Hunger is God's good idea

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a Christian retreat out in the middle of nowhere USA. There was no cell service and the wifi was available in one hour increments only. Mountains were in the back yard and a river so clear you could see the giant catfish swim by 10 feet below was in the front yard.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served promptly at the same time every day. Snacks and coffee were available in between times. The food was delicious and every meal took at least an hour to eat, because our only past time was good conversation. Dessert was always a part of the meal and no food group was left behind. We ate until we were full and satisfied and then headed out for the day’s activities, which included a little bit of hiking or swimming and a heavy dose of learning from awesome speakers.

Amazingly, my normally chaotic, unfocused mind was better able to absorb and digest the information I heard. I felt focused, energized and at peace. Now, I’m sure a part of that has to do with the absence of social media scrolling and cell phone use, but I do think the fact that my body was well-fed and that I never felt the building distraction or dipping mood shifts from hunger during my stay had a large part to do with it.

Our bodies need food regularly in order to function at their best. Unfortunately, we as a culture have glorified restriction, fasting, and downplaying hunger, but how has it served us? We’re more distracted, fatigued, anxious, unhealthy and worried about food then ever before.

Principle number 2 of Intuitive Eating is to Honor Your Hunger, a concept that goes directly again the cultural trend towards food-restriction.

The authors of the book, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, summarize the second principle as follows:

Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.”

In other words, when you’re hungry, don’t ignore the signs—eat!

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Our bodies were designed by a GOOD God to keep us healthy and help us thrive in abundant life here on earth. Our body cues that signal hunger were put in place by God to keep us well-fed and at our best. All attempts to ignore hunger, suppress it, or control it, result in a primal drive to overeat and feelings of being out of control around food. If hunger is ignored long term, our natural hunger cues diminish, our body systems break down, we lose valuable tissue and energy, our health takes a hit, and our metabolism decreases.

As I mentioned in the first post in this series, restriction and dieting lead to weight gain and poorer health long term, so the answer is to NOT restrict, but rather to trust the body cues God gave us for eating.

Of course this is easier said than done for those of us who have eroded our natural hunger cues through chronic dieting, restriction or just ignoring our bodies in the name of busyness and productivity.

For this reason, many of us need a transitional step between dieting/restriction and Intuitive eating. This often looks like eating on a schedule of about every 3-4 hours or, if we’re in recovery from an eating disorder, it might look like following a meal plan prescribed by a registered dietitian.

By doing this for a time, we reset our natural hunger rhythm and start to regain the body cues necessary to eat intuitively again (I say again because this is how we were all born eating).

It is not good to be hungry when we have things to accomplish and people to love. In the old testament there is a story about Jonathan, the son of king Saul, the best friend of David in 1 Samual 14: 24- 48. He and the Israelite troops were wandering around between battles with the Philistines when King Saul, who was a little egotistical, ordered his troops not to eat until all the victories were won. Jonathan didn’t hear his Dad give the order, so when the troops were walking through a valley of honeycomb, he was hungry and so he ate. The bible says that when he ate the honey, Jonathan’s eyes brightened, which means he was strengthened and restored.

For fear of punishment, the rest of the troops didn’t eat until after they’d won the next battle, but the bible says they were very tired and started to kill animals on the spot, eating them whole with their blood and all (if you aren’t familiar with the old testament this was a big no no according to the mosaic law—even today, I think we’d all agree eating a raw animal is a bit unsanitary and risky).

Because the troops were made to be hungry, they were unable to be in control of themselves and ended up breaking God’s command for them. We too, can become so distracted and under fueled that we snap at our family, feel more anxious and forget to seek God.

Jesus himself defended his disciples when on the sabbath, they picked wheat and ate in response to their hunger. The Pharisees tried to condemn Jesus’ disciples for doing this, because the Pharisees were focused on rules, morals and religion as opposed to mercy, grace and love. It’s in this passage that Jesus tells them, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 12: 1 -8)

God is calling us to love and offer mercy to others. Ff restricting food and ignoring our hunger isn’t allowing us to do these things well, then it’s just empty, self-led sacrifice—the kind of thing that does a soul no benefit (Colossians 2: 21 - 23) .

We have to remember as believers that God called his creation good, He says, even after the fall of Adam and Eve, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139: 14).

Through trusting in our own understanding over how he created us, we have sought to control and manipulate our bodies, and as a result, we may have drifted away from his original intent for us, BUT through Christ’s empowering grace we can do all things (Philippians 4:13), including get back to eating like a free and normal human.

I hear Christians all the time speaking in fear, disgust and shame for their earthly bodies. Stating things like, “well, this body is broken and my only hope for a better one is in eternity.” It makes me a little sad.

Because while our bodies are dying because of sin, our spirit is alive because of righteousness and in Christ we are being redeemed spirit, soul AND body here and now. And yes, we will receive a new resurrected, eternal body in heaven, but the scripture expressly tells us that we have hope for our bodies health and life here on earth because of the power of the Spirit of Christ in us.

Romans 8:9-13 says,

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you

Two things I think we get wrong as believers, the flesh, especially as it is talked about here means something different than our physical bodies, it means our self-led life, our striving and self-centered efforts, the life we live to control our situation and glorify ourselves. That sounds a whole lot like restriction, dieting and food control if you ask me.

In contrast, we as Christians are called to stop living by the flesh and instead live by the Spirit, who guides us in all things. This Spirit, is the same Holy Spirit that was in Jesus, He is the Spirit of God the Father who raised Christ from the dead.

This passage promises that the same Spirit of God who lives in us will bring life to our mortal bodies. Now we know when we die that we will have new bodies which are not mortal but eternal, our mortal bodies are therefore these bodies that we have here on earth (bodies that will eventually die).

For this reason I believe this verse tells us that by the Spirit of God, we will experience new life in our here and now bodies. So, I do not believe that we have to wait until eternity to experience new life in our bodies, new health, new energy—my God is far bigger and far better than that.

Others will have differing opinions about this verse, but regardless one thing we know for sure. God loves us. He designed us well. Christ gave his body for our wholeness and God most certainly cares about our bodies here on earth and the level of health and freedom we experience.

We can, together with His Spirit working in us, learn to listen to the good body cues He put in us. We can learn to honor our hunger and reap the benefits that come with it: new energy, more focus, a steadier mood and a deeper and deeper freedom that leads us to praise God’s wonderful works all the more!

Until next time, stay nourished, spirit, soul AND body!

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