If there’s one four-letter word I can’t stand, it’s the one heard most often in January: diet.
Maybe I should blame it on being raised as a Baptist. It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned a church event could occur without food. Or I could blame it on genetics. Gratefully (so far), I’ve never had to adjust my diet due to health concerns. Or I could blame it on age. I’m still young enough that my metabolism upholds fairly well (or at least I’m naive enough to convince myself that’s the truth.)
But I mostly hate the word “diet” for the same reason most people do: food is so good. Have you ever eaten a pizza? A blue-cheese-BBQ-bacon burger? Animal fries from In-N-Out? I’m salivating just typing the words.
However, there’s one thing I hate more than dieting: being a stumbling block to my family.
A few weeks before we became pregnant with our firstborn, my wife began working out more consistently than she had since before we’d met. A few pounds dropped off, and she was experiencing the virtuous cycle of satisfaction that losing weight can bring. Then we got pregnant. It wasn’t unexpected, but it occurred much sooner than we thought it would. The necessary pounds of pregnancy piled on.
When my wife complained about how much extra weight she was now carrying, I didn’t know how to respond. As I grabbed another piece of pizza, all I could offer was, “You’ll be able to lose the weight once the baby’s here.”
Did I mention that he was our firstborn and how we didn’t know how much time we wouldn’t actually have once he was here? That’s an important part.
During our son’s first year, my wife struggled to find the time to lose weight, both in terms of working out and eating right. Because our schedules were so full—we’re both self-employed, had to learn how to be parents, and still wanted to talk to each other—the thought of a home-cooked meal was often just that: a thought. It was so much easier to stop at our nearby Wendy’s where the window attendant would call us “Darlin’” or “Baby.”
As our baby put on weight, so did we. Then, once we figured out a workable schedule for our new-baby lives almost a year later, my wife spouted off fightin’ words: “We need to diet.”
The Problem Was Always Right in Front of Her
Actually, I don’t think that’s what she said, but that’s what I heard. Unhappy with the pregnancy weight that just wouldn’t leave, my wife began eating well and making time to work out. In discussing our health and her diet, I realized that she had yo-yoed so often for one all-too-apparent reason: me.
I’d forgotten to be her spouse “in sickness and in health.”
It should be fully noted that she never said these words. She never blamed me. However, I couldn’t help but connect the dots when she often referred to the time right before we met as the time she was the fittest she’d ever been in her adult life. (In my defense, dating requires eating, right?)
I realized I was her dieting stumbling block because I knew that dieting was like any other less-than-fun habit: it requires an immense amount of willpower. To say no to what we so often and so easily say yes to on a daily basis requires inner strength. I may just be speaking for myself here, but dieters will often find any excuse to allow themselves the freedom to subvert their diet. I realized that my poor eating habits had been a stumbling block to what my wife desired. How could I expect her to want to continue dieting while I was eating a burger right beside her?
So, after a life spent uncaring about what I consumed, I knew I had to change. I had to speak that four-letter word over myself, and I had to accept its bitter aftertaste.
What I Gain by Dieting
To me, the irony is that I didn’t start dieting for my own health. I certainly need to diet for my health, but I’ve always known that. My great motivation to begin dieting derived from the place of most of my motivation: my family. But my change wasn’t just for my wife’s benefit.
Over the last sixteen months, as our little man went from flopping his neck around and drinking baby formula to ever-moving and consuming all types of food, I’ve been forced to realize my dadness.
This kid will take after me.
Granted, I hope he takes after his mom more, but he will see me as a role model, and part of that role relates to food and how we ought to take care of our bodies. Before our son arrived, I used to think what I chose to eat was a personal decision. Now I know it’s actually much more than that. With better eating habits, I not only help my wife achieve her physical goals or help my son become a healthy boy, I consciously work to prolong one of the greatest gifts God has given me: the time I get to spend with these two incredible people I get to call my family.
But there’s something subtler and deeper going on here. Through poor food choices, I’m inadvertently teaching a poor spiritual lesson to my son as well.
The Problem Was Always Me
Now, I know Jesus wasn’t talking about dieting when he asked his disciples the rhetorical question, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26). But isn’t it rather telling that the verses that precede this memorable question speak to the heart of my fight against dieting? “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25).
Like so many issues in our lives, the issue at hand is seldom the issue to blame. Rather, we must always look deeper and ponder longer the whys behind our whats. It’s not that I don’t want to diet; it’s that I don’t want to deny myself. It’s not that I don’t want to be a good husband; it’s that comfort is more appealing. It’s not that I don’t want to be the best parent I can be for my son; it’s that I’ve settled for “good enough.” Essentially and effectively, I default to choosing myself over others and over God. I am Adam in the Garden of Eden, hungry for a bite of an apple that will never fulfill.
Jesus’ call to deny myself and willingly give up my life—from the small details of what I eat for breakfast to the larger issues of what I want my life to preach—speaks to the heart of every one of my decisions. Speaking about self-denial is easy; enacting self-denial on a daily basis is difficult. Without God’s grace, it’s impossible. Maybe that’s why he gives us hints about the rewards of self-denial through our relationships.
So, every morning when I eat a hard-boiled egg over black beans (doused in Picante sauce), I don’t even think of bacon-infused pancakes or piping hot sausage gravy generously poured over two buttermilk biscuits.
I just look at my wife and son.