"Find Yourself Packing It On? Blame Friends," was one recent headline reporting a New England Journal of Medicine study suggesting that there's a contagious factor behind the rise of obesity (New York Times, July 26).
One researcher recommended that those with overweight friends should bring a "thin person into the relationship" in hope that the influence of a companion who doesn't overeat may temper the inclination to take on the physical attributes of a friend who eats too much ("Fat Comes in on Little Cat Feet," New York Times, July 27).
While the researcher's idea about the thin friend is interesting – but doesn't consider that the thin friend might gain weight instead of encouraging the others to lose – the observation that people are influenced by the thoughts, mental models, and actions of others, is more important. It can point our thoughts toward spiritual answers.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, described the problem and solution this way in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "What is the model before mortal mind? Is it imperfection, joy, sorrow, sin, suffering? Have you accepted the mortal model? Are you reproducing it? Then you are haunted in your work by vicious sculptors and hideous forms.... To remedy this, we must first turn our gaze in the right direction, and then walk that way" (p. 248).
The direction she recommended was marked out by Christ Jesus, who emphasized the importance of putting God first in all we do. Jesus understood God to be a loving Father – the omnipotent and wise divine intelligence that could provide water from a rock for the children of Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 17:6), protect the sons of the prophets from the accidental presence of poisonous herbs in their stew (II Kings 4:40, 41), and feed over 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish (Matt. 14:15-21).
The Christly understanding of provision is that it is lovingly administered by God and that we, as children of God, can and should count wholly on His goodness to meet our needs.
This spiritual sense of God's goodness and power enabled Jesus to discern right from wrong – to discern the substance of Spirit from the notion of creation as limited, negative, and mortal. The Master addressed every human concern, including those related to food, on the basis of his theology. To those who struggled with lack of food and others who preached dietary proscriptions, Jesus insisted that our need is to understand our relationship to God and align our lives with the leadings of divine Love. This would bring to light the tangible abundance of God's care.
This version of the Gospel of Matthew gives a contemporary sense of his instruction: "If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes.... There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach.... Eating or not eating certain foods ... that's neither here nor there" (Matt. 6:25; 15:20, Eugene Peterson, "The Message").
God-based thought and action give us a solid basis from which to master the impulses that would lead to unhealthy behaviors and to fulfill Jesus' teaching to "love thy neighbor as thyself."
We need to respond actively to the real and present goodness of spiritual creation; having the mind "which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). Prayer relieves us of temptation and confusion. With those out of the way, excessive focus on food, the fear of lack, and the influence of unhealthy body images, drop away. They are seen as empty threats, made irrelevant in the light of divine Truth. Spirit, Mind – God – is the truly essential and substantial intelligence of all life. In this understanding, we find fresh and inspired views of ourselves and those around us. These help and heal; they lift us all into the fullness of who we are and why we're here.