Why You Need Self-Discipline to Stay Healthy
- Alisa Keeton Author
- 2017 8 Aug
Are you familiar with the weight-loss game? I think it is fair to say almost all of us are. (If you have never struggled with your weight, consider yourself blessed and pray that you never have to.) It is a frustrating exercise that usually starts the weekend before D-day Monday— the day we swear to ourselves that we are going to buckle down and drop the pounds.
We are strong in spirit—like prizefighters ready to take on the match. Yet isn’t it funny that the weekend before the fateful Monday, we find ourselves at our favorite restaurant eating our “last meal”? This action sends a message to our brains that we are about to begrudgingly enter a dark and scary place, a place we wish we didn’t have to go. We share our last moments with an old friend and comforter— food. We know that the next day, week, or months will bring challenges and temptations that will make us very uncomfortable.
With that attitude, we are overwhelmed a day or two into the process. We fear that we will fail once again, which leads to feelings of negative self-worth. Or we might fear success. We are afraid of what lost pounds might cost us or the expectations we might place upon ourselves if we reach our goals. There is fear of not getting what we want and fear of getting what we want. Now what? We’re stuck. No wonder we quickly surrender and go back to old habits.
Remember, food is not the enemy here. Food is a good thing. God created all things that are good, and food is one of His glorious creations. Our problem is when our good thing becomes our god thing. God wants Himself, not food, to be our source of comfort. When we place too much importance on food, whether by controlling and obsessing over it (anorexia, bulimia) or by overconsuming it to feed a need beyond hunger (bingeing), we are using food functionally to save us from our fears.
My question is: Why do we create this “last meal” scene? Why do we suffer such feelings of despair and drudgery when faced with the reality that we need to lose weight or become healthier by changing our relationship with food?
I propose the following: We have underestimated our own strength and, even worse, the strength of God in us. We fear failure and temptation so much that we indulge ourselves in our flesh one last time. We think we are preparing ourselves for entering into battle, but metaphorically speaking, we are hanging our heads and longingly looking back at what was. We are like soldiers about to head off to war, who want to spend one more evening in the arms of their loved ones. But while the soldiers choose to spend their final moments with people who can give and receive love, our lover is food—something that can never love us back in a way that calls us out of a dark pit or a kitchen pantry.
I would suggest that in the past, we have entered the weight-loss battle relying on our own strength. We see an infomercial or a social media post, read a new diet book, or a find a weight-loss blog and think, That’s it! The time is now! I can do this! I know better, and it’s time for me to do better! I don’t care what it takes; even if I have to hire a personal trainer to tell me what to do, I will do it! Enough is enough! We might even put a holy cherry on top by declaring, “And the Bible tells me so!” to seal the deal.
Somehow, though, we overlook the Bible’s warning about fighting temptation in our own strength: “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13, ESV).
We often begin the weight-loss battle in the flesh. We think, This time I will be strong enough; I will have the ultimate willpower. This time I have a trainer and some accountability. This time I have this awesome new piece of home exercise equipment. This time I have the best diet plan! We convince ourselves that if we are strong enough, we can do anything, be anything, or have anything.
Jesus warned us that our spirits would be willing but our bodies would be weak (see Mark 14:38). But perhaps the converse could be said as well: that our bodies may be willing, but our spirits are weak. The point is no matter what we do or where we go, we all have blind spots—weaknesses in spirit, soul, or body. Rather than letting that discourage us, I propose that perhaps our weak spots are opportunities to see God work—places in us, ordained by Him, that He uses to make Himself known. Sometimes we can feel Him carry us through our struggles; other times we might not feel Him at all. But our feelings don’t change the fact that Jesus came as Emmanuel, God with us. And wherever He is, there is an abundant strength. As King David exclaimed near the end of his life: “In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all” (1 Chronicles 29:12).
That’s not to say that some people don’t lose weight simply by drawing on sheer willpower. I’ve watched clients who didn’t know God or who didn’t make the connection between their bodies and spirits achieve their fitness goals. The only card they had to play in the weight-loss game was their own personal power. They made the hard choices and did the hard work. They did their happy dance when they got to wear their size [fill in the blank] jeans. Yet I discovered something interesting: In every case, their happiness was short-lived. Once they lost the weight, one of two scenarios quickly played out:
Weight-loss scenario #1: Led by the flesh, they become so obsessed with the “new them,” or being thin, or working out and eating right, that they do it for the wrong reasons. Their mentality is If a little is good, then more is better. They are never really satisfied and always look for more (If I could only lose five more pounds . . . ). Their desire for the perfect weight, size, or look becomes insatiable. Many even develop body dysmorphic disorder, which stems from a warped sense of what they look like and causes them to obsess about perceived flaws in their appearance. They look in the mirror and cannot see truth. Their consistent focus on their flaws amplifies the lies. This deceitful path steals time and energy from God, family, and friends.
People who depend solely on willpower to lose weight run the risk of becoming consumed by their new identity. They may develop a constant need to be at the gym or to further develop their physical beauty. They may be so obsessed by what they can and cannot eat that no one wants to go to lunch with them anymore. The source of their bondage and idolatry shifts from gluttony and neglect to vanity. They are abusing food again, but this time with a more legalistic view.
Before judging those who fall into this track, we need to remember that we are all guilty of exchanging one idol for another. Just as Satan often succeeds at using food as the bait to steal our health and to distract us from living for God, he eagerly awaits on the other side of good health, ready to get us to hyperfocus on our remaining imperfections. Then he tempts us with the lie that we can do better, that there’s always more for the taking.
There’s nothing wrong with improving our lives. Jesus came to give us more life—to proclaim good news to the captive, to give sight to the blind and legs to the lame, and to make broken hearts whole. He knows that when we ask for a smaller waistline, we are really searching for love and belonging. But like any good father, God reserves the right to get in our way and say, “Enough.” His grace is our sufficiency. What more could we possibly need?
Weight-loss scenario #2: Led by the flesh, at some point people drawing only on willpower see their strength fail. “For the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). As the personal strength meter goes down, they slip up. The “one time” becomes another time and yet another time. This repeats over and over until they have slowly slipped right back into their old habits. They again seek to fill the void with food, work, sex, consumption, or excess. They find comfort in the familiar.
The problem is that until they connect to the source—the Spirit, the source of all true power, who is God in them—they will fail. God offers them something much better: “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). True and lifelong self-discipline based on blessed obedience does not come from ourselves but from God in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is our Strength and our Sufficiency.
Excerpted from The Wellness Revelation, written by Alisa Keeton. ©2017 by Alisa Keeton; published by Tyndale. Used with permission.
Alisa Keeton is a leading certified fitness professional with more than 20 years of experience. She is passionately dedicated to serving the Lord and she is the founder of Revelation Wellness, a nonprofit ministry dedicated to educating and inspiring people to live healthy and whole lives in Christ. Alisa holds a B.A. in education and is certified through the American Council on Exercise in group fitness and personal training. Alisa is the fitness and wellness specialist of the Kononia Show, KPXQ 1360 AM. Alisa lives in Phoenix with her husband, Simon, and two children, Jack and Sophia. Check out her new book The Wellness Revelation.
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Publication date: August 8, 2017