A new movement of Christian health experts says the church's witness is compromised when it forgets the importance of physical fitness. Here's what they want you to know about taking control of your health.
Browse any Christian bookstore and you'll discover an ever-expanding list of diet and health books. Ask anyone in ministry what the top prayer requests they receive are and health-related concerns will invariably rank at the top of the list. American Christians, like all Americans, are worried about their health more than ever before—and for good reason.
One of the biggest health crises in the U.S. these days is what has been dubbed "the obesity epidemic." According to the Center for Disease Control, two out of three American adults (about 65 percent) are overweight, and a quick inventory of the bodies in the pews and pulpits of America reveals that the church is far from exempt.
Dr. Don Colbert, an Orlando, Florida-based physician and ministry leader, deals with a wide range of overweight patients—from the morbidly obese, whose excess weight poses a threat to their very lives, to the average dieter seeking to drop a few pounds. His research prompted him to write the best-selling Bible Cure series and What Would Jesus Eat?
"There is a spirit of gluttony in the church," Colbert says bluntly. "Christians don't feel like they can drink or party or use drugs, but they do feel they have a license to eat. And eat they will." This inattention to diet, combined with the inherent idleness of most of our occupations and hobbies, has led to pews and pulpits filled with obese people, adds Colbert.
Though it's fun to joke about the ubiquitous nature of fried chicken and baked beans at the church potluck, or the ready availability of doughnuts and pastries after Sunday services, the fallout out from our unhealthy eating habits is no laughing matter. Dr. Cris Enriquez, medical director of the Rapha Health Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, identifies excess weight as "a very significant risk factor" in the development of the three biggest killers of the modern era: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. "As temples of the Holy Spirit, to neglect the health of our bodies is to disobey God," he writes in his book The Healthy Life. "[God] desires us to care for our health—spirit, soul, and body."
Christians should not only stand out in the world as spiritual salt and light but also as a physical witness of healthy living and self-control, suggests Jordan Rubin, author of The New York Times bestseller The Maker's Diet. "Thousands of years ago, the Israelites were much healthier," Rubin observes. "They were much more separate. Today, health-wise, there is very little difference between a believer and a non-believer. So, my passion in life is to help transform the health of God's people, one life at a time, and through God's people change the world."
In The Maker's Diet, Rubin lays out a "best-case scenario" for eating: vegetables free from pesticides, meats free from pollutants, and milk free from hormones. It's a tough regimen, but one that literally saved Rubin's life after he was physically crushed by Crohn's Disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder of the intestines that has no known cause or cure. Years of research, experimentation, and prayer led him to develop a plan that has helped him attain good health. He admits, though, that his radical diet may be too extreme for the average person. "Most people don't do the whole ball of wax, but they get great results anyway."
From Atkins to South Beach, fast and easy weight-loss programs tend to be the goal of most people seeking a new diet. But virtually every health expert agrees that the path to true wellness lies not in the latest diet craze but in a permanent lifestyle change.
"The weight is certainly what is causing the amazing detriment to our health and our vitality and our energy," says nutritionist and author Pam Smith, "but the issue isn't really just the pounds on the scale. It's the perspective that we have about eating, the perspective we have about food, and the perspective that we have about our bodies that is really the issue."
Since 1987 Carole Lewis's Houston-based ministry, First Place, has helped countless believers experience dramatic changes in their health. Recently, one First Place adherent dropped 55 pounds in six months. "And all he did was start eating sensibly and walking three miles a day," says Lewis. "The only way that people are going to lose weight and keep it off is with a lifestyle change. It's not dieting."
Fortunately, Christians have a place to turn for insight on healthy living. In addition to the emotional and spiritual guidance of the Scriptures, there are practical physical guidelines to help us slim down and live longer.
"The healthy diet," Dr. Enriquez says, "is what we find in the Bible—the fruits and vegetables in
Though a myriad of opinions exist among medical and health professionals, both inside and outside the church, the vast majority agrees that natural foods (God-made) serve the human body far better than manufactured foods (man-made). Lean meats, including poultry and beef, balanced with generous portions of fruits and vegetables, and sprinkled with nuts and whole grains, provide the best fuel for the body. Conversely, processed foods, bleached wheat, chemical sweeteners, and other packaged products quickly convert to fat and threaten our well-being.
Dieting offers temporary punishment for short-term gain, but a lifestyle adjustment offers true hope for long-term change. Dr. Ben Lerner, author of Body By God: The Owner's Manual for Maximized Living, advocates an "addition role" when it comes to food choice.
"Just start adding foods that belong in your body to your diet," he recommends, "and what will start to happen, eventually, is they will replace some of the junk food. You'll start seeing your body change without having to starve yourself."
By focusing on the good food that God has given us and putting His diet into our bodies, we don't have to lack in any good thing. We just need to remind ourselves that God's foods are better than man's. And while there may be some truths encompassed in the various fad diets, such as the benefit of eating fish instead of pork, the overriding consensus among Christian health and fitness experts is that quick fixes have little or no legitimate place in our lives.
The other half of the health equation lies in exercise. Dino Nowak, a Los Angeles-based fitness trainer who works with numerous celebrities, believes that "lasting change must start from within." He has made it his life goal to motivate and educate people by debunking fad diets and promoting what he calls the "esp Fitness Program." (esp is an acronym for Emotional, Spiritual, and Physical.)
Nowak likens our body's need for food to a car's need for gasoline. "If you keep trying to pump gas in your car and you're not driving it, you don't need that much gas. If you want to burn the gas, you have to drive the car."
For virtually every overweight person, the equation is straightforward.
"It's a simple matter of energy," Nowak explains. "We are taking in far more energy than our bodies are expending, and that's why we're getting fat."
So how do we burn this extra energy? Since most people do not perform strenuous manual labor on the job, the answer lies in exercise.
Fitness trainer Leslie Sansone created a video centered on the idea of "in-home walking" in order to make exercise accessible to everyone. By removing the usual barriers to a regular workout, such as cost, schedule and lack of comfort around strangers, Sansone's Walk Away The Pounds videos have encouraged millions of people.
"One of the biggest gifts God gave us was this gorgeous feeling of not only empowerment, but also the coping and peace that exercise brings us," she says. "And no drug, no pill, nothing takes the place of what our natural body produces when we are in motion, because God's design for muscle and bone is for them to be active. We're meant to be spiritual and physical beings, and when we're in motion we are happier, healthier, more creative, and smarter."
Sansone's just-released book, Walk Away The Pounds: The Breakthrough 6-Week Program That Helps You Burn Fat, Tone Muscle, and Feel Great Without Dieting, features principles, exercises, and recipes for healthy living.
Nowak breaks down exercise into three categories: cardiovascular, resistance training, and flexibility. For cardiovascular exercise, Nowak suggests, "find your activity." Whether it's rollerblading, jogging, playing tennis, or simply walking, it's important to engage our bodies in an enjoyable activity that also increases our heart rate.
Resistance training typically means weightlifting, but not necessarily in the way we imagine body builders pumping iron. "You're much better off doing things in movement patterns as you would experience in life," Nowak advises. Squats, rows, presses, and other low-impact repetitions that mimic real-life actions help develop useful strength and balance.
Flexibility, in way of warming up to a full-blown workout and stretching the muscles to elongate and preserve them, completes the triad of exercise.
Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand. Together, they provide the key to a healthier, longer life.
Most of the fitness professionals interviewed for this article recommend 30 minutes of activity at least four times per week. And, of course, they say you should always consult your doctor before beginning any new diet or fitness program.
Once the church realizes the power of good health and the witness it provides to the world—not to mention the benefits it provides to Christians—we will be on our way to revolutionizing our neighborhoods, cities, country, and world, says Jordan Rubin.
All the Christian fitness experts agree especially on this one thing: When we line up our appetites and habits with the Word of God, we will naturally reap the health benefits. And this means a total lifestyle change, not jumping after the latest fad.
"It's presently popular to be 'non-judgmental' and to avoid stamping self-destructive behaviors with moral labels," writes theologian J. Raymond Albrektson in The Plain Truth magazine. "But unless we recognize over-eating as a moral failure, traditionally known as gluttony, we remain helpless to enlist [God's power]. Just as every alcoholic takes the first step toward recovery when he looks squarely in the mirror and says, 'I am an alcoholic,' we need to take a good look at ourselves and admit, 'I eat too much.'"
Changing our habits may not be easy, but God, through His Holy Spirit, can empower us with the discipline necessary to be set apart from the world in our health. But that separation can only come through a consistent practice of healthy eating and exercise.
"Our bodies hate change," Nowak says, "so whatever you stick to most consistently, that's where your body will go. If you are consistently being active and fit and eating fruits and vegetables, then having sweets occasionally is fine. But the problem is, people go the other way around. They are consistently sedentary, consistently overeating, consistently turning to food for emotional comfort, and occasionally they'll go for a walk for a few weeks. But our bodies go back to whatever we're most consistent with."
Nowak continues: "The same thing is true with our spiritual walk. If you occasionally read the Bible, occasionally go to church, but are more consistently hanging out with people who are drawing you away from the Lord, your spiritual walk will reflect that.
"If we were to practice in our spiritual walk what we do in our bodies, it would be a joke. So why do we continue such poor habits in our physical walk?"
So where should you begin when you finally desire to take better care of your body? Try these tips.
for self-control in the area of eating and drinking. You can pray with confidence because God desires to give you self-control (
your failure to God when you overindulge, just as you would any other sin-with humbleness, repentance, and with the knowledge that God will forgive (
that our culture's concept of the "ideal body" (i.e., unnaturally trim models and actors) is often detached from reality. God made our bodies all different shapes and sizes, and it pleases Him! Starving our bodies isn't any better than gorging them. The goal should be maintaining a healthy, fit lifestyle.
for 30 minutes at least four times per week. (Experts advise seeing a doctor before starting any diet or exercise program.) Find a friend who is willing to work out with you and keep you accountable. To keep it interesting, try a mixture of walking, jogging, swimming, aerobics, and weight lifting.
a balanced diet: Stick to fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, grilled or baked meat, and low-fat dairy products. Visit a dietician or ask a health-conscious friend for advice if you need help getting started. (One easy rule: Make sure that everything on your plate isn't the same color).
that your body is God's temple (
Reprinted with permission from www.relevantmagazine.com
- Do you consider yourself physically fit? If not, what are you doing to improve your health?
- Many of the experts in this article suggest that poor health habits can negatively affect our spiritual witness. Do you agree? Why or why not?
1 Corinthians 6:19-20. What are some ways that we can honor God with our bodies?. How can we "number our days"?
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