I am an obesity survivor. It’s a label I wear with pride. One I earned through discipline, sweat, and tears. But more importantly, I’m an obesity survivor not because of some TV show or desire for attention; rather I had a motive that gave me focus and strength through my weakest moments. I labored under the conviction and passion that I could (and would) rebuild my temple, forming it into one that gives honor and glory to God.
For years I didn’t connect my spiritual health with my physical health. So while my heart and mouth claimed I belonged to Jesus, my 366-pound body proclaimed my lack of self-control, discipline, and respect for my body.
Somewhere along the line I allowed the same Gnostic heresies that the Apostles fought thousands of years ago to invade my beliefs. In effect I lived a life that claimed my soul was right and important and my flesh was fallen, disconnected, and not a priority.
Like many of us, I took New Testament passages on our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit and used them as warnings to teenagers against having sex or doing drugs, but I failed to see what these Scriptures had to do with my expanding waistline.
But the Bible is much more holistic that that: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Old and New Testament Temples
In studying the temple—the building, that is—in the Old Testament, I found that it overflows with writings about the holiness, sacredness, importance—even necessity of the structure. Chapter after chapter, book after book, biblical writers focus on the care, maintenance, love, and respect required to keep this incredible dwelling place for God in good shape.
God often lays foundations for a long period of time before revealing deeper meanings behind life’s truths. For example, God instituted marriage with Adam and Eve, yet we don’t find out until a long period of time after that marriage is used as a teaching tool to help us understand the relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:15-33). For thousands of years the Jews made sacrifices—and because of them, today we can more easily grasp the significance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
In the same way, God uses the importance of temple care (the building) to drive home how important it is to care for the most important temples of all (our bodies).
Physical and Spiritual Health
Out of shape and overweight, I finally made the connection that my physical health and spiritual health are vitally intertwined. In neglecting the care of my body, my spiritual life had actually suffered, too. As Yancey and Brand write in their book, Fearfully & Wonderfully Made, “Where is God in the world? What is He like? We can no longer point to the Holy of Holies or to a carpenter in Nazareth. We form God’s presence in the world through the indwelling of His Spirit.”
Whether I realized it or not, I wasn’t in a position to experience the fullness of what God calls us to because my temple was in complete disarray. But this also gave me a tremendous sense of excitement and purpose. I wasn’t going to lose the weight simply for image or to win a prize on The Biggest Loser—I was doing it to rebuild my temple.
And 1 Corinthians 10:31 brought me even more excitement: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God!” Have you ever truly thought about that? How we eat—how we nourish our temples—can be worship. Our exercise can give glory to God.
That changed everything for me.
Flipping the Scales
As I write these words, I’ve lost more than 150 pounds in about six months. I reached my goal weight literally years ahead of what I thought was humanly possible, and I’ve done it all at home—no trainers, no fad diets, no pills, and no other gimmicks. You can do it too, and/or you can help your students do it. There are four key aspects to a healthy weight loss plan:
I remind myself daily that I’m worshiping God through my eating, saving my life for my family, and now finally able to model healthy spiritual and physical living to young people—which is critical when we hear that youth obesity has tripled in recent years, leading to an increase in diabetes and other weight-related health issues. We even need plus-size car seats because there are so many overweight toddlers! Don’t you think it’s time for the church to do something about youth obesity?
I have a team of supporters, people on my side who hold me accountable and remind me of my purpose in my darker moments. They are the ones I go to when I’m struggling or feeling weak. Many times I’ve had to confess my own self-sabotage; but because of that, I was soon able to resist my unhealthy temptations and grow in strength and confidence, which ultimately made it easier to press on.
By taking the time to learn about healthy eating instead of assuming I knew all that was necessary, I discovered plenty of alternatives to my favorite foods. And I finally understand calories and their significance.
The average person burns about 2,000 calories a day just existing (depending on age, height, and body type). Eating more calories than your body burns in a day results in excess calories converting to storage—i.e., fat. About 3,500 calories equals about a pound of fat. It turns out that in my old days I averaged 3,500 to 4,500 calories a day—no wonder I was putting on weight so fast!
Eating fewer calories a day than you can burn means that your body turns to those fat stores so it can function. I’ve found that to lose weight you should eat daily about 20 percent fewer calories than your body type’s recommended allotment.
I’d suggest buying a calorie counter book (e.g., The Calorie King Counter, The Biggest Loser Calorie Counter, etc.). They not only contain great nutritional information—including the food pyramid—but also calorie counts for every type of food out there, even many popular dishes at restaurants and fast food places. Designed to fit in your pocket, this is the perfect tool to start off with. Though counting calories can be a pain at first, but after a month or two you begin to have it down. Now I can just look at a plate of food and know approximately how many calories are on it.
The final component of the healthy living formula is exercise. Simply cutting back on calories eaten without exercising means weight loss from muscles as well as fat; the reality is that fat loss is as important, if not more important, than the number of pounds you lose.
If you exercise in addition to healthy eating, you not only retain muscle, but you also add to the number of calories burned. For example, taking an hour a day for a cardiovascular workout (even if it’s just walking) can add several hundred—if not a thousand—calories burned on that day. And that’s in addition to the several thousand calories you burn daily just by having a heartbeat. Not only does this result in faster weight loss, but also it increases your energy levels, heightens and brightens your mood, and goes a long way toward whuppin’ those middle schoolers in dodge ball.
Before beginning any weight loss plan, it’s essential to consult your doctor and be aware of any special needs or requirements you may have. In coming issues this column will go deeper into each of the topics I’ve briefly mentioned and explore other issues I’ve faced in my tending to my own temple.
In addition, the Journal of Student Ministries’ Web site has additional content, advice on nutrition, exercise, as well as a blog where I’d love to interact with anyone desiring to tend to their temples as well. Feel free to ask questions and offer advice, as well. As a team, we’re far more likely to succeed in our goal of worshiping God with our bodies than if we try to go at it alone.