“Treat your body like an instrument—not an ornament.” —Gary Thomas
Our society struggles to find a healthy image of the human body.
On one end, we obsess over it. Americans alone spend over $10 billion dollars/year on plastic surgery. New diet fads surface and fade away at a dizzying pace. Magazine covers promise 6-pack abs in grocery store check-out aisles. The average woman spends 2 weeks a year on her appearance. And 77 percent of adult women complain about their physical appearance.
And yet, despite all the cultural fixation on beauty and outward appearance, 60% of Americans are either overweight or obese. Only one in five adults meet federal guidelines for both aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercise. We spend over $100 billion dollars/year on fast food and average 34 hours/week watching television. Even more of us see little connection between our physical bodies and the lives that we lead.
Both views lead to disastrous outcomes. On one hand, an over-infatuation with the body leads to an unhealthy relationship with it. We base our happiness on our physical appearance or use it as a means to impress others. But an unconcerned, dismissive image of the human body leads to an unhealthy lifestyle with unhealthy choices.
What approach might we take that balances both and keeps our physical bodies in proper regard? Or better yet, what perspective might motivate us to care for our bodies properly without becoming obsessive over it?
The key, I believe, is to understand our physical bodies are the instruments through which we accomplish our unique purpose in this world. (tweet that)
Our one physical body represents an important tool to accomplish important good works. In this way, they must matter to us.
No matter what our greatest pursuit is in life, our physical bodies are essential to accomplishing it. Whether I desire to be a good parent, a spiritual mentor, a world-traveler, a successful businessperson, or any combination of the above, my body is either an asset or liability.
This is an important change in our thinking. We do not care for our bodies simply for vanity’s sake or to fill a void within us. We care for our bodies so we can more effectively accomplish what we most want to accomplish with our lives.
This approach motivates us to make healthy choices in a healthy context.
How then, specifically, might we care for our bodies to keep them both healthy and effective? Consider these 7 intentional steps:
1. Fuel properly. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Their contribution to healthy eating cannot be overstated. The goal in our home is to make meat the side dish rather than the main dish.
2. Hydrate sufficiently. Every system in your body depends on water. According to the Mayo Clinic, you body probably needs 9-13 cups of fluid each day (depending on your gender, size, and activity level). Consider 8 glasses of water each day as a really good place to start. If you need some extra motivation, read this: Top 10 Things I Learned Drinking Only Water for a Month.
3. Exercise frequently. The CDC recommends 150 minutes/week of aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week—that’s just a bit more than one full-length movie and sitcom. If you are intentional about getting exercise, you are meeting this suggestion. If you are not intentional about getting exercise, you should probably start.
4. Rest regularly. Your body needs rest. Get some each week.
5. Eliminate unhealthy habits strategically. Eat less junk food. Drink less alcohol. Smoke fewer cigarettes. Read more labels.
6. Don’t compare foolishly. Your body is unique and your goals are unique. Care for your body as an instrument through which to accomplish your unique purpose—not as something to be compared to others.
7. Make changes slowly. Pick one item from this list you can improve upon. Start there. And experience some victories before moving on to the next.
Has anyone tried the minimalist diet? Is it caloric based and counting and is it any different from the other ? Tx
#6 is the very most sensible thing to do imho. I have seen a show on TV where they are trying to renovate and sell houses and flipping…One realtor believes very strongly that the client would love the house he is going to show him because it is a perfect house for them. Guess what, it was all perfect…until the couple had to go to the basement, and on the way down the husband couldn’t come into the basement because he was 6 feet tall, and the basement was too literally low. So the client tried to get in and had to bend his head and curve his neck to the right. :0[
Love the ideas #1,2,4,6 and 7. My takeaways here is our body always knows what it needs whether a nap or not going a day without being dehydrated.
Karla Buhlman says
What a wonderful post! I think I will share it with my Middle School Girl Scouts. We are working on the Science of Happiness badge and soon will do the Eating for You badge. While this article is aimed at adults to help revise and improve dailey habits, it is an informative read to help establish and start health body image habits in impressionable pre teens. Thank you!
Read more labels so important is choosing healthier food.
Joshua, thank you for this great post… and for making things simple for us to focus on the important stuff. Yes I agree, we must take care of ourselves. Jesus paid a great price for us… through His finished work we can stand in and through Him, not in our own strenght, but in His. We are Wonderfully made by a loving God. He loves us more than we can ever imagine, more than all our sin, our mistakes, failures and anything that holds us back, His love is too deep for us to understand… He wants you to come to Him, just as you are.., What we do with our bodies; our whole lives, is just a choice each day of the journey… One of the most important elements is our focus. We must not focus to much on our flesh, but on the bigger picture, the deeper stuff… and our destiny… planned by the living God… Yes indeed we must take care of our bodies, to be a instrument… and to fulfil our purpose!! It’s all about focus and choice! And remember this… there’s Always HOPE!! It’s never too late, to start over…
Great would love to hear more about this in the feature. A healthy body is really something you should never go against!
Diane Marie says
Instead of making meat a side dish, why not do your health and the planet a bigger favour and eat an entirely plant-based (vegan) diet? It’s not difficult or complicated. And the rewards are great.
Why not let people make their choice without pushing your agenda? It’s a positive post, leave it at that.
It was a suggestion, not an agenda.
I was thinking the same thing. Heart disease such as strokes and heart attacks, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, are things you see when you eat animal products. It’s as simple as that. (BUT you can still be a fat vegan if you eat processed, fatty vegan foods.) I wish everyone would try a healthy, 100% plant based diet, even if just for 2 weeks, to see what all of the fuss is about.
You do know, I hope, that the diseases you speak of come from CAFO animals, not pasture-based, managed rotational grazing/grass-fed ones. It’s NOT “as simple as that”. what is simple–there is nothing truly vegan. Those crops you love so much that till the earth and cause erosion? they are fertilized either with organic options (bonemeal/bloodmeal) or chemical fertilizers (crude oil based extractive options). When grown in healthy soils, there are earthworms involved, too. and animals (bees, etc) pollinate those crops for you. You cannot avoid the contribution of animals, no matter how hard you try.
“Vegan” is terrible for the planet, though. It requires more tillage. Pasture-based herbivores are what we need to rebuild soil and heal the planet–which means limited but not zero meat.
I’ve recently been working on making exercise a habit. When I am investing time in my body, whether or not those changes are actually reflected in my body weight or shape, I have a much higher self-image. I am reminded of how strong I am every time I get outside and run or hike. I am reminded of how thankful I should be that I am able to do these things.
A quote I read every morning by my mirror is, “I run (or, eat well) because I love my body, not because I hate it.”
It’s easy to fall into the mindset of forcing myself to eat fewer calories and run harder because I hate certain aspects of my body…but I am trying to be grateful for how beautifully God has designed my body and treat exercise as a way to take good care of it.
Great quote! I’m going to use that. It’s too easy for me to fall into the hating and punishing my body mindset.
Your point about fueling your body well could include eating enough calories to support your activity level. Many people jump on diets, eat to little, body shifts into starvation mode. People who do this usually regain any weight they lose, and also add a few pounds. The diet industry thrives on this cycle, and people continue gaining more and more weight. All one needs to do is cut back a little permanently to lose weight. You don’t even need to count calories though it is good to be aware of higher calorie foods. As with possessions, our culture is selling the diet norm: something we don’t need which takes quality away from life.
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Our body is a tool that helps achieve things in life. Take care about your body and that is a sign for people that you are not a problem if they accept you in their tribe.
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who live you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself. 1 Corinthians 6:19.
Kayla Dawn Thomas says
Thank you for giving me a new way to think about my body. It’s such a gift, and I need to treat it as such. God appreciates it when we accept and care for his gifts. It is so true that unless we love and nourish our bodies, we can’t fully perform the tasks/purpose we’ve been placed her to do. Great insight.
“Care for your body as an instrument through which to accomplish your unique purpose—not as something to be compared to others.”
Loved how you said that, Joshua.
There’s too much pressure to be ‘good-looking’, ‘hot’ or ‘beautiful’ or whatever thus making it hard for people to do what they want to do.
I need to work on the rest :) Great post !
Kush Sharma says
Great post! As far as eating less of unhealthy food is concerned, I’ve found that my natural inclination towards it reduced when I started exercising.
I think the therapeutic effects of exercising make your body used to that wonderful feeling, and you naturally develop an aversion to anything that is unhealthy. And when this comes naturally, it’s always better.
Lot of people think it’s a sacrifice to give up junk food. But in my opinion, it’s just a natural reaction when you get in touch with who you are. Mediation and exercise are great ways to let this feeling come naturally.
I genuinely don’t feel like having junk food nowadays and it’s a wonderful feeling.
My father once said about his own appearance, “If you don’t like how I look, don’t look at me.” I really think he was just grumpy when he said it, but I truly think it was wise. It has always stuck in my mind, and I’ve come to find that it fulfills my own perspective on appearance. It’s so important for us to realize that, like you said, our bodies are our vehicle for accomplishing our purpose in this world. We should treat them well and fuel them properly.
Lisa Byrne says
I love what a few of the folks comment on here: basically, do something good for your body. And your mind. And spirit.
We show up in the world in relationship to how we feel about ourselves usually coming from the inside and emitting outwards.
It is your mind that drives your body and we all know a mind can be a powerful force. Good, bad, or indifferent.
A good book on this subject is called “The Culture Code”. It gives a good understanding behind the motives of why we do what we do and the author shares a lot about what Joshua brings up: image, diets, beauty obsession, over infatuation. But also on the real stuff underneath that which matters- movement being a big piece of living a good life.
Thanks for your share Joshua.
Kent Julian says
I’d add “age gracefully.” I’m not a super old guy yet, but I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I have to be okay with not running as fast as I used to (I race a lot of 5k and 10k). I have to be okay with looking in the mirror and seeing an older face than I think I should see.
Yes, thank you for adding that Kent. Aging gracefully has become a life goal. I constantly ask myself how I can be 45 in a different way than desperately pretending I’m still in my 20’s.
Karen Anne says
My goal is to age with 1. Grace 2. Gratitude 3. Good Humor. All are essential!
Brooks Palmer says
I’m bald. Sometimes I wish I had a full head of hair. But when I think about it, no one notices or cares either way. And most of the time, I don’t care…I had a double lung transplant about ten months ago. Today I’m doing really well. Basically I’m glad to be healthy and alive again. The details about I look have become greatly unimportant.
Giving up television was the best thing I ever did for my self-esteem. As a 30 year old female in this selfie-obsessed society, I know that most females are unhappy with their bodies. It is so common to be unhappy with your body that someone who is happy with their body is considered to be an oddball. I realized that watching television, reading magazines, watching advertising, all resulted in my body esteem being lowered. The minute I stopped watching all of this and went back to doing yoga, reading great books, writing, cooking, and other things I love, my self-esteem and body image rose up dramatically. Thanks for the post!
It’s a sad society. How about some truth in advertising…like someone with yellow teeth trying a whitening toothpaste! Or a huge man on the package of underwear marked XXXL…not the buff torso they show.
De' Hoover says
This is the best article on this subject I have ever read.
You’re right. All of this numbers are terrifying. We’re obsessed with our appearance but from another hand, our culture require to be polite, pretty and cool from us.
Heidi @ Barefoot and Paleo says
I agree 100% with each point although it is hard to be comitted to everything all at once. I find if I focus on just one positive thing, like rest, then I am more likely to accomplish it successfully. When I am getting enough rest, I move to the next positive thing on my list.
Thanks for sharing!
Excellent tips! I think the statistic that 77% of adult women complain about their bodies is low. I often feel like something is wrong with me because I don’t complain about my body. Every other woman I know, whether fat, skinny, or somewhere in between, complains.
I stay fit and eat well for exactly the reason you stated – I love to see what I can do with this body and am constantly trying to test my limits and achieve more. I race bikes. I play tennis. I hike mountains. I lift weights. The side benefit of all of this is that I look good. But that’s not why I do any of it.
I wish more women would start thinking this way, instead of constantly finding fault even when there is none to be found.
Great comment! :)
“our physical bodies are the instruments through which we accomplish our unique purpose in this world.”
Perfectly put! The funny thing is, when I stopped eating sugar for a while the goal wasn’t to loose weight, the goal was to do something good for my body. Regardless of what my body looked like from the outside, I wanted to do something for the inside! Nevertheless, I soon looked better and thinner, even though that wasn’t planned. Maybe the right approach is to want to be healthy and not just look thin and the rest will fall into place on its own.
Sandra Pawula says
These are startling statistic, Joshua. Especially the fact that “60% of Americans are either overweight or obese.” And, I can hardly believe that people watch 34 hours of television a week! That’s almost a full work week. And, I don’t watch television at all so someone else must be watching more.
I fully agree with your suggestion to see our body as the vehicle for accomplishing our purpose in this life. I think it’s important to find the right balance between neglecting it and giving it more attention that it really deserves or needs. A healthy minimalist approach I think is the best one when it comes to the body.
Great post. Very consistent with a quote I read last week:
“Take care of your body, it is the only place you have to live here on earth.”
I really like this article. It’s common sense and simple at best, but so hard for us to put into practice. For awhile now I’ve been really interested in my healthy as it pertains to my goals in life. I’m going to be living overseas pretty soon away for American and first world comforters. Recently I’ve been on a steady journey of learning how to care for myself physically so that I’ll be able to do my job well and live comfortably and healthfully in a different culture.
I’ve done a six week vegan diet, which changed my entire outlook on food and other things as well. I’m now doing a one week healthy habits challenge to see just how much little things like exercising every day and getting a good night sleep affect my mood and regular disposition. It’s not an easy thing to change habits that we’ve lived with our whole lives, but the outcome is well worth it. I’m learning that slowly, but surely.
I love the quote you used! From an educator/soon to be mum perspective, I truly believe that is one of the reasons we need to get our kids into sport.
I was a professional athlete for years, and still exercise for health (and fun) but the one, the best thing that I have learnt about exercise is to feel grateful that it CAN DO all these things: climb mountains, lift shopping, run up stairs, swim across a lake…
I love looking at older people who, through continued use, have kept the functionality of their bodies.
Thanks for the post!
Jennifer Leap says
I believe a huge shift happens when we stop thinking about how our bodies look and instead focus on how our bodies feel. We feel much better when we eat nutritious foods and exercise regularly; we don’t feel so great when we’re dehydrated or running on 4 hrs of sleep. Our bodies will naturally guide us in making the choices that are best for our health.
Teri Clifton says
I worked for 3 1/2 years at a shelter for kids involved in prostitution. Even upon leaving prostitution, the desire for “things” and the obsession to look like a celebrity remained intact with these kids. The body image and unrealistic idea of a norm is so reinforced by media and so very damaging.
I am lucky to have kids of my own that hike and backpack and therefore are not solely tied to one idea of “beauty” and they all value physical strength and emotional/intellectual power and peace. For anyone struggling and navigating challenges in the arena of body image, the world at large is not their friend. Privileged culture pressures everyone to look like a model and then proffers outrageously unhealthy fast food as an acceptable way to eat. It is a lose, lose situation until collectively it is dismantled. It happened and continues to happen with cigarettes so there is hope. :)