Until recently I had been keeping to a (very) modified paleo diet, essentially a low grain diet. And it had initially been doing what I wanted it to, which is not so much weight loss as relieving other symptoms. But I was never convinced by the premise of the paleo life-style which is basically that we should do things as our cavemen ancestors did. While I am rather agnostic on the topic of evolution, I imagine the reasoning behind this diet doesn’t sit well with a lot of Christians.
So I was intrigued to run across the book Trim Healthy Mama which is by two sisters and Christians and claims to have much more of a biblical basis. There is a lot I could say about the diet overall, but I want to stick in this post to its biblical basis and how the book uses Scripture.
I did not get the impression that the book’s authors, Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett, are saying this is the only, biblical way to eat though they do clearly reject some other approaches as not adhering to biblical principles. The basic argument of this book is that to be as healthy as possible (and, yes, to lose weight if necessary) one should not eat fat and carbs together. Their position rests on scientific studies which show how the body uses different sources of fuel. But it also rests on at least one theological plank: the belief that no foods given us by God should be entirely excluded from our diet. Thus, they reject paleo with its lack of all grains, legumes, etc. They also reject vegetarianism and diets like Atkins which eliminate all carbs. Their approach is about when and how to eat the different groups but they are very clear that no one group should be entirely excluded from the diet.
I like this presupposition. I do think it is biblical. The verse that comes to mind for me is “Let no man call unclean what God has declared clean” (I am paraphrasing off the top of my head here as I can’t immediately find the reference). I will admit that while eliminating gluten, it has always seemed very odd to me that we should get rid of a food (bread) which has been such a staple in the Bible and even bears a large theological significance (Jesus being the bread of life; the bread representing His body in communion). Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that my one daughter gets bad eczema from gluten (among other things) or that it seems to make me mildly sick. But it is still nice to feel that such essential foods are in some measure redeemed.
In terms of the diet’s theological basis, this one principle seems to be the main guiding idea. But the authors also refer to other biblical passages at times to bolster their position. And it is when they get to these that I tend to get frustrated. They spend quite a while discussing the meal Abraham fed to his angelic visitors in Genesis 18. They make much of the fact that he seems to have fed them only one small cake of bread each but much meat. And it does seem like that is what they were given, but one must ask is this a prescriptive or a descriptive passage? Sometimes God is telling us what to do, either directly (“Thou shalt . . .”) or indirectly; these are prescriptive passages.But sometimes the Bible is just telling what people did. There are certainly many things biblical characters, even basically good ones, do that we are not supposed to emulate. So one must ask, are we supposed to copy Abraham in how he fed his visitors? I don’t think so. Basically, Serene and Pearl seem to have substituted for the paleo question “How would the cavemen have done it?” their own new question “How would the patriarchs have done it?” Though to be fair, while they do seem to focus on Abraham a lot, I don’t think they limit their reasoning to him or even to the Old Testament. It is more like “How would Bible people have done it?”
And I am just not convinced that this is a legitimate question. I do believe the Bible is the only infallible rule for faith and life. But it is not our only guide nor does it tell us everything about everything. Just as I don’t believe the Bible tells us all the answers about how to educate our kids, I also don’t believe it tells us how and what to eat. I like the book’s use of the general principle of not eliminating food groups unnecessarily, and also enjoying the foods God has given us, but I think the authors push their argument too far when they look for specifics.
And they do not do so consistently. The use the example of Abraham when it suits their purpose (“Look, we aren’t supposed to eat too much bread at once and need lots of protein!”), but they reject other passages which do not suit their needs. For example, honey is mentioned frequently in the Bible and is clearly viewed as wonderful delicacy, but the Trim Healthy Mama diet rejects the use of honey and uses only sweeteners like Stevia and Xylitol. Their argument in this case is that because our lifestyles have changed and we are so much more sedentary we no longer need or should use such calorie-packed foods. But could we not make similar arguments about Abraham’s meal? Why not say his visitors were going no a journey and therefore needed more protein but we who have cars to take us everywhere no longer do? Their application of biblical passages is inconsistent and seems to be used only to serve their purposes and back up decisions they have already made (“protein good, bread limited, honey never”).
Furthermore, while one sister, Serene, is more of a food purist, the book itself advocates a lot of foods which simply did not exist in Bible times, like low carb pita bread and the sweeteners mentioned above. Nor do they take into account that the Bible itself spans thousands of years and includes many different kinds of people. Abraham was pretty wealthy; presumably most Israelites ate far less meat.
Before closing, I just want to add that there is one chapter in this book on . . . . ahem . . . marital relations . . . which uses another very sketchy bit of exegesis which I don’t buy at all. If you are a mature married person, you can read it for yourself and see what I mean.
So my conclusion on Trim Healthy Mama is that I do agree in principle with their basic theological premises, but I do not like how they use the Bible beyond that. Nor do I think it is necessary to their argument. I would say this diet is based far more upon scientific studies and what they have found works in their own lives, and that is fine. I think they would be better off if they stuck to that and did not try to incorporate more Bible in their dietary advice.
Another time, perhaps, I will discuss the diet itself.