Food addiction, Eating Disorders, Recovery, Gluttony

Disordered Eating in the Church: The Problem and the Solution

Note: The following article is adapted from Chapter 17, “Disordered Eating in the Church” in the book entitled Food as an Idol: Finding Freedom from Disordered Eating (Orgeron, 2017).

Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author

Introduction

One might expect Christians in churches to be among the healthiest groups of people in the world. This is not the case according to research (Moritz, 2013; Premier Life, 2014). Moritz reported, “Recent studies show that Christians are not portraying a good testimony of honoring God with their bodies.” (p. 1) One study by the Pawtucket Heart Health Program, as cited by Moritz, found church attenders are more apt than non-attenders “to be 20 percent overweight and have higher cholesterol and blood pressure numbers.” (p. 2) Another study conducted by Matthew J. Feinstein (Northwestern University Medical Center), as reported by Moritz, found 50 percent of young persons who attend church at least once weekly are more apt to be obese as they reach middle age than those persons who attend church less.  

Based on her research and her personal experience Orgeron believes there are influences both within the church and outside the church that have contributed to the church’s poorer state of health than the general public and that continue to allow the church to be a breeding ground for disordered eating. What are these influences?

The Roots to Disordered Eating in the Church

  1. Internal Influences
    1. Unhealthy foods served at church – Christians, we need to be honest. “Potlucks, ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners and donuts are not good for the body, brain or soul.” (Ryder, 2011, ¶ 19) Neither are all the pizza parties some churches have to attract today’s youth. Based on John 6:44, Orgeron believes the Holy Spirit should be what draws people to come to church, not their taste buds. 
    2. Misunderstandings of Scripture and false teachings regarding one’s body – Unbiblical attitudes about the body that contradict God’s message that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) can be the source of disordered eating.
    3. Failure to educate about sexuality and God’s purpose for sex – Surprise! Yes, an unhealthy sexual development can lead to disordered eating.   How so? I know of a number of persons abused sexually as a young child, that as they aged either under or overate in an attempt to make their bodies sexually unattractive because of a deep-seated fear of being abused again.
    4. Toxic Faith (Arterburn & Felton, 1991, 2001) – What is toxic faith? Arterburn and Felton defined toxic faith as “a destructive and dangerous involvement in a religion that allows the religion, not a relationship with God, to control a person’s life . . . It is abusive and manipulative and can become addictive.” (p. 19) 
    5. Laziness – Laziness also is one type of self-defeating behavior that can lead to disordered eating. Orgeron gives an example of Christian individuals who know they need to lose weight. Rather than taking action by starting to move more and eat less, these individuals pray for a miracle, or rationalize that if God wanted them thin, He would have made them that way.
       
  2. External Influences
    1. Peer pressure from friends – Steve Reynolds wrote in his book, Get off the Couch: 6 Motivators to Health (Regal, 2012) 

      If a person’s overweight friends think fat is beautiful, that person may begin to think the same thing in order not to be left out. On the other hand, if thin is in with a person’s friends, they may adopt that attitude. From there, it is a short step to choosing food and exercise habits that will enable them to soon look like the rest of the crowd, whether that means eating more food to look like their plus-sized friends or less food to look like their thin ones. (Reynolds, 2012, pp. 209-210, as cited by Moritz, 2013, p. 132)

       

    2. The food and fashion industries – Food is advertised everywhere—TV commercials, billboards, magazines. How can anyone resist all the temptations? The fashion industry also plays a role in the disordered eating problem. “Society today lives in a Photoshop world, and people compare themselves to images that do not really exist and reject their God-given body. People live lives of comparing and perfecting. . . . This constant pressure is on everyone to look a certain way.”  (Moritz, 2013, p. 101) 

The Solution to Disordered Eating in the Church

“The local Church should not only be a place that promotes spiritual health, but one that promotes and advocates for physical health and wellness.” (Moritz, 2013, p. 21) Additionally, most Americans (70.6%) call themselves Christian (Pew Research Center, 2017), “which means that churches may be in a key position to improve the health of the nation. Not only are churches potential points of contact with the public, they also tend to hold regular events that involve food and relationships.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2013, ¶ 1) What can churches do to help reverse the epidemic of disordered eating? 

1. First and foremost, churches need pastors and other leaders who exemplify and promote healthy lifestyles. One way a pastor can begin to address disordered eating issues in congregations is through a sermon-based campaign with gluttony a key focus.
2. Change the types of food people serve and consume at church.  In an effort to curb the epidemic of heart disease in the African-American community in New York, cardiologist Ola Akinboboye and the Association of Black Cardiologists, Inc. (ABC)(2013) recommend churches change the unhealthy foods they serve to healthier food items, which in turn would influence how congregants eat at home. To push the message, Akinboboye and the ABC created a documentary entitled “Before You Eat the Church Food Watch This Video” (ABC), which links heart disease to lifestyle choices.  
3. Believe and teach truths about the body that line up with Scripture. 
Consider the following Scriptures shared by Focus on the Family (2000):

  • Genesis 1:27 – You were made in the image of God.
  • Psalm 8 – In the whole wonderful universe, He gives you a place of honor.
  • Proverbs 31:30 – Outward appearances don’t matter as much as what’s inside.
  • Zephaniah 3:17 – The God of the universe takes delight in YOU!
  • Romans 5:8 – God loves you enough to send His Son to die for you.
  • 1 Peter 3:3-4 – How you look is not what really makes you beautiful.  (Nothing but the Truth section, ¶ 1)

4. “Renew the mind” (Romans 12:2) where unbiblical attitudes and behaviors exist about the body and sexuality.
5. Offer biblically based courses and mentoring programs about the body and sexuality.
6. Train children to think critically about what’s popular and what the media portrays as attractive.  

Health and Wellness Programs in the Church

Health and wellness programs in churches should be unique and have a deeper purpose than programs in the secular world. How so? According to the Ministry Tools Resource Center (2010), three biblical principles and practices need to be implemented into all church-based health and wellness programs. These are:

  1. Churches need to teach the principle of our bodies as “God’s temple”, based on 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
  2. Based on Mark 12:30, “a church can minister to the whole person, integrating physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, and social health and wellness.” (¶ 5)
  3. Based on John 10:10, a church can assist individuals in living out the abundant life not only spiritually but also physically as much as possible on earth by teaching them how to prevent medical problems that affect one’s entire being.

Final Reflections

Christians, remember the Church did not get in its current unhealthy state overnight. It will take time, perhaps years, to reverse the effects of years of unhealthy attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that have contributed to the sin problems of gluttony and sexual abuse in the Church. If God has called someone as an individual, or as part of a church body, to work for, and to advocate for renewing the health of Christians and others in these areas, Orgeron encourages him or her to not give up the fight.  The church needs revival. The lost world needs spiritual awakening. Before spiritual awakening can occur, Orgeron believes the church must get its house in order through revival by way of repentance. Remember, we may lose a battle here and there, but know the war was won at the Cross by Jesus Christ. Orgeron closes this chapter with three Scriptures that have offered her encouragement to continue following her call to full time vocational ministry:

1 Thessalonians 5:24 (KJV) – Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”

Galatians 6:9 (KJV) –  And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

 Isaiah 40:31 (KJV) – “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

References

Arterburn, S. & Felton, J. (1991, 2001). Toxic faith: Experiencing healing from painful spiritual abuse. Colorado Springs, CO:  Waterbrook. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Toxic-Faith-Stephen-Arterburn/dp/0877888256

Association of Black Cardiologists, Inc. (Producer). (2013). Before you eat the church food watch this video [Documentary]. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L21mK9pRcOI

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013, April). Body & Soul: Churches impact their members’ food choices. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/prc/stories-prevention-research/stories/churches-impact-food-choices.htm

Focus on the Family. (2000). The truth about eating disorders. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/truth-about-eating-disorders

Ministry Tools Resource Center. (2010, June 24). So, you were asked to be a health ministry coordinator!  Retrieved May 30, 2017 from https://mintools.com/blog/health-ministry.htm

Moritz, G. J. (2013). Creating and sustaining a health and wellness ministry within the local church (Doctoral Dissertation, Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary, 2013). Retrieved May 28, 2017 from http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1689&context=doctoral

Orgeron (aka, Owens), P. K. (2017). Food as an Idol: Finding Freedom from Disordered Eating. Nashville, TN: ABC’s Ministries. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Food-Idol-Finding-Freedom-Disordered/dp/0997956534

Pew Research Center. (2017). Religious Landscape Study. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

Premier Life. (2014). The church and eating disorders. Retrieved May 29, 2017 from https://www.premierlife.org.uk/Health/Mental-Health/Eating-Disorders/The-Church-and-eating-disorders

Reynolds, S. (2012). Get off the Couch: 6 Motivators for Health. Ventura, CA: Regal. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Get-Off-Couch-Motivators-Weight/dp/B00CF6CLLI

Ryder, G. E. (2011, October 27). Is church making you fat? Research suggests the religious are more likely to put on pounds. The Christian Post. Retrieved May 29, 2017 from http://www.christianpost.com/news/is-Church-making-you-fat-research-suggests-thereligious-are-more-likely-to-put-on-pounds-59527/#HXzITpDW1TwB8pQm.99

 

 

 

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