Withholding Food – Finding Joy and Satisfaction in Exercising Control

This is now the fifth part in our series dealing with food, the body, and idolatry.  One of the points that I have tried to make through is series is that there are many different heart motivations for idolatrous actions with respect to food and the body.  For some, they find joy and satisfaction in food, for some they find value in themselves because of food (whether they withhold it, purge it, or eat too much of it), and for some they value the praise of others.  In other words, the same behaviors can be exhibited by very different heart motivations.  The diagram included here shows what I mean.

The heart desiring praise from other may result in gluttony just as easily as it could result in over exercise or even anorexia.  As a result, we cannot simply counsel the behavior; we must counsel the motivation. The counselee needs to see how the gospel of Jesus and the ongoing work of the Spirit are sufficient on their own.  The counselee needs to believe that they don’t need anything more.

In this fifth part, I would like to discuss a little about the subject of control.   Sometimes a counselee has such a hard life and he or she is out-of-control in so many areas that food and the body become the one place where control can be gained – and that counselee will worship it.  Sometimes a person begins struggling with food and the body due to one of the other reasons (self image, or praise from others), but ultimately slips into a downward spiral of control.

Understanding the heart of control

We all struggle with the idolatry of control.  However, for some counselees, this has become life dominating.  Nothing seems to matter other than their control.  Before one begins casting stones please think through carefully how your counselee got to this place.  Maybe, just maybe, your counselee has suffered greatly and he or she is seeking relief anywhere it can be found – in this case the only place it was available was the use of food and their body.  Psalm 115 reminds us that idolatry is not only an affront to God, but it causes us to be like our idols (deaf, dumb, blind, etc).  You are dealing with a counselee in pain.

This is going to require sensitivity, compassion, genuine love, and a willingness to acknowledge all their pain.  But we all know that compassion, while necessary, is not all they need.

They need the truth of the gospel, for it is the truth that can truly set them free.  Here are three thoughts to get started:

Control makes you a slave, but Jesus makes you an heir

Your counselee thinks that they are the master of control.  They can control their hunger pains, they can control how much they eat, they can control if, when, and how much they purge, but this is a bold face lie.  Here is the reality:  Romans 6:12-19 says you become a slave to what you worship.  In other words, your counselee is no more free then if he or she was in prison.  Your counselee is a slave to the very thing they think they own.

Jesus, on the other hand, died so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.  He set us free from the power and penalty of sin and he has made us into his children.  Your counselee, if they have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior, is a son or daughter of God with an inheritance promised in heaven.  The more your counselee sees the work of Jesus as significant the less they will see control as the dominant place for joy and satisfaction.

Control seeks to take your life, but Jesus gives you abundant life

Anorexia and Bulimia are cruel taskmasters.  They are ruthless.  Given enough time they will put a woman at risk of never having children, at serious risks for major health issues, and potentially death.  Demon possession was that way in the Bible.  The demons wanted to kill their host (remember the story of the demons that were cast into the pig?  What happened to the pigs is exactly what the demons wanted to do to the man).  Here is the deception:  your counselee thinks that control will give them joy.  In reality control over the matter of food and the body is actually taking their life from them.

Jesus said that he came to give us life and to give it to us abundantly.  When your counselee understands the gospel they will realize that true joy and true satisfaction comes from the one who promises abundant life.  Even when our counselees face horrible suffering, there can be joy and satisfaction found in a relationship with Jesus – the one who came to give them life.

Control overpromises and under-delivers, but Jesus promises and delivers exactly as promised

A third point worth mentioning is that control seems to offer joy.  But in reality, control asks more for the same amount of joy.  Thus, there is an analogy between what control promises and what drugs promise.  Both of them ask more and more and more while returning less and less and less.  Why don’t your counselees see that?  Psalm 115 says those who trust in an idol become just like the idol (deaf, dumb, blind).  Your counselee needs truth – she needs Jesus to open her eyes and help her see things as they really are.

Jesus, on the other hand, knows how to deliver on his promises.  His promises never fail.  He is never late in granting them.  The NT is full of promises made by Jesus in his death, burial, resurrection, teaching, and ascension.  One day his promise to return and set all things right will occur.  Your counselee can find joy and satisfaction in Jesus who always delivers as promised.


This is surely not all that could be said about food, the body, and idolatry but I hope it serves as a starting place.  Working with counselees struggling in these areas can be a real challenge.  For many of them, the idolatry is deeply rooted.  But it is also great to remember that evangelism and sanctification are not dependent solely on us.  We, as counselors, are instruments in the redeemer’s hands.  It is his hands that matter most.

If you have questions you would like us to discuss, please comment on this post and we will add additional points to the series.

Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.