Overcoming My Addiction To Food

Finding freedom from gluttony, and gaining so much more

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Struggle with junk food Struggle with junk food

I exercise almost every day and have maintained a healthy weight for most of my life, so those who know me may be wondering if a guest writer is submitting this article. But no, this article is about my own issues with food - I had no idea what a tight grip it had on me until a few years ago.

It all started when I was reading a book called “The Heavenly Man.” In the book, Brother Yun shares the details of his experiences in China when he was imprisoned for sharing his faith. The prisoners were fed a bowl of “mush” once a day, and he said that the men would ravenously fight over this food. He quoted Philippians 3:19 and wrote, “Their god was their stomach.” I immediately stopped when I read those words. Surely that Scripture just applies to people who chronically overeat, not to starved prisoners! Suddenly, my inner cravings were exposed. I never thought I had a problem with food, but in reality, if you had asked me to give up my sweets . . . or to just skip one meal, then I would have said, “Forget it!” I ate for my pleasure, not for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Until that moment, I was completely oblivious that food had any control over me. The truth is, anything we struggle to say “no” to should be prayerfully examined . . . but God was not pointing out this area of struggle in my life to condemn me; rather, He was wooing me into a journey toward greater freedom (James 1:3-4). This was not about what God wanted me to give up; it was about what He wanted me to gain - there were rich treasures to be discovered in the battles ahead.

Food could easily be the most culturally acceptable drug of our day. Science has proven that sugar targets the same pleasure center in the brain as crack cocaine, and this was my drug of choice . . . offered to me regularly without any hesitation or judgment. According to my Southern heritage, you show love by cooking and feeding others, and over-indulgence is simply a sign that you receive that gift. It is the same principle at church socials and potluck dinners . . . though people would not dare call it gluttony (Proverbs 23:20-21, Proverbs 28:7).

We see a repeated pattern in Scripture of man placing food above God. Adam and Eve’s original sin was tied to the temptation of food (Genesis 3:6), Sodom was rebuked for being overfed (Ezekiel 16:49), Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup . . . which God saw as evil (Genesis 25:29-34), and the Israelites willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved (Psalm 78:18). And here we are thousands of years later faced with the same temptation. I don’t know about you, but as Lysa Terkeurst put it in her book “Made to Crave,” “I don’t want to wander about in a ‘desert,’ unable to enter into the abundant life God has for me because I willfully put God to the test over food!”

Food is a gift from God meant to be enjoyed (1 Timothy 4:3), but anything we are ruled by can hinder our calling and relationship with Christ. As Tim Keller explains, “Idolatry is when we take a good thing and make it an ultimate thing.” I now saw that food was an area of hidden bondage in my life . . . and I wanted freedom. God was encouraging me to eat healthier (particularly less sugar), but I knew this would require more than just engaging my will and saying “no” – if it were that easy then no one would have issues with food. Most self-help attempts at changing one's diet are futile, or at the best, short-lived victories. If God’s strength is really made perfect in my weakness, then I needed to find a way to walk in complete dependence on Him through this journey (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). I knew He had the answers to my freedom, so I continued to pray about it . . . and I waited for His lead.

Brother Yun spent a lot of time fasting, and while reading his story, I sensed God was also calling me to fast. But since I was not conditioned to fasting, I decided to start with the Daniel Fast (because you can still eat – you just limit what you eat). I decided to do it for 40 days. I knew the Bible was full of Scriptures about fasting, but I had always overlooked them (I mean who really wants to give up food). For the first time, I was actually feeling led to fast . . . and I felt God’s grace empowering me for the task.

I knew a fast without prayer was just a diet, so I stopped watching television at night and started going to bed early so I could start each morning with God. Though I would have told you that God was a priority in my life, my schedule did not reflect that. God wanted to give me the nations (Psalms 2:8), but I was content with cupcakes and sitcoms. In all honesty, I believe people make time for the things that are important to them, but I was done making excuses for my behavior. I had just realized my stomach was my god, and I was not about to let sleep or television be my god too. This was a serious matter of redirecting my cravings, and I was willing to do whatever necessary to access my freedom. As Lysa explains . . .

We have to get to a place where our lack of strength disgusts us. This place is found at the bottom of our excuses and rationalizations. It’s found when our efforts fail time and time again. It’s found in the humility of this admission: ‘I need God to unsettle me. . . It is good for God’s people to be put in a place of longing so they feel a slight desperation. Only then can we be empty enough and open enough to discover the holiness we were made for. When we are stuffed full of other things and never allow ourselves to be in a place of longing, we don’t recognize the deeper spiritual battle going on. Satan wants to keep us distracted by chasing one temporary filling after another. God wants us to step back and let the emptying process have its way until we start desiring a holier approach to life. The gap between our frail discipline and God’s available strength is bridged with nothing but a simple choice on our part to pursue this holiness.

God does not ask for perfection from us; He just asks for our “yes.”

Turns out that 40 day Daniel fast was just the jumpstart of a regular season of fasting and praying . . . and what happened over the next year was no less than miraculous. God tore down numerous strongholds of deception that I had no idea were enslaving me (my bondage to food was the least of my issues). That’s a story for another day, but in the end, my breakthrough began when I chose to obey that still small voice calling me deeper . . . when I chose to just do the “next thing” He spoke to my heart.

Lysa was once asked how each of us could grow closer to God and she put it perfectly when she replied, “By making the choice to deny ourselves something that is permissible but not beneficial. And making this intentional sacrifice for the sole purpose of growing closer to God.”

Jonathan Edwards understood this principle. He saw food as a gift from God to energize and empower us for our mission (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Romans 14:17). Edwards carefully observed the effects of the different foods he ate, and selected those which rendered him most fit mentally. He believed that we should feel more alert and energetic to accomplish God’s work after a meal, not in need of a nap. So Edwards resolved to maintain a strict diet in order to be fit for God’s purpose.

In a similar manner, as Derek Prince was fervently seeking God, the Lord spoke to his spirit and asked him if he was really ready to accept what He had to say. Derek told the Lord “not yet,” and spent more time praying to prepare his heart. Prince later came back to God, ready to do whatever He asked of him. God told Prince he needed to lose weight, that he was not fit physically for the work He had in store for him. As pastor Christopher Asmus wrote in his blog, “One of the most destructive consequences of gluttony is that it renders us ineffective for our mission.” After that encounter with God, Prince changed his lifestyle and later wrote, “If you want to be everything God wants you to be, you will have to say no to yourself every day of your life.” In our feel-good, instant-gratification culture, we are not conditioned to telling ourselves “no,” but this is imperative if we want to access the greater things God has for us (Matthew 16:24-26).

Top ten lessons I learned in my journey to greater health and spiritual freedom: 

  1. The process of changing our eating habits does not have to feel restrictive. Instead of wallowing about what foods I could not have, I made the choice to enjoy what I could have. Many people do not even have enough food to eat each day, much less the luxury of food choices . . . so in the big picture, I was blessed beyond measure. I made a choice to be grateful for the blessing of my daily nourishment.
  1. In order to maintain victory, we need to deal with our triggers. Emotional eating is really about spiritual deprivation, so I sought to identify every area in my life where I felt void of the sweetness of God. As Lysa put it, “If we fail to understand how to fill our souls with spiritual nourishment, we will be triggered to numb our longings with temporary physical pleasures. . . We must identify our places of emotional emptiness and admit how futile it is to try and fill those places with food. . . Food can fill our stomachs but not our souls. Possessions can fill our houses but never our hearts. Sex can fill our nights but never our hunger for love. Children can fill our days but never our identities.” Pastor Asmus wrote, “Gluttony occurs when we go to food to satisfy our God-cravings.” It is an adulterous attempt to silence the cry of our hungry soul (Psalms 42:1-2). So more important than what we eat or how much we eat, is why we eat.
  1. When it feels hard, stop and pray! Instead of snacking out of habit, or eating to merely satisfy a fleeting yearning, I started asking God what He thought before I put anything in my mouth. I knew it would take time to renew my mind with healthier patterns of thinking, so I recited truth regularly in order to strengthen my resolve . . . things like “sugar is not a treat I deserve, it is an addiction that is poisoning my body and brain.” I wanted to partake of God’s goodness when I ate (Psalm 34:8), not just appease my flesh. I love Lysa’s approach - every time she would crave something off-plan she would pray, “I need wisdom to make wise choices. I need insight to remember the words I’ve read in Scripture. I need power beyond what I can find on my own.” We often try to muster up the willpower to conquer our cravings, but we soon end up discouraged and defeated - trying to deny our cravings only leaves us wanting more. Our choices matter, so it is important to engage our will in this process . . . but we have to submit our will to our spirit through this process, so we can connect to God’s power for the task. Thankfully, God’s Word assures us His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), and that we can do “all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13, Philippians 3:20-21). 
  1. Seek to be fit for God’s purpose, not for vanity. For me, the most powerful motivation to eat differently was to honor God and attain my fullest potential in Him. So I started asking, will eating this food make me feel more or less energized to do what God has called me to do today? We have the right to do anything, but we should not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12, Romans 13:14). Lysa put it well when she wrote, “I can’t allow myself to partake in anything that negates my true identity. Be it a relationship in which someone makes me feel less than my true identity or a vicious food cycle that leaves me defeated and imprisoned, I must remember I was made for more." 
  1. Is it a time for feasting or fasting (Ecclesiastes 3:1)? It is critical to discern between God-ordained seasons for feasting and mere compromise. God designed feasting to be enjoyed at specific times in community, so if we do decide to go “off plan” for a meal, it should be during special gatherings with family and friends. Of course Satan loves to help us rationalize compromise, so we should assess the potential outcome of such a decision . . . because going off plan too soon may derail us completely. As Lysa explains, “Compromise built upon compromise = failure. But resisting temptation allows promise upon promise to be built up in our hearts, which creates empowerment.” If we continue this journey with the Lord, one day we will be empowered enough to take a couple of bites and walk away, but has that day come? I have learned that if I wait until the moment to decide about the occasional splurge, I will always give-in (and often regret it later). However, if I pray ahead of time about any exceptions to my plan, and decide exactly what those parameters should look like, my will is already engaged before the temptation and it is easier to make the right choice. Sometimes it is best for me to stay in an “all or nothing” mentality, and at other times the answer is moderation.
  1. Commit to the process and the results are inevitable. We often want results without the work it requires, but the reality is, every one of our choices has a consequence (good or bad). Though God does not will bad things to happen to us because of our struggle with food, there are natural consequences for not taking care of our bodies (mental fog, fatigue, heart disease, cancer, joint pain, etc). Good food choices will bear good fruit . . . in our body, soul, and spirit. This whole journey with God was about learning to find my greatest satisfaction in His abundance first and foremost. As Lysa put it, Getting healthy isn’t just about losing weight; it’s about recalibrating out souls so that we want to change – spiritually, physically, and mentally. The battle really is in all three areas.”
  1. Be careful not to get caught up in comparisons and pity parties. We can easily buy into the lie that Adam and Eve believed, that God is withholding good things from us. But God is always fair and just, longing to give us abundant lives full of good gifts - the thief is the one who steals and destroys (John 10:10). Whether we are talking about premarital sex or cheating on our diet, Lysa points out that “once we taste the forbidden fruit, we will crave it worse than we craved it before . . . thereby giving temptation more and more power. And given enough power, temptation will consume our thoughts, redirect our actions, and demand our worship. Temptation doesn’t take kindly to being starved.” It is critical that we replace the lie that other people and things will fill our heart’s full, with the truth that God’s truth and love provide the ultimate fulfillment we long for (Psalm 16:11, Matthew 6:33).
  1. Actively avoid temptation by planning ahead. Sometimes the wisest thing we can do is flee the source of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). I don’t go to the grocery store when I’m hungry (I order groceries online so I’m not tempted by other food items and sales). I don’t go into the break room at work when I know it is riddled with sweets. I come prepared to work and birthday parties with healthy snack bars I enjoy so I don’t fold in a moment of weakness when I get hungry. I have discovered that impulsive choices lead to failure, but pre-planned guidelines help keep me on track.
  1. Be patient with yourself through the process. I am human, so I go through seasons of being on-track and off-track with every commitment I make. I have learned the importance of extending grace to myself through this process, and just finding a way to re-center myself when I lose focus (maybe through a fast, a cleanse, a fitness challenge, etc). There are endless opportunities for do-overs, so when I fail, I just start over at the next meal or the next day. According to a scientific study, it takes anywhere between 18-254 days to form a new habit (on average 66 days) . . . so I needed to be patient. And in the end, I wasn’t on a diet; I was on a lifetime journey with God.
  1. Pick a plan to follow and find accountability. It was much easier to make good choices when I was answering to someone else, and it was important to have a plan to guide the process. Initially it was difficult to change a lifetime of bad habits, but in time the struggle lessened. As I continued to press on, something shifted and I began to feel empowered. Nurturing a lifestyle of self-control helped me feel a deeper connection with the Lord because I no longer felt plagued with guilty feelings for poor choices. Victory tasted far better than any food I had given up!

I titled this article “overcoming” my addiction to food because it is a present tense journey. Even years into this process, I still depend on God daily for strength to succeed . . . for when I think I am standing strong, that is when I am most vulnerable (1 Corinthians 10:12). As Lysa put it, “Victory isn’t a place we arrive at and then relax. We maintain our victories with each next choice.”

For those of you who feel compelled to start your own journey to health with God, let me encourage you, you do not need to have it all figured out. Just start somewhere - He will meet you as you step out in faith and dependence on Him, and help you find your way. And always remember, there is no condemnation for any failures (Romans 8:1), for His mercies are new each day (Lamentations 3:22-23).

We were made for more than this. More than this failure, more than this cycle, more than being ruled by taste buds. We were made for victory. Sometimes we just have to find our way to that truth.  –Lysa Terkeurst

Further Reading:

Books:

Made to Crave” by Lysa Terkeurst

Wellness Revelation – Lose What Weighs You Down So You Can Love God, Yourself, And Others” by Alisa Keeton

Full: Food, Jesus, and the Battle for Satisfaction” by Asheritah Ciuciu

Free 7 day detox videos: by Alisa Keeton who wrote Wellness Revelation  
Each one is only about 5-10 min long - this is a great place to start your journey to health. 

Article:

"Three Questions To Ask Before You Snack" by Christopher Asmus

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

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