A 4-Part Article Series On “A Biblical Approach to Physical Health”
Part 1 in a series on physical health – “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in good health as your soul does prosper” (3 John 2).
We were designed to be healthy under most circumstances. The statement, “as your soul does prosper” reminds us that spiritual prosperity (our relationship with God) is first and foremost; it is fundamental to our overall health and. In short, we can’t experience full health and vitality without also considering the health of our soul as our main priority.
As stated in a past article, although I believed I was healthy and fit, by the time I reached my twenty-second birthday, my 6’2’’ frame had skyrocketed to 270 pounds and I was diagnosed with borderline hypoglycemia. My blood pressure and my cholesterol levels were high, my health was rapidly deteriorating. I was told that I might need to take medication for the rest of my life. As a result, I was denied life insurance and was instructed by my physician to “go on a strict diet.” I was shocked! I knew that if I didn’t change my life, my life would change me!
The physical health of our body definitely plays a role in our overall health—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—the overall quality of life improves significantly. Taking care of the one body that God has given us is wise stewardship…it affect our entire life. Although spiritual health is first and foremost, our physical health also plays a vital role in productivity. According to many experts, many diseases are preventable through proper nutrition and exercise. To suggest that health should not be a priority is to suggest that God isn’t concerned with this area.
Between 1992 and 2000, I was an employee, then a manager, and finally a corporate executive in Southern California for the fastest growing fitness company in the world at that time, 24 Hour Fitness. I managed fitness centers and personal training departments while assisting and interviewing thousands of weight-loss clients. As a result, I identified a consistent pattern that surfaced time and time again: those who were fit rarely, if ever, referred to “dieting,” while those trying to lose weight often referred to being on a “diet.” Those who were fit, whether they knew it or not, often followed a biblical plan; they didn’t diet. I applied these principles in overcoming my own health and weight-loss challenge.
During this time in the health and fitness industry, God radically changed my life. While I had focused on prosperity, wealth, and success, I had starved my soul. I tried everything that the world had to offer, but ultimately, I found that it offered little of lasting value. God used this time to bring the prodigal son home. I resigned from my position in 2000 and began working on my first book, What Works When “Diets” Don’t. Although my theological foundation was still developing (I would definitely reword and/or delete some of the content in my first few books), this book was a very helpful resource for those seeking optimal health. I will cover some of that information in these articles because I believe that physical health often runs parallel with spiritual health. It should never be our primary focus—spiritual health is vitally more important (cf. 1 Timothy 4:8). But physical health should not be overlooked. When we are healthy and energetic, we are ten times for effective, but when we are sluggish and overweight energy is diminished. Not to mention the impact that our lifestyle has on our children.
I’m deeply saddened by the number of people who neglect their health as if it doesn’t matter to God. Life is a gift; our body is the only place we have to live. Although we’ve discussed the health of our spirit and soul in most of the articles, little has been said about our physical health; therefore, it’s time to shift gears.
It’s ironic…we have more fitness centers, more personal trainers, more books, and more articles written about fitness than ever before, yet health-related illnesses and problems caused from poor nutrition and obesity are increasing at an alarming rate. We pray for healing, but often neglect the primary cause of disease—poor health. It reminds me of the man who prayed, “Lord, please increase my finances…my debt is killing me,” as he headed to Las Vegas with his weekly check.
Granted, I don’t believe that everyone will be healthy and wealthy. We live in a very sinful world that often results in disease and sickness. God sometimes uses pain, sickness, disease, and suffering to draw us closer to Him; however, we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater and totally dismiss physical health. Obesity and poor health zaps energy and robs from life. Poor nutrition affects us negatively in several different ways. High levels of caffeine or nicotine, for example, lead to irritation, anger, impatience, and anxiety…not good qualities to possess. They are the exact opposite of the fruit of the Spirit. As a side note, the majority of people I’ve counseled who damage their family through anger are often addicted to caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, drugs, and so on. Clearly, health plays a vital role in our overall attitude. When we feed the body what it needs, it will run better.
Part 2 in a series on physical health
As stated last week, I don’t believe that everyone will be healthy and wealthy. We live in a very sinful world that often results in disease and sickness. God sometimes uses pain, sickness, disease, and suffering to draw us closer to Him; however, we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater and totally dismiss physical health. Obesity and poor health zaps energy and robs from life. Poor nutrition affects us negatively in several different ways. High levels of caffeine or nicotine, for example, lead to irritation, anger, impatience, and anxiety…not good qualities to possess. They are the exact opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.
I also encourage those suffering with depression and anxiety to look first at their spiritual and physical health. I’m not minimizing depression or anxiety, they are debilitating, but we shouldn’t immediately assume that we need a prescription without first checking the obvious—do we have a strong devotional and prayer life, are we monitoring our thought life and media choices carefully, are we taking care of our body? Exercise is a natural stress reliever. God created us to move and to be active. Regardless of what the culture promotes, choosing to follow a healthier lifestyle is the first step in making health a priority (but not an obsession).
The purpose of food is to meet our nutritional needs, not our wants. That bears repeating: food was created to meet our body’s “needs” not our “wants”—to heal, restore, and replenish. Many of America’s most popular foods have little nutritional value, and contain harmful ingredients. Add to this the absence of organic (the way God designed it) fruit and vegetables for fiber and dietary value, and it’s obvious why cancer now affects one out of three individuals—we’re not feeding the body what it needs to fight cancer, heart disease, and poor health, in general. No wonder many experience extremely low energy levels, attention-deficit problems, sleep disorders, anxiety, and mood swings, to name only a few. Therefore, a first step toward better health is to eat God-given, organic foods when possible. It would have been to my benefit to follow this plan earlier in my life.
The next step I recommend is to read food labels and to know what you’re consuming. Trust me, you will be shocked. Many of the additives found in food today are simply there to enhance flavor, color, and appearance, and to substantially increase the shelf life of the product. Unfortunately, this approach is far from healthy. We were created to consume living, life-sustaining, God-given foods that nourish and support a healthy body, not dead, life-depleting food from a factory. The life of the food is to be deposited into the body to support and maintain life. If you can avoid empty foods and limit caffeine and junk food consumption, and instead, consume more life-giving foods, you’ll be well on your way to better health.
Another important step, although extremely difficult, involves removing addictive substances that undermine health. I vividly remember a comment from a clinical nutritionist that motivated me, “Discontinuing caffeine intake leads to significant improvements in health…far more than just dieting alone.” He also made the connection between depression, anxiety, and panic attacks to excessive caffeine.
Don’t get me wrong, as a person who once loved a few strong cups of coffee, I understand that moderation is the key. The body is kept in a constant state of stress resulting in adrenal fatigue…no wonder it breaks down often and why many never overcome fatigue. Contrary to popular belief, stimulants don’t actually help fatigue; they contribute to it by robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Since caffeine runs along the same biochemical pathways in the brain as cocaine, opium, and amphetamines, quitting can be a nightmare. My suggestion is to back off day by day until intake is very minimal, and use organic green tea (light caffeine) whenever possible. You’ll be shocked by the results. Granted, the first week to 10-days may be torture, but it will be worth it. The withdrawal symptoms alone reveal the power of this drug. I was fascinated to read that the logo of a very popular coffee franchise represents a seductive image that allures and entices. How ironic.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders now recognizes caffeine-related disorders such as caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, and caffeine-induced sleep disorder. These can begin with even minimal doses. Increase the amount to 500mg. of caffeine (the amount found in approximately 24 ounces of coffee) and these symptoms are dramatically increased. All this can lead to angry outbursts, panic attacks, severe depression, and extreme irritability. This begs the question, “How many are suffering mentally and physically simply because of poor health—continuing the addiction rather than removing the cause of the problem?” Not in all cases, but in most, depression, anxiety, irritability, and so on, could be severely curtailed if health (spiritual and physical) was a priority.
In the same way that a hiker feels released, energized, and unburdened after removing a 50-pound backpack, you’ll feel released and energized after removing stimulants. I became a more patient, kind, and easygoing person when I quit abusing coffee. I never realized how much it was contributing to my anger, irritability, mood swings, and anxiety until at least a week after weaning off, and the withdrawals brought out the worst in me. I always excused my poor attitude with statements such as, “I had a bad day…I’m under a lot of stress. I’m tired.” Ironically, I was the primary cause of my “bad” days, stress, and fatigue. As much as I wanted to be filled with the Spirit, I was feeding my body a substance that was counter-productive.
Remember, your main goal is health and stimulates aren’t healthy. Ask yourself, “What is the risk to my health versus the benefit to my health?” Are the benefits going to outweigh the risks? No. Your heart and organs work very hard, and they don’t need added stress.
It’s not my intent to point solely to coffee, stimulants, soft drinks, and energy drinks, because there are many other addictive substances; neither is being legalistic my goal. My heart is to simply share how the most addictive substance in America affects health, and then let you be the judge.
Part 3 in a series on physical health
After years of dieting, I became so frustrated that I almost gave up altogether. After all, who wants to exercise daily, follow a special diet, and sacrifice time for nothing? We want immediate results. But when the results take longer than what we had planned, we become frustrated and eventually give up. A key element of success is knowing what to expect. People succeed at health when they stop focusing on immediate results and start focusing on changing their lifestyle. A biblical approach focuses on gradual, healthy lifestyle changes.
It’s unfortunate that we live in an age when immediate gratification has taken precedence over delayed gratification. We are told that good health can be quick and easy. As a result, we waste time and money on products that promise the world but fail to deliver worthwhile results. The majority of diet advertisers thrive on the principle that people will purchase products based on emotional response and urgency. Many have been largely conditioned to believe that they can do the least amount of work possible in the shortest amount of time where health is concerned. This is not a biblical approach. “Lose weight quick” is a great marketing slogan but it is not realistic.
I had often read that diet and energy drinks were not healthy, but that didn’t stop me from consuming them on a regular basis. It wasn’t until I researched the ingredients that I gave up drinking them. Not only do these beverages offer zero nutritional value, their ingredients are very harmful. Mechanics often use them to clean battery cables because of the acidic state. The heartbreaking truth is that millions of people consume these harmful ingredients on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day, without realizing what they are consuming. It’s little wonder that, as a nation, we’re experiencing record levels of health related problems. Again, ask yourself, “Does my body need it—or does it want it?” If it needs it, consume it. If it wants it, think twice. It’s not easy to completely quit drinking these products. The media does a masterful job promoting, marketing, and winning our minds with pleasant thoughts associated with their consumption. In many cases, profit drives companies, not health!
Initially, people are highly motivated and disciplined when they begin focusing on health. Many immediately stop eating fast food, stop consuming alcohol, stop eating sweets, and start exercising excessively. But as time passes, they fail to exercise as often, they don’t monitor food as closely as they once did, and they lose the motivation they once had. As a result, they fall back into old habits and behaviors, and eventually a lifestyle. But you can prevent this by introducing changes at a gradual pace and focusing on long-term results. What it takes to acquire health is what it takes to keep it. Therefore, don’t attempt to change your entire lifestyle overnight. For example, cut back on sugar consumption (i.e. soft drinks and junk food) and add exercise to your daily routine a few times a week. A few weeks later, add another day of exercise and limit junk food consumption; continue until a balance is reached. Don’t get frustrated. The key is to make more right choices than wrong ones. This you can begin today. If you don’t control your life, life will control you.
Is discipline really important? Through extensive contact within the fitness industry, I found that many recognized the need for discipline but believed that they had little, if any. They conditioned themselves to believe that discipline was an attribute they could not possess. They failed to recognize that they already possessed it; identifying it was difficult. If it were possible to have offered them a generous sum of money as soon as they reached their weight-loss goal, they would have quickly become highly disciplined and lost the desired weight, simply because their motivation outweighed the obstacle. Surprising, isn’t it, because health is far more valuable than money.
Many of America’s most popular foods have little, if any, food value, and a high calorie content. Once more, far too many people ignore the nutritional value of food. They are slowly undermining health because of poor food choices. A controversial sweetener, aspartame, for example, is used in many products (i.e., diet drinks, yogurt, gum, meal replacement drinks, supplements, etc.). Research has shown that although aspartame is sweet, the adverse effects can be very detrimental to health. It was discovered in 1965 when Dr. Schlatter, while working on an anti-ulcer medication, mixed a substance with methanol (wood alcohol). The result was a very sweet taste. The FDA has been reviewing this additive for many years and the reports have been startling. Many animals, including roaches, won’t consume it. Should we? You be the judge!
Many people consume harmful foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snacks. For instance, how many times do people consume diet drinks or soft drinks instead of the water they need? The question isn’t if they can cause damage to the body, but when they’ll cause damage.
Our bodies were designed to consume healthy, ground-originating carbohydrates. They are the primary source of energy. Many Scriptures found throughout the Bible make reference to carbohydrates. Ezekiel 4:9, for example, states “Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt…and make bread for yourself.” We are further encouraged to let our moderation be known to all men. The key word is moderation. Eat moderately and keep in mind that even healthy foods need to be consumed in moderation.
Part 4 in a series on physical health
You’ve made the choice to change, acquired a better understanding of how your body works, and are learning to choose self-discipline over regret. Now design a plan. Having a plan is essential, but it’s of no importance if you’re not prepared. Prepared for what? Prepared for unseen circumstances, for illness or injury, and for the challenging but rewarding opportunities ahead. For example, when I’m sick, instead of consuming junk food, I focus on juicing organic fruits and vegetables. This not only aids in recovery, it’s much easier to get back on track when health resumes.
Many who lose interest in exercising and eating correctly, do so because they are not prepared for the interruptions and the distractions that can break the routine. A successful weight-loss program will encourage you to continue, regardless of your situation. People fail at health and weight-loss not because they’re defeated, but because they quit. Those who succeed are those who continue despite delays.
You might be surprised at some of the excuses I’ve heard throughout the years in the fitness industry, but I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that TIME is the number one excuse, and sometimes it’s a good one. Time is one of the most important commodities that you possess. It can thrust you into the core of achievement or it can leave you consumed with guilt and regret. Time, if left to itself, will be the thief that robs you of opportunity, but when controlled, it can be used to great advantage. Use time wisely; it cannot be replaced!
One of the most disheartening statistics about weight-loss is that a high percentage of the people who diet and lose weight, do so only to gain it back within a few years. Why is this? I’ve found that most depend on a short-term diet to assure long-term success. They planned a two or three month program, but, again, short-term solutions do not produce long-term results. Those who change their habits by following a realistic eating pattern and exercise program can make changes that last a lifetime. As your body adapts to these changes, the amount of weight you lose will rise and fall depending on genetic predisposition, lifestyle, metabolism, and the biological changes that are taking place within the body.
As we close, forget what lies behind and press ahead. Begin now initially, or begin again. Success doesn’t come without failure. It’s through our failures that we learn how to succeed. I want to challenge those who do have the time to eat properly and/or exercise. We often forget just how precious time is. How many days, weeks, or even months do we waste because we don’t prioritize our lives? We need to be very careful when we say that we don’t have enough time. What we are really saying is that it’s not important. If it were important we would find the time. If we don’t schedule time, time will schedule us. You’ll never get everything done that “needs” to be done in the course of a day. Therefore, it’s important to prioritize your day. Ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing for me to do in any given hour?” In essence, it’s all about leading a productive, balanced life, using time wisely. Don’t let time be the excuse that stops you from succeeding.
As stated earlier, many of America’s most popular foods have little nutritional value, and contain harmful ingredients. Add to this the absence of fruit and vegetables for fiber and dietary value, and it’s obvious why cancer now affects one out of three individuals—we’re not feeding the body what it needs to fight cancer, heart disease, and poor health, in general. For me, the best approach, again, is consuming God-given foods whenever possible versus foods created in a factory. To borrow from a fellow health advisor, “If it wasn’t here 100-years ago, it’s probably best not to eat it.” And most of us know exactly what these are.
For those of us who eat meat, I suggest not every day, and organic whenever possible. The word “organic” is not a New Age term; it simply means that, in most cases, the food is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, preservatives, sewage sludge, and so on. These things can severely damage health. Choosing organic helps avoid many toxins. It’s a wonder that we don’t see more disease associated with poor health. Granted, the monetary cost of healthy food is higher than processed food, but the overall cost is much lower—less sickness and fewer trips to the doctor, along with more energy and productivity; not to mention the health benefits to our children.
There is great discussion today about cancer not being able to thrive in an alkaline environment (the body’s pH balance). Ironically, or should we say providentially, most God-given foods are alkaline, and thus, aid in the fight against disease; whereas junk food is often acidic and contributes to extremely poor health. God knows what He’s doing. We should follow His plan.
On the flip side, we should avoid being obsessed about health and weight. Many people spend most of their lives trying to look different. They often rate their appearance by society’s standard and strive to look like a “perfect ten.” This false perception causes many people to remain unfulfilled, even the “tens.” When we compare ourselves to others, we are not using wisdom. You were not designed to be someone else; you were masterfully designed to be you. A perfect physique does not guarantee happiness any more than a good mattress guarantees sleep. True happiness does not come from outer appearance; it comes from spiritual health. Although I barely scratched the surface, hopefully you will have enough information and motivation to be well on your way to better health.