Recent status update from one of my Facebook friends:

One week into Daniel Fast with church…Focus is on prayer but added benefit: I’ve lost 8 pounds so far.

Not that it matters, but this guy is in a very appearance-focused field and does not “need” to lose 8 pounds even if you buy that weight loss should be a goal of everyone who falls above the “normal” BMI range. It just goes to illustrate how weight loss is now considered a positive for everyone (thus paving the way for things like workplace “Biggest Loser”-style weight loss competitions where everyone is supposed to participate regardless of whether they are thin or fat).

Religiously-based methods of dieting where you feel like you’re doing something morally worthwhile by going to Weight Watchers or the gym are also a pet peeve of mine. I am not really of the opinion that it particularly warms God’s heart to see you make it in under 1,200 calories a day, or log an hour on the treadmill as you stare at yourself in the mirror. I am definitely not into telling people how they must spend their time, and I firmly believe that exercise is an important part of my own mental and physical health and valuable for that reason, so I am certainly not minimizing the value of healthy choices–but I think this comes into focus when you ask yourself whether you think God would prefer you spend that hour planning low-carb meals or doing the elliptical (even taking into account the “self-discipline” angle that most people would cite as justification) vs. playing with your kids, volunteering, or visiting shut-ins, for example. People make personal choices, and that is totally fine with me even if those choices “only” benefit themselves, but I am highly skeptical of the idea that something like giving up chocolate for Lent is actually usually “for” Jesus and not just for the benefit of the person making the change. All I would like is to see religious people be able to be realistic and honest about why they really prioritize various goals related to dietary changes, weight loss, or exercise.

So I have no problem with fasting disciplines undertaken for religious reasons, but when you mix something like that up with weight loss or obesity or “health,” it automatically crosses the line to creepy and offputting for me. My FB friend (from what I know of him, anyway… I haven’t spoken to him since high school and didn’t know him well then) is quite devout, and I’m sure he is doing this fast for the “right” reasons, and in any case it’s none of my business if he’s not. But I still wish all the self-righteous weight loss crap–from which it is just a short step to “fatties are consuming all the resources, destroying our environment, and driving up the cost of health care with their immoral gluttony”–weren’t so common a part of this type of undertaking.

It sort of sucks, because although the Daniel chapters referenced by the fast seem often to be used (like so many Bible passages) to advance the agenda of whoever is citing them–to promote vegetarianism, environmentalism, low-calorie diets, or what have you, generally in contrast with the supposed gluttony of royalty, the rich, or present-day society–there is a lot of apparently very healthy food on the Daniel Fast food list (which, since it is a list of “acceptable” foods and a lot of the links associated with it are going to include diet talk, might be triggering, so approach with caution). It’s too bad we can’t all just pursue our goal of good health joyfully–or our goal of religious discipline, as the case may be, deliberately and meditatively–without weight-loss dieting, which in my opinion is antithetical to both goals (because it tends to take the focus off health and onto weight loss for its own sake in the first case, and off God and onto the self in the second) creeping in and ruining everything. As usual.