Food Rules or Relationship?

Food Rules or Relationship?

When I am in church on Sundays my mind always wanders in between the sermon and work. It lazily meanders between what my pastor is teaching us about Christ and living life in Christ and freedom from food rules and diet mentality. I guess it’s because I see so many parallels.


A couple of Sundays ago my pastor was preaching on John 10 and he said that the Pharisees reduced faith to rules and removed the relationship with God, and off my mind wandered, thinking about how diet culture reduces feeding ourselves to rules and removes the relationship with food and our bodies.


Many Christians refer to reducing faith to rules as legalism. Some Christians have a bent towards legalism. Oddly enough, even though I am a huge rule follower, this has not been my personal struggle. (Believe me, I have plenty of struggles, this is just one of the few I can’t claim.)


For some there can be a comfort in legalism - just hand over a checklist of things that one can do to be good and then check, check, check your way into God’s good graces. It is a straightforward, clear-cut, plan if you will. But over time it becomes rigid, exhausting, and unsustainable, leaving the do-gooder with a jacked-up checklist that leaves them feeling like a failure. Thankfully, this is not how God works. What He offers us is so much greater than a checklist to complete. 


Since He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, God has offered a personal relationship with Him – one that we don’t have to earn. Per Google the definition of relationship is the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.


We are connected with God through Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we are already rooted and built up in Christ (Col 2:6-7). Being in relationship is a matter of connecting to that fullness, abiding in Christ, not busying ourselves with earning a relationship with a to do list. Legalism is a distraction that robs us from connecting with what we already have, trying to earn a relationship, a love that is already there.


In the same way, food rules created by diet culture are a distraction that robs us from connecting with our body and hearing from its own intuitive wisdom about what, when and how much we should eat. Food rules for many can be comforting, a checklist of things one can accomplish to be thin or healthy and just check, check, check your way to happiness.


Rules about food can feel safe at first, or even exciting – a straight forward, clear-cut, plan if you will. But over time, the plan or diet becomes rigid, exhausting, and unsustainable, leaving the food rule follower feeling defeated and shameful.


Fortunately, having a positive relationship with food doesn’t look this way. We were born intuitive eaters before messages about food and body from other people and media started to hijack the intuition we were already given. By connecting with what our body has to say about eating we can learn to eat more intuitively and reestablish a relationship that is already there.


Diet culture and legalism are both thieves. One robs us of our relationship with food and body, the other robs us of the relationship with the one that gives us life and life to the full (John 10:10). Relationships can feel less clear-cut. They are messy and often undefined. There’s no specific plan to follow in relationships. Rules may not apply, but there’s an authentic connection that arises from the freedom we are given.

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Megan is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. Megan specializes in non-diet, heath at every size nutrition therapy for women and nutrition therapy for the treatment of eating disorders. She believes that difficult relationships with food and body image are barriers to women living life fully the way that Christ wants for us and she loves helping women find freedom in eating and acceptance of their bodies so that they can turn more attention towards living.