Eating is a way of life. We have to eat to live. The Lord gives us our daily bread and we feast on the goodness that it brings. Food sustains us. It nourishes us. It delights and comforts us. But food can be a problem for us too. Not having enough of it is a reality for many families even in the U.S. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under the age of 18 in the United States live in households where they cannot regularly access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.
This is a real problem.
On the flip side, though, food becomes a problem when it is readily accessed without legitimate boundaries. Using food to self-soothe, eating out of boredom or to fill some kind of void enables an unhealthy lifestyle, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Eating too much of the wrong things and not enough of the right kinds of food is detrimental to one’s health as well.
And yet food, dieting, body image, and weight are real issues that are on the periphery of the minds of many women (and men, too). We count the calories, check the FitBit, measure the portions, and watch the scale. We decline dessert, calculate our points, read the labels, and feel guilty when we cheat.
Not too long ago, my five-year old daughter asked me why I exercise, and I hesitated. I almost blurted out, “Because I need to lose this baby weight.” What I actually said was, “Because mommy wants to take care of the body God has given me so that I can be healthy and strong for you kids and your daddy.” I believe every word that I said. Only thing is that I am not always motivated by this belief. Often I am motivated by the poster size, pre-baby, engagement picture of me with my husband that stares at me in my bedroom every day. I am motivated by those skinny jeans that I use to fit in. I am motivated by an ideal that is far removed from personal stewardship or self-care.
My daughters are listening.
And so are yours.
The language we use regarding food is vitally important for several reasons. One, we are always teaching our kids both intentionally and unintentionally. Obsessively checking labels, the scale, and skipping out on dessert falsely teaches that food is something that should be avoided or not enjoyed.
On the other hand, we need to educate our kids on healthy eating and having a balanced diet, and the easiest way for us to do this is to model it. Limit or exclude foods with preservatives, lots of sugar, and or artificial colors or ingredients. Bulk up on fresh produce as much as possible. Making this a household practice early on is easier than switching from poor eating habits to better ones.
Our language about food is also important in how we use food. I will sometimes let my kids have a treat after they complete a chore or something of that nature. I don’t think this is a problem when it happens on occasion, but using food as a reward as a habit associates food (especially sweets or snacks) with achievement and food then becomes master of my children. As their mother, I am responsible to protect and guide them into truth and goodness. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.” I don’t want to be dominated by food, and I don’t want my kids to be either, so I have to be intentional in how I use food in our home.
What I don’t want to do is talk about food in regards to body weight. Language is important. If our family is eating relatively healthy and my kids are active in sports or physical recreation of some kind then there is no need to discuss weight. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. One study, cited here, found that by age six, girls begin to worry about weight or body image with 40-60% of elementary aged girls (ages 6-12) expressing concerns about becoming too fat. These are our daughters. If we do not educate them on true beauty, God’s design, health, and character, who will? Society and the surrounding culture at large sure won’t, so we must.
Because the discussion is not really all about food. It is about the heart- the hearts of moms and the hearts of their daughters who are of precious worth in God’s sight. But our hearts are wicked and desperately sick- the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, boasting in beauty, and the like. Only God can redeem the heart.
If we are going to tell our daughters their true worth, we must first understand our own. We have been redeemed. We are not mastered by sin anymore, but through Christ we are now slaves to righteousness. This means that we set Christ before us as Master, pleasing and praising God with our lives. The gym cannot be our altar, ladies. We consume food, but let it not consume us. We are daily inserting deposits into the memory banks of our children, and we are also instructing their hearts on who should be on the throne of their lives. May it be Christ. May it always be Christ, both in our hearts, and in the hearts of our daughters.