[ym360 Note: Chris Wesley is one of our most frequent contributors. Chris is an awesome youth pastor, a great thinker and practitioner. When he sent us this post, we found ourselves completely agreeing with him! It's an important issue that so many of us struggle with. We'd really love to hear your perspective on this. You can share your thoughts by leaving a comment at the end of the article.]
What I really wanted was a pack of E.L. Fudge cookies. Double stuffed. However, we were all out, so I settled for a rice cake with peanut butter and honey. Doesn't sound like much of a trade off, I know. However, I just needed something to soothe my growling stomach.
It was probably best that we were out of any "real" sweets considering that my hunger was a result of stress.
I'm 6 foot 1, 208 pounds. I don't know if you consider that fat or thin. I do know most people are surprised when they discover that I love to run marathons because I don't look the part. My health is important to me. It's something I value. However, it's something that I struggle with greatly.
Food has always been a huge part of my life, my family and, as a youth minister, my job. Right now in my life I'm successful with this battle, but I know there are ups and downs. And I also know I'm not the only one who struggles with over eating and unhealthy habits in general. The struggle with weight and health is something we as youth ministers rarely talk about. But maybe it's time we should.
I'm no dietician, physical trainer, professional chef, or athlete but I have discovered the sources to my struggle. They are:
Everyone's job has stress. Sometimes it's bad, other times it's good. But when I'm stressed at work, I know I start thinking about dinner and dessert. I think about how good that bowl of ice cream will be. For whatever reason, I eat when I'm stressed. And I know others who do, too.
I'm not sure about you, but I find myself eating lunch in front of the computer. Often. It seems harmless, but when I'm done eating I often find myself still hungry. Why is that? Part of me thinks it's because I didn't take time to enjoy the meal. I just scarfed it down and kept plugging away! It seems for me that when I eat fast my stomach doesn't have a chance to tell my mind it's full. This leads to overeating for me. What about you?
Lack of Sleep
If I'm not getting great sleep I tend to lag at work. When I'm tired I go for coffee, which happens to be by the snacks. When we're tired we tend to eat more because food gives us energy. Unfortunately, we often tend to go for the candy bar instead of a carrot stick. Also, when we're getting to bed late at night, the last thing many of us want to do is get up early and exercise. It's a tough cycle, especially as it pertains to weight and health.
My environment is a source of sabotage. There tends to be left over food and snacks after most youth nights. So what do I do with the candy? I put it in a bowl in my office. I tell myself, "Students will like that." But then I find myself playing the role of the student too often! If you have food in your office, guess what? You'll eat it.
As youth ministers many of us feel compelled to talk to our teens about porn, alcohol, drugs, and bullying. If we know of a fellow pastor who is struggling with a sin in his/her life, say porn or alcohol, we wouldn't think twice about challenging him/her on it, lovingly intervening, and being part of the solution to get him/her help. So why won't we do it with obesity? Or with patterns of unhealthy living? (Let's be honest: there are some thin youth workers who fall prey to unhealthy habits, as well.) As role models we have a responsibility to show students how important it is to care not just for our spiritual well being but our physical one too. You don't have to be perfect, but you have to show it as a value.
I know it's not the only value to talk about, but it doesn't seem like we are talking about it at all. So, how come this is happening? And what are we willing to do about it?
I welcome your thoughts.