Let’s face it, we’re all fat. No, really, we all have body fat. Or at least we should. Because if we didn’t have any body fat (or a dangerously low percentage) the consequences would be lethal.1 You could die.
But how much fat is too much fat? Are some people simply more genetically predisposed to be large? Should we just embrace our obesity? And furthermore, what does God think about fat?
What is Fat?
The Bible contains several references to fat. Would it surprise you if I told you that a high percentage of those occurrences favorably2 referred to fat? Well, they do. But fat in the Bible doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Since everyone has fat, obesity has become the more precise term to use when referencing those who have an abnormally high percentage of body fat.
So how do we know when someone moves along the spectrum from ideal healthy body fat toward obesity?
Body Mass Index
People are considered obese when their Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeds 30 kg/m2. BMI is a measurement obtained by dividing a person’s weight by the square of the person’s height.
Waist to Hip Ratio
The World Health Organization states that abdominal obesity is defined as a waist–hip ratio above 0.90 for males and above 0.85 for females.
Body Fat Percentage
The body fat percentage is the total mass of fat divided by total body mass. There is no single ideal percentage of body fat for everyone. Levels of body fat are epidemiologically dependent on sex3 and age. Different authorities have developed different recommendations for ideal body fat percentages. The percentage of essential fat (Fat that is necessary to maintain life and reproductive functions) is 3–5% for men and 8–12% for women. Average body fat percentage is 18-24% for men and 25-31% for women. A person is classified obese when the body fat exceeds 25% (men) and 32% (women).
Obesity is more than the result of a clever math equation. Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, osteoarthritis and many more.
Justification of Obesity
Should we just embrace our obesity? Are some people simply more genetically predisposed to be large?
To date, there is slim evidence to substantiate the claim that genetics can make you fat. There is no such thing as a “fat gene.”4
There is a growing interest among some celebrities as well as frequent marketing campaigns which attempt to persuade people that being fat and overweight is normal.5 The slogan that has reverberated throughout our culture is reflected in this statement, “we should embrace who we are, even if we’re overweight.”
Inequality exits. Obese men and women are regularly discriminated against. Both in the job market as well as the realm of personal relationships. Obese men and women are rarely offered a job in favor of a slimmer individual. Likewise, not many men and women are in hot pursuit to find an obese companion to date and marry.6
Yet, justification abounds. Don’t waste your time suffering through the latest diet trends, fat loss products, or even more extreme, surgery. Instead, just be you. In other words, obesity is not bad. Who cares if it may lead to any number of chronic illnesses! Just be you. Obesity has been justified.
What Does God Think About Fat?
I already alluded to Scripture’s favorable references toward fat, albeit those references are never associated with a positive remark concerning someone who is overweight or obese.
If God approves of obesity (or is apathetic toward it) we might expect a collective sigh of relief. According to God, we may conclude, it is perfectly acceptable to be fat. But let’s face it, what we really want to know is the answer to this question: Is obesity a sin? This is a very taboo question. But it might prove more dangerous to attempt an answer. While the obvious illnesses linked with obesity are numerous, considering it a sin is a link many might hope to avoid. Including myself.
Search the Scriptures all you want, yet you’ll never find the command “Thou shalt not be fat.” Phew. Case closed? Maybe…
However, what we do find are several firm statements made in reference to avoid gluttony7 and the positive exhortations to exercise self-control. Gluttony is any excess in eating. Furthermore, to be a glutton may also imply a lack of self-control, specifically in the realm of food and drink. Regarding self-control, we find several instances throughout scripture where it is either positively encouraged or even commanded.8
Of the many accusations made against Jesus, Gluttony was one particular sin his critics leveled upon him: The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke7:34).
I confess. I am a glutton. I also lack self-control. Especially when it comes to food and drink. And consequently I’ve seen my health suffer because of poor dietary choices.
While obesity, in some instances, may be a result of gluttony, it would be entirely unfair to suggest that any person who becomes overweight, obese or simply ‘fat’ would be directly linked to gluttony.
My sins are great (gluttony, lack of self-control, and many more), but there is one who is greater than all my sins. Jesus. My hope is not whether or not I can maintain a healthy physique or exercise enough self-control to refuse a third helping, or avoid the ice cream aisle in the grocery store. My hope is in Christ, who has perfectly exercised self-control on my behalf. This produces not a license to binge, but rather a desire to live as he did.
There is no restriction on how much you should love or trust Jesus. No reason to exhibit self-control in such a way that you reduce your devotion to him. If there is one area of life where gluttony is approved, and even encouraged, it would be regarding our affections toward Jesus.
So, let your trust in Christ be…well…fat.
1 There is a necessary percentage of fat (called “Essential Fat”) before physical and physiological health would be negatively affected.
2 The following is a selection from scripture in which “fat” or “fatness” is generically referred to favorably: Genesis 4:4; 27:28; 45:18; Daniel 1:15 & Leviticus 3:16.
3 The percentage of essential body fat for women is greater than that for men, due to the demands of childbearing and other hormonal functions.
4 Genes Are Not Destiny, Harvard School of Public Health; Obesity & Genetics, Center for Disease Control and Prevention; The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years, The New England Journal of Medicine
6 In a series of studies done by Singh (1993), men used Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR) and fat distribution to determine a woman’s attractiveness. In his first study, men were shown a series of 12 drawings of women with various WHR’s and body fat distribution. Drawings with normal body fat distribution and a moderate WHR were associated with the most positive traits (i.e. attractive, sexy, intelligent and healthy). The drawings with the low WHR were not associated with any positive traits except youthfulness.
7 The following is a selection from Scripture in reference to “gluttony”: Deuteronomy 21:20; Proverbs 23:20-21; 28:7; Matthew 11:19; Titus 1:12.
8 The following is a selection from Scripture in which “Self-control” is either commanded or favorably encouraged: 1 Corinthians 9:25; Galatians 5:23; Titus 2:12; 1 Peter 4:7 & 2 Peter 1:6.