Are diets really a modern phenomenon? Or just an age-old expression of our need to worship -whether at the supermarket or the mirror?
In her book, ‘Calories and Corsets’ Louise Foxcroft argues that ‘contemporary’ diets such as Atkins, are nothing of the kind. She gives the example of the Hay diet, which was popular at the start of the early 20thc. Given a few tweaks, this became the Beverly Hills diet of the 1980s. Similarly, Atkins has been given a ‘new’ spin as the ‘Dukan’ diet – both helped by the spurious prefix of ‘Dr’, (presumably the same university that spawned Dr Gillian McKeith).
But the issue predates even Foxcroft’s survey. Since Adam and Eve first eyed up that juicy forbidden fruit, humanity’s been obsessed with diet.
Food matters. It’s no coincidence that Christians meet around a meal – and this table fellowship gets to the heart of what it means to be human. This is partly why eating disorders are so destructive. As well as decimating the body singular, they split the body corporate. They isolate you and make you ashamed. They destroy your body, your brain and your relationships. They promise you release. They deliver you death.
Paul writes in Colossians 2 that
‘People will tell you, “Don’t handle this! Don’t taste or touch that!” All of these things deal with objects that are only used up anyway. These things look like wisdom with their self-imposed worship, [false] humility, and harsh treatment of the body. But they have no value for holding back the constant desires of your corrupt nature’.
In the short-term, dieting can make us feel more in control. Bingeing numbs the pain and temporarily sedates the soul. But whether stuffing or starving, we’re still using a placebo to medicate. We’re terrified both by abundance and not having enough. In consuming nothing, we want to have it all. We end up with nothing instead.
But to satisfy our deepest hungers takes a lot more than weight loss or a Happy Meal. In fact, our strategies only make these hungers worse.
I can’t starve my emotions. I can’t stuff them into silence either. And whatever I eat, my heart stays the same.
By focusing on my body, I find something to worship. The problem is, that something’s too small – even before I start to diet. It can’t give me meaning or fulfilment or acceptance or freedom or anything, except slavery and increasing obsession with self.
I can’t deny my hungers. But I don’t need to either. My heart’s desire – to worship – is genuine. Its the object that’s at fault.
And in a funny way, food is the answer. It’s the body of Jesus, broken for me. It’s the communion I share with his people, at the table where we meet as forgiven sinners. At the Lord’s table, my hungers can be met. My heart can feast upon a Saviour who gives more than I can ever take.