Saturday, November 29, 2014

Foodie Literature, Fasts, and Food as a Vice...Oh My!

I'm reading a book right now called, The 100 Mile Diet:  A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon.  In it the pair challenge themselves to one year of eating food grown only within a 100 mile radius of where they live.  What they find is that nearly all processed foods are are staples such as flour and sugar.  Even healthier options such as bananas, oranges, and pineapples are no longer on the menu.  At first their meals are somewhat bland....incorporating a lot of potatoes.  But, as they research and explore the farmer's markets and back roads of this self-imposed radius, they discover a treasure trove of local, fresh foods.  Their diet becomes anything but bland and instead showcases flavors and experiences with food that have long been forgotten by much of today's society.

Their writing is part foodie literature, part ecological and sociological history.  Much of the book is written in the style of other authors who describe food and food experiences in an almost sacred way....authors such as Ruth Reichl. M.F. K. Fisher, and Julie Powell.  Food is discovered, described, and devoured in it's most natural form.  And, the beauty of a single heirloom tomato, or the earthy delight of the first tender green shoots of the season become a source of wonder.

And, when I read books like this I feel inspired.  I feel inspired to eat real food.  To become more connected to the food that I'm eating rather than mindlessly shoveling handfuls of heavily processed 'food' from mysterious sources into my mouth.  It creates a hunger in me.  A hunger for freshness and sunshine and earth.  It creates a hunger for colors - green, reds, purples....colors that are sorrowfully lacking from my current diet.  Most of all, this concept of eating food in it's most natural form feels......natural.

Over Lent this year I had gone on a 40 day fast.  Our church was encouraging a congregation-wide season of prayer and fasting.  I felt led to take my fasting a little deeper than giving up a single pleasure of the past I've given up chocolate, or caffeine, or wine over Lent.  These were small sacrifices - items I missed at first (at the worst, suffering caffeine withdrawal headaches in the first day or two)  but my life didn't change much with their absence.

So, after a bit of researching and prayer, I decided on The Daniel Fast.  In short, the Daniel Fast was a food fast with a strong spiritual component.  The fast often results in increased health or weight loss, but it's main focus is increasing one's relationship with God.  The fast is fairly restrictive.  It allows fruits, vegetables, nuts & legumes, healthy oils (this one is somewhat up for debate...some people totally eliminate all oils), and whole grains.  It eliminates all meat, all dairy products & eggs, all sugar & other sweeteners (including honey, molasses,etc.), all preservatives, all grains that are not a whole grain (no white flour, white rice, etc.), and all beverages other than water.  It was a fast that only allowed food in it's most natural form.

I will admit that the Daniel Fast was difficult.  It was a struggle at first to figure out what to eat.  But after a while I got into a groove and I became creative with my meals.  I frequently ended up preparing two meals - one that my family would eat and one that I could eat.  The first week of the fast I felt cruddy.  I felt lethargic and icky.  My body was detoxifying.  After that first week I felt great  - with increased energy and clarity.  And, I lost about 20 pounds over the course of the fast.

After my fast was officially over, I slowly added some things back into my diet, but I tried to remain as close to this new pattern of eating as I could.  I lost an additional 15 pounds.  I did really well up until about August.  Then, I fell off the bandwagon....and I fell hard.  I reverted to my old patterns of binge eating and eating heavily processed 'comfort' foods.

Since then, I know I've gained back weight....perhaps most of it.  I'm afraid to step on the scale again because I'm so disappointed in myself, I don't want to know how badly I've messed up.  And, I'm embarrassed.  While I was eating well I shared updates on my progress and photos of the foods I was eating on Facebook.  Folks congratulated me and cheered me on.  When people saw me in person they saw the difference and they would comment on how good I looked.

One of those people was the mail lady.  In the warmer months when we're outside more often she will often pause and chat for a minute or two as she's dropping off our mail.  When she noticed my weight loss she asked what I had been doing and I shared a bit about the fast.  Like me she has struggled all her life with her weight and, like me, she has tried many different things with various degrees of success.  As we stood there talking she said, "It's so hard to lose weight.  Whatever you do, try to keep it off because if it comes back it's even harder to lose."  I nodded, knowing this to be truth.

And, here I am a few months later, already noticeably heavier than I was over the summer.  And, I'm ashamed.  I'm ashamed to acknowledge that I've virtually thrown all my hard work from earlier in the year down the toilet.  And I can't seem to find the motivation or the strength to pick myself up again and plunge back into treating my body well.  I feel cruddy and depressed.  And when I feel cruddy and depressed I turn to food - foods that offer that quick release of endorphins...foods loaded with sugar, and salt, and fat, and mystery ingredients.

One of the things I also became aware of when I was doing the fast is that, for me, my relationship with food is a spiritual battleground.  And, oh, how my spirit rebels against this concept.  I don't WANT to believe that the way I choose to use or abuse food can affect me spiritually.  And yet I see it play out time and time again.  When I willingly and knowingly treat my body poorly, when I rely on food for comfort or entertainment, when I treat food like an idol, I am not using food as God intended.....and that opens the door to sin.

Like Paul said in Romans 7:15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."  
And, so, I find myself craving something different....something more natural.  I find myself longing use and enjoy food the way God intended.  Hear me when I say that I think food is a gift from our Creator God!  He could have merely created food to be bland nutrition.  Instead He created a wealth of flavors and textures.  Food in it's natural form is both nourishing and pleasurable.

The struggle continues.  Someday I hope to conquer this mountain.  For now, I'm still learning and surrendering.

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