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 www.garythomas.com.