Discipleship, Not Diet Culture

Post Author: Heidi Carrington Heath

The table at the heart of our faith

“New year, new you!”

We’ve all heard it before. As the holidays wind down, and New Year’s Day approaches, the onslaught of diet culture begins. Countless ads, commercials, messages, and our friend’s Facebook pages promise us that we will love ourselves better and live more fulfilling lives if only we participate in their weight loss program. For the low, low price of $19.95, the life we’ve always wanted can be ours! Except the cost is really so much greater than that.

Church, it’s time to get honest. Diet culture is big business. My friend Courtney always says:  follow the money. She’s right. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry entirely predicated on shame and self-loathing (particularly for women). The idea that “if only I were a smaller body size, my life would be complete” is an ages old tale that stems from the patriarchy. It also stands in direct opposition to who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. We proclaim the bold truth that we are created in the image of the God who created heaven and earth, fully beloved and good. There’s no stipulation in there that the Holy One will love us better if we are thin. There’s no asterisk that says God will love us better if we follow a certain eating plan (which by the way is another word for diet), or refrain from certain foods. Yet, so often we subtly send these messages in our faith communities.

Weight loss, food shaming, fat shaming, and body talk have no place in the body of Christ. I know this may feel hard to hear, but it’s important. Do you run a weight loss program out of your church? Are you known to comment at the pot luck that you “shouldn’t have had that cookie?” Clergy, do you use your social media profile to proclaim the virtues of the latest food you’ve given up, or your latest diet craze? Intended or not, all of these things communicate (especially to a younger generation) that God loves some bodies more than others.

The best message we can offer to our congregations and the people to whom we minister is that God loves us, and our bodies, exactly as we are. We owe it to ourselves and to the Gospel to run hard in the opposite direction of the slogans that promise salvation in diet culture every new year. The underlying message of diet culture is: “you are not enough.” One of the foundational truths of our faith in Christianity is: “you are fearfully and wonderfully made.” That truth is the rock we should stand on.

Diet culture exists to help people fight off the fear of death. I’m going to say that again: Diet culture exists to help us avoid and fight against the fear of death. That is why adherence to it in our culture has taken on an almost religious nature. We will do literally anything to avoid facing our own mortality. After all, we live in a culture that tells us if we work hard enough, have enough money, buy enough skin care products, eat “healthily” enough, or exercise with enough vigor, we might just live forever. And yet, we know that is not true: death and mortality are inherent to our human existence.

As we begin to move toward the season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday, that is all the more reason to reject diet culture’s lies. To live fully into Christian discipleship is to be reminded, as the saying goes, that “God is God and I am not” (and we should all be very thankful for that). Faith in God allows me to lay down my attempts to manage my own human brokenness, and step into the deep and holy mystery that is the Christian life. Having confessed my sins, and recognized my own mortality, I am freed to live this incredible, mortal life that is my reality right now. At long last, I can breathe a sigh of relief. I no longer need diet culture (or anything else) to try to escape.

This New Year, I invite you to claim your own belovedness. I invite you to live fully into the words the Psalmist proclaims: You are fearfully and wonderfully made. I invite you to knit into your heart the knowledge that you are loved and beloved by the one who breathed the very world into existence. By all means, make choices for yourself that make you feel holy, whole, and wholly loved. We can improve ourselves without hating ourselves. And church? Think about the ways you are intentionally or unintentionally promoting diet culture, and let’s agree to kick those things to the curb in 2018. Amen?

The Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath serves as a secondary school chaplain to over 1,000 amazing students and adults in Exeter, New Hampshire. She is also a wife, crazy cat Mom, body positive and fat activist, an amateur runner and yogi, an aspiring writer, an advocate for women and girls, and addicted to all things Bravo TV. She makes her home with her amazing spouse, the Rev. Dr. Emily C. Heath and their two cats, Atticus and Windsor. Their house is a “no diet talk” zone where all bodies are not only welcomed, but affirmed!

Image by: congerdesign
Used with permission
2 replies
  1. Jacqueline Derby
    Jacqueline Derby says:

    This is kick-ass awesomeness! Personally, I’ve purged my life of diet culture. Professionally, I sit uncomfortably in church spaces where it is used as a weapon, and try my best to quietly move away. This has given me some really great ways of speaking truth to the billion-dollar-power that infects all of us, but especially at church where communal eating is at the forefront.


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