It was the American Chef Sherry Yard who said, ‘The appetite starts with the eye’. As a famous TV judge and cookbook author, she would know a lot about presentation and the importance of the visual but she could equally have said that appetite starts with the nose, the mind or with the tummy rumbles. However, we all know that whilst appetite is usually taken to mean a desire for food, it can apply to things besides food such as money, sex, possessions and power. Have you noticed that the more a person craves for something the more they crave?! Then what happens is that the thing that is desired for consumption turns to become the predator and consumes the person. Healthy appetites are a good thing but cravings lead to loss of control and a farewell to satisfaction. A person should be well-satisfied with this plate of food but this would not be true for everyone.
- ‘Appetite, craving for food, is a constant and powerful stimulator of the gastric glands’ – Ivan Pavlov
- ‘I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone’ – Lord Byron
- ‘Sinful and forbidden pleasures are like poisoned bread; they may satisfy appetite for the moment, but there is death in them at the end’ – Tryon Edwards
- ‘A well governed appetite is the greater part of liberty’ – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
If appetite is usually a sensory or psychological desire for food (that can be conditioned), what is hunger? When your tummy rumbles it signals a need for food. It is caused by the contraction of the muscles down the length of your intestine known as ‘peristalsis’ – finding no food to move through your digestive tract, it just squeezes air with the ensuing gurgles! When you get that ‘empty feeling’, it is because the amount of glucose circulating in your blood has become low. Each time you eat, your pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that enables you to transform the food you eat into glucose, the simple sugar on which the body runs. This glucose is then moved into body cells. A higher level of glucose from food temporarily suppresses appetite which normally keeps you going for about for four hours before the next rumbles!
Mental health conditions often lead to over or under eating with the subsequent consequences on body shape and health. Reasons for this are complex but tend to be around a person either wanting to have control in their life or lacking self-control. Many celebrities have spoken publicly about their struggles with eating disorders including Elton John, Jane Fonda, Russell Brand, Lady Gaga and Princess Diana. Each one of us will have taken a position on our relationship with food but it can change as we age. In youth, many have large appetites but in older age this often reduces to tiny portions. What applications are there for Christians in all of this? Is fasting a good thing? How healthy are our spiritual appetites?
- ‘What is the benefit of fasting in our body while filling our souls with innumerable evils? Leisure without the fear of God is, for those who do not know how to use time, the teacher of wickedness’ – Saint Basil
- ‘A fast is not a hunger strike. Fasting submits to God's commands. A hunger strike makes God submit to our demands’ – Edwin Louis Cole
- ‘Through prayer, fasting, and studying, God will answer’ – Monica Johnson
- ‘Yes I believe detoxing and fasting can be very healthy for a period of time’ – Toni Garrn
Jesus taught that there are times in life when fasting is appropriate and good but he knew the needs of the human body all too well. At the beginning of his public ministry, the Lord fasts and tells his disciples that there are certainly times for fasting but he also provided food for the crowds who were hungry on at least two occasions. Fasting can apply to food, to drink, to TV and indeed to most things – if the time taken is instead used for genuine prayer and seeking God, then it is good. Care must be taken that it does not become a legalistic chore for then it has no spiritual value even if it can ‘purge’ the body.
- ‘We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’ – Numbers 11:5-6
- ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?’ – Luke 11:11-12
- ‘Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”’ – John 6:35
- ‘But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’ – Matthew 6:17-18
- ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’ – Titus 2:11-13
God made your body and knows what you need. He also knows that what we want is not always good for our souls but God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. Our bodies are likened to temples in which the Holy Spirit dwells so we should take care of them. Appetite helps us with this and is a gift to appreciate – conversely, sometimes fasting enables us to appreciate the presence of God even more as it focuses our attention away from the physical and on to the spiritual. Perhaps this plate gives some food for thought?!
TAGS – abstinence, seeking, yearning, longing, maturity, denial, temperance