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Foods, fads and fantasies

By JoAnn Butrin

Weigh in; weigh out; weigh down; carbohydrates up; protein down; protein up; carbohydrates down; eat only fruits and vegetables; pray over everything and eat what you want; push away; don’t fill up; think thin; confess your ideal weight; don’t obsess; don’t regress; don’t digest. Are you confused? There’s more.

Organic foods, supplements, products and herbs vie for our attention, pointing out that our foods are depleted of vitamins and poisoned by insecticides. Our bodies need more than just food, we are told – we need "products" that will make our food more nourishing, cleanse our systems, aerate our lungs, bathe our cells, get us in tune with our inner beings and, as some claim, "radically change our lives."

The American market is flooded with quick-fix solutions to weight loss and healthy living. Surveys show, according to Carole Lewis in her book, First Place, the weight-loss craze to be the second most popular recreational means of spending money, topped only by fitness. Obsessed though we are with fitness and weight loss, the numbers of overweight Americans have increased steadily over the years. According to Science journal (May 29, 1998), 54 percent of all U.S. adults are overweight — an increase of about 33 percent since 1978.

A health consciousness does seem to pervade our society, but the messages are so profuse, and often contradictory, that many of us flip-flop from one fad to the next, never really achieving any permanent change in positive health behaviors. Others just give up and return to what may be poor nutritional habits, no attempt at weight loss and no exercise at all.

Despite increased knowledge concerning nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyles, many of us are attracted to fad diets, the latest in exercise equipment or the product-and-supplement mentality because they promise quick, no-pain, easy or enjoyable solutions. We want to be able to log on to an easy solution that will give us the American fantasy — a perfect body, radiant health and a no-guilt approach to eating.

Unfortunately, when it comes to positive health habits, fitness and proper nutrition, there really is no quick fix. Habits, good or bad, take time to form and time to change.

Many people use food to cope with the ups and downs of life. We use food to celebrate the good times. We use it to help us mingle, to help us climb social ladders, to influence business decisions and to offer congratulations. We also use food to help fight loneliness, to overcome stress and to substitute for something we feel is missing in our lives.

Most of these coping strategies, though perhaps not wrong in themselves, leave us overfed, gaining weight and feeling guilty.

The Bible provides the right motivation as well as some very basic and practical instructions for healthy eating and fitness.

The most often-quoted Scripture that we are to be good caretakers of our bodies is 1 Corinthians 6:19,20: "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you are bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (NIV).

Other biblical principles to guide us are those of moderation and balance. Philippians 4:5 says, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" (KJV). Ecclesiastes 3 says that men should enjoy eating and drinking and enjoy the fruits of their labor, but Proverbs 23:1,2 admonishes us to bridle our appetite and exercise restraint.

Caring for what God has given us and applying moderation and balance in all aspects of our lives set the stage for an appropriate and God-ordained approach to positive and practical nutritional and fitness behaviors. These Scriptures also let us know that good health is not an automatic right or privilege for those who know God, but rather a personal responsibility.

Before discussing the benefits of eating the right foods, it is necessary to decide what the right foods are. As basic as it may sound, the food chart children learn in school is still the standard for determining what constitutes a well-balanced diet. Those food groups are: breads, cereals and rice (6-11 servings per day); fruits (3 servings a day), vegetables (3-5 servings per day); meats, poultry and fish (2-3 servings per day); milk, yogurt, cheese (2-4 servings per day) and fats, oils, sweets (use sparingly).*

Each person should have some of each of the above food groups each day, but should monitor the amounts that result in maintaining or losing weight. Keeping fats, oils and sweets to a minimum will be of major health and weight reduction benefit. Counting calories, the old standard, is still an excellent way of controlling the amount of foods that are eaten. Consulting a physician to determine your ideal weight for your body size is a wise first step.

After establishing a nutritional plan, think about incorporating physical exercise into your daily routine. Keep in mind this simple, practical formula: Less input of calories, more output of energy equals weight loss.

One of the best exercises that we can do is walking. Brisk walking is preferable, but any walking is better than no exercise. Swimming, biking and jogging are all inexpensive, accessible and practical ways to improve our health and reduce weight. The key is consistency and frequency. Exercise should be undertaken daily if possible or at least three times weekly.

For minimal time and expense investment, a reduction in weight and exercise will contribute to reduction in risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

If you are considering another fad diet, or if you’ve given up entirely, I urge you to rethink your motivation and ask yourself, How can I honor God with my body? Let your determination stem from a desire to obey God’s principles, to present yourself "holy and acceptable to the Lord."

*Natural Health magazine, Nov./Dec. 1993.

JoAnn Butrin, Ph.D., is director of HealthCare Ministries of the Assemblies of God. She lives in Springfield, Mo.

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