By Bethany Verrett, Crosswalk.com
Everyone has an opinion these days about what it means to have a healthy body. Some people eat incredibly regimented diets, with strict workout routines, and strict care. Others eat whatever they want, put little effort into their exercise, and are happy with that decision. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.
It can be difficult to cut through the raw food vegans and the fat-positive activists to come to a personal conclusion about what a healthy diet is. But the Bible can be a good source of information for how God wants believers to conduct themselves, including how they diet. The body is a gift from God, and it is His temple when He indwells in a believer; Christians should take care of their bodies to the best of their abilities, while not pursuing either gluttony or starvation.
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What Does the Bible Say about Dieting?
There are only a few places in the Bible where the idea of controlled eating is addressed outside of the Old Testament law. During the time after God gave the Ten Commandments, up to the resurrection of Christ and even today among practicing Jews, certain foods were forbidden because they were considered unclean for the purposes of approaching God. Examples include:
“These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:2b-8).
Other forbidden foods include certain kinds of seafood, birds, and insects. These foods were forbidden because there is a relationship between the body and the spirit, and bringing in certain kinds of food, as well as practicing certain sanitation habits, make the spirit unclean, and therefore unable to enter the temple. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, these rules were not necessary, and God gave Peter a vision opening up all kinds of food to believers:
“And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven” (Acts 10:10-16).
Some people find they are healthier if they follow the dietary restrictions in the law, but this is not universal, and should not be taken as a prescription for healthy eating. The same goes for another moment in the Bible, where Daniel challenges the king’s decadent diet with one high in healthy fats like oil, fruits, and vegetables in Daniel 1. Known as the Daniel fast, some people find health benefits – including a healthier weight – from doing it for a short period of time. Some people pursue it as a lifestyle.
Again, God made all food available to believers, but it does demonstrate that consuming high quantities of fruits and vegetables and reducing excessive sugars can have long-term benefits for the body.
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Bible Verses about Food and Health
Some of the most important verses in the Bible about dieting and taking care of one’s body do not address specific foods, but rather cultivate an attitude towards food, the body, and consumption.
1 Corinthians 6:12-13a “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other.”
Here, Paul emphasizes to the Corinthian church, which struggled with indulgence among other sins, that food should be for sustenance and nutrition, not as a driving force in life. The body does not exist to consume, or not consume, food. While all food is lawful to eat, that does not mean it is healthy to eat, or to eat to excess.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
The body of a Christian is not for people to abuse, whether through excessive food consumption, not enough of it, or with substances that can damage it. When someone accepts Jesus as their Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells within that person, and the body becomes its home. A heavy price was paid for the salvation and security of all, and everything someone who has a relationship with Christ does should be to His glory, including dieting.
Colossians 3:17 “ And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Much like 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, this verse emphasizes that anything done should be done for and through the Lord. If someone’s body is inhibiting them from serving the Lord or obeying His call, they should pursue healthier habits or help from a doctor. When pursuing a diet or lifestyle change, it should be done after going to God in prayer, guided by His wisdom.
Philippians 4:5-7 “ Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Another translation for “reasonableness” here is moderation. Pursuing moderation is important to pursuing a healthy lifestyle. When considering a lifestyle change, including a diet, God’s wisdom is best, and going to Him in prayer is important. He can also calm any anxieties about weight, since it is not healthy mentally or spiritually to be so anxious or obsessed with one’s body that it becomes an idol.
1 Corinthians 10:7 “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’”
Being overly obsessed with food is idolatry. Whether it is glorifying its consumption or dangerously denying oneself food, the habit of eating has become too prominent on the heart and mind, replacing God’s rightful place as first in someone’s heart. This focus on food is wicked.
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Does God Care about My Weight and Health?
There are many factors about what kind of a diet can create a healthy body weight, including genetics, allergens, and past behavior. Some people can eat lots of rice and grains and not gain weight, while others will gain weight very quickly with a diet high in carbohydrates. Some people are allergic to certain foods, and their weight can be impacted. Sometimes eating cookies with every meal is just too tempting.
God made people to be different, right down to their metabolism, and knows about human weaknesses. He also made people to be different shapes. God cares about each person. He loves all His creation. The Bible says:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).
If He put that much care into knowing us and loving us before we were born, then we know that He wants people to be healthy, which could include weight. Being overweight or underweight is not a sin by itself.
Some people struggle with the amount of fat on their bodies for reasons outside of diet and exercise. There are conditions like hypothyroidism, prolactinomas, depression, Cushing’s disease, and others that can be diagnosed by a doctor that can make maintaining weight difficult. Some of them can be managed by medication. Other conditions can make it hard to gain weight, such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or gastrointestinal diseases. If someone is diagnosed with one of these conditions, following any prescribed solutions by their diet – including medication, specific diets, and certain exercise regimens – can help, but may not guarantee weight loss or gain.
God does not judge people for their weight, but on the character of their heart. People struggling with weight, especially if they have one of these conditions, should not deem it a moral failing in themselves or as a judgment from God. What would be of concern to the Lord is if someone is abusing or neglecting their body, which serves as His temple and is created by Him uniquely for each individual. Just as it would be sinful for a church to misuse its funds from its congregation’s tithes, it is sinful to misuse the house that God built - the house being the body.
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How Can I Diet in a Way That Honors God?
For people who feel they need to pursue a diet to gain or lose weight in order to better care for their bodies, reach health goals, and serve the Lord better or in a new way, they should do so wisely, not pursuing a quick fix, but by setting achievable goals.
The Daniel Fast demonstrated the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, and God made healthy protein and fats available as a way to make sure the body receives proper nutrition. Any diet should be pursued with wisdom, and consulting a physician can be a wise part of pursuing a diet. Ultimately, going to the Lord about any diet is important to making Him first and foremost.
Having a perfect body should not become an idol any more than taking pride in an overweight or underweight body should be. The body is a gift from the Lord through which people can serve Him, and should not be a source of pride, anxiety, or idolatry. Submitting our fears, concerns, or obsessions about weight to God is key to making a healthy diet and lifestyle part of our relationship with Him, rather than a way for sin to influence our lives.
Ciampa, Roy and Brian Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. Downers Grove: IVP, 2021.
Fomum, Zacharias. Deliverance from the Sin of Gluttony. Christian Publshing House, 1995.
Meinz, David. Eating By the Book: What the Bible Says about Food, Fat, and Fitness. Gilbert Press, 1999.
Vamosh, Miriam. Food at the Times of the Bible From Adam’s Apple to the Last Supper. Jerusalem: Palphot, 2006.
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