area. So, our relationship with food is generally one that's not ambivalent. It's either, “We really love it,” or, “We really hate it.”
Dennis: What I want to talk about—Elyse—is a biblical approach to how we ought to handle our overeating problem—our eating disorders. There really is a way in which the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit have been given to us by God to help us grow and really become victorious in this—where food will not become our master.
Bob: Yes, let's assume—for a moment—that I really was convinced that this mug of Diet Coke might have some hold on my life that it shouldn't have. What do I do?
Elyse: What we wanted to do was set out four steps that you could do if you were convinced that some way you were eating or something you were drinking was not glorifying to God in some way. Let me preface this by saying that this is all by the power of the Holy Spirit. You see, you and I can sort of rearrange the furniture in our life; but we can't change our heart.
Elyse: Only the Holy Spirit can change the heart. We have to rely upon the Holy Spirit, who is God's agent for change in the world.
Dennis: A lot of people do not understand that agent of change—that person of God who does the work in the heart of a follower of Christ. Can you explain just a little more of who the Holy Spirit is and how He works because there are some who are listening to us right now—they've never understood how the Holy Spirit creates that change in their lives. Can you explain that quickly?
Elyse: First of all, the Holy Spirit would be the third person of the Trinity. He would be a person in the same sense that Jesus, the Son of God, is a person; and God, the Father, is a person. The Trinity is three persons in one. Now, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, and God, the Father, would have different roles. The role of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin, to bring truth to us, to incline our hearts to obedience, to empower us, and to free us from bondage to sin. The Holy Spirit works powerfully in the life of every believer. You cannot be a believer unless you have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what actually causes that new life to grow in you.
Elyse: For the Christian, the word that we use to talk about change is "sanctification". It's that slow way that God—through the person of the Holy Spirit—brings conviction of sin, brings understanding of truth—illumination of God's Word—brings to us a power to overcome sin in our lives. He is the life-giving—I hate to use the word, "force", because we are in a Star Wars kind of a culture—but He would be the life-giving force that would so work within us that He would cause change in our hearts.
Dennis: He helps us break bad habits.
Dennis: Because, in many regards, that's what you're going to be talking about, here, as you go through these four principles—
Dennis: “How do we break some bad habits, when it comes to food?”
Elyse: So, relying upon the Holy Spirit, you must become convinced that your present method of eating or drinking is sinful and cease from it. You see, it's not just an issue that, “Maybe I should cut back on brownies because I just don't feel good when I eat so much chocolate.” You see, I think that the Holy Spirit works not to help us just to overcome difficulties in our life. The Holy Spirit works to overcome sin. We have to be convinced that the way we're eating or the way we're drinking is sin, and we would have to know why. Am I being very clear about Scripture, you see, because Scripture—God uses Scripture in our lives to illumine our hearts and our minds—to make us aware of what is right, what is good, and also to give us the power to do those things.
The first step is to become convinced that your present method of eating or drinking is sinful and to cease from it. That's the work of the Holy Spirit. One of the things that Jesus said that the Holy Spirit did was to bring conviction. The Holy Spirit will bring conviction. I think that one of the things that we should do is just have a matter of prayer. Say, "Lord, is there something in my life that I feel like I have to eat or drink? Is there something in my life that I have to have, and would you show me that? Am I being enslaved?"
You see, again, Paul told us that we're not—all things are lawful. Can you drink Diet Coke? Absolutely! Could you eat a bowl of M&Ms®? Sure, why not? But I don't want to be enslaved! “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but I will not be mastered by anything.” There’s that mastery there. I want to be aware of whether or not what I am partaking of has enslaved me.
Dennis: One of the manifestations of slavery is gluttony. Now, does the Bible speak directly to gluttony being a sin?
Elyse: Yes; one of the passages in Deuteronomy—where you’re talking about the rebellious son that the parents would take out and actually have stoned. You remember that law?
Elyse: One of the ways he is described is that he is a glutton and a drunkard. Proverbs speaks about gluttony and drunkenness together. It’s this sort of manifestation of a life given over to an over-enjoyment of pleasures.
Bob: How can I tell if I’m a glutton versus somebody who is having an appropriate amount to eat?
Elyse: Again, that’s those questions.
Bob: Yes, you’ve included a dozen questions in your book. We’ve got them on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. They’re diagnostic questions; right?
Elyse: Yes, yes. I could be very thin and be a thin glutton. I could be a little bit chubbier than what the norm would be and not have a problem with food. See, the way we look outwardly can be, in some ways, a sign of what’s going on in our heart; but it is not always.
Elyse: I can be a woman who is a size 4 and is totally addicted, in my mind, to, “What I have to eat every day that will make me healthy.” I get angry and unhappy if I have to go to someone else’s house and they’re not eating healthy food—and I don’t get to go to the gym for an hour-and-a-half every day.
Bob: You’re saying that’s as much a sin pattern as somebody who’s eating too much?
Elyse: Yes, and, again, is it fine to go to the gym? Yes; absolutely! But can you worship and serve the Lord if your kids are sick and you can’t go?
Bob: Yes. Alright, so we start with this idea that we have to look at what we're doing and ask the question: "Is this pleasing to the Lord?" If it's not, are we ready to confess it as sin and ask God to change us, through the power of the Holy Spirit; right?
Elyse: Absolutely, absolutely. And, you see, this is much more difficult than me just sitting down and saying, "Alright, eat 1,200 calories a day. Don't have any more than 30 grams of fat. Do this; do this." This is much more difficult, you see, because I can put on all of those outward habits without having a change of heart or ever really doing business with God. So, this is much more difficult.
However, I think that in doing this, you're going to have the power of the Holy Spirit that will help you. I want to take all of my eating—see, Paul said, “Whether you eat, or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” I want to say, “Is my eating and drinking glorifying God? Is there something in my life I have to have? Is there something in my life I love more than Him? Are there things in my life that I give too much thought to?” Those are the questions that I have to ask.
Once I become convinced that the way I'm presently eating is sinful, then the next step is to say, "Okay, if what I'm doing is sinful, then I have to say, ‘Alright, God, Your way of eating would be right’." I want to become convinced that God’s methods for disciplined eating are right and begin practicing them.
How does that play out practically in my life? How that would play out, practically, in my life is—I might want to say, "Alright, it's apparent to me that even though perhaps I'm not overweight, I have to have a bagel and coffee every morning." But I'm going to say, "Lord, not because I'm trying to make myself more acceptable in Your sight, but because I want to practice one of the fruit of the Spirit—discipline and self-control—I’m going to give that up." It's not that I'm making myself more acceptable or God loves me more because I do it; but it's because I don't want to be enslaved to it. So, I say I'm going to give it up. Then, when I'm sure it doesn't have a hold on my heart, and it is fine, then I can have it; but I'm not going to have it, now, for a while.
Dennis: Your third solution for how we grow and change is that we should seek diligently to change our minds and become conformed to God's thinking, especially about our habits around eating. Okay, now, how do we get God's mind about eating? The Holy Spirit helps us; but the Holy Spirit uses the truth of Scripture—doesn't He? —to help conform us to the way God wants us to live?
Elyse: Yes, yes; He does. What I wanted to do, as I wrote, and what I would encourage people to do, is to really sit down and say, "Okay, what does God say about food? What does God say about eating? What does He say about—for instance—in Deuteronomy 8, when He took the children of Israel and He said, ‘I have let you go hungry. I have fed you with manna so that I might see what's in your heart’?"
You see, I want to look at food the way God looks at food. Food, in itself, again, is God's good gift. We find it all through Scripture that—look at Jesus, after the Resurrection, even—He's cooking food for His disciples. Eating is not wrong in itself; but I just have to have the scriptural view—the biblical view—of food and eating—that it is a good gift, given from a good God; but it must not be my god.
Dennis: It can't be central to your life.
Elyse: Absolutely. When I am sitting in church on Sunday morning and I catch my heart wandering away to, “What shall I eat?” then, I need to stop and say, "Lord, help me to discipline my thought and my mind now and to focus back in on You and what You are saying to me."
Dennis: This is the part of the Christian life that is bothersome to me because, the older I get in Christ, the more aware of how many idols I can have—how many propensities toward sin that I naturally gravitate towards. It's why I think Galatians, Chapter 5, becomes increasingly important in my life, and should be important in the life of every believer—where the Apostle Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the deeds of the flesh.
The deeds of the flesh are evident. It talks about all kinds of—there's over ten of them in there—idolatry, drunkenness, immoral behavior, sensuality, division, strife, jealousy, envy. We all know our flesh all too well; but Paul says that the fruit of the Spirit is evident. It's love, joy, peace, patience, discipline—it's the ability to be disciplined by the Holy Spirit to say, “No,” to those choices we used to be enslaved to.
Now, I'm still not doing that perfectly. I think the older I get, quite honestly, I'm just amazed. I think I understand and can identify more with Paul's statement, "There is no good thing within me that dwells." You know what? I'm constantly—what was your quote you used earlier—that the human heart is constantly looking for an idol?
Elyse: Manufactures idols.
Dennis: If we don't have one; we'll make one.
Dennis: And food can be one for all of us. This fourth aspect for how we change and how we grow in our approach to food, I think, really helps us at the points where it becomes a temptation.
Elyse: Right, we are to continue to practice these new thoughts and behaviors, even when the struggle gets hard. Any person who has decided that he’s going to address his eating habits, in any way, knows that by day two, we are having a struggle that's hard.
Bob: The battle will rage.
Elyse: The battle will rage. So, we sit back and we say, "Alright, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me about the way that I eat and what I think about food. I want to think about food the way God wants me to think about food. I want God to change the attitude of my mind—that I might be changed in the spirit of my mind—that I might not be transformed to the world but be renewed in my mind."
Then, I need to practice this. This is where, of course, the difficulty lies because day one, day two, day five maybe—for some people, who are, by themselves, very disciplined will not be difficult; but once you've been going down the road for a while—you see, that's when the motivation of our heart to just lose weight—which is not, in itself, a godly motive—will become evident.
I know a number of people who will say, "Okay, well, I'm going to eat this way because I have 12 pounds to lose,” or, “I've got 50 pounds to lose. I'm going to eat this way until I lose that weight, but then I'm going to go back to my old ways of eating,” or, “I'm going to go back to my old ways of eating and just be careful I don't gain weight.” You see, it's not an issue of, “How much weight have you lost?” —it's an issue of, in your heart, are you now worshiping your new body or are you worshiping the Lord?
You see, we're constantly being pulled, again, by our idols. Maybe the idol of gluttony is being replaced by the idol of vanity. So, “I'm happy now because I've lost weight.” It's good to lose weight, for the Lord's sake, but I want to develop a way of eating that is always God-centered—that is always focused on, “What does the Lord want me to do in this situation?” Then, if I lose weight or if my weight stabilizes or whatever, I'm not going to be worried about it because what I weigh is not the point—except, of course, as it would impact my health.
Bob: Yes. If this is about getting to the world’s standard of what your body should look like, then you’re starting in the wrong place; aren’t you?
Elyse: Absolutely. You know, they did a poll—and I don’t know who “they” is—but they did a poll of what size women want to be. “What is the optimum size for a woman?” The size they said? —two. Most women? —size 12. So, if we’re going to want to look like what the world says we ought to look like, we’re all going to be miserable all of the time—which, of course, then engenders all sorts of eating disorders—in younger women, primarily.
Elyse: The point is not that I can look the way some fashion designer in Hollywood or somewhere—I don’t even know where they are—some fashion designer in France—says I ought to look. That’s not the point. The point is, “Am I enslaved to certain kinds of food?” or, “Do I have to have certain things? Am I free to say, ‘No,’? Is my thought and heart always consumed with what I will have next—what will I eat or drink?”
Here’s another example—when I have people over for dinner, am I consumed with what I am serving them, or am I concerned about ministering to their soul the love of Jesus Christ? See, a lot of women—I think, particularly—really love to practice hospitality. It’s good to do so, but the point of practicing hospitality is not having smooth gravy. The point of practicing hospitality is to minister the love of Jesus Christ to people who come to your home. If I am very, very consumed with what we’re eating, then I’m not going to be able to do that.
Dennis: I have to say, Elyse, as we've talked, here, this week, with you about food, that it has really caused me to reflect on how many things in life we really don't take advantage of for the glory of God and to truly honor Him with. In other words, I don't think—until I had done some reading in your book—that I ever really thought that a meal can be and should be a worshipful experience.
Bob: You know where that thought first came to me? When I was having a conversation with our friend, Dan Allender, and he talked about how every good meal is a foretaste of the marriage supper. He said, "Every time you have a good meal, you ought to push back and say, 'That was good but not as good as it's going to be!'" [Laughter]
Dennis: That's a great thought; isn't it?
Bob: And that does lead you to worship—to go, "That steak was a good steak, but it's nothing compared to what's coming!"
Dennis: Well, if you think about it—and I did, this Sunday, at church—we sing some great hymns—some old ones—tough on you young whippersnappers out there. We've got our favorites that are old ones, too. You'll be there someday, too, okay? But we also sing some new choruses and songs. In all that, I closed my eyes. I was just marveling at God's goodness and attempting to keep my mind fixed on Him and honor Him.
I think, you know, meals need to be a time of fellowship—a time of renewal and refreshment—and it ought to be a time when we train our children how they can enjoy some of the finer pleasures of life.
But I don't know that it ever crossed our minds, as parents, to train our kids to realize that food was never meant to be worshiped; but food was intended, by God, to be a worshipful experience. I just appreciate you, Elyse, and your book. I'm grateful for this work. I think it's going to help a lot of people.
Bob: It already has. I think the conversation we’ve had here this week helped a lot of folks, as well. Let me point people to the book, which you can find at FamilyLifeToday.com. Go to our website—again, FamilyLifeToday.com. Elyse’s book is called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. The author, again, is Elyse Fitzpatrick, our guest today on FamilyLife Today. You can order a copy of the book from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call toll-free to order: 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
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We hope you have a great weekend! Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday, when we’re going to talk with Kenny Luck, who works with men out at Saddleback Church to equip men to be godly men. We’re going to talk about what he is doing and about the need for men to step up and be God’s men. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I am Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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