This Is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith
Convergent Books, 2015
240 pp., $22.99
This Is My Body
What sets this book apart from other exercise manifestos is Sutterfield's recognition that our bodies interact in community. From his attempts at dieting in order to win over girls in high school to the unprejudiced affirmation of his wife, he explores the social effects of his weight with humility and insight. He describes his wife's acceptance of his body for what it is as key to the more decisive shift toward healthy behaviors he's made; he now honors the Imago Dei she recognized instead of quelling the anxiety he feels about death or rejection. Throughout the book, he sprinkles reflections on receiving the Eucharist as a signpost of God's grace and love meeting his body through Jesus' body.
As a physician, I've often wished for a book I could give to my patients to help them think about the disciplines of health and the stewardship of their bodies. "Holistic" is a hot buzzword in medicine, but most attempts at being holistic nowadays are either laughably inadequate or painfully anti-scientific. While This Is My Body is a book that explores the intersection of mind, body, and soul in a meaningful way while affirming health as wholeness, I'm not quite ready to keep a stack in my office. For one thing, Sutterfield's otherwise thoughtful convictions about justice and poverty (which I've garnered from reading his blog) don't really inform his reflections here; he continually references his GPS watch and all the expensive organic food he eats; he doesn't question the health benefits of eating organic, which are nebulous and thus deserving of the same treatment and research that he gives to carbohydrates in the book.
This is a memoir, not a how-to or a comprehensive analysis of food and faith, so I don't particularly fault him for such omissions. However, I mention this because there's another part of Sutterfield's story that he doesn't expound on much: his smoking habit. (After all, smoking rates are higher in lower socioeconomic classes and may contribute to the decreased life expectancy that poor white women suffer.) His accounts of periods of inadequate self-care always mention smoking as a crutch that he used to deal with stress, stay awake, or socialize—but the most that he says about quitting is that he found the habit incompatible with the sort of exercise he took up. I really wanted a meatier explanation of how he wrestled with this substance that had such power in his life and a longer reflection like the ones he gave to certain kinds of food—partly because I see so many patients who use smoking to deal with the stress that their poverty brings into their lives. Similarly, caffeine is ever present throughout the narrative and never really discussed.
Lastly—and this is as much a caution to the reader as a critique of the writer—the chapter "This Is My College Body" illuminates some of the struggles evangelicals have with their bodies through Sutterfield's narrative of his time at Wheaton College. He divides the student body there into "role followers" and "role breakers" but focuses on superficial distinctions between the two, particularly lionizing those "role breakers" who were willing to violate the community covenant by smoking and drinking. Both categories are represented in the Wheaties I know, but all of them are thoughtful and engaged people and none of them fit his polarized generalizations. This attitude only besmirches one (early) chapter, though, so it shouldn't be a hindrance to anyone who might otherwise be tempted to put the book down in exasperation.
This Is My Body is well worth your time if you have ever wanted a more rigorous perspective on the human body as a created gift or have struggled with shame as you sought to master your appetites. As someone who has never been overweight but still struggles with eating as idolatry, I found Sutterfield's words convicting and encouraging. While I hope he continues to write and widen his perspective in a way that can be of more utility to those who are most profoundly affected by our obesity crisis, this book still stands alone for how it appreciates health as a community effort that requires discipline, stewardship, and grace.
Matthew Loftus is a physician living in Baltimore with his family. They're going to South Sudan soon to work at a hospital there. You can follow him on Twitter @matthew_loftus.
Copyright © 2015 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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