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Skirting the Line Between Health and Vanity

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As I reported earlier this summer, my husband and I are in a race to see who will lose 10-15 pounds first. I'm aiming for 10, he's aiming for 15. I like to tell myself that it's not about vanity. My mother, after all, started having real issues with her weight in her forties, and I don't want to get like that. Keith has genes which easily lead him to being a little heftier. So we want to stay healthy.

But I also do want to look nice. I like looking pretty. And just because I'm married--or perhaps because I'm married--I try a little harder. I think looking nice for your man is a good thing, because it keeps the marriage fresh, and I want him to enjoy coming home to me.

I do, however, feel the tension between vanity and health, and nowhere more so than when I think of the message I'm sending my girls and their friends. I certainly don't want them to think that my self-esteem is primarily in how I look, or that they need to be super skinny to be worth something. Enough negative messages about beauty pervade our culture that I don't want to add to them.

Yet I know that my girls, and their friends, do need to understand some basic things about health.

They are growing up in a culture that eats for pleasure far more than other cultures did, because we have so much food. I eat when I'm bored sometimes, too. Don't you? You have nothing to do, so the first thought that comes into your head is, "what's in the fridge"? Many of our children naturally think of food, too, when they're bored, and hence so much of their social life exists around food.

A dear woman I know who heads up a ministry aimed at junior high kids recently told me about a day she spent with several girls, where all the girls did was want to eat. They ate a huge breakfast--far larger than this woman ate herself--and then an hour later asked when the next snack was. Everytime food was brought out they grabbed handfulls of it and stuffed it in, and consumed just as large a lunch. She figures they ate as many calories by 11 that morning as she normally eats all day. How do you respond?

Obviously you could stop providing so much food for kids like this at events, because it really isn't necessary. But that doesn't stop the problem that many children don't seem to have a switch that says, "I'm full now". They love the feeling of stuffing themselves, and the idea that "I am not particularly hungry right now" has never stopped them from eating before, so why should it now?

So here's my question: how do you address that in, let's say, a church setting? How do you talk to kids about health without it becoming an issue about losing weight or being a particular body size? We can talk all we want about how the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and how we should treat it well, but that doesn't even work for most adult women who struggle with our weight. Even right now, as I type this, I am resisting the temptation of going and getting a bowl of ice cream, because I know I'm not hungry. I just had a huge dinner. But I would love some ice cream anyway.

Instead I'm going to pour myself a glass of water and drink all of it before I eat another thing. Usually when I drink, I stop thinking about food. Yet many of our children have it even worse than I do, because they've grown up eating constantly. They're not necessarily taught at home to resist eating if they're already full. They're given junk at home quite often. How do you teach them otherwise?

When our oldest was around 7, a little friend down the block used to hang out at our house constantly. I still remember the day she ate her first stick of celery. She didn't know what it was. The only vegetables she had ever eaten were carrots and cucumber. And she had never eaten any cooked (unless you count french fries).

We served her stew one night and she didn't know what to do with it, though once she tried it she liked it.

So imagine a youth group where kids don't know what celery is, where the greatest social pastime is eating, and where nobody has ever learned to say "no" to inner cravings. What do you do? How do you teach kids the proper way to think of food? I'd love to know your thoughts!


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At 9:50 AM , Blogger Megan said…

I really love Geneen Roth's perspective on food (you can google her name to learn more). In the situation you describe, I think I would teach a short series of classes to the youth group based on her philosophy of eating. Or even talk to the pastor about hiring a good nutritionist to come and talk?


At 3:02 PM , Blogger Berji's domain said…

It seems that they are eating to fill a void or because they are bored. I think you can address this in several ways. 1) talk about the sin of gluttony
2) teach them proper nutrition and help them learn when they are "satisfied vs. full vs. stuffed"
3) teach them to DO something! take them backpacking where they have to carry their own food :) or something active
4) only offer limited nutritious snacks
5) try to figure out what the real void is in their life and minister to that


At 11:17 PM , Blogger Denise said…

I think Christians in general have to have food when they get together for fellowship... of course we don't NEED this, but we do it anyways...

Like potlucks after church;
A big dinner prior to the ALPHA meeting;
Snacks at youth group
Goodies after Sunday night fellowship in the Christian Ed wing (or after the Christmas concert or ladies meeting or whatever the event happens to be).

And so the ladies in the church are broken down into kitchen teams to work at all these events and to bring stuff -- like the ladies group at our church -- they want snacks afterwards so EVERYONE brings something to share. Crazy! We don't need 20 items on a buffet! And it is more effort for everyone to bring stuff even if you've just fed your family and run the kids to the babysitters to have an appetizer to take along all ready... I personally think if they HAVE to have food, get a half a dozen people to bring it once and then you don't have to bother for several months...

Maybe we don't really know how to communicate and so we sit and fill our faces?

When you look around many churches so many in the congregation are overweight and somehow that seems okay but it should be seen as gluttony or just as bad a sin as getting drunk or swearing or whatever, but it isn't. I doubt that the church I attend is the only one that has a focus on food... when they should be focusing on God and others.

Just a pet peeve of mine!

Denise in Saskatchewan

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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