Works-Based Diets, Weight Loss, and Real Satisfaction
When my daughter became engaged, I shopped early for a mother-of-the-bride dress. Weeks ahead of time I found the perfect suit—powder blue with a few tiny fake pearls on the collar. Not too fussy, quietly elegant. Perfect. Well, almost. It was a pinch snug. Only a pinch. I was probably overly sensitive anyway. No problem. I’ll just drop five pounds and it’ll be fine.
That dress stayed in its plastic bag, tucked out of sight until a week before the wedding. I’d long since forgotten the diet resolution.
When I tried the dress back on, much to my horror, a pinch snug had translated into completely unwearable. Ashamed to tell anyone my dilemma, I made up a story about the dress having a rip I hadn’t seen.
I combed the stores of Augusta looking for a second-choice mother-of-the-bride dress that would fit my five foot three, overweight frame. Few stores carried “women’s plus-size petite.” The term was an oxymoron at best.
Macy’s was my last chance at a reasonably priced dress before being forced to go the specialty shop that would charge a small fortune for polyester that pretended to be chiffon. I asked the sales lady where a size 18/20 petite mother-of-the-bride dress might be found.
“In our basement,” she said. “But we only have a few down there.”
I raised my eyebrows and caught my breath. “The basement? Wow. Okay then.” Down in the dungeon of boxes and broken display cases I found a deep purple and white satin suit with three-inch rhinestone buttons down the front.
My daughter would kill me. No. I would kill me if I wore that thing. Off to the specialty shop I went, and I left with a violet dress any great-grandmother would be proud of and an empty checking account. It was the best they could do on such short notice. I cried all the way home.
A New Approach
I then resolved to lose weight. But how? I’d done the low-fat, low-carb, the no-diet-it’s-a-life-change-diet all to no avail. I only seemed to grow larger after short-lived victories.
So I started praying about it. No diets. No treadmill workout. Just a conversation with the Lord. It went something like this:
“I can’t do this. I don’t think anyone has a clue about what I am supposed to eat and what I am not. So I don’t know where to start, except to start with You. I feel enslaved to some obvious bad habits and betrayed when good habits don’t translate into results. Remember that week of fasting from fast food? I gained two pounds. Seriously? Ugh! Amen.”
For the next several weeks I made no diet or exercise plans. Instead I prayed and paced and poured out my exasperated heart to God and asked Him to set my mind right about weight loss before I made another plan on my own efforts.
After a hectic twelve hours of work, I drove home exhausted. I’d missed lunch, and there was absolutely nothing in the fridge at home—at least nothing worthy to reward a hard day’s work. As I pulled up in line at Chick-fil-A, I heard John Piper proclaiming on the podcast I was listening to:
The greatness of God’s majesty is magnified not in hollow efforts to keep commandments—every religion does that. The greatness of God’s majesty is exalted when you are satisfied in him—more than anything! . . . How many of you are fighting the battle at the level of deeds all the time? . . . Satan is laughing up his sleeve that you are fighting on a front that can never succeed. What do you love, what do you cherish? What are you satisfied by? Are you fighting that battle? That’s the battle that gives rise to all that’s good and kills all that’s evil.
Isn’t He Enough?
I looked down at my fried chicken sandwich, large waffle fries, and Diet Coke. I knew better. As a nurse, I was keenly aware of what my choices were doing to my blood pressure, my overall life expectancy, to say nothing of my choices in clothing.
But knowing what to do isn’t enough, is it? “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15).
I hadn’t considered my eating habits in terms of idolatry. But listening to this sermon while the aroma of Chick-fil-A filled my car had me consider my works based efforts at weight loss in a new light.
What do you love, what do you cherish? What are you satisfied by?
Shouldn’t God be my reward for a hard day at work? Isn’t He enough? And if He is, what am I doing at a drive-thru?
When I did act on what little nutrition information I knew, I rarely saw immediate gratification at the scale: 199. Seriously? Yesterday my lunchbox was loaded with rabbit food while my thin coworkers munched on chips and Twinkies. I had earned a lower number. And when I didn’t see it, I quickly threw in the towel, or the treadmill, and grabbed a Snickers.
Breaking the Chains
If I do everything right, I am not owed success in terms of shedding pounds or improved health. But I can rejoice that God is breaking the chains of food addiction regardless of whether the outcome is a physical improvement. Often God works at a far slower pace than we want, doing what isn’t clear for months or even years to come. So why are we so impatient with weight loss?
A quick disclaimer: I am not saying every overweight person has an issue with idolatry. Weight issues are far more complex than a one-size-fits-all answer. But for me, I’ve come to recognize the incessant emphasis on diet and exercise plans to the exclusion of inner heart-work was a recipe for failure.
Since my daughter’s wedding I’ve had only one diet plan: to love God more than anything I put in my mouth. I’ve lost thirty pounds in ten months. The painfully slow progress won’t be a bestseller, folks. But I’m out of the basement at least.
If I had demanded a quicker result, or less back pain, or some other health improvement—I would have become discouraged long ago. But instead, I am growing more satisfied in Christ alone—which means I can skip the Snickers bar and by no means feel deprived. The goal is no longer some temporal external thing, but more of Christ Himself.
Weight loss battles can leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. When you make difficult improvements in your diet and exercise routine and don’t see subsequent changes on the scale, are you quickly discouraged? We most often diet to lose weight and feel better, but could the Lord want more for us than that? Are you satisfied by Christ alone, or do you look to external things for comfort and reward?
By Gaye Clark
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