Obesity, Condemnation, and The Image of God
It hides in the open.
It can be stopped.
But no one talks about it.
That disease is denial.
Obesity and obesity related diseases are a plague on society. But they are not the problem. All of the death, suffering, and pain caused by obesity could be eliminated almost over night. But it hasn’t. Why? Denial.
There is a reason people are overweight. In 99% of cases it is not genetics, and nor is it hormonal. I hate to put it so bluntly, but these are just excuses people use to avoid accepting reality. Why?
Because they are afraid that their worst fears about themselves are true.
People are overweight because of pain.
Drugs, Drugs, Drugs
Eating releases dopamine into the brain. This is a feel-good brain chemical. Cocaine, heroine, and many other drugs derive their addictive power from releasing massive amounts of dopamine into the brain.
Dopamine is good. We need it. Without it our brains do not function properly (i.e., Parkinson’s disease).
But for many people, food is just as much of a drug as cocaine is to others. People do not become addicted because it sounds fun. They become addicts because they are medicating pain.
I know a person who went through Overeater’s Anonymous, and they had this to say about what they learned: “Every time I see an overweight person, I just see pain.”
Something causes us to have an unhealthy need for the pleasure food brings us. Usually this comes from self-esteem issues.
For instance, I know that I am more likely to binge eat when I feel like a failure.
To illustrate, some time ago I was leading worship at a small discipleship school. Most of the time it was an awesome experience. But one night went very poorly.
I didn’t prepare like I usually did because I thought I could just wing it. I stumbled, stuttered, forgot my words, and even had to restart a song at one point. The class was very encouraging, but I felt like a failure.
All the way home I was kicking myself, “What was that?! If you weren’t such a failure, you would have practice more and been more prepared.”
So what did I do?
I pulled into McDonald’s and bought a super-sized Big Mac meal, McNuggets, and an M&M McFlurry.
Was I even hungry? Not really. I just wanted the pleasure that food would give me because I desperately needed some relief from the self-condemnation I was putting myself under.
This was all rooted in a lie I accepted about myself: I was a failure because I didn’t live up to my own standards.
This is but one example. Most people live some variation of this every day. They feel like a failure as a parent. Or a spouse. Or a pastor.
Or they don’t feel smart enough… or pretty enough… or whatever.
Deep down, they believe a lie about who they are.
And in order to get relief from the pain those lies cause, people seek pleasure. Some people shop. Others do drugs. Others look at porn or hire prostitutes.
The Pendulum Swings
There are active efforts to battle these lies in the culture. You will hear people say, “You’re not a failure, you’re perfect just the way you are.”
For example, a woman struggling with self-image issues might be told, “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
The problem is that in most cases, this is denial endorsed by society. We are offering these people a road out of pain, but into denial.
Even inside the church there is a variant of this. You will hear people say, “You’re not a failure, God loves you just the way you are.” And even though that is true, it is only part of the truth.
We are terrified that we are at fault for our own problems. That scares us because, in our minds, it proves that our worst fears about ourselves are true.
For the woman with self-image issues, if she accepts that she is overweight, then it means that she is a failure, worthless, and unlovable.
As friends and loved ones most of the time we don’t know how to help these people. We don’t want them to live under condemnation, so we attempt to remove condemnation by offering the person a route to denial.
But the truth is that most people are the cause of their own problems. Their actions led them to wherever they are. And if they want real relief from their pain, then they will have to take ownership over their problems.
The Key To Healthy Ownership
In order to avoid condemnation, many people choose to deny reality. But a healthy understanding of our identity allows us to stare reality in the face and not take it on as part of our identity.
God made us in His image. That means that we carry the DNA of the Creator of the universe in our blood. We carry the inherent traits of someone who speaks to things that are not and causes them to be.
God is not a failure. Ergo, we cannot be failures our selves. Our DNA won’t allow it. We may fail at something, but it is the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.
Failure does not – and cannot – mark our identity. It cannot change our DNA. When we understand this, we no longer fear failure. It simply becomes a teacher. We learn from it, and then succeed.
When we have a strong sense of who we are, we don’t have to deny reality in order to avoid condemnation.
When it comes to obesity, it means we look in the mirror and say, “You are too awesome to be living like this.” And we learn from it. We ask ourselves, “What in my life is driving me to eat? What pain am I trying to medicate? What lie about myself is at the root of this problem?”
Going back to my example of leading worship, I don’t accept the failure as part of who I am. Instead, I say, “Okay, I learned my lesson. Be better prepared.”
If we can overcome denial, we can overcome any addiction we will ever face.
When someone says, “I am struggling with [insert addiction here: drugs, porn, food, etc…].” I want to know the answer to one question, “What pain are you trying to medicate?” I don’t really care about the addiction’s specific manifestation. It is temporary. We can try to build rules to limit our access to it, but that doesn’t solve the problem.
Being able to accept reality without taking it on as part of who we are will solve the problem. That is the key.
And what does that mean for those of us trying to comfort someone in pain?
It means we don’t offer them a route to deniability.
In love we say, “This pattern you are living is real, but it is not a part of your identity. It does not dictate who you are. Your identity comes from the fact that you carry the DNA of God.” Then we help them discover the root of their pain and walk with them into freedom.
As a people we need put an end to denial.
It is stealing the lives of millions every day.
Refusing to partake in denial could not only unlock your own freedom, but the freedom of those around you as well.
Imagine a world where people truly understood who they were and could handle any problem they faced with that knowledge.
It would change the world.
I hope you found this encouraging.
I would love to hear you comments below.
About Sean Edwards
Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.