Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Pound of Flesh...or Ten

There is a thin line between respectfully discussing spiritual things for the edification of others...and looking like a self-absorbed, self-righteous Bible-thumping idiot.  So I will tread carefully here.

Recently, my church, like thousands of others across the nation, engaged in a 21-day fast.  The purpose behind the fast is not to lose weight or cause ourselves to suffer in any way, but to draw closer to the Lord by focusing more on the spirit than on the flesh.  Some people felt called to go on a "Daniel fast", which generally allows fruits, vegetables, water, and limited carbohydrates.  Some people felt that they were to give up one or two things - some vices, maybe, like sweets or snack foods. Last year, I gave up cheese and, whining, I limped my way through three horrible, miserable, Swiss-less weeks.

Okay, so it wasn't quite that bad.  But I had really missed the point of the fast, which was to put my body's desires on hold while I pressed in and worked on my spirit's needs.  This year, I was still more lacking in the spiritual arena than I would have liked, yet I know God was with me.  I gave up dairy products, red meat and pork, sweets, pop, and coffee.  There were a few brief times when I felt I could "pause" the fast, but God gave me the strength to say "no" to my body.  I was less consistent when it came to my 21-day Bible plan.  Still, through this experience, I have developed a much healthier relationship with food.  I truly believe that is the biggest take-away that I got from these 21 days. 

Is that not spiritual enough for you?

Well, for someone who didn't even realize that, all her life, food has been a kind of idol, it's pretty spiritual.  I can trace my weight problems back to when I was about eight years old and on steroids for my asthma.  They caused dramatically increased appetite...I'm talking two Big Macs a large Coke and fries.  For a second-grader.  I porked out pretty badly, and although a little of that was redistributed when I entered puberty, I could never be accused of being "the skinny one".

Not surprisingly, I reached my peak weight in college.  Withough getting too detailed (after all, I do have a modicum of modesty to maintain), I was, according to the doctor's BMI chart, almost 80 pounds overweight.  Granted, that BMI chart doesn't take into consideration one's genetic code.  My Slovak heritage would never allow for anything less than sturdy shoulders, a full bosom and meaty thighs, no matter what any diagram says.  Still...

I didn't have a double chin.

I had three chins.

Things were bad.

Although I never came up with any particular routine after college, the combination of my two jobs - working at Starbucks and Curves - allowed me to lose a total of 25 pounds.  I looked good, and I felt good.

Then I got married.  And then I got pregnant.  At the time of my miscarriage last year, I was nearly back at that dreaded "college weight".  And I was scared.  I felt ugly.  I felt worthless.  And I absolutely hated that those feelings were coming from how I viewed my body.  What made me angry was that I had converted my husband from a pizza-a-day junkie to a salad-appreciating, fish-eating, whole-wheat loving coupon-clipper...and I had steadily gotten heavier.

I also hated the fact that I was in a position, in church and at work, to encourage young women to appreciate their bodies and consider them precious to God...but I kept speaking out in anger against my own.

During the fast, I came to the realization that I had never actually said "no" to food.  It was not quite an addiction, per se, but it was always there when I was bored, or sad, or angry, or - sometimes - actually hungry.  Although I had become a good cook and I chose healthy ingredients, I was eating out of boredom, not delight.  I was eating because it was comfortable.

(Which is also why I dated the wrong guys.  I didn't want to do without, so I overdid it.  But those guys were like soggy, over-priced ball game French fries smothered in artificial, neon orange cheese-flavored sauce and MSG-loaded chili.  Ross is like a oven-roasted baked potato with a sprinkle of sea salt, a dollop of nonfat Greek yogurt, freshly chopped chives and just a touch of sharp, natural cheddar cheese.) 

I don't know why I just got into that, but it made sense for a second there, before my analogy clobbered me over the head and took over.  Let's try again.  What I'm saying is that food had become my friend.  I was replacing healthy relationships in my life with Lunchables.  Instead of meeting a gal-pal for coffee, I would sulk at home and eat. 

In the past three weeks, there were times when I whined, or times when I came very close to throwing in the towel altogether (poor Ross; he watched me stare mournfully at the fridge morning after morning, desperately craving milk for my cereal).  But dropping five pounds and watching my blood pressure decrease slightly has given me encouragement.  Although I am adding meat, dairy and other treats back into my diet, I am being very cautious.  I'm far more aware of serving sizes, and how just a little of something often satisties more than great big gobs of it.  I'm still choosing fish and poultry over beef and pork.  I'm stopping when I am almost full - that has been a huge win for me.  I'm snacking less.  I'm making sure I have fruit every day at lunch.  I'm eating more vegetarian meals.  I'm eating purposefully.  I can feel less guilt when I indulge in a big ole burger or a pile of fries, because I know that 80% of the time, I'm making wise, careful choices when I eat.  That has made all the difference.

I feel like God answered my unspoken prayers during this fast.  When I was young, I used to pray that somehow, he would magically make me thin.  I believe he did better than that - he is making me a great cook who loves food enough to respect it, and who is no longer ruled by it.  I still have a good deal of weight to lose for me to feel truly healthy.  But yesterday, I was able to slip on a pair of jeans I haven't worn since before I was married.

That's a good sign.