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Dealing With Diet Culture in the Church

Have you ever been triggered by negative body or food-related comments made in the pulpit or a Bible study, but didn’t know how to react? If so, this post is for you! Today, I’m going to show you 4 ways diet culture can show up in the “big C church” and offer 3 strategies to battle it.

Before we jump in, I want you to know that questions are super valuable in the study of God’s word. If we don’t ask hard questions and lay Bible teaching against the truth of God’s word, we are letting someone else be our Bible. People don’t always get it right; that’s why I always encourage you to bring what you hear in this podcast and blog to the Lord in prayer and filter it through Biblical truth! Don’t get me wrong—the church is absolutely essential for spiritual maturity and development, but it is also crucial that we dig into the Word ourselves! 

Before we can overcome diet culture in the church, we have to be able to recognize it. Here are 4 ways diet culture can pop up:

#1. Jokes and Comments From the Pulpit

My stomach dropped when a pastor made this comment one Sunday: “I wish I looked like Brad Pitt, but instead, I look like an avocado pit.” Eeek! Jokes like this from Christian leaders are often well-meaning; adding humor to the sermon, but they can be extremely triggering and harmful to the audience. Other examples often include, “I was so bad yesterday” or “I’ll do better tomorrow”. 

Moralization of food and triggering speech from church leaders can also appear outside of the sanctuary: Christian radio stations have advertisements for weight loss facilities, and couples in premarital counseling are told not to “let yourselves go”. This can be super discouraging and painful for the hearers. 

#2. Fasting

The purpose of fasting is to deny ourselves something we prioritize in order to feed our spirits and grow closer to God, but diet culture can infuse the process, making it harmful. If your church has ever called for a corporate fast, you have probably heard something like: “I’m glad Pastor called for a fast. I needed to lose weight!” This mentality around fasting is not only diet culture, but it proves that the speaker has missed the whole point! Fasting is to be God-focused, not us-focused. 

Examples in the Bible of fasting include: 

  • Jesus: Matthew 4:1-2
  • Esther: Esther 4:16
  • The Early Church in Antioch: Acts 13:1-3
  • Daniel: Daniel 10:3

#3. Pot-Luck Talk

Most of us have been to a church luncheon and heard the all-to-familiar: “Today’s my cheat day”, “I’m being bad”, “I’ll make up for this tomorrow”, etc. This is another example of moralizing food: giving food the ability to be good or bad. 

#4. Taking Scripture Out of Context

Though this happens often, I’m going to address two places that I hear questions on the most: 

  • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.“ (ESV)

These verses are absolutely beautiful! Sadly, they are often cherry-picked out of context and applied falsely. The verses before v. 19-20 are actually talking about sexual immorality; there is nothing about body size, weight loss, etc! The word “temple” here refers to the sanctuary of the temple: the holy place and the holy of holies where God dwells. You can read more about the Old Testament temple in 1 Kings 6-8. The temple was a place where God dwelt to be with his people. In the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit dwells inside us.

  • Levitical Food Laws:

I’m not going to go super in-depth here, but I’ve noticed that some people use the food laws described in Leviticus 11 to justify restriction. However, the food laws given here were given under the Old Covenant. When Christ came, he brought in the New Covenant, fulfilling the law. Therefore, God declared all foods clean. If you want to study this further, I would recommend episode 74 of the Naked Bible Podcast hosted by Dr. Micheal Heiser. Here are some additional verses regarding food laws:

  • Acts 11:5-10
  • 1 Timothy 4:1-5
  • Colossians 2:16-23

So, What Can I Do About it?

Now that you are aware of ways diet culture can show up in the church, how can you handle these situations when they pop up? Here are 3 ways you can graciously battle against diet culture in your local body of believers: 

#1. Be a Grace-Giver.

Just to make it clear, I'm not here to bash the church! The church is founded by God and crucial for the growth and maturity of every believer. When you notice diet culture popping up, whether it be in the pulpit, in the fellowship hall, or across the pew, keep in mind that people are usually unaware of the triggering nature their words can have— especially for those struggling with disordered eating. 

#2. Speak Up!

However, people cannot become aware of the harm diet culture causes if no one brings it to their attention! Speaking up can look like talking to your pastor after the service or sending a gracious email to a study leader. A helpful tip when addressing an issue is to present alternatives. This can look like: “Instead of saying (triggering phrase), maybe you could say (more appropriate phrase).”

#3. Be a Leader.

You can help your church take steps towards food freedom! One way you can help build a non-diet community in your local body is by starting a small group study. 

Body Beloved created a great 6-week food-freedom study you can ask your church about starting or host yourself!

Up For The Challenge?

This week, I challenge you to take one of these bold steps against diet culture. I also challenge you to forgive those who have said painful body or food-related words to you. Don’t let diet culture make you stiff-arm the church—that’s exactly what the enemy wants! Take a look at this passage from Hebrews: 

”And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (vv. 24-25, ESV)

You really do need community, friend! 

More Resources!

Want more help on your journey to food-freedom? I got you covered!


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