The Nutrition Tithe - Christian Fitness

The Nutrition Tithe

For you church-goers out there, you know that basket they pass around during service? Some call it offering. Others call it giving or donations. Still others refer to it as a tithe. It’s when you give some money to the church to help the church fulfill it’s mission. More specifically, giving one-tenth or 10% of your income. The idea is that by giving God your first fruits (that is, the first portion of your income), you’re acknowledging that you are merely a steward of what He has entrusted to you.

This post isn’t to debate whether it should be 10% of net or gross income. It isn’t about whether tithing is strictly an Old Testament practice because the New Testament teaches free-will offerings. In fact, this post isn’t about money at all. It is about giving though.

As a Christian, I believe I am a steward of everything that has been entrusted to me, not just my money. Everything means everything: my family, my time, my talents, and yes, my body. It’s my belief that I don’t have anything that wasn’t given to me.

Since I’m a steward, I work hard to make use of these things so that they are productive. I work hard to make money. I work hard to rear respectful, loving, God-fearing children. I work hard to be the kind of husband that my amazing wife needs and wants. And I work hard to stay in shape. And that’s where the nutrition tithe comes in.

… this ultimately benefits me as well because the healthier I eat, the better off I am anyway.

The nutrition tithe is what I “give back” by eating clean. Now yes, this ultimately benefits me as well because the healthier I eat, the better I am off anyway. But my point is to aim towards giving God my first fruits.

How much are my first fruits? 90%. Yes, you read correctly, 90%. Why such a high number? Because if I only ate clean 10% of the time, I’d never get results, I’d feel terrible, I’d look awful, I’d be setting a bad example, and I would not be acting as a good steward of my body.

So I shoot to give 90%. The remaining 10% is for me. It’s my version of what others might call a cheat meal or a junk meal or a treat or whatever. I really should come up with a better term for this practice because technically, tithe stands for 1/10th … but I’m trying to give 9/10th. Be that as it may, most people understand the concept, so I’ll stick with it.

Eating poorly just 10% of the time and eating healthy the other 90% of the time is a great balance. It’s moderation. This isn’t about honor in deprivation. There’s nothing magical or spiritually significant about the 90% number. I’m certainly NOT suggesting that eating any way other than 90% healthy is a sin (though I do believe there can be deep spiritual strongholds for people in this area).

What I’m saying is that I believe by eating clean 90% of the time, I’m still allowed a few indulgences while maintaining a physical lifestyle that would qualify as good stewardship.

So what does this look like practically speaking? You could do this a number of ways:

  • Meals Method: If you ate 3 meals a day, you’d have 21 meals a week, right?  So 10% of 21 is 2 meals (yes, I’ve rounded down). So in a week of 21 meals, 2 of your meals could be less than healthy.
  • Days Method: You could also do this by days. 10% of 7 days is about 2/3rds of one day. So maybe one day a week, say from after breakfast onward is time to have some unhealthy stuff.
  • Calories Method: Or you could go by calories. If you eat 2200 calories a day, 220 of them (roughly the number of calories in a Dark Chocolate Milky Way, which just happens to be the best candy bar on the planet) could be for a treat.

But this approach requires absolute honesty. If you go by the meals method and allow yourself 2 meals a week to eat some fun foods, you can’t go crazy. In other words, eating chips with queso, a whole pizza, and 1/2 of a cheesecake and counting it as one meal ain’t gonna cut it. You still have to exercise balance and moderation and, of course, honesty. Remember, if you cheat on your cheating, you’re only going to hurt yourself.

Or say you’re at a friends house for dinner and they made a salad with romaine lettuce (Yeah!) with cheese and croutons (Boo!), grilled chicken (Awesome!), au gratin potatoes (Dang it!), asparagus, and strawberry shortcake for dessert, what do you do? This isn’t a total disaster. Eat around the cheese and croutons (and get dressing on the side), have a bite of the potatoes so as not to offend the host, eat as much chicken and asparagus as you’d like, and share the dessert with your spouse but ask for double strawberries.  Easy peasy. This is about balance and I’d give someone in this setting a solid A for eating this way.

I personally go by the meals method.

While I hate counting calories, I do think that tracking nutrition is the most productive way for most people to practice the nutrition tithe.

But you have to do what works for you. For me, going by meals just comes more naturally. It’s easier to keep track of. I usually reserve them for weekends. If I’m not counting calories all day to save up for that Milky Way (remember, it has to be the dark chocolate one), I’m really focused on just eating clean throughout the majority of the week.

Also, the more we focus on the healthy, good for us stuff, I believe, the more we’ll come to enjoy it. Of course it has to taste good (our home is a rice cake free zone). I’m not suggesting that when you’re only eating tasty, healthy foods, the bad-for-you stuff will stop tasting good (though that does happen to some people). For me, it makes the 10% taste even better because I eat so little of it… no law of diminishing returns to sabotage your palate.

I believe the more yummy, healthy stuff we eat, the more we’ll come to enjoy it and the more we’ll want to eat it, which makes that 90% a whole lot more enjoyable.

So whether you’re a Christian or not, I’d like to encourage you to consider the nutrition tithe as a balanced, reasonable way to approach a healthier lifestyle. It may take some getting used to, but I’m confident that given enough practice, you’ll grow to enjoy the healthier stuff while experiencing first-hand the benefits of better nutrition.

Don’t give up too soon though. Some sacrifice will be in order. But you can do it!

In fact, if what you say is true, that you really want to fit in size ____ jeans, get that six-pack, run that marathon, lower your blood pressure, lose ____ pounds, then you’re going to HAVE to practice some form of moderation.

Give the nutrition tithe a try. You might be surprised at that balance you can achieve, the results you get, and the freedom you experience in the process.