I’m trying to find areas in the Bible that deal with overeating and weight gain. I have had this struggle, like countless other women I’ve known, for my entire life, especially now after having our first son, and I’m wondering where I can find more information from God on this so that I can have more success in this area.
Thanks so much!
What an understatement it is when you say that this is a struggle many women have. While the Bible and ancient Jewish wisdom have a great deal to say on eating, it isn’t explicitly focused on overeating or weight gain.
For instance, here is the first occurrence in Scripture of God issuing a commandment to man:
And the Lord God commanded the Adam saying,
“Of every tree of the garden eat you must eat.”
Many English translations get it wrong by translating, “…of every tree of the garden you shall surely eat”
The original Hebrew does not say “surely”. Instead it repeats the commandment to eat. Here is what the Hebrew would look like if accurately translated:
“…of every tree in the Garden you must eat, you must eat.”
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God’s first explicit directive to people repeats the verb ‘to eat’ to tell us to perform two separate and distinct acts with every mouthful. We are to eat for both physical and spiritual reasons. That way we extract the full benefit from every morsel of food.
Perhaps this helps explain that the more correct our attitude to food is, the more we will eat in an appropriate way leading to a side benefit of maintaining a healthy weight.
The Torah asks us to say a blessing both before and after eating. The blessings relate to the specific food, forcing us to ask questions such as, “Does it grow in the ground or on a tree?”, “What is the main ingredient in this soup?”, and “Did I put peanut butter on the cracker because I was craving a cracker or was I craving peanut butter and needed a base for it?” This discourages mindlessly finishing our children’s egg so as not to waste it (we are not alternatives to garbage cans) or picking our way through a pantry shelf while tidying up.
Ancient Jewish wisdom urges us to sit down to eat rather than grabbing something on the run. We recite a closing blessing on whatever food we ate, which means we make a conscious decision that we are finished eating rather than nibbling away for hours. As much as possible, we eat with other people rather than alone and are meant to craft the conversation in a way that elevates the meal so that it is a spiritual as well as a physical feast. For mothers with small children, this could translate into taking the extra few minutes to actually set ourselves a place at the table, complete with napkin and cutlery, and perhaps reading something uplifting while we eat, even if we only have a few minutes allotted to ourselves. Once our children are older, we can enjoy their company and make sure we are discussing interesting, age-appropriate ideas rather than eating in silence or gossiping.
A benefit of thinking in this way about food is that it encourages awareness. While, unfortunately, like anything else, the letter of the law can be followed without the spirit, such as by hastily mumbling the blessing, if done correctly, we should be cognizant of each and every bite. We should also be consciously grateful to God for providing us with food as well as understanding that it is meant to serve the purpose of fueling our bodies so that they can accomplish great things.
Our focus should be on taking care of the bodies God graciously allows us to inhabit, rather than on hitting certain weight points. Pregnancy and nursing are going to change our bodies just as a lived-in home looks different, and much more welcoming, than a museum with cordoned off exhibits. While women should make every attempt to look attractive for their spouses, being “put together” does not mean possessing the physical body of our eighteen-year-old selves. There is a difference between having a more ‘mature’ figure and looking slovenly or as if we lack self-respect. (Obviously while in the throes of morning sickness, or during those post-partum weeks, or while three kids are down with the flu, managing to change out of pajamas in itself shows enormous effort.) In a good marriage and as spouses spiritually mature, non-physical criteria become more important.
If we had a sure-fire secret formula for losing weight, we would be on top of the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest individuals. What we do hope we have left you with, Melissa, is a change in focus from weight and eating to one of awareness of and gratitude for the food you eat. Most of all, we hope you and your husband have a respect for the wonders that your bodies let you achieve and a desire to take as much care of those bodies as you would give to any fine and precious machine.
With hopes that this provides food for thought,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin