In the culture we live in it is hard to escape a constant bombardment of instruction about what you should and shouldn’t be eating. It is difficult not to compare your body with the people displayed all over social media and on our screens. It is an absolute minefield trying to discern what is good advice that you should pay attention to. In our culture, our looks and our bodies and our diets seriously matter.
This can be felt even more keenly in the world of sport. For some sports you have to be a certain shape or weight in order to compete; for example if you cox, or do boxing or weightlifting.
Even if that’s not the case, you may feel a pressure to look a certain way. For girls to be slim, athletic, toned. For guys to be lean, muscular, ripped.
It’s worth saying that there are two ends of the spectrum on how we feel about our bodies. Some of us will care too much about how we look and feel, and need a right perspective on that. Others will be in danger of not caring enough, and feel righteous about not caring about such trivial matters, as they see it. That view also needs to be challenged.
First of all then, let’s establish that it is good to care about our bodies: our bodies matter!
It is clear that our physical bodies matter to God in that:
And so it is right for us to care about our bodies! They are gifts from God and their purpose is to do the Lord’s work, worshipping him with all that we are (Romans 12:1).
So it may be that in your sport it may be right for you to follow a nutrition plan as part of your commitment to your sport and your teammates - all in the context of worshipping God.
However, as with everything we have a danger of taking this too far, and caring far too much about our bodies. How can this happen?
It might be that as you train harder and eat well you start to like the way that your body looks, and you enjoy the compliments you receive from others.
You might find yourself looking in the mirror far more, or checking out the shape of your body in the reflection of a window.
It could be that whenever you look at a teammate you can’t help but compare your body with theirs: either pridefully thinking yours is better, or enviously wishing for their shoulders, their stomach, their metabolism.
Perhaps you are trying to eat healthily for your sport, so you restrict things like chocolate, sweets and cake. But you get to the point where you can’t ever go near them, or if you do you need to compensate. You start by eating only certain types of carbohydrates, but then you get a complex about carbs and ending up restricting too far, and can’t handle being offered potatoes for dinner. There might be good reasons to be vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, but there can be a danger of us using that as an excuse for food control.
You notice that what you look at on social media is increasingly based around diet plans, healthy eating or weight loss.
That is a journey which any of us could go down. It is a road I have walked to the point of seeking medical help.
And what’s the problem with all this?
First, it can actually hinder your sport. Restricting food or over-exercising leads to a poor performance.
Second, it can become an obsession which we cannot ever satisfy. Indeed as you grow older you find your metabolism slows down, your hair and your skin don’t look like they once did, and you don’t have time to be cooking all those healthy meals and exercising as much as you used to. How will you cope then, if you deeply care so much about it now?
Finally - and most importantly - we have made body image an idol. We are worshipping our own bodies rather than using our bodies to worship God!
The good news is that, because of the price Jesus paid on the cross, we do not need to be enslaved by an obsession with our bodies.
When Jesus died, ‘he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.’ (Isaiah 53:2b-3)
When Jesus died, he became ugly in the deepest sense of the word. He took on our ugliness so that we can be beautiful in the most important way: without blemish before God!
Jesus gave up his freedom on the cross so that we could be free. He became enslaved so that we need not be a slave to anything! Not to performance, success, or our looks.
Jesus was abandoned by his Father so that we can be children of God! Loved unconditionally by a God who does not judge you by your appearance or performance.
So what are our bodies for?
Did you know that there is no command in the Bible to be thin?
Did you know that there is no command in the Bible to be lean, muscular or toned?
Those are not God’s priorities!
Rather, we can be free to focus on using our bodies to worship and serve our wonderful Creator and Saviour.
So, how do we find the right balance between caring about our bodies, but not caring enough?
Here are six helpful pointers for you.
2. Eat, or don’t eat, with thankfulness. 1 Timothy 4:4 tells us that ‘everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.’ So don’t go crazy on restricting certain foods - they are gifts from God and all food is good for you in appropriate quantities. Don’t view any foods as an enemy!
3. Ask yourself the question why: When are you choosing what to eat or not to eat, ask yourself ‘am I doing this to worship God, or for myself/ to impress others?’
4. Be careful where you look.
5. Be careful who you listen to. If, in worship to God, it is right for you to be following a nutrition plan, then ask your coach for one. There is a lot of conflicting advice online, in the media and among friends. The diet industry is not regulated by the government so there is no one verifying the advice given. Speak to a professional.
6. Be careful what you wear. Wear what you need to wear for your sport, but wherever possible avoid wearing clothes which will show off your figure. It can feed your own vanity and make other people feel rubbish.
Our bodies are amazing, wonderful gifts of God, given to us to love and serve the God who loved us so much he was willing to die for us. What a joy that we are more than our bodies! We are more than our weight and our size and our figures! We are children of God who can become more and more like him each day!
That is something which can never perish, spoil or fade - unlike our bodies. So go and live as a free man or woman!
Rosie works with students in London and the South East and delivers guest events for female sportspeople. She runs for Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets Athletics Club and is a student worker at Inspire Saint James Clekenwell Church.
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