God and Man at Weight Watchers

Jesus Didn't Die for Your Diet

If you run with many Bible thumpers (like I have), you’ll note that a lot of the time things that aren’t moral issues get treated as if Moses brought them down from Mount Sinai carved in stone. Most jokes about Baptists are based on their attitudes toward dancing and drinking.

I learned a while back that when I’m struggling to do the right thing, and I ask God for help, I get more traction on some things than others. When it seems God helps me more, there’s a Ten Commandment to be kept. And when it seems God helps me less, there’s a Baptist Addition to be kept.

I’m not in any danger of bursting into spontaneous song-and-dance, but I’ve seen another not-moral-thing spun into a moral prohibition by well-meaning religion users.

I make a big deal about losing 100+ pounds via Exercising Like a Madman and Eating for Awesome. And really early in the process I had to make a decision about my relationship to my diet.

Let’s make one thing clear. MY diet belongs to me. It is a plan for eating devised to advance toward certain goals.

Moses didn’t bring my diet down from Mount Sinai. Yes, God wants me to be healthy and fit. Yes, God wants me to treat my body like a temple. That doesn’t give me the right to arrogate to myself moral legislation about doughnuts or desserts. I’ve renounced the Devil, and high-glycemic, simple carbohydrates. That doesn’t mean God thinks Devil’s Food cake is as important as I think it is. I’m not going to use up my will-power avoiding blueberry cobbler.

My guess is that Deity shrugs his shoulders and says, “Knock yourself out, Steve. You’re on your own.” (There’s a good reason for this. Competitive Baptist rules-keeping is not about being Holy as much as it’s being holier-than-thou.)

I’ve recently heard a Baptist preacher and Jewish Rabbi say pretty much the same thing about dieting when they confessed to breaking their respective diets. They applied the same thinking that they bring to their day jobs to the related self-control issue of dieting. I think they are wrong to do so.

I think that when you regard diet as a moral question, it becomes less tractible. All those guilt reflexes formed out of the impossible demands of perfection get in our way of a simple equation: move more and eat less.

The Good Lord is God and we’re not. The Ten Commandments is a reflection of the divine character and we are not God. The moral standard of the Jews and Christianity is sinless perfection, and we’re only human. The Ten Commandments aren’t a get-into-heaven todo list as much as a standard to gauge progress against. I’m not perfect and don’t expect you to be, either. The Ten Commandments are a mirror to see whether your face is clean. They are not soap with which to wash. (That’s something your Preacher or Rabbi should point you to.)

If your diet demands perfecton, you’re doing it wrong. For one thing the docs who set nutrition guidelines don’t know enough to provide infallible guidance. For another thing deviation from the eating plan does not have the same consequences as sin.

(Granted, there are folks with food alergies and metabolic conditions that must be followed at the pain of life-threatening consequences. I’m not talking about those situations as much as the normal first-world overweight person who has to cut back on cheeseburgers.)

The alpha dog in my diet is me. Not the diet. If I consume 5,000 calories on Monday, that’s not something I’ve got to head to confession and feel bad over. But it is an action whose consequences I must face into on Tuesday.

That happened when I went to see the solar eclipse. There was a Chinese Buffet at the place I stayed and I had a can of trail mix (diet kryptonite) in the car during the traffic-jam/drive home. My response was to eat 0 calories on Tuesday. The scale gave absolution on Wednesday.

I didn’t die. I didn’t have a debilitating headache. I didn’t faint. I just didn’t eat the next day. Did I feel hunger pangs? Yes. That was my price to pay. Just like spending all your money early in the week then having nothing until payday.

Frankly, I find it easier to skip a day’s food than it is to either bank up extra calories before a “cheat day”, or cut back on the days after it. It is a lot easier to eat nothing for a day than to eat a little less for a week.

Even the term “cheat day” offends me. This is my diet, and if I choose to consume some sweets, that’s my business, not Dr. Atkins’s. When I step onto the scale next time, I’ve got to own the news, good or bad. The scale may go up next time I step on it. I may not eat for a couple days thereafter.

It’s folly to beat myself with recriminations about the night-before’s chocolate. The scale is there to tell me what I must do differently today, not to make me feel bad for yesterday’s choices.

Upon further reflection, I realized this principal needs to be held in tension with another: will-power. Consistency is an important element in any weight-control program. You have to own your consistency. That will require cultivating will-power. You have to create the environment where choosing wisely and doing the right thing is easy.

That may have applications in the sphere of morals where Preachers and Rabbis work, but that’s their business not mine.

Afterthought: This morning I got on the scale after having feasted all weekend up at Family Camp. (I didn’t take my scale Up North.) Oh, and since I knew I was in trouble last night, I went to McDonald’s and ate a Big Mac, Chicken Nuggets, and Strawberry Shake. The morning’s news was worse than I hoped and better than I feared. I told my wife not to look for me at meal-times.

We’ll see how substituting hunger pangs for guilt pangs works this week.

Steve Poling

Masters degrees in math and computer science. Poet in several computer languages. I write stories about Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft, steampunk, and SF.

Grand Rapids, Michigan http://www.catfoodretirement.com