If we aren’t careful, physical health can become an unhealthy obsession. Battling with our bodies has become a normal part of existing as a woman, but there’s one battle we don’t talk about.
The resistance battle.
The fight to stay thin. The fight to stay young. The fight to stay beautiful.
Since being thin has become part of your identity, you wonder what people will think, or who you will become, if that ever changes. So you obsess over every meal, calculating the risk associated with each food you eat.
The fear of gaining weight is a looming threat to our self worth.
We hear a lot about losing weight, but so much energy is spent trying to avoid gaining weight. I’m not saying one is worse than the other, but from my perspective – the struggle is real. On both sides of this battle, we’re losing. We become distracted and insecure.
Being thin isn’t the answer, it just sparks a new question, “how long can I keep this up?”
Exercise starts feeling more like undoing the “damage” from last night’s happy hour rather than celebrating and challenging what your body is capable of.
You get fixated on your food, making sure every calorie is monitored, and that you’re following all of the things that make you “healthy” and “good”. But what happens when you lose focus of the bigger picture, the reason why physical health even matters to begin with?
We’re forgetting the purpose of physical health
So many voices tell us thin equals healthy. So we fight to maintain our thinness instead of prioritizing true health. We’re prioritizing surface level goals that don’t bring fulfillment or confidence in our bodies.
You might say physical health is desirable because it allows you to enjoy your life without pain, live longer with the people you love, and do more of what you enjoy. If that’s the purpose, we can’t lose sight of it along the way.
If, in order to get “healthy”, you start replacing what makes life worth living…what are you doing?
That’s when things start becoming unhealthy…even when you’re eating the “right food” or doing the “healthy things.”
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God didn’t create us for the purpose of maintaining our bodies.
If you’re spending the majority of your time and energy on it, you’re obsessed with your body. Even if the things you’re thinking about, spending time on, or planning are considered “healthy” on their own, there has to be a balance.
Physical health should be an effortless part of our lives. Feeding ourselves doesn’t require an advanced degree in nutrition and biology. You don’t need to spend hours at the gym each day in order to keep your body from falling apart. God didn’t design it to be difficult.
In fact, He gave us everything we need to be healthy. Our bodies are designed to signal when they need something and essentially run on autopilot. We’ve gone wrong by ignoring and misinterpreting the signs. We resist things like hunger, fullness, stiffness, or feeling tired. We use food or exercise as a means to control our self worth and if we’re “being good” we think we are good.
But the purpose of your body is not to live forever.
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.1 Timothy 4:8
The world is convincing women to fight against this natural process, tricking us into feeling like a failure when our body changes as we age, have kids, or move through different seasons of life.
Signs you’re obsessing over your body image
We are called to be good stewards of our bodies. So eating nutrient rich food and moving our bodies is an important part of that. If you think you might be obsessing over your body and getting “healthy” for the wrong reasons, reflect on these questions:
How often do I say no to things I truly enjoy because of these body goals?
Would I continue with this health plan if I knew my appearance wouldn’t change?
When I’m invited out, do I make decisions based on what food will be available there?
What activities do I prioritize? How many of them are fitness related?
What kind of things do I tell myself when I eat food I don’t consider healthy?
What thoughts go through my head when I haven’t exercised in a few days or weeks?
Sometimes not guilting yourself into going to the gym is the healthiest choice. Sometimes health looks like feeding yourself when you’re hungry, even if the only thing available is a cookie.
Surface level solutions only heal surface level wounds. Body image wounds run deep.
Instead of trying to change your body, ask yourself, why do I feel the need for more love, acceptance, and attention?
Then bring that to God, and go out to happy hour with your friends in peace.
How to Stop Obsessing Over Food and Be Healthy for the Right Reasons
1. Replace vanity metrics with true health goals
If you’re setting health goals for yourself, that’s great. But don’t confuse health with vanity metrics. Health goals sound like, “I want to get to a place where on any given day I can run 3 miles” or “I want to be hydrated so I don’t get headaches” or “I want to eat less meat because I feel better when I do”
What are vanity metrics? Anything defined by the appearance of your body rather than the function of your body.
Weight, pant size, bra size, muscle definition, firmness, smoothness (getting rid of cellulite)
Even if you reach those vanity goals, after all that work and effort, you’re not going to be fulfilled, because vanity metrics stem from a need for love, attention, and acceptance.
2. Remove morality from food
Notice how you talk about food. I call this your food language. What you say about certain foods reinforces the idea that some are off limits, and that YOU are good or bad if you eat certain things.
There’s no such thing as good food and bad food. Food doesn’t have morals, cupcakes have never robbed a bank or cheated on their taxes…they’re not “bad”. Just like broccoli has never donated to charity or sent someone flowers in the hospital…it’s not “good”.
Focus on health, not what’s good or bad. Sometimes the healthy option is having pizza without beating yourself up over it. Other times it looks like choosing water instead of another iced mocha.
Nourish your body in a way that makes you feel good in the long run. There’s a time for bread, cake, and chips, just like there’s a time for hummus, broccoli, and quinoa.
3. Remember the social aspect of eating
We have an emotional connection to food, and that’s not a bad thing. Food is part of nearly every big moment of our lives. It’s meant to enhance the celebration, not restrict it.
Eating the same food as someone you’re sharing a meal with creates a social bond. I remember when my dad was in his strict dieting days he would sit down at Thanksgiving with a plate of skinless chicken breasts while we ate mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. I’d look to his plate and just feel bad. He was sitting with us, yes, but he wasn’t part of the meal we were sharing.
Having a meal with someone is also one of the simplest ways to revive a friendship or start a relationship. Food is meant to be a social experience. When you’re obsessing over your food, there’s less mental space to be present with the people at the table. Shift your focus to the social aspect of food because there’s more to it than just calories in, calories out, it’s about connection.
Rebekah is a copywriter and body confidence coach who helps women feel worthy in a world convincing them they’re never enough. She’s been featured in Bustle, Thrive Global, The Everygirl, and more. Listen every Thursday to her top rated podcast, Confidently She