The Spiritual Reason We Gain Weight

Gary Thomas

Editor’s note: Guest blogger, Gary Thomas, shares some of his insights on this topic with this excerpt from his new book, “Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul.”

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
– Hebrews 6:11-12

Billions of dollars have been spent trying to corner the market on diet and weight loss, but most solutions ignore the spiritual issue behind our struggle.

Here it is: The challenge we face plays directly into our sin nature, which is naturally disposed toward comfort and ease and naturally inclined against sacrifice or denial of any kind. To make matters worse, losing one pound doesn’t feel like it makes any difference at all, even though losing a pound can be difficult to do. The sacrifice-to-reward ratio is out of whack, particularly if you’re struggling alongside a person who doesn’t share your values.

Let’s say you spend an entire week denying yourself bread and dessert. You watch your calories, work out on the StairMaster, and take a thirty-minute walk at least five or six days. Seven days later, you weigh yourself and discover that you’ve lost one pound.

Do your pants fit any better? Probably not. Do you notice any more energy? Unlikely. And yet the struggle was real. Think of all the time you spent exercising, all the sweets you denied yourself—and you lost just one pound?
Let’s say you have a friend who is laughing at your efforts. The whole week, she has been eating her favorite comfort foods while you exercised, drinking sugary drinks while you sipped your water, consuming whatever she wanted off the menu. At the end of that week, she gained one pound.

Are her pants any tighter? No, they’re not. Does she feel much heavier? Not likely. And yet she enjoyed the week so much more!

This is the spiritual struggle toward physical fitness: The initial sacrifice seems so great compared to the minuscule immediate benefits, while the negative consequences seem relatively minor compared to the instant enjoyment of overeating and ignoring exercise.

If you have a short-term view, you’re going to give in. You need the spiritual strength and motivation to take it out a little further. If you continue in your sacrifice for ten weeks and lose ten pounds, and your friend continues in her excess and leisure for ten weeks and gains ten pounds, that’s a twenty-pound swing. Now, your clothes will fit a bit better, and hers will be tighter, and both of you will notice a difference in energy level and overall health.

If you were overweight and I could miraculously remove fifty pounds from you for one hour, you would feel the difference and be highly motivated to do whatever it would take to make this be your normal state. But the problem is that we don’t gain or lose weight that way. Losing one or two pounds doesn’t feel much different to you on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis; gaining three pounds back is hardly noticeable. This phenomenon encourages slow weight gain, even as it discourages steady weight loss. Because the negative impact doesn’t feel much worse and the positive impact doesn’t feel much better, we’re simply not motivated to get to the place where, long term, the difference can be tremendous.

That’s why we need spiritual strength and biblical motivation to persevere through the temptation and stay the course. If our pursuit is simply therapeutic, we’re facing almost impossible odds (unless we happen to be particularly vain). And that’s also why it helps to have encouraging people around us who are on the same pursuit.

Gary Thomas is the author of Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul (Zondervan, 2011). He has written more than a dozen books and is a writer in residence and a member of the teaching team at Second Baptist Church in Houston, TX. You can learn more about Gary at


  • Yep. I’ve also found that when we have our lives with Christ in order, and are doing things the way He wants us to do them, that’s when things happen–yet, in His time. This goes with weight-loss as well as anything else.

    From my blog earlier this week:

    When Making A Change
    Change is inevitable, and many times difficult. Sometimes change sneaks up on us. Sometimes we’re the ones wanting to make the change or changes. I’ve found that in whatever way change may come, it’s always easier to accept with Christ’s help. I’ve also found that when making a change, it works best when Christ is at the center and in the lead–not just of that particular change, but of my entire life. When making a change, it helps greatly if I don’t rush it or try to make it happen on my own time. I do my best to be patient. I’ve found that allowing Christ to help make the change in His time and doing it His way is the best choice. Yeah, I know, that’s not easy, either.

    Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (NKJV) What are “all these things”? Anything I need (see verses 25-32). And sometimes even more. As long as I keep my focus on Christ, continue seeking Him (through talking with Him, reading His Word), and continue doing things His way, then the changes that need to made will be made–in His time. Everything will fall into place–not as I plan, but as Christ has planned.

    And that’s always better than what I’ve planned

  • Good tips in the article for diet and exercise. I’m glad to see that it focused on diet and exercise as a coordinated effort. to add to the article, It would also be beneficial to determine how many calories your body burns and how many calories you should eat per day. Then you would have some accuracy in adjusting your diet for weight gain or loss. I have found an online calculator that will tell you how many calories your body is burning and how many calories you should eat per day. For anyone interested the calculators are located at How to Gain Weight. This could help you to know how to adjust your diet to either gain weight or lose weight.

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