Calorie counting crept into my life just after I turned fifteen. Nearly a decade has passed since then. The memory remains visceral because of the toll that “healthy eating” has since took. . . .
My high school basketball team stops at a grocery store for a pregame snack. I peruse the aisles. As I draw a protein bar laden with peanut butter from the shelf, an upperclassman rushes up to me. Grabbing the bar from my hands, she exclaims, “Ew! This has, like, three hundred calories in it.”
Three hundred — what? I blink at her.
Health That Hurts
Six years, three new social media accounts, a college soccer career, and a few trainers later, and I became obsessed with counting calories.
I measured every morsel before passing it through my lips. If I couldn’t get a hold of its nutrition facts, I wouldn’t eat it. Period. I stopped going over to friends’ houses around mealtimes. As tasty as I knew their moms’ cooking to be — if I couldn’t count it, I couldn’t enjoy it.
You know, I just didn’t want to be unhealthy. It is a good, godly desire to take care of the body. It’s a temple of the Holy Spirit, after all (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19).
That’s what I told myself, at least, and I went so far as to twist Scripture to justify my self-obsession and need for control. In actuality, Satan had successfully tempted me to believe that I was the sum of my body weight plus the number of likes that its image could consistently collect on Instagram.
Not All Counting Counts
Pause. There are healthy, God-honoring reasons for some people — with certain metabolisms and medical conditions — to count calories. I was not and am not one of those people. For me, counting calories only fed the idolatry of self-image and control.
Sure, it began as an innocent, informative conversation in a grocery store. Yes, it morphed into a decent way for me to try and regain a healthy body weight after two knee surgeries atrophied my legs. However, it ended with a sobbing, 21-year-old girl telling her fiancé that eating dinner at his parents’ house scared her because she couldn’t tell what was in the food.
A year and a half ago, I was that girl.
Eating Happily, to the Glory of God
Thankfully, my then-fiancé didn’t break off the engagement. In fact, we just celebrated one happy year of marriage. Throughout the last twelve months, we have drawn three concepts from Scripture in order to combat the idolatries that calorie counting brought about in my soul.
1. Less on the making, more on the Maker.
Romans 1:20 makes it clear that creation professes the attributes of God, especially his “eternal power and divine nature.” Psalmists consistently marvel at the way that God’s creative work — every cotton candy cloud and pyramidic mountain, each cascading stream and chirruping bird — points to his greatness, his splendor, his wisdom, his goodness (Psalm 104:24–25).
All creation declares the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), and food is decidedly a part of that creation. Plus, food has a specific purpose. Fine drink “gladden[s] the heart of man,” and bread “strengthen[s] man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14–15). We both delight and energize ourselves in God as we eat and drink.
Thus, the Christian does not focus so much on the makings of particular foods. The Christian focuses on the Maker of all food. Both fennel plum salad and funnel cakes give us cause to rejoice in and rely on God, as all food provides us with a glimpse of his glorious attributes, from which reality breathes.
2. Less on ‘the what,’ more on ‘the how.’
When my teammate said, “Ew!” she thought only of “the what.” In this case, the what is a supposedly fatty and sugary snack, one that certain health food companies repel at all costs. However, as Christians, we should not primarily be asking ourselves, “What am I eating?” Rather, we should constantly be asking ourselves, “How am I eating?”
Thankfully, Scripture tells us exactly how we should eat: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). When we eat and drink in thankfulness, we declare to ourselves and to those around us that it is God alone who graciously provides. Too, even by simply eating and drinking, we declare our neediness as created beings.
Consumption of calories offers us the opportunity to glorify God, but the counting of calories often drags that opportunity through the mud. A focus on the what instead of the how often generates sins that center us on the preservation of a slim-and-chic self over the proclamation of a good-and-gracious God.
3. Less on the ‘gain for later,’ more on the ‘gain for now’ — and always.
Nine times out of ten when we count calories, we count them so that we may fit into the visual mold that social media and pop culture model. The less — or just the more carefully — that we eat, the more we believe that we will be satisfied with ourselves. Calorie counting is all about losing out on food now so that we will gain something later: more likes on social media; sidelong glances in coffee shops; personal, undivulged satisfaction with the number peering up from the scale. . . . You name it.
At first glance, it might seem that Paul offers a similar paradigm in Philippians 3:8. He writes: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The difference between the calorie-counting ethic (“loss for now, gain for later”) and Paul’s ethic is that current loss equals not only current, but also eternal, gain.
As believers, we are to count everything — every cotton candy cloud and pyramidic mountain, each cascading stream and chirruping bird, all glasses of fine wine and peanut butter protein bars — as excrement compared to the present-tense, as well as never-ending, “knowing” of Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Children of God will always count calories. We count them as loss compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).