I’ve never really been on a diet.
I have been pretty active in running and athletics from a young age and for many years of my life I ate and ate and ate and ate like a horse and couldn’t gain a pound.
And that might deceive the general population into thinking that I have a healthy relationship with food and my body. Just like how I think those women who look so put together and beautiful and wealthy must be the most wonderfully happy people ever with no problems or pain.
I once prayed with a girl who was in the dark depths of an eating disorder and we peered into the very first time that she gave food the power to save her. It was a time of trauma in her immediate family and just as one might turn to a drink, or a hit, or a shopping spree; her eyes fell upon a cake.
And she ate.
And she was comforted.
For most of my years I ate simply because I was hungry, always hungry actually. I had a really high metabolism and like I said I was involved in sports so I was constantly growing and constantly burning calories. However, like the young lady I prayed with, I too can identify a memory when I was upset and discovered what food was offering to do for me.
And so I ate.
And I was comforted.
So for the last 15 years, to varying degrees, my relationship with food has been tainted. And it never seemed like a big deal because I would tell myself:
A It’s only food! It’s not like I was doing drugs or drinking or anything like that! Relax!
B. I didn’t have a weight problem (not that I don’t have image issues, I have both real and imaginary problems with my body). My high metabolism, activity level and good old fashioned Scandinavian genes helped me out. Obese people need to control their eating, not me.
C. It was mostly benign. Meaning, I wouldn’t say that I have had an eating disorder for 15 years with extreme binging and subsequent purging, just harmless ’emotional eating’ So no big deal, right?
Last summer I attempted what is the closest thing to a diet I have ever been on. Not because I was overweight, but because I was tired. I had been eating for 33 years and I was starving. Listen to these words from my sister Anne Lamott,
I was a spy in the world of happy eating, always hungry, or stuffed, but never full.
These words, from her splendid work of art Traveling Mercies (read it!) were given to me when I was a young college student and still stick with me today. I recognized this unhealthy habit and as God had been unearthing and re-growing all kinds of things beneath the surface it seemed like the right time to change some behaviors.
My “diet” pretty much involved just trying to make healthy choices each day. Genius, right? I should write a book on it!!!
So a lot of days were full of whole grains and carrots and almonds. And it felt great. Each moment I would try and pick the healthy option. Sometimes I failed, but mostly it was a good thing for me.
But I discovered that healthy choices aren’t just about caloric intake and fat content and grams of sugar. On weekend mornings a healthy choice for me is a big stack of pancakes covered in butter and real maple syrup, next to a few slices of crispy bacon. This is a time that we relax as a family, are silly and lazy and listen to John Denver and eat pancakes, not oatmeal! During our trip to Florida I ate ice cream almost every day. Because, vacation.
I found a lot of freedom in my ability to make these choices and to be able to discern when an apple was the best thing for me, or when an extra helping of barbeque ribs was the best thing.
As King Solomon puts it, there is a time for everything under the sun.
A time for feasting, and a time for fasting.
I noticed my attitude towards food shaping up to look like this idea of seasons of feasting, fasting and ‘normal times’ when I read a book that put words to it for me so thought it warranted it’s own blog post. Shauna Niequist puts it in her latest memoir (and cookbook!) Bread and Wine (read it!)
I love the feasting part of life. I don’t want Thanksgiving without stuffing or Christmas without cookies and champagne. I don’t want to give up our family tradition of deep-frying everything we can think of on New Year’s Eve. But I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully – physicall, spiritually and emotionally – in a life that also includes fasting.
I loved this book because it showed how the physical elements of food and stomach are not so easily distinguished from the intangibles of heart and soul. So I have been feasting since Thanksgiving and it has been DELISH! My favorite cookies, lots of leftovers, sea salt and dark chocolate covered caramels, my favorite cheeses, hot cocoa and more wine then I probably can justify. Let me tell you it has been rich and wonderful.
But I am going to force my family into a 6 week fast cutting out sugar and alcohol and processed foods and eating crunchy things before returning to my more normal ‘just make healthy choices’ diet. Or, in other words, I will be like every other American who goes on a diet and signs up for a gym membership on January 1.
I’m not sure why it has taken me until I am 33 to deal with some of my food issues, or to go on my first diet.
I suppose it has something to do with how we take good things like work and relationships and food, and ruin them in our brokenness and sometimes it is hard to see that when we are in the midst of it.
I truly believe we should love and delight in food. It is comforting and celebratory and sustaining and hot and spicy and and cold and creamy and healing and just plain yummy.
Separating this gift from the bits of sin intertwined in it can be messy business. It forces me to face hurts, deny something easy for something real, and ask for help. It requires that I fast and pray and abstain and use caution. It sometimes requires that I feast, without a single thought to my hips.
Because although I am good at ruining good things, God is good at redeeming them.
Over and over and over again.
He invites me to a banquet, he prepares a table,
and I am full.
May 2015 be Full for you, too.
Happy New Year!