Last week, I heard a report on the rise of obesity in America over the last 25 years, and the statistics are alarming. I currently live in the state (SC) that is fourth from the bottom in this category, with 70% of adults and 15% of adolescents overweight with 32% of these adults being obese. Across the country we are witnessing federal, state, and private organizations trying to regulate and educate the general populous back to physical health.
Why? Well, I want to believe that most of these individuals and organizations really want people to be healthy. I wonder as well, if some economists have realized that as our obese population shifts from heavy to heavier, businesses, specifically health care providers, are beginning to groan under the sheer weight. We are seeing complications (i.e., heavy expenses) in accommodating a much “larger” culture.
I think this is completely unfair, and here is why: we encourage appetite fulfillment in every other area of life–why should eating be any different? Think about it. In recent days, reports have been distributed that actually praise sexual indulgence in pornography. Men are encouraged to fulfill every sexual whim with an imagery overload of sexualized television, movies, and internet porn. If anything, our culture would claim sexual self-control leads to stunted emotional and spiritual health.
What about the consumerism of our society? Commercials, ads, and products themselves are created to feed an appetite that must purchase more. Products are invented and marketed in order to awaken appetites for items we didn’t even know we wanted! Each edition of the IPhone, each tablet, each television is marketed to create discontent with the company’s previous model sometimes released less than a year before. Again, we are a people told by society to spend to excess and to indulge our every appetite in the marketplace.
What about social media? These applications were created for abuse. Constant updating, constant photo-posting and selfie-submission, constant liking and checking. Facebook, Instagram, Vine–these were created to be used for hours on end. The appetite for more banal information is forever fed by the fittingly-titled “news feed”.
Yes, our culture instructs us to consume, to eat, to feed the appetite no matter how bizarre…unless, of course, that appetite is the desire for food. Obesity is an unfair whipping boy among many grossly overfed appetites. When we praise sexual indulgence, consumerism, and social media overdose, how can we out of the same mouth eschew overeating?
I asked my wife why our culture will tolerate every kind of overindulgence except the kind that leads to obesity. She said, “Maybe because overeating has visible consequences.” I agree with her. Our culture seeks to prevent obesity because it shows that feeding our appetites an unhealthy diet does have consequences. The problem is that our appetites are growing at such an alarming rate, but we have no objective truth by which to discipline those appetites. In addition, society believes it is the consumer’s insatiable appetite for more that drives our economy forward.
Self-control is a pricy and rare commodity these days, so we have passively settled for its best substitute. Like Splenda, we want the taste, feel, and enjoyment of self-control without the consequences or the hard work. We have decided to relinquish our responsibility of self-control to others. Others-control is to self-control what aspartame is to sugar.
We call for government regulations: “I cannot resist the 64oz. soda at the movies, so don’t let them sell it to me.” We hire a personal trainer: “I’ll never be able to exercise on my own. Better hire someone to make sure I get out of bed and to the gym.” We blame our community: “If their weren’t so many fast food places on my block, I wouldn’t be so overweight.”
Here is the root of the problem: all of these appetites, whether for sex, consumer goods, or food are distorted to make self an idol. In our sin nature, we believe that overindulging our appetites is our inalienable right as the center of each of our respective universes. We consume sex, we consume products, we consume food because we are worshiping ourselves. “What Lola wants, Lola gets”–do you get what I’m saying?
As Axl Rose puts it, “I used to do a little, but a little wouldn’t do it, so the little got more and more.” We have an appetite for destruction. I had a professor at Grove City who used to describe our state in this way: “It’s like the old Apple Jacks commercial: ‘We eat what we like!’ And what we like, ladies and gentlemen, is sin.” Satan’s original temptation to man appealed to his natural appetites and enticed him to overindulge. Man’s healthy appetite for food was hijacked. His image-bearing desire to be like God was derailed.
Our culture is wrong and sorely mistaken in singling out obesity as though it was the only destructive form of appetite overload. As Christians, our job is to exercise self-control in all areas of life, including food. Paul and Peter instruct us numerous times in Scripture concerning our passions, desires, and appetites:
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12)
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
“so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
The Christian life is about taking off the old man, who fulfills his every appetite and putting on the New Man who exercises dominion over his appetites by the power of the Spirit. The old man establishes himself as god in place of God; the new man brings every appetite into obedience to Christ.
Obesity is not the problem. We don’t need more education, more self-help guides, and more life coaches. We need Christ. We make lousy gods, and our appetites will ask for a steady diet of sin until sin finally brings forth death. Illicit sexual fulfillment, consumerism, social media addiction, and overeating all have dire consequences–the chief of which is God’s wrath. May we put the old man to death, and may we worship the risen Christ. In Him we will find the proper estimation of self that will issue forth in healthy appetites.
Note: Guns n’ Roses are such a great example of where the excess of appetite leads, and this famous album’s title lent itself to easy exploitation!