Today’s post offers four practical, faith-based tips on how to combat an unhealthy wellness obsession while still caring for your health.
I recently shared a post on Instagram that posed the question “is your physical health an object of worship or an act of worship?”.
No doubt it’s a challenging topic to broach and question to consider, which usually means it’s a topic that really, really needs to be talked about.
I had just heard a sermon from our pastor that mentioned the fact we’re all made to worship. We were all created by God to worship God, however if we don’t choose to worship God the Creator, then we will turn our worship to something in creation — food, money, success, fame, your body, a job, etc…
Essentially, worship is expressing value over something that matters the most to you. A way to think of it is, what is ultimate in your life? Where is most of your time, attention, money, effort, and devotion directed? What consumes your thoughts?
For many of us in the “wellness” space, I believe that physical health has sneakily become an object of worship, rather than an act of worship.
We worship our bodies, our diet, our exercise schedule, or our wellness routines. And maybe we go about them with good intentions at that start! Prioritizing these things is good and well…until it’s not.
When these things become the object of our worship, they can quickly, easily, and sneakily become an obsession that consumes us.
Health and wellness is all you can focus on.
The pursuit of health consumes your every thought.
You are controlled by your workout schedule.
Your morality is linked to how clean you eat.
Your mood hinges on how “good” you’ve been.
Your worth and identity start to get tied up in how you look.
Do any of those sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve lived every single one of those examples.
As a dietitian and personal trainer, I am all for prioritizing physical health. Being physically well allows you to feel your best so that you can serve more fully and live out the calling God has placed on your life. But when we turn a good thing (like the pursuit of improved physical health) into an ultimate thing (a god, an idol, an obsession), it will eventually enslave us. This is what happens when our physical health is the object of our worship rather than an act of worship.
And again, I know…because I’ve been there.
Over the years, I’ve had several people ask questions along the lines of “Clara, how did you achieve balance in caring about fitness and health without it being an obsession?”.
Honestly, it’s been a challenge for me to sit down and try to distill it into a neat and tidy process, because the reality of it was that it took a lot of effort and wasn’t something that was an easy 3 step process I could follow in the span of a few days. It was a lot of wrestling back and forth, taking small steps of growth forward usually paired with several steps back. It was messy, challenging, and never really felt like I was making progress in the moment.
Until I look back now and can see in retrospect, the growth. The change. The sanctification that was taking place. I’m not perfect now — I still find myself falling into patterns of obsession and worshipping physical health if I’m not careful. But, I’ve grown nonetheless. I’m not who I was six years ago, and I have the Lord to praise for that.
So, as I sit here reflecting on how I moved from having physical health be an object of worship rather than an act, I’m overcome with gratitude. I’m also overcome with hope for YOU, as well. I pray this post will serve as a seed of hope in your life, and as a runway to lasting change. Let’s dive in.
How to Achieve Balance in Caring for Health Without it Becoming an Obsession
Before we go further, I want to give a disclaimer that this is just MY personal experience and journey with wellness obsession. The more I wrote and the more I read up on obsession in general, the more unqualified I felt in writing this. The truth is, obsessions happen for many reasons. Some of those reasons weren’t a part of my story, therefore I am quite literally NOT qualified to write on them, so I don’t want to paint the picture that this post is the answer to everything. However, I also felt NOT sharing this post would be a disservice, and would also be giving a point to the enemy for not using my voice. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to comment or DM me on Instagram — I welcome the open conversation on a nuanced, vulnerable topic. Okay, disclaimer over. Let’s chat 🙂
First, let’s start off with developing a rough definition of “obsession”. How I think of obsession is having that something be all you can think about…something that takes up all (or the majority) of your time, thought, attention, and effort. It’s an irrational, compulsive occupation with something.
Different people develop obsessions over different things, for different reasons.
I want to tread lightly with the use of the word “obsession”. It’s easy to joke that we are obsessed with something, like a new hair product, coffee order, or pair of jeans that fit like a glove. But obsession is more than just an offhand joke — it can be a serious downstream effect of conditions like anxiety, depression, OCD, even PTSD. If you have a history of any of these, or have an inkling that you might be affected by one of them in some way, I would encourage you to seek a certified counselor or therapist who can come alongside you to unpack things in a welcoming, safe, and supportive environment. Your obsession with wellness or food may very well be stemming from something deeper that has remained unaddressed and unresolved. In this case, addressing food and wellness would be like treating the symptom, not the root. This post is not addressing obsession that stems from a clinical manifestation of anxiety, depression, OCD or PTSD.
I don’t want to paint with broad strokes here. My story is not your story. I can only speak from my perspective and experience of being obsessed with all things wellness. The reality is, we may all come to wellness obsession from many different avenues, for different reasons. I don’t want to undermine or overlook the very real factors that anxiety and/or depression can play in driving wellness obsession, however that, clinically, was not my story.
One psychologist posits that obsession is really about searching for meaning and purpose. Maybe you’re trying to deal with pain in one area of your life and are grasping for areas that you can, seemingly, control. This can lead to the unhealthy obsession around food and fitness.
That was it for me, and that’s what I want to talk about today.
When we obsess over and fixate on something so much — when we look to it for meaning and purpose — to the point that it essentially is elevated above God in our lives, this would be referred to as an idol. I know that isn’t warm and fuzzy to admit, but bringing it to the light brings restoration and freedom. We serve a God of grace and mercy.
My wellness obsession was a red flag for idolatry.
**And again I want to be careful to state that THIS MIGHT NOT BE YOUR STORY. Dealing with something like clinical or physiological anxiety or depression that leads you to obsession is not a sin, nor idolatrous. If you think this might be you, I would again encourage seeking out a counselor. End disclaimer.**
Another indicator that something has become an idolatrous obsession is that it’s where you turn to for joy, fulfillment, satisfaction, approval, affirmation, worth, value, and/or your identity…again, to the point that it’s elevated above all else importance in life.
As previously stated, we were created to worship. If we don’t worship God above all else, we will turn our worship/focus to something else. It’s our human nature. Even as a Christ follower, it’s easy to have our focus shift to temporal objects or people. These may start with good intentions, but if not careful can turn from an act of worship, to an object of worship. Motives matter (more on that shortly).
When it comes to idolatrous obsession of health and wellness I’ve identified a few key factors that contribute to this struggle. Many from personal experience.
Let’s will talk through each together.
Factors that Lead to Wellness Obsession or Idolatry
Where do you turn to for validation or approval for what you’re doing or how you look? Christ? Or culture around you?
When we look to culture for validation, approval, or to define our standards of beauty or worthiness, the standards are ever-changing and over-promising. Quite literally, they’re a moving target. Beauty standards change through the years, and even between cultures. What’s “beautiful” today may be seen as ugly or a disgrace in 30 years.
Where do you get your definition of “beauty” from?
When we turn to Christ for our validation, approval, or to define our worth and beauty, His standards are never changing — they haven’t changed for thousands of years!! Further, they aren’t based on our performance or outward appearance. We are approved through Christ and the work he carried out in our place on the cross. We know that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
This isn’t always easy to remember, especially in our culture today where we are surrounded by “likes” and “follows” and other ways to “measure” our validation. The environment around us — the shows we watch, accounts we follow, magazines we read, music we listen to — has an incredible influence on our daily actions and beliefs. Something that helps me reorient my focus is reminding/asking myself why would I, one flawed human, seek approval and validation from another flawed human?
Seeking Worth, Meaning, or Purpose
Similar to seeking validation, we can also fall into the trap of idolizing and obsessing over wellness if we find ourselves seeking our worth, meaning, or purpose in it, as well. Maybe in how you look, or how you eat, or how other people perceive you as the “healthy girl”…maybe even in how you perceive yourself.
True worth, meaning, and purpose is not found in your body image and how you look, but instead in bearing the image of God…Christ in us. Our central focus as Christ followers is to be made more and more into the likeness of Christ — through the power of the Holy Spirit, not in our striving — to ultimately honor, glorify, and worship God. All we do ought to be an offering to Him. For me, this is easy to lose sight of in the temporal world we live in where I’m quick to act, dress, eat, or talk in a way to try to prove my worth to others.
We serve a gracious God, who ultimately cares more about our obedience to Him than the outcome we produce. Our worth isn’t tied up in the results we produce.
Further, our meaning and purpose in life is not tied to our food choices or how our body looks and performs. Your purpose isn’t to have the perfect body. The meaning of your life is not to attain perfect health.
Your worth is in Christ alone. Your meaning is in Christ alone. Your purpose is in worshipping, honoring, and glorifying Christ alone. Not your perfect diet. Not your size 00 jeans. Not your achievements in the gym. Not what others think of you.
Striving for Perfection
Not sure about you, but I tend towards the Type A, perfectionist tendencies. You know, the whole “Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is best” kinda person (I remember that on a poster in my 4th grade class). If I do something, I want to do it the best. Perfectly. Leave no room for mistake. 110% effort.
This mindset is easily carried over to our diet and fitness routines and how that spells out in our health and appearance.
However, the reality is that we are broken, sinful humans. We will never be perfect this side of heaven. Striving for perfection in all we do is exhausting when we hold ourselves to that standard of perfection. This isn’t a pass to just not try or exert any effort. No, we are called to excellence, not perfection. Strive for excellence, extend grace.
Trying to use food and fitness to craft a perfect body or physique is nearly futile. And not only that, in our striving for perfection, we’re essentially saying that we have no need for a perfect God or for Christ dying in our place. I know that sounds extreme, but when we peel back the layers, can’t we see how that is kinda what our actions are saying and implying — even if it wasn’t ever our intention?
But Clara, what about the girl that DOES have the perfect body I dream of?? Let’s talk about it…
The Pull to Comparison
Friend, comparison is right where the enemy wants you. Comparing yourself to others, then coming to the conclusion that God is holding out on you, or that you’re just not worthy enough or disciplined enough — or just not “enough” in some way or another — this makes the enemy so happy. You, questioning God’s goodness and provision…it’s a playground for the enemy.
Not today, satan. Not today.
We are told in Romans 12:4-8 that we all have been entrusted with gifts and will play different functions within the body of Christ. Just as our physical bodies have many parts and organs that play different roles and have different functions, each of us in the body of Christ.
Further, Isaiah 45:9 also paints the picture of a pot questioning the potter’s ability to create. Who are we to question the God of the Universe, the God who so thoughtfully and purposefully created us?
Fighting comparison is HARD. Especially when there are other women who seemingly have it easy, can eat whatever they want and not gain an ounce, or can do something you don’t think you’ll ever be able to do. I don’t know what it is for you, but I can assure you everyone struggles with comparison.
This urge to compare can further drive our obsession with health and wellness, as we push ourselves harder and harder to achieve the goal of looking like someone else who we view as beautiful or “goals”.
Desire for Optimal Physical Health
But what about the very real state of our physical health?? What about disease preventing lifestyle and dietary approaches? What about longevity? Vitality? Building muscle is good! Healthy eating is honorable! We must do all we can to take care of ourselves!
YES, all of these are true. However, we must be wise to examine our heart and motives of why we so eagerly and exhaustingly seek out and try to implement every last dietary or fitness approach.
What are you striving for, truly? Are you placing all of your hope in them? What happens if they’re stripped from your life? Does your livelihood come crumbling down?
If your joy and hope is placed in these things — like eating healthy and working out — and they’re taken away from you…then so is your joy, right? This is one of the most sobering questions I’ve had to face myself. I don’t always like the answer I get….
Our joy ought to be wrapped up in Christ, not in our ability to work out or eat “clean”. But at the same time, this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy these acts. We could’ve been made to subside on boring, flavorless manna, but the Lord was gracious to allow us to have taste buds and a wide variety of flavorful foods! He isn’t anti-joy — He wants us to enjoy the gifts He’s given to us.
Of course, this isn’t license to disregard all physical health endeavors, as we are still called to honor God in our bodies and to exercise stewardship, or careful and responsible management, over them. This means we can and should still focus on healthful eating, reasonable physical activity, stress management, adequate sleep, and overall disease prevention and management where applicable. We just have to be careful to keep things in perspective: eternal versus temporal mindset. We can do everything by the book and still fall ill. Striving for perfect, optimal physical health is like chasing the wind. Excellence, not perfection also applies here.
Food, fitness, physical health — these are all gifts. Our delight in them should ultimately point us back to the Giver, with gratitude and praise.
Fixation on Food
Our relationship with food is well…complicated. However, just like the larger scale of physical health just discussed, we need to view our relationship with food similarly. It is a gift to enjoy, yes. It is NOT a god we are meant to serve or be a slave to.
We see in Scripture that food is meant to nourish our physical bodies, but it is also a source of enjoyment and merriment. Food IS fuel, but it’s also more than that — it plays many roles in our lives.
We can use food for comfort. We can even control our food intake to practice discipline or to work towards a specific goal. These aren’t inherently wrong behaviors. But when these are our chief go-to actions with food, I believe it serves as a red flag for idolatry or obsession. Let me elaborate.
Emotional eating, using food to soothe or comfort, is not wrong in and of itself. But when food is the only, or most prominent, thing we turn to for comfort — instead of say, turning to God for comfort — it can be a red flag that we’ve made food into a god and we look to it to fill some sort of void.
The same with controlling our food intake. Nothing inherently wrong with exercising some control over what we eat, but when that control is all-consuming and gives you a false sense of control over other areas of life — red flag again. Controlling your food intake to restrict yourself to lose weight or to attain a certain image (usually driven by the desire to gain worth/approval), or to elevate physical health above all else, or for whatever other misdirected motive, is a sign that we’ve dipped our toe in idolatry or obsession.
**Again I want to pause to address the very real nature that anxiety and depression can have on a possible food fixation. This may or may not apply to you.**
Food is a wonderful gift, but it will never fully satisfy the ache in your heart.
It Comes Down to…Why
I feel like that’s become my tagline around here. Your motives matter. They drive what you think, say, do.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to eat healthy, nutritious foods or prioritize your fitness routine. The action isn’t so much of a concern as the motive is. When we address the root motive, we bring freedom and healing to the action.
One of the ways I examine my actions and motives is to ask myself “why” I’m doing something. So I will pose the same question to you: WHY?
Why do you care so much about health?
Why do you care so much about how you look?
Why do you care so much about how “clean” you eat?
Why is that important to you?
Why is that?
…and why is THAT?
Essentially, when you get the answer to one “why” question, you ask yourself “why” again, until you get to the root — the core motivation.
If you find your core motivation is linked to approval, worth, value, affirmation, identity, comfort, security, or joy, this is a sign you’ve likely made a good thing a god, and have turned from a healthy awareness to an unhealthy obsession. None of these can ultimately be fulfilled by food, fitness, health, wellness, or body image.
I want to point out that this can be in relation to literally ANYTHING in life. For some people it ends up being food, fitness, or body image; but for others it could be shopping, or alcohol, or their job or relationship status.
I can’t know your motives, only you can. This process of asking yourself “why” is a challenge. It may require you to shine a line on areas of your life you haven’t wanted to face or confess to. It’s hard, humbling, and maybe convicting. But as stated earlier, bringing difficult things to the light brings about a sense of peace, freedom and release.
Why are motives such a big deal? Our deeper motives reveal our heart behind the matter. Why is the heart so important?
Everything we do flows from the heart, and our life reflects what’s in our heart (Proverbs 4:23, 27:19). Where your treasure is, there your heart will be (Matthew 6:21).
This is why I believe the Lord cares more about the state of your heart than he does your physical body. Thus, why our motives are crucial to evaluate, address, and reorient as needed.
Practical Steps to Combat Wellness Obsession
Now that we’ve thoroughly explored the deeper motives and some factors that lead to us idolizing and/or obsessing over health and wellness, we can look at practical steps to take to move away from the obsession and idolatry to joyful stewardship.
I’ve broken it down into 4 “steps”, though I don’t want it to seem overly simplified because it’s not as easy as a 1, 2, 3!…but I also realize that having some sort of method or framework to go off of, is helpful.
Starting off with a BANG and a gut punch, I know. I realize that bringing up the need to repent probably feels heavy, for what is likely an already weary heart. But, releasing your sins and struggles at the feet of Jesus brings the healing and freedom you desire. You no longer have to carry the burden on your own. You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to continue performing. Here are some questions to ponder and ask yourself to help evaluate your relationship with food, fitness, health, wellness:
- In what ways are you tempted to idolize body image, food, fitness, and wellness? In what ways have you elevated health above Christ, or turned to food/fitness more than God? Why do you think you are tempted by these things?
- In what ways do you think you’ve idolized or obsessed over food, fitness, and wellness?
- Compare and contrast the difference between having a godly view of wellness versus an idolatrous view of wellness.
- True worth, salvation, identity, and comfort is found in Christ alone. How can you use this truth to battle the temptation to idolize or obsess over wellness, food, and fitness?
Offer a prayer of repentance to God, acknowledging the ways you’ve idolized or elevated health and wellness over Him.
Dependence on God is actually strength. What a gift we have in being able to approach the throne of God in prayer — to be in direct communion with Him through Christ. The Lord cares greatly about your life, every single last minute detail. We can cast our anxieties on Him without shame.
Go to the Lord in prayer. Pray He would change your heart and motives around food and fitness. Pray for strength to persevere through changing your actions. For the power of the Holy Spirit to help you focus your attention on the things that last. Pray for renewal of your mind to see yourself, and health, as God sees. To approach health, fitness, wellness, and food as He would have you approach it. For grace, patience, and a heart of gratitude. Praise Him for His goodness, kindness, faithfulness, provision, love, mercy, and holiness.
We now must start to replace old thoughts with new ones. Memorizing and reciting Scripture is the best method for this, in my humble opinion. We know that every Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for us. It is Truth. It offers us a peak into who God is, His heart for us, and a way of living that leads to our flourishing. It’s the perfect replacement for our negative thoughts and beliefs.
Our thoughts and actions are dictated by the beliefs we hold in our mind. We are told to renew our minds in Scripture (Romans 12:2), which means that we can learn to think and believe new thoughts. This is backed up by the science of neuroplasticity, which posits that we can replace old thoughts with new ones by building new neural pathways. We are able to build the new pathways as we continually work to put in more reps in reciting and referring to the new thoughts we want to believe. Over time, the old thoughts are replaced with the new thoughts — these new thoughts become the norm, and take less effort to recall. What do you want your new thoughts to be based in?
My vote is Scripture and the very word of God.
Renew your mind and motives.
Start by making a list of the old thoughts you want to move away from, then create a list of new thoughts, guided by Scripture, that you can replace the old thoughts with. I have included some verses that have been pivotal in my journey, but I strongly encourage you to seek out verses and passages that speak to YOU.
- John 10:10
- 1 Samuel 16:7
- 1 Timothy 4:4
- 1 Corinthians 10:31
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
- Psalm 104:14-15
- Romans 8:1
- 1 Corinthians 6:12
- Romans 12:1-2
- Matthew 16:26
- Philippians 4:8-9
- Proverbs 4:25
Like mentioned in Philippians 4:9, we are to practice these things. “Practice” indicates that it will take continued effort to do something that is new to us. Renewing your mind — literally building those new neural pathways — will take time and effort. Every rep counts. Nothing happens overnight. It might be weeks or months before you recognize any change in your thoughts. Don’t give up. Persevere. Keep practicing.
And, practicing goes for the other steps, as well. Repentance, prayer, and renewing our minds are daily practices and rhythms to embrace, not one time actions. We need these things just as much as we need air in our lungs…daily, minute by minute.
How can you remind yourself to practice these things? How can you build rhythms into your daily routine to prompt you to repent…to pray…to renew your mind with scripture? Maybe it’s scheduling time into your day. Setting an alarm at certain points in the day. Creating a background on your phone as a reminder. Whatever works for you.
Final Thoughts on Combatting Wellness Obsession
If you feel like your physical health has become more of an object of worship rather than an act of worship, please know you are not alone.
If you find yourself constantly thinking about food and fitness, and wondering how you can balance caring for your health without it becoming an obsession, I hope this post has been helpful in walking you through why you might be prone to struggle with wellness obsession and idolatry in the first place. Even more, I hope this post helps give you the mindset, tools, and encouragement needed to help achieve a better state of balance — to find the freedom, healing, and joy that can be yours.
Make no mistake, caring for your health is not a sin. The Lord wants you to care for your health, not to be consumed by it.
I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe it’s the need to seek validation or worth, because you’ve never felt it before. Maybe you’ve been shamed for how you look. Maybe you’ve been so programmed by diet culture to think you must look like their standard of “perfect” or “beautiful”. Maybe it’s feeling envy and comparing yourself to others. Maybe it’s chasing optimal health and never feeling like you’re doing enough. Maybe it’s your tendency to take things too far, to do all things perfectly at all costs. Maybe it’s leaning too heavily on food to do things it will never be able to do. Maybe it’s nothing I mentioned — again, I don’t know your unique situation.
My guess is that it’s probably a mix of at least two of these factors. And my guess is that it didn’t just happen overnight, but rather became a gradual obsession or idolatry of wellness, over time. It’s rarely a one and done thing. It’s more often a gradual drift, that starts out with good intentions.
I so wish I could sit across from you over a cup of coffee so we could talk it all out. I likely don’t have all the answers when it comes to wellness obsession and idolatry. But if I could encourage four things, it would be what I broke down earlier:
Cheering you on, always.