Understanding Our Motivation for Eating
About the Guest
Christian counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of the book "Love to Eat, Hate to Eat," talks about the pleasures of eating, and warns us not to make food our Savior or a salve for our discontent. She also explains how we can take a biblical approach to food.
Elyse Fitzpatrick talks about the pleasures of eating and warns us not to make food our Savior.
Understanding Our Motivation for Eating
Elyse: As John Calvin said, "Our hearts manufacture idols." And I am very aware of the fact of my heart wanting always to worship and love something other than the living God. So, when I sit down to eat, I am—when I'm in my right mind—consciously asking myself: "Is this a food that's going to be good for me? Is it bad for me? How much should I have? Should I not overeat? When am I full?” and, “Am I stopping when I'm full?”—those kinds of questions.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So, what kind of questions are you asking yourself when you sit down to eat or to drink? Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don't know if you've heard this going around, but there's a story that the teacher asked the kids to bring symbols of their religion to school one day. Have you heard this?
Dennis: No, no; I have not.
Bob: And so David, the little Jewish boy—he brought a Star of David. He said, "This is a Star of David, and it's a part of my Jewish faith." Then, Mary, who is the little Catholic girl—she brought her rosary beads. She said, "This is a rosary. We use this in our Catholic faith." Then, Jack brought a casserole and said, "I'm a Baptist." [Laughter] I thought I'd share that with—
Dennis: Just write Bob. Bob's address is FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Bob Lepine, Little Rock, Arkansas. That's all the address you need.
Dennis: A casserole?
Bob: Yes, how about that? Well, it fits with what we're talking about this week because we're talking about food, and how it fits into the culture, and how it can become an idol, and how fellowship gets defined around it, and how it becomes a problem in our lives.
Dennis: No doubt about it. Elyse Fitzpatrick joins us—helping us sort through what is biblical and what is not biblical about food. Elyse, welcome back.
Dennis: She has written a book called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat: Breaking the Bondage of Destructive Eating Habits. As we talked about yesterday, Bob, Elyse's background as a trained counselor, a retreat speaker, and one who has spent a great deal of time researching this subject—as well as struggling, as a young person, over the issue of food—has really brought some light to this around the issue of food. This is a biblical issue. The Bible does talk a great deal about food and how we approach it.
One of the things, Elyse, you did in your book that I really like is you uncovered the motivations for why we do what we do about food. I really like this because you listed—I don't know—about seven wrong motivations. I just—I want our listeners in on this because I think understanding our motivation helps us define a problem. Everybody knows a problem that's well defined is a problem that's nearly solved. If you can understand what the source is of the conflict, then that helps you approach it.
Let's just start out, “What's the first motivation for why we do what we do about food?”
Elyse: I think the first motivation would be a love of pleasure. Certainly, God has given us the ability to experience pleasure. We have taste buds on our tongue, and we have the ability to experience salt and sweet. We also can experience hot and cold—so that chilly ice cream. We have the experience to—the ability to experience something that's crunchy, something that's really smooth. See, God has given us that ability, and a very well-honed ability, to experience pleasure, as we eat.
Our problem, of course, is when we want pleasure that we have not been given the right to have—when we want pleasure too much. So, instead of enjoying a pleasure for the glory of God, the glory becomes the pleasure itself—and having just whatever we want whenever we want it. When James is talking about why we do what we do in James 1, he says, "Let no one say, when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ God isn't tempting us, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is fully-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers."
So, I have to look at my life and the things that I love—the things that I desire—and I have to say, “This thing in my life, whether it is the bowl of ice cream” —which it is not—
Dennis: Why do you keep—why do you keep referring—
Elyse: You mentioned ice cream.
Dennis: I mentioned—
Elyse: I could go to Diet Coke®. Would you like me to go to that instead?
Dennis: Would you, please?
Bob: No, no! [Laughter]
Elyse: Whatever it is: “Why am I eating this? What is motivating that?” It's a desire in my heart to have something that I want and don't want to be denied of. Is it wrong to eat those things? No, but I must not give myself to it all the time because our hearts are so easily enslaved; aren't they?
You can find a donut—which, God has been gracious to me— and I do not visit Krispy Kreme®, even though Krispy Kreme has come to California—
Bob: You don’t go there, though?
Elyse: I don’t go there.
Elyse: Because I don’t need to find a new thing I like to eat! [Laughter]
Bob: Okay, that’s fair.
Elyse: And I know my heart! My heart is so easily enslaved. If I find something that's really lovely, then I'll find myself there a lot. So, why go there? I mean, for me, it would not be wise—
Elyse: —because I know the propensity of my heart, which is that I enjoy pleasure. It is very easy for me to like it so much that I will not do what the Lord is calling me to do, which is to live that kind of life that is under the Spirit's control.
Now, that doesn't mean to say that there is anything wrong with eating. It's a problem of whether or not it's drawing my heart away, and how I respond when I don't get it, and, “Can I just say, ‘No’?”
Dennis: It is what, really, is first-place in your heart. I don't think we really pause to really ponder and think about eating to honor God. I don't think that thought occurs to many Americans. I think we have so much; and we're used to eating from such variety, as Elyse just mentioned. I don't think most of us think about the pleasure that God has given us and that that's something that was meant to be enjoyed by God, and we need to honor Him as we do so.
Bob: Well, how do I know if I'm eating to honor God? I mean, is it just if I say, "Boy, this sundae is good. Thank you, Lord." Now, I’m eating to honor God? How can I determine whether it's carnal, sinful, lustful pleasure, or it's godly behavior?
Elyse: Yes, that's where those 12 questions come in handy.
Bob: These are the 12 questions you've included in your book that we can use to do a heart-check. We've got them on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com if folks want to review them; right?
Elyse: Right. What I didn't want to do was say, “Eat ‘x’ number of calories a day; eat ‘x’ number of fat grams.” I don't think the Bible does that. The Bible never sits down and says, ‘This food is good.’"—
Well, of course, there are clean laws. There were the clean laws of the Old Testament. God is always overseeing what we eat. The clean laws of the Old Testament—which, of course, we no longer observe because God says that He has called all things clean—but God has never been overly concerned, at least not through Scripture, about, “Are we eating a brownie or are we not eating a brownie?” Those are not the questions. The questions are, "Can I eat this food with praise and gratitude?" and, “Are you thinking about, ‘Isn't God good? Look at how he has blessed me—that I live in a country where I can have this kind of food and it's a joy for me to have it." Right? So, “Do I thank God for the food?”
Another question to ask is, "Am I eating this food because I coveted it? I saw somebody else had it, and I wanted it.” We went to a Chinese restaurant last night, and walked through the restaurant, and looked at what was on everybody's plate, and decided, "Oooh, I want that. I don't want that." See, we're not supposed to covet; and so I think that's an issue.
The Bible tells us—actually, one of the Ten Commandments is, "Thou shalt not murder." In the Westminster Confession of Faith, part of what it means not to murder is not to harm yourself physically. So, they said that you would have an appropriate use of meat, drink, recreation, and rest.
Dennis: So, when you sit down to eat, which we did just a few moments ago before we came in the studio, what went through your mind?
Elyse: Looks good! [Laughter]
Bob: And, boy, am I hungry!
Dennis: And it tasted good; but how has writing a book like this—and attempting to get more of a proper approach to food and enjoyment of that pleasure—have you disciplined yourself, now, as you sit down at the table with your husband, even over leftovers, to say, "Thank you, God, for the texture of these leftover scalloped potatoes.” I mean, do you do that?
Elyse: I would like to say that I do it 100 percent of the time. I don't think I do. I do it a lot. This way of thinking has—not just with food—but with idolatry, in general. I am very aware of the fact that, as John Calvin said, "Our hearts manufacture idols."
Elyse: And I am very aware of the fact that my heart wants always to worship and love something other than the living God. So, when I sit down to eat, I am—when I'm in my right mind—consciously asking myself, "Is this a food that's going to be good for me? Is it bad for me? How much should I have? Should I not overeat? When am I full? Am I stopping when I'm full”—those kinds of questions, yes. I would like to say I'm there 100 percent of the time—I'm not, but I'm there a lot.
Bob: And you were making the point that we can murder ourselves and violate the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder,” by eating things that are killing us.
Elyse: Absolutely. So, for a person—like the doctor said to you, “Be careful or you’re going to develop Diabetes.” That’s a very important issue because, you see, when you have the right perspective, you want to be healthy. Now, obviously, we’re not always all going to be healthy because we’re all going to die. If the Lord doesn’t return, we will all have some illness and we will die. But we want to be as healthy as we can be for as long as we can be.
Elyse: So, I want to treat my body as though it were something that I use to do the things that God has asked me to do. It’s the only way I can function, at this point, since I’m not disembodied. I have a body that I need to care for. That, again, is another one of those questions, “Will eating this food create a problem for me physically.”
For instance, if I’m a person who has really high cholesterol, I need to think about, “Is this a good food for me to eat?” Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that, on one occasion, I can’t have something; but, again, my heart is that I am so drawn to certain pleasures and desires that I know that if I eat something and it’s really good, even though I know I shouldn’t have it, I’ll probably want to have it again. I just need to be careful.
Dennis: Elyse, I want to go back to our motivation again for why we make this food an idol—why we approach it wrongly. One of them, you talk about is—I think is how we all get started— “My mama made me do it.”
Elyse: Yes! [Laughter]
Dennis: It's easy to blame Mama; huh?
Dennis: Yes, because we grew up with a mama who made us clean our plates. We feel like we have to eat it all.
Elyse: Yes; and in some cultures, the preparing and enjoying of food is a huge part of what it means to love your family.
Dennis: So, if you don’t eat the food, you mean you’re rejecting—
Elyse: Yes! You’re insulting people if you don’t eat the food. That’s a very, very large part, I know, of the Hispanic culture. The mama makes the food. If you don’t eat the food and love the food, then you’re not receiving love from her.
Bob: “You don’t love Mama.”
Elyse: “You don’t love Mama.” You know, I don’t mean to paint entire cultures with a broad brush; but, generally-speaking, that’s what you have going on. I know that when I was growing up, it was, “If you’re not feeling good or you’re unhappy about something, go eat some chocolate.” We do that. I think that’s a very American woman sort of thing. You know, when we’re unhappy, we’ll go eat chocolate.
Bob: This whole, “Mama taught me how to be like this,” —I mean, you can see where somebody might have grown up in a family where fried food was a big deal—where you ate generous portions, where everybody was overweight. Now, you're 27 years old. It's what you've known all your life. Is it not legitimate to say, you know, "Mama made me this way"?
Elyse: Well, in one sense; but, of course, we wouldn't have become idolaters about it if we didn't have a sinful bent in our heart to begin with. If I didn't have the bent in my heart to sin—to have desires that I would pursue—as James said, “lusts” that I want—if I didn't have that already in my heart, then no matter what Mama gave me, I would not have made a god out of it; but, because I have, in my heart, the bent to sin, then I do tend to take God's good gifts and make them a god. We just have to be very careful.
I think that another thing that's going on here, too, is many of us feel—what I would want to call maybe a discontent, or an emptiness in life, and—
Dennis: We use food to fill it?
Elyse: —we use food to fill it; and because, in America, we have so much food and so much opportunity to get food, and to get it cheap, and fast—that someone is driving home from work in an afternoon. Maybe she's had a hard day at work. She knows—when she goes home, the house is going to be empty; or there will be 12 kids climbing the walls. She thinks, "Oh, I've just got to get a little bit of pleasure. I've just got to get a little bit of peace." So, she'll stop and get French fries or whatever.
Bob: As you say that, I'm thinking to myself, "Okay.” I can recognize times when I have—what I would call “stress eating”. When it's just been—you've had a hard day, and you feel depleted.
Bob: And you're thinking, "I need fuel because I feel depleted, plus I need something that will just give me a sense of pleasure because I haven't had a whole lot of pleasure today.” Is that wrong?
Elyse: Well, who is your savior at that moment?
Elyse: See, that would be the question. You know, God gives us food to strengthen our bodies. We are dependent, and we need it; but am I going first to the Lord and saying, "Lord, You know the day that I have had! I pray You would flood me with Your grace now and give me Your joy. Help me to have Your peace, and then help me to use food the way I should use it," —which is to give strength to my body. That is certainly appropriate—but not to use food as my savior.
Dennis: So you’re saying that a pint of Haagen-Dazs—[Laughter]
Elyse: You’re being way, way, way too specific. [Laughter]
Dennis: Chocolate-covered almond Haagen-Dazs!
Bob: I think I’m getting the picture that you don’t just pray, “Lord, you know the kind of day I’ve had.” —“Please send the Haagen-Dazs my way!” [Laughter]
Dennis: I do think you’re right, though. I think we do look to the things of this world, too often, to satisfy our souls. There is one other reason, you mentioned in your book, about why we do what we do about food: "It's not my fault,” and, “I was just born this way. I have a propensity—I like chocolate, I like ice cream—I like it together. I like it regularly." [Laughter]
Bob: "I want some tonight!"
Dennis: Yes. I mean, we have a culture today that looks for any and every excuse to say, “You know what? It's not my fault! It's not my responsibility.” That's the total copout; isn't it?
Elyse: Absolutely. You know, we live in a culture that wants to deny sin. If I sin—which, we don't even want to talk about sin anymore—we just talk about dysfunctions and things like that—but if we even use the word "sin", then we basically say, "It's not my fault. It's someone else. It was my upbringing. It's my genes. It's my genetics. It's my hormones. It's my age. It's my brain chemistry. It's not me!” You see?
But the reality is, for the Christian to deny that it's us—to deny that it's our basic sinful nature—we're really denying the reality that Jesus Christ died to save sinners. Jesus Christ didn't die to save people with bad hormones. When we embrace the cross and look to the cross as the answer to our problems, then we're back on the right page again. Is it hard to say, "Hey, this is my problem—I have a problem, here, with this area of my life”? That's more difficult than saying that it's somebody else—you know, “It's my mom's fault,” —but, on the other hand, it's very good because we have a Savior and we have the Holy Spirit.
Dennis: I can imagine right now there is a listener, who may be about to either go home—perhaps this evening—and open the refrigerator door and face a bunch of choices. They're hearing you say, "Don't embrace food; embrace the cross." They're going to look in their refrigerator and say—
Elyse: “There’s no cross in here.”
Dennis: —"There's no cross in here." And, frankly, they don't have a frame of reference for what you mean when you say, "Embrace the cross." What's the solution, here, to that person who really is struggling with food? Help them out—give them some practical ways they can, "Embrace the cross.”
Elyse: They're in the car, on the way home. They're praying, "God, help me to love You. Help me to think about what You did for me on the cross. Help me to think about the fact that Your Son died in my place and gave Himself for me so that I could embrace You and love You. Reveal Yourself to me in such a way that You are, to me, the greatest joy in my life. Help me, as I go home, to look at food for what it is—a good gift coming to me from a good God—but it's not going to satisfy the desires of my heart."
See, C.S. Lewis said—and I'm going to read a little quote here. He said, "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink, and sex, and ambition"—I add, “and food”—"when infinite joy is offered us—like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in his slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
So, to that woman—to that woman, I would say, "Don't try to please your heart with food. Please your heart with knowledge and fellowship with Jesus Christ."
Dennis: And, as you go home, realize that it was at the cross Jesus Christ broke the bonds of slavery.
Dennis: You don't have to be a slave to your own passion for food. You're free.
Dennis: You can go to the refrigerator. You can make a choice to do what's healthy and good. Here is a novel thought—some folks are not going to believe this thought—and worshipful. Food can be a pleasurable, worshipful experience, without it becoming your god.
Bob: I'm thinking of a verse that you like to quote from time to time—Galatians 5:1, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, stand firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." In fact, there are a lot of people for whom food has become a master. They've become enslaved by their diet.
Dennis: You know, it's embarrassing to say this, and I'm not jesting, because it was really true of me. I think I was enslaved to a half-gallon of Vanilla Nut Bean ice cream.
Bob: A half-gallon?
Dennis: Well, I didn't eat all the half-gallon; but that's what the container was, you know.
Bob: I was just making sure.
Dennis: No, I wouldn't eat the half-gallon.
Bob: I didn't want to give folks the wrong impression.
Dennis: But I would eat too many scoops!
Bob: And who hasn’t? I mean, we’ve all been there; right? I think that’s why we have to have our minds reshaped on this—why we have to be conformed—not to the culture—but transformed by thinking the way God would direct us to think when it comes to food and drink.
That’s what Elyse has done for us, here today, and what she does in the book called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat, which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book. Again, the book is called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order online or order by phone when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
Now—just a quick word of thanks to those of you who, over the last five weeks, stepped up and helped support this ministry with a yearend donation. I checked with the team recently. They still are at work trying to come up with the final numbers for the end of the year, and it may be another couple of days before we get everything processed. We do know that many of you made a yearend donation to support FamilyLife Today. We’re grateful for that; and we’re looking forward to 2013 and seeing what we’re going to be able to move forward with, in our ministry, as we look at the funds that were provided, here at the end of the year.
Thanks again for your generous support and thanks to those of you who give each month to support FamilyLife, as well. Your support is needed year-round. We appreciate your partnership with us and your engagement in the mission to see every home become a godly home and to effectively develop the kinds of godly families who change the world, one home at a time.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to continue talking about eating and drinking. We’re going to talk about what you do if you feel like some aspect of eating or drinking has a hold on you. How do you break that pattern? We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I am Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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