One of the biggest differences for myself in my weight loss journey has been a Biblical principle called Sabbath. One of the 10 Commandments that God gave His people was to work hard for 6 days and take the 7th day to rest in His finished work. Sabbath is something that is not commonly practiced in our culture today but I believe it is essential for followers of Christ.
One of the best descriptions that I have heard of modern day Sabbath is that Sabbath is a day where we get to celebrate the best about God’s Kingdom without feeling the burden of ‘doing’ anything. It’s a day where we simply get to ‘be’ what God has created us to be. It’s a day where we put aside our work and trust that following God’s command (to rest) and putting aside all that is ‘urgent’ or mandatory will actually sustain us as we pursue a thriving relationship with God.
For the Jews, their practice of Sabbath is quite extraordinary. Some of them go to great lengths to ensure they will not break the Sabbath or work at all on the Sabbath (for example, I have heard that many high-rises in Israel have a Jewish elevator and a Gentile elevator, the Jewish elevator will stop at every floor so that no person will have to press the buttons on the elevator in order to reach their destination… good thing this is not the elevator at the Sears tower in Chicago). This is an example of following the letter of the law rather than the purpose of the law… this also does not sound very restful! On the flip-side, though, Jewish people do celebrate on their Sabbath, so much so that they often will spend much of the day before preparing so that their Sabbath is fully practiced. They will begin their Sabbath at night once the sun is down with a large feast, they will then spend the day celebrating with family and enjoying life together! I could embrace that aspect of the Jewish practice of Sabbath.
So what does this have to do with weight loss?
One of the things that I have had to accept about weight loss is that it is not meant to be a heavy burden (like the description of Sabbath I described to do with the elevators)… that type of weight loss is simply not sustainable. Now physical trainers may disagree with me on this, but one of the things that has made my weight loss sustainable, and successful, taking a ‘Sabbath’ from counting calories and avoiding all of the foods that I enjoy. How this works for me is simple – 6 days a week (when I am focussing on weight loss as opposed to sustaining weight) I regulate my calorie count, I limit myself to between 1600 (if I don’t exercise) and 2000 (if I do) calories per day. I also try to exercise at least 4-5 of those 6 days. In a lot of ways, I see this as fasting. I affirm that my desire to eat an excess of unhealthy food is contrary to my design and how God intends me to be healthy and I fast from eating those things. I don’t do this perfectly, but I would say for the first few months of weight loss I maintained this about 95% of the time.
On my Sabbath day, I feast (sometimes this does not line up with my actual Sabbath, though I would like that to become the rhythm, it doesn’t always work). I still try to eat within reason but, on this day, I allow myself to have that piece of cake, glass of milk, or cheeseburger. Like regular ‘Sabbath,’ when you know that your day of rest is coming, you are able to work hard the other 6 days… in fact, you can be more productive if you take a day off then if you don’t. This happens in life and it also happens in weight loss. This may slow the weight loss down a bit but what it does is it allows me to work hard the 6 days because I know that day 7 is coming. I can say no to that 3rd or 4th slice of pizza because I know that day 7 is coming.
A word of warning – Sabbath is not a day to eat like a glutton. My first few ‘cheat days’ I ate myself sick (confession)… in speaking with my counsellor about this, she asked me if there was a way I could use my cheat day to not necessarily increase the amount of food I was eating, but allow myself a few extra ‘treats’ that I would not eat otherwise! And this has worked!
I also apply this principle to my vacation. When I am on vacation, I treated this like an extended Sabbath. Did I gain a bunch of weight back? To be honest, no! I only gained a small amount of weight!
Fasting and Feasting
I think God created our bodies to both fast and feast. As long as both are done in a way that seeks to honour Him and in a way that listens to our bodies (as both fasting and feasting can have very negative consequences when done apart from these things). Christians are, I believe, to be the most celebratory people out there! We need to be able to cook the best meals and serve the best food. The culmination of the coming together of Heaven and Earth is a meal – the marriage supper of the lamb! Jesus used meals as a way of breaking down social barriers. The way that He instructs us to remember His death and sacrifice is through a meal (better stop now, I’m starting to preach 😉 ).
If you are having a hard time eating well, here is my encouragement… try setting reasonable goals (2200-2500 calories is a decent goal) and live up to that 5 days a week (even 4 if you need a slower start). The other days, eat as you have been eating now. Honestly, you may not even want to or be able to eat like you used to! Start where you are, God will honour it, you will feel so much better, I guarantee it!