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Praise the Lard!

March 25, 2011
Woman singing in exultation at church

Please, Jesus, help me to lose weight.

Apparently people who attend regular religious services are more likely to be obese than those who don’t. (I knew it was the church’s fault that I’m fat! Well, at least partially their fault.) It’s too bad that there aren’tany numbers published in the article so I don’t feel very confident that this correlation is that powerful. Plus, they didn’t explain how they proved that one behavior caused the other result, but just for the sake of discussion, let’s go with it.

In the article – Praise the lard? Religion linked to obesity in young adults — the author glosses over a few possible reasons why this correlation exists, but I feel like she completely misses deeper, and yet more obvious explanations.

I wonder if she has ever been to church.

Anyway, she addresses the amounts and types of food that people can find at church gatherings but ignores any spiritual, psychological and emotional causes that might exist. And since church is a psychological and emotional experience — and the whole point is for it to be spiritual — it seems to me to be a glaring omission.

My immediate and deeply personal reaction to this idea is that (if it is true) the cause has to be how the church encourages us to think and feel about ourselves. And I can think of several possible examples just off the top of my head. Foremost being the kind of self-talk modern religion encourages.

Especially in light of the article I read about self-compassion last week, I’m convinced that the evangelistic models of god and man and sin — and the resultant self-loathing — create a negative impression of ourselves (as fallen, broken, sinners) and that has to create enough negativity within ourselves to be a potential cause of this correlation. At least for some of us. I know some faith traditions like to focus on words like redeemed and saved. But even those ideas conjure up possible negativity because they imply those other ideas (fallen, broken, sinners).

Furthermore the oppressive, repressed ways that the Church demonizes sex and sexuality– even though they are trying to just demonize premarital sex — have got to cause some separation (at least in women, I can’t really speak for the men) from many people’s physical selves and keep them from paying their bodies the kind of attention needed to keep them well. I know the Church did this to me and it cut DEEP.

It wasn’t a cut that was purposely made, mind you. But that doesn’t mean it was shallow or that it healed quickly. It doesn’t remove the resultant scar.

Even just urging us to concentrate so intently on a realm beyond this present physical one has to cause some psychological issues for some. Purposely leaving the moment we are currently in, when so many of us aren’t completely in that moment to start with, and looking so far forward must disconnect some from their experiences here. Including eating. Removing the mindfulness of any act can cause us to perform that act to our own detriment.

I could probably go on. It may be obvious that these are some of the issues I’m personally working on in relation to my own body and weight issues. I’m not really blaming the church. But I am starting to see how they did contribute to these issues for me. And that makes me a little angry because I think that ideally a church should help people with these issues rather than cause them.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2011 9:28 am

    Fascinating. I would have guessed that more people in the central part of the country attend church and those people are heavier anyway, so the two aren’t really a cause and effect. But clearly, church food should be improved, health-wise.

    • March 25, 2011 9:35 am

      Well they didn’t say what part of the country they studied, but the people they studied were all thin when the study began, so I don’t really think it matters where these people were. (And I think I’m a little offended at the statement that people in the central part of the country are heavier. Even if it is statistically supported.) I also REALLY don’t think the food at church is the problem. The average church only has services/meetings on Wednesdays and Sundays and they don’t have food at every event. But even if a church did feed everyone at every event that would only be 2 or 3 meals a week. And that’s pretty unlikely.

  2. 2blu2btru permalink
    March 25, 2011 9:48 am

    I’ve actually had the opposite experience to what this study describes. I was more mindful of my body and what I put into it and did to it AFTER I became a Christian. I was taught that my body is a temple and that the body requires certain things to function properly. I learned not to be gluttonous (eating after I’m full), to live in the present moment (tomorrow is not promised, tomorrow has troubles of its on/today has enough trouble of its own). I can see how some people can get negative messages from church, but I’m sure many of those people studied probably felt that God loved them however they were (and used that as an excuse to not try to improve). It’s really hard to tell since they didn’t ask people what happened. Maybe they got married and had babies. Happiness can make people fat, too, according to studies. Also, the Bible belt and the South are statistically bigger.

    I live in Florida, where the weather is usually conducive to outdoor activity, yet there are many overweight/obese people here and few that care about exercise. There’s plenty of good (greasy, sugary, carb loaded) foods that you don’t have to go to a church to eat. America in general is fat and getting rapidly less Christian/Muslim/Orthodox religion-based and more “spiritual”; what about all of those obese people? What’s their excuse? It just burns my biscuits when people do these studies telling us why someone is some way and they never give concrete facts other then some people who did the same thing were skinny and aren’t anymore.

    • March 25, 2011 11:13 am

      Well to be fair this isn’t the study…this is an article about the study — and a VERY short one at that. There are probably loads of convoluted facts, figures and info in the study. I don’t know how strong the correlation was, but, as I wrote, we have to accept that one exists if we are going to talk about the issue.

  3. Jeremy Geerdes permalink
    March 25, 2011 10:25 am

    Wow. I hadn’t expected such a painful blog post in response to the link I posted on Facebook! I guess I’m honored, but I’m also deeply saddened by your words. Not because they hurt me or anything like that, but because of the pain that they reveal that you have experienced.

    Crystal, I am truly sorry about the wounds that you suffered at the hands of the Church, and even more so for any to which I may have unwittingly contributed. Whether they were intentional or conscious or not, they are real. And while the Gospel must make us aware of the dire predicament of sin and inadequacy, it should also offer us the hope that this sin and inadequacy can be overcome. It’s not a short or easy process, mind you. But by the grace of Jesus, it can be overcome. Additionally, though I unapologetically endorse the Church’s stance against premarital and extramarital sex, I will acknowledge that we have been done God a disservice by failing to present sex as the wonderful, spectacular, extraordinarily intimate, fulfilling, and enjoyable creation that God intended it to be.

    All of that said, I honestly believe that the article in question does raise some significant questions. First, I wonder how comprehensive the research is. Is this trend global, or is it as I suspect limited to the Church in America? I find it difficult to believe that the 4,000+ Christians who have been displaced this month in Ethiopia, for example, would exhibit the same trend.

    Second, I must ask if this is just the tip of the iceberg? The truth is that our culture tells us that it’s all about me, and in even the most devout and generous churches across America, that notion has infiltrated the pews. We give thousands – even millions – of dollars to innumerable causes, but our overeating remains a rather overlooked symptom of a remaining selfishness.

    And third, I wonder what would happen if they narrowed the scope. For instance, are there some denominations which exhibit this more than others? Are there some regions or even locales? I wonder if there is a correlation between churches which lean conservative or liberal, or hold to a Biblical worldview or not. (Please understand, being conservative or liberal is NOT the same thing as holding a Biblical worldview or not.) Does the age and organizational health of the church affect it?

    Here’s the deal. I don’t deny that there is much that has gone wrong in the American Church over the years. And I can completely understand how churches where people hear nothing but one side or the other of the Gospel message (i.e., that you are a sinner, sinner! or that you should have unlimited, instantaneous, simple victory over all sin right now!) may drive people into psychological situations prone to overeating and many other problems. But I also don’t think that church attendance is the solitary variable in play here.

    And now for the full confession time. I posted the link on Facebook to challenge our church and, more specifically, me. I am an overeater (as anyone who monitors my Facebook or Buzz posts can easily attest). And while this is an issue for us, as the article rightly points out at the end, it is also an opportunity: churches build social networks which can be ideal for combating overeating and obesity. And it’s time that we did something about that. In fact, already this morning, since reading the article, I have conversed with our vice-chairman, who is very much into diet, fitness and exercise about what we might do to respond to the matter.

    • March 25, 2011 11:40 am

      First, thank you as always for reading and thank you for your empathy. If you ever did anything that made me feel bad about these things I can’t remember what it was — so you are totally forgiven. Although I suspect you never did anything specific to make me feel bad about these particular things.

      I also hope my honesty didn’t make you too uncomfortable. But the honesty is kind of the point of this blog. Jung wrote that “That which is most personal is most universal.” So when I write my story I sort of assume that in some way I am writing everyone’s story. Whether the exact circumstances or reactions to those circumstances occurred the emotions involved belong to all of us. And any lessons that can be learned should also belong to all of us. I don’t know what the lesson is at this point. And even if I did, no matter how proudly I proclaim truth some people still won’t listen. I’m sure you can relate to that idea, despite some of our different concepts of truth.

      Anyway, on to the article, I made the same assumption that this was limited to people in America. I have a feeling this study was not meant to specifically look at this particular issue, but rather eating, weight and lifestyle choices in general and as a result they found something they deemed to be a correlation here. I also doubt that this study went so deep as to examine issues that are more difficult to quantify, such as personal spiritual practices. It only specifically mentioned people who attended weekly religious services. And, again, I assumed they meant Christian services because in America (where I assumed the study was done) most religious services are

      I’m sure that any truth this study represents is, as you suggest, the tip of some iceberg. I think I disagree as to which iceberg it is, but even if it is a permeation of the “me” culture into the church, as you suggest, then the logical conclusion of your idea would be that the most selfish and gluttonous people are those in the church if they are the ones who are more likely to be heavy.

      I think breaking it down into which denominations and so on would be very interesting. I’m not sure what correlations you could reveal with such statistics, but maybe you should call the Barna Group (they did the statistical analysis reasearch for the book unChristian) and have them get on that. You could write a book. Call it Fat Christian and market it with a heavy woman on the cover sitting in a pew — you could make a lot of money and fund a ministry for decades!

      Maybe.

      I think it’s interesting that you brought out the political aspect. I think belief systems and behavior is a very interesting topic and I certainly think the different geographical areas are good point too as 2blu2btru and Renee suggested. I think that element would speak more to Nature v. Nurture than belief systems, but I guess I would have to read the study to find out.

      Finally…I’m dying to know what ideas you have come up with to help with this issue? I’d love to know more about the structure and facilities of your church — as well as the community. Maybe I could come up with some ideas for you. On that note, I really do think that most women’s issues with weight aren’t about learning what to eat and exercising more. I think they are deeply-rooted and psychological (spiritual too) in nature and need to be addressed in that way before any other type of education can be effective. Much like drug addiction or racial hate crimes. the source of the behavior is not the drug or the people of other races anymore than many of our weight issues are not caused by food.

      We are compelled by something else and we have to change our wiring in order to change our behaviors. And just asking for forgiveness doesn’t change your wiring. There is a guy Named John Gabriel who has scratched the surface of these ideas and been very successful for himself. He also wrote a book called the Gabriel Method that is pretty interesting.

      • Jeremy Geerdes permalink
        March 25, 2011 12:29 pm

        You are absolutely right: it’s not enough to ask forgiveness. One must change the behaviors and attitudes involved with the situation. Further, I would concur that there is a deep-seated psychological issue going on with many of the people who struggle with weight, diet, etc. I am firmly convinced that a great deal of the issue is that we’ve bought into the cultural value of self over everything else, but you’re right again: that’s not the only thing that’s going on here. The truth is, a lot of people overeat because they don’t feel good about themselves. And I can’t help but think that a large part of that is the result of a culture which tells us over and over that you need this, you need this, you need this, you need this… but we don’t all have this. Case in point: I read an article this morning about Abercrombie Kids’ push up, padded bikini that’s being marketed to girls as young as 8. The message that you need this – it’s all about you – has clear ramifications in this case: if you’re 8 years old and don’t have breasts, you should be embarrassed. The message of me, me, me, and me inescapably morphs into a message of ew, ew, ew, and ew. It’s no wonder we feel bad about ourselves.

        And so, as you rightly pointed out, it is essential that we counter that perspective. The Bible clearly explains that God designed humans to be the greatest thing ever, even including sliced bread. And each and every one of us ranks right up there. He designed us. He formed us. And He assigned us a very real value: one Son of God.

        Any real response to obesity must include the truth that people are valuable. Not because they look like the right superstar, have the right job, or own the right stuff. But because God says they are. And no one can take that away.

        Anyway, as I said previously, it was just something that I read this morning and started a discussion with our vice-chair about when I spoke with him later. I imagine that our response will have to include a number of components. The message that you are valuable, regardless of weight, must be one of them. We already have some fitness equipment (e.g., treadmill, free weights, exercise bike) at the church; exercise and fitness will have to be part of it. And I suspect that we’ll need to tweak some of the stuff that we enjoy at pot-lucks and the likes, as well as teach people how to cook healthy on their own.

        This will not at all be easy. But it will be addressed at our church anyway. If you have any further ideas, I would love to hear them!

  4. Roxanne permalink
    March 26, 2011 3:51 pm

    It could be one of two reasons or even many others.

    1) Perhaps many church goers aren’t as selfconcious and are okay with a few extra pounds which over time leads to many, many extra.

    2) Lots of Christians want to be believe that life in Christ should get easier and like the rest of the world we keep looking for that magic pill or waiting for the day when we become someone who actuallys says no to having desert every single night and likes to exercise.

    As someone who is currently struggling with too much flesh, I’ve recently learned that while we do have life in Christ, we still live in unredemed bodies of flesh in this fallen world. Much like every other task in this world, the battle of the bulge is indeed a battle. (Romans 7:22-25)

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