Is Lack of Self-Control Driving You to Eat?

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We find ourselves inundated with these mixed messages. On the one hand, we're told to watch our diets, cut the fat and eat in moderation; on the other hand, we're encouraged to abandon our constraints and surrender to the sensuous pleasure of eating.

The outcome of this dichotomy is predictable. Because we are often ruled by our "sinful nature," which "desires what is contrary to the Spirit" (see Gal. 5:17), the messages that encourage us to indulge our flesh take precedence over those that advise restraint, and we find ourselves doing things we know we shouldn't. We see the proof of this in the ever-escalating prevalence of obesity.

Thank God for the Holy Spirit! Though yielding to the flesh may be the norm for the world, it doesn't have to be for Christians. Titus 2:12 tells us that God's grace "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age." The world may indulge its appetite and suffer the consequences of obesity, but the Holy Spirit gives us the power to say "No" to the tendency toward gluttony.

Since there are so many variables influencing our body weight, how do we distinguish whether our problem is rooted in a lack of self-control or one of the many other factors that play a role in obesity? In my experience with both my clinical practice and my church-based weight-loss group, the Ex-Gravediggers, I've found that most women are willing to acknowledge anything but a lack of self-control when it comes to their weight.

I named the group the Ex-Gravediggers because many of the participants had serious weight-related medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension. Instead of losing weight, these women were digging their own graves, one forkful at a time.

The Ex-Gravedigger weight-loss series includes a session on self-control. Invariably, most of the women in the group are quick to dismiss the idea that their problems stem from a lack of temperance.

"But I don't eat a lot of food," is the typical response I receive. In response, I came up with what I call the "Six-S Test," which is helpful in determining whether a lack of self-control is part of the problem.

The Six-S Test asks the following:

1. Do you eat in response to the sight of food? Are you drawn like a magnet to a beautifully laid buffet or a work-of-art dessert?

2. Do you eat in response to the smell of food? Does a whiff from the neighbor's grill on a hot summer day compel you to grab your plate and ring their bell?

3. Do you pay attention to your serving sizes? Has the fast-food trend of "super-sizing" everything extended into your own kitchen?

4. Are you prone to go for seconds? Is the first plate (no matter how much food you managed to pile onto it) never quite enough?

5. Do you eat on the spur of the moment? Are you able to drive by the local donut shop without pulling in?

6. Are you prone to snack? Is your grocery cart filled with more chips, pretzels, nachos and popcorn than broccoli, carrots, tomatoes and zucchini?

Every now and then, most of us are guilty of one, two or even all six of these items. But what distinguishes the woman who has a real problem with self-control from the one who occasionally desires a second piece of pie is that for the former, yielding to the flesh becomes a regular and consistent behavior, and she has a difficult time resisting temptation.

Proverbs 25:28 says that when we lack self-control, we're "like a city whose walls are broken down." The walls of ancient cities served to protect the inhabitants from the onslaught of their enemies.

When we lack self-control, our enemy the devil has easy access to tempt us. He slips through the cracks of our broken-down walls and entices us to yield to the flesh and indulge ourselves with food. Once we've given in, our walls crumble even more.

Eventually, we cease trying to resist, deceiving ourselves that in our already broken-down state, continuing to indulge can do no further harm: "As fat as I am, what difference will one more scoop of ice cream make?"

If you fit into the pattern of a woman who lacks self-control, the first step in correcting the problem is to acknowledge it. As simple as this sounds, I have found that it usually represents the greatest obstacle. It seems that no one--absolutely no one--thinks she eats too much. ("The problem is in my genes, not that extra slice of cheesecake.")

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