What does the Bible have to say about how to eat? Here are some categories from the Scriptures that help shape our dietary choices in contrast with the Standard American Diet (aka SAD).
Feasting is good. Feasting is giving your body more than it needs; it is eating in celebration mode. Feasts are not “cheat days” followed by shame and regret. Celebrating occasions when you can is part of God’s gift to his people (Ecclesiastes 8:15).
The general feasting pattern in the Old Testament is this: one day per week and a couple of weeks per year (read Leviticus 23 for more details). Christians are free from legalistically observing these feasts, but there is wisdom in the pattern it delivers: about 15-20% of the time we are feasting and 80-85% of the time we are not feasting.
Americans are locked into a chronic state of feasting. When I substantially overeat at lunch I’m a worse employee, spouse, father, and neighbor because I’m sluggish and have a hard time concentrating. This is unloving. The broader implications of living in a feasted-state on our society are obvious and well documented.
Fasting is good. Fasting is not giving your body what it needs. I’m not talking about intermittent fasting or fasting before a colonoscopy. Here, I’m talking about fasting for explicitly religious or spiritual purposes.
Fasting is about not being subject to the desires of the body. Fasting is about desiring to hunger for the Lord more than bread or sex. Fasting is about having dominion over yourself. Fasting is about depending on Christ more than calories.
Fasting for spiritual reasons is incomprehensible to most Americans. We have largely had our needs met and our desires (dietarily and sexually) immediately gratified; to do otherwise is regarded as a form of oppression. We are slaves to our desires.
The biblical pattern for fasting is way less frequent than feasting. There was one commanded fast day per year (The Day of Atonement). Largely, the people in the Bible fasted when they needed to, it was ad hoc: to pray, to process, or to prepare.
I recommend that most people find some way to purposefully fast at least once per year (Here is some guidance: How (Not) To Fast).
Feeding is good. Feeding is giving your body what it needs. This is normal patterned eating. It is what ought to happen when you aren’t feasting or fasting. It is not an occasion. It is not special. It is a gift, but it might not be exciting.
This is food as fuel. This is the sustainable 49 week per year and 6 days per week mode of caring for your body by giving it what it should have. This is 80-85% of the time. This is asking “what do I need?” not “What do I want?” This is resisting the sin of gluttony (Deuteronomy 21:23). This is “eat like you want to play with (love) your great grandkids.”
Figuring out what your body needs can be difficult. It changes over your lifetime and lifestage. If you don’t know where to start, ask your doctor, a dietician, or a self-proclaimed fitness influencer with a well-crafted instagram image (kidding, and also probably don’t start with your friend who wants to sell you supplements).
**Many of us are locked into feasted or fasted states because food has been a mechanism used to medicate underlying body image, control, or sense-of-self issues. Clinically disordered eating can exist both in severe caloric deficits and surpluses. These struggles are serious, dangerous, and usually require professional help. Getting the help you need is one way you can love your neighbor as yourself. If you aren’t sure where to start with this please email me.**