I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. As the women sitting in the booth behind me chatted about familiar topics—church activities, kids, and, to no surprise, their latest diets—words like ‘cheating’ and ‘weight loss’ caught my attention. Reminded once again of my own health story, I empathized with not only these women, but all women who are trapped in a limited and misguided approach to being healthy.
By the time I was 15, I was already dieting and exercising for the purpose of weight management. At first, my intentions were good, but given that weight loss had become the indicator for determining my health, it didn’t take long before my good intentions became skewed and distorted. I measured my health through external markers, such as the number on the scale or the size of my jeans, and maintaining control of these measures soon became an obsession—an idol, even.
Like myself, many women start their health journey with good intentions, but ultimately, end up overemphasizing certain aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Others don’t place enough value on their health—especially if the perceived effort doesn’t produce the expected reward—and end up struggling to stay consistent with healthy habits. While daily practices may differ between these two contrasting groups, both lifestyles ultimately have the same result—increased striving, stress, confusion, and overwhelm, far removed from the healthy lives God intended and desires us to live.
After 25 years of my own health journey and nearly 15 years of working in the health and wellness industry, my perspective on ‘health’ is now dramatically different than what it once was. It’s no longer about controlling my eating, restricting my diet, and getting plenty of exercise; instead, there has been a shift to enjoying my food, proactively managing my stress, and recognizing the connections between my body, mind, and spirit. I now understand that God wants us to honor Him by living in such a way that naturally leads to a strong body and a calm mind while celebrating the gifts He has given us.
At first glance, it may seem simple enough to live in a way that naturally promotes health, but the principles of this type of lifestyle are not something we’re typically taught. Much of the traditional diet and exercise advice we’re given only increases stress. However, establishing a godly approach to health provides the foundation needed to become the women God created us to be—ready and able to fulfill our purpose and live the abundant life He designed us for.
In this season of reflecting over the past year and goal setting for the new one, there is no better time to consider how it would feel to be truly well in your body, mind, and spirit. To ditch the diets, throw out the scales, and set yourself on a path to becoming your healthiest self—for God, for your family, and for your calling.
To create a strong foundation for living the abundant life God intended, here are five simple principles to help you pursue a healthy lifestyle in a godly way:
1. REDEFINE ‘HEALTH’
Transforming your health starts with having a vision of what it looks like to be well in a godly way. By definition, health is “having a sound mind and body.” As women of faith, we can take this definition a step further and add that godly health includes our spiritual well-being, too.
In 3 John 1:2, Paul prays that the church would be healthy in their bodies, just as it is going well with their spirits. Notice that spiritual health comes first—it is the foundation for life itself, including our physical and mental health.
When we start to recognize our health as forming a complete picture of all facets of our lives, we can see that it’s more than eating this or not eating that, hitting our personal best at the gym, or maintaining perfect numbers on our blood work. Being healthy in a godly way means that we are placing priority on our spiritual health while still recognizing our responsibility to take care of our bodies and minds. Instead of being motivated by appearance or the management of symptoms, we are driven by our desire to create a well-rounded foundation that allows us to thrive and live into our God-given purposes.
Pause and Reflect | How would your life change if you began to approach health in a godly way? Take a moment to reframe your perspective and imagine what it looks like to be wholly well in your body, mind, and spirit.
2. FIX YOUR FOCUS
When our attention is directed on ourselves, whether it be our body image or our cravings for chocolate, it feels like tremendous work to maintain control and stay healthy. It’s a struggle to see our beauty when our size isn’t what we want it to be. It’s a battle of the wills to resist having donuts at the office or small group. It’s easy to base our sense of worth on our latest exercise accomplishments or our image.
It’s not bad to want to feel beautiful, to crave food, or push ourselves to new heights. But these things are all temporary, and if they become our primary focus, they will keep us from being truly and completely well.
While everything around us—from worldly standards to the idealized Proverbs 31 woman—is pressuring us to perform, our efforts to be perfect in every way, including our health, ultimately take our focus away from God. We find ourselves stressed, tired, and searching for fulfillment in unsatisfying ways.
The right foundation provides us freedom from diet traps, body image issues, stress, worry, and fatigue. To achieve true health, we must start by shifting our focus to God. When we do this, we can clearly see what’s important instead of that which is fleeting; we begin to cherish that which has eternal value.
I will be the first to admit how challenging it can be to keep our focus on God instead of on the things that demand our attention day after day. The judgmental gazes and the raving compliments are so much louder than God’s soft whispers. The mirage of a beautiful body inspired by our social media feeds seems so much more desirable than staying focused on achieving seemingly impossible goals and faint dreams that God has given us for the future. Yet He invites us to rise above the noise and instead set our sights on what is true and holy—a daily exercise of faith that enables us to flourish in the abundant life we were created to live.
Pause and Reflect | What is one simple way you can shift your focus away from you and onto God?
3. EAT WELL
One of the most important things we can do for our health is to prioritize eating a balanced diet of natural, whole foods. In Genesis 9, we learn that God gave us the gift of food, including fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains, and animals. These whole foods were created to provide the nourishment we need to be well.
It may surprise you that a health-promoting, balanced diet isn’t nearly as complicated as our modern diet industry has tried to make it. It can take some time and attention to determine what works best for each individual, and those with specific health challenges may require a more customized diet, but most people can generally start with a few basic principles and make appropriate adjustments from there. These include:
EAT UNPROCESSED AND WHOLE FOODS
Foods that have been stripped of their nutritional value or enhanced with chemicals and flavors do not benefit our health in any way. All food either adds to or takes away from our bodies, so it’s important that we choose whole, natural foods that enhance our well-being. For example, eating rice instead of bread or a piece of fruit instead of juice will help glean the maximum value of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and more.
EAT A WIDE VARIETY
God provided us with a bountiful selection of food, and we should be enjoying all (or at least most) of what He gave us. When we avoid diets that are highly restrictive or repeat the same foods over and over, we are more likely to eat a diet that includes a variety of vegetables and fruits, and good sources of fat and protein.
Eating isn’t something that should be done on a precise schedule or based on a strict guide. We want to learn to listen to our bodies—when we’re hungry, what sounds good to eat, or when we need a little more or a little less food. Paying close attention to how we’re feeling while eating and responding to our bodies cues, leads to feeling more satisfied and prevents cravings, snacking, and the need for ‘cheating.’ Then, when we do have something special, like a bowl of ice cream, we can fully savor and enjoy it without feelings of guilt.
These simple principles—just a few of the many different ways we can start to eat better—are critical to setting a strong foundation for our physical and mental health.
Pause and reflect | Which of the three principles do you want to work on applying in your life first? Start that principle this week and journal how you feel.
4. ENJOY FOOD
I believe God gave us food not only for nourishment, but also for enjoyment. In fact, when we enjoy our food, it not only affects how our bodies digest and utilize the food, it also helps us feel satisfied so we are no longer fighting off constant cravings.
Throughout the Bible, we see accounts of food being the center of celebration and community. In Nehemiah, the people celebrated “with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks” after the Book of Law had been found (Nehemiah 8:10, NLT). King Solomon said, “There is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work…these pleasures are from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24, NLT). Jesus’ ministry often celebrated food—including turning water into wine at a wedding in John 2:1-11, and eating with sinners as a way to minister to them in Matthew 9:10-13.
If we let it, food can provide us the opportunity to celebrate, pause, rest, and even minister—all of which can honor and glorify God.
In today’s society, instead of allowing food to be a catalyst for enjoyment and rest, we tend to rush through our meals, eat on the go, and rarely savor all that food has to offer. In doing so, we deprive ourselves of God’s gift of food while eating unbalanced diets or processed food, often for the purpose of weight loss or in the name of ‘health.’
If we can begin to see food as the gift God created it to be, we will find freedom from the traps we face with food, health, and our bodies. Instead of fearing that food will make us fat, we’ll see the value and beauty of whole foods and enjoy them more freely. Instead of binging on chocolate and ice cream to find a little bit of relief in our stressful days, we’ll satisfy our cravings and find joy in ways that glorify God. Instead of being controlled by our image of health, we will know that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”—no matter our size or health challenges (Psalms 139:14).
In order to fully enjoy food, we must let go of rules and restrictions that leave us constantly unsatisfied and begin seeing the creative potential for ways to savor the beauty and variety of God’s creation in a healthy way.
Pause and Reflect | Consider how often you rush through meals or eat food you don’t really enjoy. What is one way you find enjoyment in God’s gift of nourishing food?
5. STRESS LESS
I believe that stress is the root of all evil—at least it is when it comes to our health.
When we’re in a state of stress—which we often don’t even notice because it’s become such a normal part of our lives—we’re likely in a state of spiritual unrest because stress does not come from God. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline”(2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).
God is our source of spiritual nourishment. Because our spiritual health absolutely impacts our physical and mental health, even a small amount of stress can start impacting how we feel, leading to problems with our digestion, detoxification, hormones, mood, and more. If left unaddressed, the domino effect of stress can be detrimental, robbing us of our wellness and the life God created for us.
Stress also makes it increasingly difficult to maintain healthy habits. It can drive cravings for sugar and caffeine, disrupt sleep, cause fatigue and anxiety, and make us downright cranky—just to name a few.
In order to be fully well, living the God honoring lives we were called to live, we must release stress. A daily—or maybe hourly—practice of releasing our burdens to God through prayer is a great place to begin letting go and relaxing into God’s capable hands.
Pause and reflect | Spend a few minutes taking inventory of your life. Where are you being led by fear, unrealistic expectations, or stress? Lift those areas up to God and ask Him to help you release them so you may follow His plans instead.
NEW YEAR, NEW YOU
No matter what your relationship with health has been in the past, there is no better time than now to set yourself on a path to becoming fully well.
As you approach the New Year with resolutions of renewed dreams and goals, consider carefully the types of expectations you place on your health. Instead of goals based upon external measures, set goals that will lead to health from a godly perspective, enabling you to experience the hope, joy, and purpose He has available for you.
So today, savor the roasted turkey dinners and gingerbread cookies, and tomorrow find creative enjoyment in the soups, salads, and a cool walk outdoors, for “whatever we eat and drink, or whatever we do, we do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NLT).
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