I grew up loving sugary treats. There was a time in my life when I ate a cinnamon roll coated in icing daily. I had ice cream for “breakfast dessert.” I wasn’t too concerned about healthy eating or what sugar was doing to my body.
But in grade 7, my unhealthy habits began to catch up to me. Rather than being a slim pole bean, I started gaining weight. I didn’t think much of the weight, until a friend brought it up at a sleepover. “Lara, you’re starting to get a belly.”
She probably didn’t mean anything by it, but after that day I became obsessed with looking at my stomach in the mirror. Is it bigger? Is it any smaller?
I tried exercising some in the evenings, but it never seemed to make a difference. Eventually I gave up and started wearing loose clothing that kept my belly covered.
In grade 11, I changed my habits. I started eating clean (no processed foods or sugar) and exercising daily for an hour. One day when I lifted up my shirt to look at my belly, I found it flat. No longer slightly bulged or rounded, but flat, with some muscle beginning to show.
After struggling with feeling “fat” throughout most of high school, you would think this would have come as a relief to me. It didn’t. Instead, it led to further anxiety. What if I lose this?
I restricted my diet more and exercised more as a guardrail; if I could stay extra healthy, then if I messed up it wouldn’t be as bad. If I ever had an unhealthy meal or ate something as small as a cookie, you would find me later that night either in a panic attack or dripping in sweat from an intense cardio workout. I was terrified of losing my precious flat stomach.
Though I told people I lived a healthy lifestyle in order to tame my anxiety and to make me feel better, that wasn’t my true motivation. I was motivated by idolatry. Any motive or desire left unchecked, whether godly or vain, can become an idol–something more important than loving and obeying God.
What about you? Has your healthy lifestyle become an idol?
Check your motives
What’s your motive for eating well and living a healthy lifestyle? Answering this question could easily reveal if your lifestyle has become an idol. Are you fearfully checking labels for chemicals because you’re afraid of cancer? Do you exercise in order to keep a model-like figure? Do you live a healthy lifestyle because you like the attention it brings you and the way people praise you?
Sometimes our motives can start off right. We want to be able to keep up with our children. We want to have more energy to serve. We want to steward our bodies well. But how tightly do we cling to these motives? If we don’t regularly check our motivations and desires for a healthy lifestyle, is it possible that they can take the place of God in our lives?
Check your attitude
Your attitude about your healthy lifestyle will also reveal if it has become an idol. A perfect sign of idolatry is your willingness to sin. Do you sin when you can’t have what you want? Do you sin in order to get what you want?
When I made my healthy lifestyle an idol, I would often sin concerning it.
- I would become angry when circumstances or people would not allow me to eat healthy.
- I would become anxious if I missed a workout.
- I would look down on others who did not value a healthy lifestyle like I did.
- I would selfishly make others late for events because of my “need” to squeeze in a work out.
- I would eat something processed and blame the food for my sins.
What about you? Has your desire to live a healthy life led you to have a sinful attitude? Does it lead you to sin? Does it make you anxious? Is it flexible, or do you legalistically follow it? Does it cause you to feel shame when you don’t meet its perfect standards?
Friend, if your attitude, happiness, contentment, or actions are hinged on your healthy lifestyle, you may be worshiping an idol.
Trust God with your health
Rather than laying our trust in our exercise routine or our planned diet for a long life and a healthy body, trust God first as your Creator and Sustainer. While a healthy lifestyle is definitely a helpful aspect, we must remember that God is the One who ultimately controls your health.
Job rightly declared, “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass.” (Job 14:5 ESV) Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:6 likewise said, “The Lord kills and brings to life; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.” Despite your efforts, God has appointed the right day for you to die and you can’t change that—even with a healthy lifestyle.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to steward our bodies well and take care of them, but it is to say that we need to stop trusting in our actions and our lifestyle to save us. In the end, it is God’s work. Just like He saved your soul from eternal death without any effort on your part, He also has the power over your body.
Setting God-glorifying goals and desires
If a healthy lifestyle has become your idol, it’s time for a reset. Rather than focusing our energies on our diet and exercise, we need to train our hearts on worshiping God. Instead of setting our minds on vain goals such as beauty, selfish longevity, fears, or elevating ourselves, we should set our minds on glorifying God.
He has taken us from death to life so that we would worship and glorify Him. Instead of striving for goals that are all about us, let’s make lifestyle goals that are centered around God—and keep them in check so that they don’t become selfish or vain again.
Some possible God-glorifying goals are:
- Having energy so that I can serve more in my church and my family.
- Being healthy so that I can focus my energy on God.
- Stewarding the body God has given me.
- Obeying God’s command to not be greedy when I eat.
- Setting a good example for my children so that they will glorify God with their bodies.
With these goals, it’s okay to eat a piece of cake once in a while, or miss a workout, or go for a walk instead of doing strenuous cardio. These goals aren’t about perfection, but are about glorifying God with your body.
Being content in Christ
Rather than finding our contentment in flawless health reports or a toned body, we strive to find contentment in Christ. He is our source of joy, not our bodies. He is our source of peace, not our test results from the doctor.
Our bodies will change, and are always progressing towards decay. But God never changes. God doesn’t wear out, God doesn’t fade away, God doesn’t have an end. God is eternal, omnipotent, and immutable. So, find your contentment in Him.
For some of us, there will always be the temptation towards idolatry of a healthy lifestyle. Even when we reset, Satan will be whispering those lies to us to turn our worship from God to something else. We must always be on guard, checking our motives and our attitudes, ready to reset our hearts back to worshiping Almighty God.