Will Going to Church Make You Fat?

The question seems absurd at first. What does weight have to do with church, and if there were a correlation, wouldn’t it be in reverse since, as a Christian, our bodies should be honored as a temple for the Holy Spirit?

In 2011, I read an article from TIME magazine titled, “Why Going to Church Can Make You Fat.” The article discussed a study that found that those who attend religious activities are more likely to gain weight than those who don’t go to church as often. The study also found that middle-aged adults who are more religious are more likely to be obese. The research was presented at an American Heart Association conference and involved 2,433 people enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. The study was conducted over the span of 25 years and assessed cardiovascular disease risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and smoking. The results were reported to be mixed for many risk factors of cardiovascular disease, but one thing that did stick out to researchers was that the people who reported attending church weekly were more than twice as likely as people with no religious involvement to become obese.  

Wow, more than twice as likely!

Attending church and being part of the community my entire life as well as being a health care professional, I have to say, I am not surprised. Most church activities are centered on potluck dinners with long rows of folding tables full of casseroles, processed foods, and sweet treats. There are donuts with coffee before church and ice cream socials after. There are a lot of unhealthy foods around but possibly, and most concerning, there seems to be a culture within the conservative Christian church that views gluttony as the tolerated and largely ignored sin.  

The authors of the published study, Does Religion Increase the Prevalence and Incidence of Obesity in Adulthood? commented, “Many religions in the United States place priority on constraining sins such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and sexual promiscuity. Gluttony does not receive the same level of pastoral or congregational condemnation in most denominations, perhaps indirectly creating an ‘accepted vice.’” The bible strongly warns us on the dangers of gluttony.

“And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.” – Proverbs 23:2 (KJV)

“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” – 1 Corinthians 11:29 (KJV)

“For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.” – Proverbs 23:21 (KJV)

Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins outlined throughout the bible, but the church seems to focus more on avoiding alcohol and completely skips over the strong wording in scripture to avoid excess food. Desiring God, a ministry by John Piper, called gluttony, “America’s most tolerated sin.” In the United States especially, obesity has becomes a serious problem with 30% of adults over the age of 20 now identified as obese and another 34% considered “overweight.” Obesity has more than doubled in children and even quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Obesity isn’t concerning because of cosmetic reason but rather it greatly raises your risk for other health problems.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NIV)

As Christians, we have a calling over our life to fulfill the purpose for which God has placed us here on earth. We have the greatest reasons above all to honor our bodies and fuel our bodies with foods that are nutritious rather than consuming in excess the foods we desire or crave. God can use anyone for his glory but we become less useful when we are sick, in debt from medical bills, and low energy due to the foods we eat. Before each meal let’s ask ourselves, “Will this meal bring my body health and give me energy to fulfill the purpose that God has placed on my life?” If we took the time to consider this question and answered it honestly, would we make different choices at the dinner table?  

Food can become an idol in our lives. Do you turn to food for comfort over the comfort and fulfillment that only God can give you? When you get bad news or survive a stressful day, do you drop to your knees or drop on the couch with a bag of potato chips and cookies? God wants us to turn to him when we are troubled and not to the desires of our body. Philippians 3:19 says, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” We will never find peace at the bottom of the ice cream bowl (fill in your vice here).  Jesus says: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34)

I’ve struggled with weight and food addiction, and God is the only source of strength to overcome and live a balanced lifestyle. Drawing a line in the sand and making the choice to resolve my food addiction, I lived by one mantra – God is strong. Driving past Taco Cabana, I would repeat, “God is stronger.” Sugar cravings after dinner, “God is stronger”. Morning workout time when I can barely crawl out of bed, “God is stronger.”

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” – Proverbs 28:26 (NKJV)

If you have tried to make lifestyle improvements for your health and failed in the past, seek God and his wisdom. Remember 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and SELF-CONTROL.”

What's Next?

If you are ready to overcome food addictions and gluttony in your life, next week I’ll be talking about how to break the bondage of food addiction and provide you with a 21-day Nutritional Reset Plan to start your year off with a win.