Your creator designed you to live healthy and well. How can we cooperate with his yearning for our best?
Let’s test your knowledge of the book of Proverbs. Three of the quotes below come from Eugene Peterson’s modern paraphrase The Message, while the other two come from founding father Benjamin Franklin. Can you identify the source of each?
1. “Don’t stuff yourself; bridle your appetite.”
2. “He that won’t be counseled can’t be helped.”
3. “When you’re given a box of candy, don’t gulp it all down.”
4. “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”
5. “It’s not smart to stuff yourself with sweets.”
How did you do? The even-numbered quotations came from the writings of Benjamin Franklin, while Nos. 1, 3, and 5 come from Proverbs 23:3, 25:16, and 25:27, respectively.
In Proverbs 8:32-36, Lady Wisdom implores those who would follow her to: “Listen carefully; those who embrace these my ways are most blessed. Mark a life of discipline and live wisely; don’t squander your precious life.” By the end of the chapter, she’s even more blunt: “When you reject me, you’re flirting with death.”1
Lady Wisdom is on the money, according to a May 9, 2014, article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2 Let’s see whether you know this stuff already.
Which of the following preventable behaviors cause most of the chronic disease rampant in the United States?
A. Lack of physical activity
B. Poor eating habits
C. Smoking cigarettes
D. Drinking too much alcohol
E. All of the above
If you answered “E. All of the above,” you are correct. Most of you reading this article avoid C and D, while more than half of you struggle with A and B.
Which of the following chronic diseases could be prevented or minimized by behavioral choices?
A. Heart disease
E. All of the above
According to the same article cited above, the correct answer is again “E. All of the above.”
Bridle Your Appetite
Let’s revisit Lady Wisdom to see what we can learn, starting with this one: “Don’t stuff yourself; bridle your appetite” (Proverbs 23:3).
Few of us are gluttons, so why are more than a third of us obese?3 We overeat for two reasons. First, we are calorie rich and nutrient poor. We eat and keep eating simply because we never give our bodies the nutrients they crave.
Genesis 1 opens with God speaking creation into existence and concludes with God speaking to Adam: “‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.’ Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:29, 31, New King James Version).
To us, man-created food looks very good. Kellogg’s Fruit Loops are full of color—like fruit—but they’re manufactured, not to satisfy and sustain the human body, but to be purchased and consumed by loyal, repeat customers. Satisfaction and satiation are not part of the bargain.
Successful man-made food products fulfill two imperatives: a long shelf life and a wide profit margin. Chemical preservatives ensure the first, while abundant use of cheap, government-subsidized corn guarantees profitability.
Look at the back of a Fruit Loops box and you can read for yourself:
Ingredients: Sugar, corn flour blend (whole grain yellow corn flour, degerminated yellow corn flour), wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, oat fiber, soluble corn fiber, contains 2% or less of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed), salt, red 40, natural flavor, blue 2, turmeric color, yellow 6, annatto color, blue 1, BHT for freshness. Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin C (sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid), niacinamide, reduced iron, zinc oxide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin B12.)
In his essay “We Are What We Eat,” food journalist Michael Pollan writes that when you break down a typical fast-food meal, you’ll find “corn is the sweetener in soda. It’s in the corn-fed beef Big Mac patty, and in the high-fructose syrup in the bun, and in the secret sauce. . . . Of the 37 ingredients in chicken nuggets, something like 30 are made, directly or indirectly from corn.”⁴
Watch Out for Sweets
So one reason we overeat is our hunger for nutrients. The second reason takes us back to Proverbs: “It’s not smart to stuff yourself with sweets” (Proverbs 25:27).
Imagine three round, white, plastic tables. On one table are bottles of Old No. 7 Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and cartons of Marlboro 100 cigarettes. But you’re no dummy; you know those products are designed to be addictive. You may also know that Marlboro cigarettes contain tobacco, high-fructose corn syrup, propylene glycol, diammonium phosphate, ammonium hydroxide, and natural and artificial flavors.
The second table is loaded with Mountain Dew, Coke, Pepsi, and boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios, Special K, Corn Flakes, and Rice Krispies surrounded by Heinz Ketchup, Log Cabin syrup, Cheez-Its, Skippy peanut butter, Welch’s grape jelly, Yoplait strawberry yogurt, Pop Tarts, and Nilla Wafers.
If you’re a soda drinker, you probably try not to think about what’s actually in the can. The ingredients in Mountain Dew are “carbonated water, high-fructose corn syrup, concentrated orange juice, citric acid, natural flavor, sodium benzoate (preservative), caffeine, sodium citrate, erythorbic acid (preservative), gum arabic, calcium disodium EDTA (preservative), brominated vegetable oil, yellow 5.”
If you scan the ingredients in Honey Nut Cheerios you’ll see the following: “whole grain oats, sugar, oat bran, corn starch, honey, brown sugar syrup, salt, trisodium phosphate, rice bran and/or canola oil, natural almond flavor, vitamin E (mixed tocopherois) added to preserve freshness.”
What ingredient is in every single product on table two?
If you guessed sugar, you’re right. We overeat because we love the taste of sugar. For food companies, it’s smart to stuff their products with sugar, but stuffing ourselves with sweets is dumb.
Why does Lady Wisdom warn us not to overindulge in sweets?
Your liver is a poison control center, and sugar is a toxin. Your liver does the best it can by surrounding as much sugar as possible in fat (sort of like bubble wrapping a knife) and then express shipping it to the belly, hips, butt, breasts, and thighs. Much of the rest gets dumped into the bloodstream, triggering your pancreas’s red alert protocol. From personal experience, you already know all about sugar highs and lows.
Most of us avoid table one. Most of us eat and drink daily from sugary products on table two. What’s on the third table? Food . . . real food, designed by a nurturing creator. Blueberries, red peppers, green onions, walnuts, cashews, and mangoes. Avocados, carrots, spinach, and apple varieties by the score. Colorful, nutritious, satisfying, and often ignored.
In Food Rules: An Eaters Manual, author Michael Pollan’s first five food commandments are:
I. Eat food.
II. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
III. Avoid food products containing ingredients no ordinary human keeps in the pantry.
IV. Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
V. Avoid foods that have some form of sugar in the top three ingredients.⁵
Honestly, if you adhere to Rules I and V, you’ll be just fine. It really is that simple.
Have a Moving Life
“Slack habits and sloppy work are as bad as vandalism” (Proverbs 18:9).
Remember that list of preventable behaviors that cause chronic disease. We noted most of us don’t drink or smoke, but we tend to struggle with poor dietary choices.
Well, there was one other factor—and it’s a struggle for many Christians. Lack of physical activity often trips us up. For many, it comes down to slack habits. Most of us wouldn’t dream of vandalizing (to use language from Proverbs 18:9) our bodies with Old No. 7 Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey or Marlboro 100 cigarettes, yet we vandalize our bodies through neglect.
If you are not as physically fit as you would like, let me offer advice that is simple, not easy.
1. Don’t Stress: Seriously, your creator is crazy about you. In Matthew 6, Jesus commands us not to worry. Listening to Jesus makes a lot of sense.
2. Move: Children move all the time. They roll over, crawl, pull-up, walk, run, skip, bike, swim. Sometimes you’ll hear an adult say, “I wish I had their energy.” Doing what they do creates energy. The boring alternative is sitting around. Dr. Seuss claimed, “Adults are obsolete children.” The trick is to remain childlike.
3. Play: Some adults, with grim determination, exercise. Children don’t exercise, they play.
4. Experiment: God certainly loves variety, and we’re created in his image. Ride your bike, take a Pilates class, go to the pool, search YouTube for fun fitness ideas. You are given one body in this life—treat it well.
5. Sleep: Why does sleep always get short shrift? We are created to eat delicious and nutritious food, designed to move, and blessed with sleep. Honor those needs.
The Bible tells us, “God gives out Wisdom free, is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding. He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well” (Proverbs 2:6-8). May you eat well, move well, and sleep well. Your creator yearns for a healthy, whole you.
1Scripture quotations are from The Message, unless otherwise indicated.
2“Chronic Diseases: The Leading Causes of Death and Disability in the United States,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 9, 2014; accessed at www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/index.htm?s_cid=ostltsdyk_govd_203.
3“Adult Obesity Facts,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.
4Michael Pollan, “We Are What We Eat,” www.ecoliteracy.org/essays/we-are-what-we-eat.
5Michael Pollanl, Food Rules: An Eaters Manual (New York: Penguin Books, 2009).
Jay Engelbrecht teaches English and physical education at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri.