A Link Between Church and Obesity?

Today I read a really interesting article on CNN entitled, “Frequent Church-Goers Frequently Fatter.” A great headline, by the way.  But the gist of the article is that a study has shown that people who attend church regularly are significantly more likely to have a higher body mass index than those who attend infrequently or not at all.

Researchers had a hard time, however, speculating why religion was associated with overeating:

“Churches pay more attention to obvious vices like smoking or drinking,” said Matthew Feinstein, lead author of the research and fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our best guess about why is that…more frequent participation in church is associated with good works and people may be rewarding themselves with large meals that are more caloric in nature than we would like.”

A Chicago pastor pointed to a “church culture around eating” and the frequency of church potlucks.

There is indeed a church culture around eating.  For people who may not have a lot in common, food is something that people can connect over.  After all, everybody eats.  But it seems to me like a once-a-week potluck isn’t forcing anyone to poke an extra notch in their belt.  It’s the daily choices, the pattern, the lifestyle.

And so I am a bit baffled by the way that the modern church has gone after other vices like smoking, drinking, etc. but has turned a blind eye towards overeating. Many more people die from the diseases of affluence (heart disease, etc.) than from lung and liver cancer.

This is why I think that Christians need to figure out what it means to eat with intentionality.  This is why we need sermons on gluttony.  This is why we need to learn what it really means to feast (if every meal is a feast, there’s a problem) and to fast.  And this is why pastors (like myself) need to do some serious thought about how to address the deeper spiritual issues that lie underneath our gluttony.

Because ultimately being healthy is not about feeling good or looking good, although those are nice side effects.  We pursue physical health because God is honored when we take care of our bodies.

And when we take care of our bodies, we have a greater capacity to serve, more energy to love, more to offer the world.

In the spirit of this post, here’s a great spoken word piece on gluttony by P4CM poet Karness.  Worth your time:

The Paleo Experiment (5): Takeaways

This will be the final entry in my Paleo series, and it will deal with how my wife and I have tried to implement the Paleo diet into our lives now that the 30 day challenge is over.

After eating like the Flintstones for 30 days, we felt better than ever.  We decided that we definitely wanted to keep eating this way.

Then we crashed into fiscal reality.

My wife – who was even more excited about the results than I was – sent me an email entitled, “I’m having second thoughts about this whole paleo thing…”  The substance of her angst was the fact that our grocery bill had more than doubled during challenge.  We simply could not keep spending that amount on groceries – it interfered with other key values we hold – notably thrift and generosity.

Incidentally, we decided that there had to be a way to eat healthy within a budget, and that it was worth our best efforts to experiment and make it work.  Practically, this meant  that we would only buy one jar of almond butter per week.  We would use regular honey instead of raw honey.  We would set a limit on the amount we allowed ourselves to spend on meat.  We would use frozen fruit whenever we could.

But the point here is that while we value healthy eating, we hold that in tension with other important values.  Some are simply more important.

When our commitment to health interferes with our commitment to enjoy and serve others, the latter commitment has priority.  This means that when someone invites us to dinner, we eat whatever is set before us.

(For me, that meant eating blueberry cobbler last night.) When out at a restaurant with friends, our most important value is our friends.

Finally, we have tried to build the Christian value of feasting into our lives.  As I mentioned in the last post, feasting is not about gorging yourself at Old Country Buffet but about tasting and enjoying and thanking.

I try to practice Sabbath.  What this means is that I work as hard as I can six days out of the week.  But I set one day a week aside to rest, celebrate and enjoy the gift of life.

I’ve begun to think of other areas of my life the same way.

For example, I want to keep a strict budget – to spend minimally and to save wisely.  But I also want my life to be characterized by instances of outrageous generosity.  There should be times (and will be soon, hopefully!) when I take my wife on a cruise even if it doesn’t make financial sense.

Similarly, I want to eat as healthy as possible. But I also want to feast like one who believes that God made the world, made it good, and made it that way so that its goodness would point us back to him.

Six days a week we try to eat Paleo pretty strictly.  We enjoy it.

But one day we don’t even think about Paleo.  I refuse to call it a cheat day.  It is a feast day.

Question: Any tips for eating healthy on a budget?


 

The Paleo Experiment (3.5): A Christian Vision of Food

I had started to write a post on this, but realized that I was almost paraphrasing an essay that I had read by a guy named Douglas Wilson.  He is a much better writer, and so I have simply reproduced an edited version of his essay.  I am mainly posting it to demonstrate how my Christian worldview shapes the way I think of food.  If you’re not interested, pass on by.  There will be an original post in a couple of days.

***

Think for a moment what God could have done with food. He could have designed a universe in which some sort of fuel was necessary, but where the (entirely superfluous) function of taste was missing. He could have provided us with abundant sources of nutrition, but which had the ethos of cold, shapeless oatmeal. No taste anywhere. Bleh.

Or He could have given us food that had slight variations or degrees of refinement, like gasoline. We could have had super premium oatmeal, which was more gruel-like, and then premium, like cream of wheat, and then regular, which would be like oatmeal, with the texture and everything. But still, nothing that had taste. No brown sugar.

What kind of God created taste? Not just the function of taste—because He could have done that and only provided one or two tastes—but the riot of tastes, the pandemonium of tastes, the bedlam of tastes that we actually have. Think for a moment what is actually going on out there. We have, just to take a small sampler, watermelon, orange, cinnamon, bacon, walnut, beans, make that 482 different kinds of beans, grapes, salmon, sharp cheese, honey, butter, and nutmeg. If we were to catalog all the tastes in the world, straight out of nature, we are no doubt surpassing tens of thousands of distinct, identifiable tastes.

And God looked on the creation and said that it was very good, but He then wanted to expand on this good start. So in the creation mandate, He required that sons of Adam and daughters of Eve learn how to cook. This meant that they were to go out into the world, find all those tastes, and then start playing with them. What goes with what? And when you mix this with that, what happens? What happens if you mix a little more of this, but then set the whole thing on fire? Wait, I know. Let’s put it in a pan, melt some butter in the pan, and then put it on the fire.

And by this means, the thousands of tastes became millions of tastes. Recognizable and distinct tastes. But what for?

What kind of God would create a world in which literally millions of very different pleasures can occur in your mouth, and for no apparent functional reason?  This is a God who loves pleasure, and is willing to throw those pleasures around His universe with wild abandon. He insisted on creating beings who are capable of enjoying all these sensations, and, because they have eternity in their hearts, they will pursue tinkering around with a foul tasting bean until they figure out how to get chocolate out of it.

But in order to be a God like this, one who loves pleasure, He has to be a God who loves. More than that, He has to be a God who is love. But in order to be love, He must be triune. Before the world was created, before anything material came to be, God was every bit as prodigal and wasteful as He is now. What kind of God would do this?

For far too long, discussions about the mystery of the Holy Trinity have been assumed to be the province of theologians with fifty-pound heads. But there are two questions that all of us can ask, and we ought to ask them far more frequently—and in the presence of our food. Those questions are, “Who would do this?” and “What must He be like?”

When should we ask these questions? The times will vary, but we ought to remember the questions every time we say grace, because this is why we are saying grace.

When do we recall the questions? Whenever we eat a cookie, and then down a tall glass of cold milk. When the hot gravy goes on the cheese potatoes. When we are sitting on the lawn on a summer evening, spitting watermelon seeds. When the butter melts on the corn on the cob just right. When we pour lemonade and iced tea together, half and half. When the green beans are cooked together with pistachio nuts. Honey butter. Homemade fudge sauce on store bought ice cream.

Who would do this? What must He be like?

***

Question: According to the Christian view, God wants us to enjoy food.  He also wants us to take care of our bodies.  How do we hold these two together?

The Paleo Experiment (3): Food or Fuel?

One of the mantras of the Paleo diet is “Food is Fuel!”  In other words, you don’t choose food primarily because it tastes good, but because it makes your body run well.  In today’s post I’d like to examine this mindset.

Dr. Loren Cordain, leading Paleo author, writes:

“Fruits and vegetables provide us with natural bulk and fiber to fill up our stomachs. Because they are low-glycemic, they also normalize our blood sugar and reduce our appetites. The protein in lean meats satisfies our hunger pangs rapidly and lets us know when we are full. Two skinless chicken breasts for dinner may be filling-and two more might be impossible. Can we say the same for pizza slices?… Fake foods destroy our appetites, allowing us to eat more than what we need.”

If food is fuel, then we can compare a human body to a car.  Cars run on gas; put wiper fluid in the tank and it ruins the engine.  Likewise, when you try to run your body on cheese, chips, fatty meats and refined sugar, you are actually destroying your body’s engine.  Paleo is about finding the best possible fuel for the human machine.

So what does “premium fuel” taste like?  Like almonds.

Seriously, the first thing we learned was that almonds are a substitute for almost anything.  For breakfast, we would eat paleo pancakes (one cup of almond butter, two eggs, one banana, fruit on top) with a side of almond milk.

For lunch, we made paleo pizza (almond meal + eggs + rosemary for the crust, fresh vegetables, mushrooms and chicken on top).  Dinner was usually some type of lean meat or fish with vegetables on the side (but at least no almonds).  We would usually eat a small bowl of fresh fruit for dessert.

The very idea of food as fuel, however, defeats the whole purpose of dessert. Dessert is about decadence, pleasure, savoring – taste.   Without sugar, all of the Paleo dessert recipes were disgusting.  We tried paleo candy bars, made with cocoa, nuts and unsweetened coconut.  Then we melted them back down and added raw honey.  A huge improvement.  We tried paleo chocolate cake (sweetened with agave sweetener), and after a couple of bites, it ended up in the trash can.

And yet, we were starting to feel great!  We felt less lethargic.  Prior digestive issues disappeared.  And I started crushing my workouts at the CrossFit gym.  Maybe there was something to be said about putting the right kind of gas in my tank.  And maybe, given enough time, my appetite would adjust.

But there was a problem I couldn’t get over:

Isn’t the human body more than a machine?

And isn’t food more than fuel?

Because the predominant message that the Scriptures give regarding food is this: food is a gift.

Yes, it is a gift with a functional purpose – to fuel the human body.  But like all gifts, it is also meant to bring joy.

Which means that taste matters. But how much?

And that’s the subject of my next post.

Question: How do you keep “good-tasting” and “good-for-you” in balance?

The Paleo Experiment (2): Retraining the Appetite

Update: Dateline NBC recently put together a great introduction to the Paleo lifestyle here (first 6 minutes).

I guess I should disclose from the outset that my wife and I weren’t your usual dieters.  In the almost eight years we have married, we have never owned a scale.  This means that the only times we have even had a clue about how much we weighed were the times we went to the doctor. Our goal in the diet wasn’t to lose weight.  I was interested in something else, and that is the subject of today’s post.

I’ve always been a “meat and potatoes” kind of a guy.  Well, actually, more of a “meat and rice” kind of a guy (I’m half Filipino).  Throw in something cheesy and I’m set.  One Christmas, Melissa and I decided that instead of eating traditional holiday food, we would eat our favorite foods.  I had a steak, Jasmine rice, and macaroni and cheese.

It. was. perfect.

I also have quite a sweet tooth.  Once when I was in high school, I was over at a friend’s house, and his mom had just made cookies.  She put a plate of them on the table and made the mistake of saying, “eat as many as you want.”

I ate the whole plate.

I have more self-awareness these days, but no less of a hunger for cookies.

I’ve also never liked vegetables.  My parents once had me sit at the table until I finished my green beans.  When they went to the other room, I stuffed the green beans down the floor vents.  (My son has inherited my disinclination towards veggies, so I will be watching the vents.)

I always thought I was a healthy eater until I started meeting with a personal trainer.  He made me keep a food log, and he would circle all my cheeses, starches and refined sugars and say, “crap. crap. crap.”

I improved my eating habits mainly to get him off my back.  But there wasn’t really a desire to change.  After all, I wanted to enjoy food.  Life is too short, I reasoned, not to eat snicker-doodles.  Amen?

So when I decided to go Paleo, the main question in my mind was this: can my appetite be retrained to want what is healthy?  Or is it simply about discipline: denying my desires and choosing what is better?

Can hunger be rewired, or is health mainly a matter of self-denial?

Now as a Christian, I believe that human beings are more than just bodies: we are bodies and souls.  I further believe that body and soul are inextricably linked.  So this question resonates with me on a far deeper level.

Because I find that so many times my problem is not that I can’t do what I want.  The problem is: I want things that are bad for me.  I have an appetite for selfishness, laziness, and pride.

Can my soul’s appetites be retrained?  Or is it mainly about self-denial?

Question: What do you think?  Is health – whether physical or spiritual – mainly a matter of retraining the appetite or a matter of self-discipline?


The Paleo Experiment (1): How To Eat Like A Caveman

My wife and I just finished a 30-Day experiment with the Paleo diet. In today’s post, I’d like to explain the diet and why we decided to do it.

Paleo is short for paleolithic, which is a fancy way of saying “Stone Age”.  The basic idea is that the human body is naturally adapted to the kind of diet that is common in pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer societies.  In other words: lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts.

There are a lot of evolutionary assumptions here that continue to be debated among nutritionists and anthropologists. These may come into play later in the series, but for now I’m not really interested in that side of the debate.  My concerns are much more pragmatic.

For now, I think I can draw parallels between the Paleo Diet and the Barefoot Running movement, which argues that the human beings are “born to run” barefoot: the modern innovation of running shoes is unnecessary.  Paleo proponents argue that the human body is “born to be run” by certain types of food, and modern civilization has actually led to the diseases of affluence that are common in modern society: obesity, heart disease, and various types of cancer (which are rare among hunter-gatherer societies).

So what can’t cavemen eat?  Processed food, refined sugar, grains and dairy. Specifically, cavemen can’t eat deep-dish pizza or lasagna, my two favorite foods.  Cavemen can’t consume cookies, which I eat like it’s my job. Cavemen have a hard time eating out; in fact, it’s nearly impossible.  Cavemen can’t drink diet Coke, sweet tea, lemonade or pretty much anything other than water and almond milk.  (Black coffee is allowed, alcohol is forbidden.)

I heard about the diet at my CrossFit gym. They were challenging us to take something called the Paleo Challenge, a 30-Day experiment with the Paleo lifestyle.  “Try it,” they said, “and see if you’re not better, faster, stronger, happier.”  Now I’m always skeptical about these kinds of promises, and yet I’ve seen such great results from CrossFit (which made similar promises), that I decided it might be worth a try. I wondered, could Paleo do for my health what CrossFit did for my fitness?

My wife had to sign off on it, especially since she does 99.9% of the cooking at our house (I make eggs for breakfast once a week).

I was surprised at how quickly she agreed to it.

I am a person who likes to experience things from the inside whenever possible rather than as a “detached observer”.  I didn’t think it would ultimately change the way I eat, but having never dieted before, I wanted to see if I felt as good as advertised.  Plus, it was only 30 days.  How hard could it be?

We told a family member who has diabetes about our experiment.  She said, “So basically, you have to eat like a diabetic.”

Yep.  For thirty days.

Question: What would be the hardest thing for you about the eating like a caveman?