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Biblical Principles For Healthy Eating and Self Control

By Jeff Barth Summer 1995

    It is known that some of the most successful diet plans encourage eating smaller portions each meal. In other words, when using a little self-control with the amount we eat, our appetites in time become satisfied with less quantity. At the same time, using self-control in selecting the right foods to eat, we learn to select and enjoy more healthful, less fatty foods. These kinds of diet plans, in general, work best because they are not "crash" plans but, instead, teach a lifestyle of increasing self-control. So, self-control is the real issue here with dieting.

    A lack of self-control manifests itself in many different ways for different individuals. Some individuals can control their weight but have runaway appetites in other areas. Some manifest a lack of self-control with anger and express frustration with being unable to control this successfully. Some have runaway emotions and face the temptations that come with a lack of self-control in this area. Some individuals have trouble with self-control with their tongue, while others have struggles with selzf-control in the pursuit of knowledge and have become "ever-learning" rather than simplifying their intake of truth and attempting to be more doers than hearers. Still others have a lack of self-control with finances, being either spendthrifts or excessively frugal. The list could go on and on, but the point is that we all face struggles with self-control in various areas until God, through His grace, gives us discipline.

    One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, and when God, through His grace and Holy Spirit, produces this quality of self-control in our lives, we will find ourselves doing much better in most any area or areas where we lack self-control. Self-control is not something we can just decide to start having. It's going to take grace coupled with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to achieve lasting victory.

    For some of us, self-control in eating is a little harder to control, than for others. Self-control with eating is also usually harder to conceal than a lack of self-control with such things as anger, spending, emotions, our tongues, etc. But a lack of self-control with eating that manifests itself in excess weight has an advantage over the other areas where we may lack self-control----it is sometimes humbling. There is nothing wrong with being humbled (God gives grace to the humble) and God may be allowing you to have a struggle in self-control with eating in order that they will receive this much needed grace for their life, so don't allow excess weight to trouble you. God is using it for your good. Many worry that being overweight becomes a poor testimony for the Lord, (and this may be partly true) but God may be allowing this to help you become more reserved or quiet. Maybe God will use it to help you relate to someone who may also be struggling with their weight . Whatever the reason, we can be sure that God will use it for the good in His omniscient way.


Some Suggestions with Dieting

    When I told my wife years ago that I believed God would give us victory by grace in this area of dieting, there were some specifics that we gradually by grace started doing over the months and years that followed. As I mentioned, eating smaller portions each meal is something to start doing gradually. My wife also started preparing smaller portions, but she also prepared enough so we didn't go away from the table still hungry. Contrary to what some believe, we do not feel breakfast should be the largest meal of the day and dinner the (the evening meal) the smallest. Breakfast means literally "to break a fast", and when a fast is broken we eat smaller portions at first to accommodate the decreased size of the stomach. Since the stomach has contracted somewhat throughout the night, it can usually be satisfied with a "full" feeling with a much smaller portion. We can feel full with a relatively light breakfast. But the breakfast is going to have to be sufficiently nutritious for our morning's activities. We would suggest trying good whole wheat toast in the morning. If you are used to white bread, it may take some weaning off of this. Years ago when we switched to whole wheat, Marge would offer to us one slice of whole wheat bread to two of white, and gradually we ate more of the whole wheat. Some bread recipes call for part white flour and part whole wheat flour; this can help too, in this transition. In time, we began to prefer the wheat, and now that we have seen the energy nutritional difference in whole wheat, we can hardly believe we once liked white bread! We even like the taste of whole wheat much better now.

    We also started switching to honey instead of sugar-based toppings for toast and other cooking (maple syrup is a natural sugar that is easier on you, too). Getting off sugar is a good idea, but a little won't hurt once in awhile. Marge will prepare scrambled eggs several mornings a week when she feels the energy and strength demands of the day will require a little more. Some may find an egg every morning to be necessary, and this again depends on the energy needs and age of your children. We would suggest getting away from box cereals in the morning. The body takes a lot of energy to digest these types of low energy breakfast foods, energy that should be used in other ways. You will find whole wheat toast easier to digest and will usually sustain you until lunchtime. Good homemade granola can be substituted here, though. Some of us in our family who have less trouble with weight drink a small glass of milk at breakfast; those with more trouble will only drink orange juice or fresh juices, etc. When our children were young, we served milk frequently to satisfy the calcium needs. Some fresh fruit at breakfast is okay, but don't stuff yourself. By eating a lighter breakfast, the stomach does not get overly expanded. The pre-lunch hunger pains are thus less, so then we don't feel the need to indulge ourselves at lunch hour to satisfy the hunger.

    My work is not overly taxing physically. My sons eat more for lunch than I do since they need more energy. We usually eat a tossed salad and a tuna salad, or some other kind of sandwich, maybe some warmed up leftover vegetables, and some fruit. (Marge likes an apple.) Apples give bulk with little calories or fat. A little piece of cake or whole wheat cookies give added energy for the afternoon. But here again, we try not to "stuff" ourselves at lunch, so the late afternoon pre-dinner hunger pains are usually less.

    Our evening meal is the largest. We will usually have a larger portion of steamed fresh or frozen vegetables, potatoes or wild rice, (wild rice is more nutritious) a smaller portion of lean beef or chicken, whole wheat rolls, and desert. Dessert is usually cake or fruit pie made with 1/3 or so of the called for sweetener, substituting honey or maple syrup as much as possible. We have also found that water with meals (lunch and dinner) helps to give the full sensation without the added calories. We try to stay away from ice cream but have a little once in a while. We are not nutrition experts at all, but common sense and the way you feel after eating certain foods will give you a good idea on how good they are for you.



Meat in the Diet

Concerning the issue of meat in the diet, studies do seem to bear out that lesser quantities of meat and animal fat are more healthful. However, many wives and daughters who have cut out meat altogether are now experiencing energy deficiencies due to this. In an effort to compensate for this loss, they eat greater quantities of grains and starchy vegetables, and this often causes weights problems and still does not provide the necessary energy. We have found that by eating small portions of high quality beef such as filet mignon or a lean roast two or three meals a week and skinless chicken breasts or fish two or three meals a week , our energy level stays much higher, and we do not tend to overeat as much. High quality meat costs more but requires lesser quantity. There will be less leftover, and it may actually cost you less in the long run. Even if it costs more, it's worth it because you won't need to spend for energy supplements, vitamins or doctor bills, plus you will be more productive.

   Another cause of energy loss is found in methods of food preparation. Leftovers or a steady diet of foods prepared in advance and then warmed up have a much greater loss of vitamin and energy value. Daily preparation of fresh meals not only gives maximum energy and vitamin value but also gives my wife and daughters something they enjoy doing together. Marge and our daughters don't like to "slave away" in the kitchen, (although they certainly enjoy their kitchen work) so they keep the meals and menu fairly simple, yet nutritious. They can usually tell by looking at a recipe whether it's too involved time wise and will require too much cleanup time. Of course, there are special occasions or a weekly special dinner where Marge and the girls enjoy preparing meals that require a little extra preparation and cleanup time, where we all as a family pitch in together and help with the dishes.

Mealtime, a Time of Ministry

    Mealtimes at our house are our times of ministry, not just times to rush through. Studies have shown that by eating slowly and keeping a peaceful, spiritual conversation and atmosphere during meals, you will find that you will feel full with smaller quantities and experience less indigestion. Jesus and His disciples reclined (relaxed) at the Last Supper dinner, and He chose this evening meal to share some deep, spiritual truths.

    Upon rising in the morning, each family member will have their own private devotions and Bible reading, and then Marge and I will have breakfast together on workdays so that we can share our spiritual thoughts and plan our day together. Then Marge will have a cup of herb tea with the children while they have breakfast. She talks to them at that time, sharing what she and I have discussed about our day's plans, or maybe share our spiritual thoughts with them, or they also share their spiritual thoughts with her. Some families may prefer the father doing some teaching in the morning. Since I'm home during the day with my work, it seems to fit into our lifestyle for the evening meal to be my time to teach or talk about Scripture and spiritual things with the children. It seems to be a more relaxed time following the activities of the day for us. In the morning, we may feel pressured to rush through. Marge usually needs some quiet time with me in the morning before the day's activities. Our breakfasts together help to give our marriage first priority.

    Following the evening meal, it is usually three hours or so before sleep time, so the food has sufficient time to digest. An evening walk, some singing, and devotions are healthy, and we go to sleep before the stomach starts contracting much, causing the hunger sensation. The stomach shrinks while we are asleep, so we don't feel hungry; by morning the stomach is at rest from contracting and we are ready for a light satisfying breakfast again. Following this routine daily you will find that in time you will be eating less but eating well, even having a little dessert most days.

    Gradually you will start reducing with this plan. Be careful with introducing too many of those fatty foods at meals such as noodles, hot dogs, and fatty types of beef, pork, greasy-cheesy type foods, too much sugar and white flour, etc. You may need to gradually trim some of this back or out altogether, but give time for your food tastes to change. It takes time to make this transition. This is the way God's Spirit and grace work to bring gradual self-control in eating.

    Don't get discouraged if you "blow-it" one day or a few days once in a while. While we ask God to give us grace for victory, He will be faithful and remind us when we are becoming a little lazy, careless or undisciplined. Someone may be wondering, however, what you should do if you do fail and yield to the initial stages of temptation. Our response to failure is important in bringing eventual success. When we fail, we do need to take enough time to acknowledge to God, (and some-times to others if another person was involved) our confession and expressions of apology for our failures. But we need to be careful we do not mill over our failures. We need to practice confessing and forgetting our mistakes, because if we find ourselves rehearsing our sins, failures and faults over and over in our minds it actually will strengthen their presence in our minds and life. They become so much a part of our conscious thought life that we become more prone to reenact them. We need to learn, in a sense, to confess and then ignore them as much as possible.

Desiring What is Right

    Some have asked me if grace will work even if we don't really want to do what is right? The answer is yes and no. There are plenty of Scriptures that basically tell us that we cannot continue to want to sin and expect grace to give victory such as: "Shall we continue to sin, that grace may abound? God forbid." (Romans 6: 1,2a) So there may be a degree of limitation to the amount of victory we see if we do not really desire improvement. Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will in time be satisfied with the righteousness they are desiring. Just admitting we have a struggle shows we have somewhat of a desire to want to do better, but sometimes the temptation or problem is so deeply rooted in our flesh that we have a real struggle with wanting to admit it, much less wanting to get rid of it.

    However, another aspect of grace is that it can help us change our motives and desires. So if you have a struggle that in the flesh you're not even sure you want to admit, then tell the Lord about it and be honest with God. Tell Him you want to do better by His grace, and if need be ask Him to help you want to change your desires and your motives. He will in time! I do want to emphasize this point "in time". We Christians are so used to wanting instant healing, instant this or that, and it is true that God sometimes works this way, but in general, there is a process involved in change. Many Christians give up with the concept of grace because they don't give God time to work. They start taking matters into their own hands and eventually fail in their human efforts or they end up looking right on the outside, but fail to have inward transformation. So give God's grace time to work and make the changes you are desiring.

The False Hope of Rules and Promises

    The Lord taught my wife and me an invaluable lesson years ago about how we were frustrating or hindering the power of grace in our lives through making laws and promises. (Paul said he was careful not to frustrate the grace of God by following laws -

    Gal. 2:21) We had been facing some trouble with self-control with eating, and it was showing up as excess weight. Our response to this was the typical one of coming up with a menu of various diet rules and regulations, personal commitments and determination. We tried all sorts of approaches to the problem with such things as eating only salads and limiting desserts to once a week or just cutting out desserts altogether (we usually cheated on this). We tried diligently counting and limiting the calories and even fasting. One Christian friend suggested that the real problem was that we just weren't setting our mind on victory, so we tried the "positive thinking" approach for a while, too, although we were certainly using our minds plenty with all those rules.

    We tried this self-imposed and externally-imposed regimented type of lifestyle for many months, well over a year. We would see periods of temporary victory (laws will do this for you) and began thinking we'd solved the problem, but before long, we found ourselves struggling again. Finally, we began to be very frustrated over the whole problem and didn't know what to do. I started looking into the Word for some help, and that's when by the mercy and leading of God I stumbled into this concept of grace (God's power for victorious living) and the Holy Spirit. I was reading one evening in Galations from the newly released NIV (we still prefer the KJV), and I came to this verse in the third chapter. "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" I read it over and over again, and as I thought upon it, I realized for the first time that all of our human efforts, using our minds and intellect to follow our self-imposed legal systems, were negating the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives in reaching our goal of self-control with eating. Verse 5 of the chapter reads, "He (God) therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth He it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (KJV) That evening I theorized that if we would begin to diligently avoid setting rules on ourselves, or trying to use our minds too much to regulate our eating habits, and would instead start listening more to the promptings and urgings of the Spirit, we would find greater success. So I suggested to my wife that we start believing (having more faith) that God would lead us to victory in this area of our life rather than "working" so much at it. It took us awhile to start recognizing all the rules and regulations we had been so used to living by, then putting them off one by one. We noticed how God's Spirit was helping us to think more healthfully and we actually started liking more healthful foods like salads and vegetables, etc. We were just going to let God be our judge.

    We were trusting in Him to lead us to the right eating habits and physical state. Gradually through this approach, we started experiencing some lasting victory, but we were also learning to marvel over God's faithfulness and power in our lives.