Sunday, August 31, 2008

Be Transformed!

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect
Romans 12:1-2

How I am FED by the Word of God!

As Kate mentioned in the previous post, we Catholics truly feast on the Body and Blood of Our Lord each time we receive the Eucharist. The altar of God is the ultimate banquet table, and He will never be outdone as the Gracious Host, serving us all we can ever need or desire.

We share with our Christian brothers and sisters of all faiths the beautiful words of scripture as well. Isn't it interesting how often we use words that reflect hunger, thirst, and being fed when we talk about our spiritual needs? I was touched today at Mass when I heard the above scripture, especially because it mentions not our souls, but our BODIES and our MINDS.

Does God care only for our spiritual needs? The Albigensian Heresy of the twelth century promoted this belief. Followers contended that the body was evil: the soul was the only good created by God, all else of creation was of the Evil One. Adherents of the sect even practiced self-starvation, as suicide was commendable.

We Christians know today that God created the world, and it was GOOD. That includes our bodies and our minds.

For those of us who struggle with body image and obsessions with food and weight loss or gain, these scriptures are particularly powerful. God asks us to "offer our BODIES as a living sacrifice." That means that God does, indeed, care about our physical bodies, and He desires us to give him dominion over them. He has given us our bodies as a gift; they deserve our respect and esteem. Because He has also given us free will, He, in His infinite humility, asks us if we will use our bodies to give Him glory.

How can we accomplish this? By indulging in gluttony? By disregarding our health? By starvation? By acquiescing to cultural standards rather than seeking balance? By obsessing over our weight?

Our Lord also asks us to "be transformed by the renewal" of our MINDS. This is one of my favorite verses, because it reminds me that all change begins in my secret thoughts. My behavior will not be positive and healthy if my thoughts are toxic. Am I constantly thinking about my body and how I wish it were different? Or are my thoughts focused on God and the wonderful gifts He has blessed me with?

This morning when I went to Mass I had a bad attitude. I was focused on myself, and my thoughts were negative. Once again the Holy Spirit spoke to me through the Word of God: I have been blessed by Him; and He wishes to continue to bless me.

I need only cooperate with His grace and mercy.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Soul Food

“My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:32-33, 35)

If we really are what we eat, then I guess that makes me a chocolate-spinach truffle. My diet is rich in whole grains, fruits and veggies. But I’m no saint. I have a sweet tooth that would give Willy Wonka a run for his money.

My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t think chocolate is the sixth food group. Nor does he devour a heaping helping of leafy greens every day. It’s everything in moderation for him.

As Catholics, whether we’re health nuts, self-proclaimed junk addicts or something in between, there’s one food none of us can live without: The Eucharist. God sent us his only Son to make us stronger. This is the divine food that nourishes our souls. It’s the one meal we should never skip. And when it comes to Jesus, there’s no such thing as moderation. He’s there for the taking.

Lord Jesus, help me to never be hungry again. Fill me with your love through the power of the Eucharist.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of Grilled Cheese and Filet Mignon

Is there anyone who doesn't love grilled cheese sandwiches?

There is just so much to love about them. The hot, gooey cheese, the thick slices of butter-covered toasted bread. Add to that the fact that your mom probably made them for you when you were a kid, served alongside a steaming cup of tomato soup with crispy, salty oyster crackers floating on top.


I love grilled cheese sandwiches, and I ate one the other day, something I haven't allowed myself to do it years.

But sadly, this sandwich was not that great. It was cold, and the cheese had hardened. There was no soup to accompany it. My mom was not there to eat with me. I ate it alone, standing at the kitchen table, quickly, stuffing it in like an afterthought, not enjoying it at all.

Since I've become more mindful of my eating lately, I've noticed that I've developed an unhealthy pattern. It goes something like this: I crave a delicious food, either because I'm serving it to my family or someone is offering it to me. I deny myself the food, deciding that it is too something (rich, high in carbs,high calorie, expensive.) I walk away feeling very virtuous. Then later (maybe just a few minutes, or maybe hours or days) I eat it anyway -- but now it's cold, or half-eaten by someone else. It's leftovers, and apparently that's all I deserve.

Now of course I know that the yucky grilled cheese sandwich I ate was just as "bad" for me as it would have been hot off the grill, when it would have tasted great. What in the world is wrong with me?

I seem to be an expert at self-deprivation. If I'm not strong enough to deny myself the foods I want, I will punish myself with less than perfect leftovers later.

This can't possibly be just about food. I think many of us have a tendency to attempt the lives of martyrs, and when we fall short we punish ourselves. It is really a form of scruples. (From the Latin Scrupulus, "a small sharp, or pointed, stone", hence, in a transferred sense, "uneasiness of mind.")

One Catholic encyclopedia describes scruples this way: "An unfounded apprehension and consequently unwarranted fear that something is a sin which, as a matter of fact, is not. It is not considered here so much as an isolated act, but rather as an habitual state of mind known to directors of souls as a "scrupulous conscience." St. Alphonsus describes it as a condition in which one influenced by trifling reasons, and without any solid foundation, is often afraid that sin lies where it really does not. "

Is it a sin to eat a grilled cheese sandwich? Of course not. Although gluttony is indeed a sin, enjoying a sandwich (with or without that bowl of soup) doesn't qualify as gluttony. What I've done is develop a set of rules for eating that have nothing to do with sin or virtue. Simply put, I think if I avoid certain foods I will become thin, and thin is good, and if I am thin I am a good girl. (There are many reasons I've developed this misconception -- that's why I started this blog!)

The aforementioned Catholic resource recommends scrupulous folk secure a good confessor to help them recover. In the case of my "food scruples," I think an "inner caretaker" of sorts is more appropriate.

I must continue to be mindful of what enters my body. Am I eating a variety of nutritious foods? Am I eating when I am hungry, not to avoid other uncomfortable feelings?

Am I making myself a martyr? Am I separating myself from my family with my food choices? Am I enjoying the bounty that God has put before me, in moderation and with respect for the gift of my health?

I made a bit of progress in this area over the weekend. My husband and I were enjoying an anniversary dinner in a beautiful restaurant with an elegant menu. I ordered the filet mignon. Why? Because I really wanted to. It was the most expensive item on the menu, and it was rich and high in calories.

It was delicious, served to me hot and perfectly prepared. I enjoyed every bite, as I should have.

But truth be told, I would have enjoyed a grilled cheese just as much. And the next time I want one, I will.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weighing In

I'm on a bit of a vacation this weekend, exploring Northern Michigan with my husband in honor of our 22nd wedding anniversary.

We are enjoying the views of Little Traverse Bay, shopping in fun boutiques, drinking local wines, and eating delicious meals. Lots of delicious meals. Too many delicious meals.

I'm not used to such indulgence, and I'm starting to get nervous. It's been three days since I weighed myself, and I'm convinced I've probably gained five pounds. Considering the fact that it took me three months to lose six pounds, this is quite a serious matter.

Or is it? Will the world stop spinning if I do indeed gain five pounds? Of course not, but it disturbs me that I'm even spending time thinking about it.

I'm on a lovely getaway celebrating a special occasion with a wonderful man. I'm enjoying all sorts of things about it, including the tasty foods that I normally deny myself. It is a perfectly balanced notion that I should indulge a bit on such a special occasion, right?

And forget about the blasted scale, and what it might indicate when I return to reality! Being away from it for a few days always reminds me that I rely on it to tell me whether or not I'm having a good day, whether or not I am a good girl or a bad one.

That's ridiculous. I don't need a scale to tell me that these days are a wonderufl blessing, a gift. Decadent food and all.

Thank you God, for your bountiful gifts, gifts that no scale can measure!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tummy Yuck... Tummy Tuck...Tummy Yummy

I could be the poster child for tummy tuck surgery.

OK. Think about it. I've had SEVEN children, the majority of them over 10 pounds. I've had two c-sections. I'm 43 years old. I have not been blessed with a genetic tendency to taut, resilient skin.

I have a belly. A chubby belly that hangs down in an awkward fold. A belly that cannot be sucked in, no matter how hard I try. A tummy that positively shouts "THIS WOMAN IS A MOTHER!" A tummy that takes a fairly proportioned figure and turns it into something altogether different.

Yuck. Tummy YUCK!

I've never had a totally flat belly. (I don't think those are common -- or even ideal, for that matter.) But with each baby, and as the years have passed, I've noticed (how could I not?) that my tummy is well, out there. Way out there.

I've seen my share of photos on the internet of abdomens pre and post tummy-tuck surgery, and must honestly admit that I look much worse than many of the before shots. I'm not too keen on how some of the after pics look either, though. I joke with my family that if I came into the cash, I just might have the surgery. But I'm not really serious about it, even though friends assure me I'd be a great candidate, and that I "deserve" to put my body back to "normal" after having so many children.

But is that really something to consider -- major surgery?

There's much to discuss here. I don't want to live by vanity, falling into a ready trap set by the culture at large that says I must adhere to their standards of beauty. But I will be honest. I'd like the tummy to be smaller, smoother, more compact. I'd like to look more like my old self, that's all.

But there's another truth, one I find amazing. My kids LOVE my tummy. The little boys ask me often if they can see it or touch it. It's soft and cushy, comfy and squishy. Even my young adult daughters like it. They tell me they can't wait to have tummies, because they can't wait to be moms. How cool is that? And my husband loves me just as I am, tummy and all, and tells me how beautiful my curves are. Am I lucky or what?

I remember really loving my mom's tummy when I was a girl. In the evenings I would lay on the couch, my head on her lap, watching TV while she stroked my hair. She was so soft and huggable. I don't think I would have felt nearly as content there had she a rock-hard, six-pack belly.

And neither would my children.

So when I'm tempted to say yuck, I'll say yummy. I don't have a tummy because I'm lazy or gluttonous. It doesn't protrude because I'm ugly or "fat." It's a sign that I've used the beautiful gift of my body to produce seven precious babies.

I don't think I need to take a knife to that.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mirror Image

My 14-month-old loves to kiss her image staring back at her in my bedroom’s full-length mirror. I watched her the other day smiling and waving at herself and then leaning in for a wet kiss, and I found myself wondering if I’ve ever felt like kissing the reflection that stares back at me when I give myself the once over in a mirror.

Truth is, I’m often not happy with what I see. That big pimple on my chin sure isn’t pretty. (Someone please tell me why I am still getting pimples anyway. I’m nearly 30 for goodness’ sake!) My arms aren’t toned enough. My bum looks bigger today than it did yesterday.

You get the picture.

But God doesn’t. He can’t understand why I don’t love myself more because He doesn’t see what I see at all.

God loves what He created. We can be curvy, rifle-thin, disabled, disfigured, and it doesn’t matter. He looks past our corporeal qualities and sees our souls.

When we criticize our reflections, we’re not seeing clearly. We’re blind to the kind of pure, unconditional love that God has for each of us.

For today, why not try to look at your reflection in the mirror through God’s eyes? Look past whatever perceived imperfection you think you have and don’t question God’s taste. He made you and He loves what He sees with a love no one else can ever offer you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Clean Plate Club

Are you a member?

When I was a kid, I was encouraged to "clean my plate." I don't think my parents specifically mentioned starving children in foreign lands, but that vibe was definitely there. My parents lived through the Depression, after all. My father told stories about hunting squirrels and eating them, brains and all. My mom had two siblings and four step brothers and sisters, so I know picky eating was not tolerated in their home.

So my brother and I cleaned our plates, which thankfully did not include the organs of any type of rodent. We did not, however, have a problem with overeating and were of normal weight. My mom prepared three traditional, homemade "squares" a day. We ate few processed foods. For dinner we always drank tall glasses of whole milk. I still remember some of my favorite meals: malt-o-meal for breakfast, spam sandwiches for lunch, and "cowboy" dumplings with fried chicken for dinner. Mom made a great casserole featuring hamburger, rice, tomato sauce, celery, and American cheese slices. For a special treat I helped her make salads that looked like rabbits. The body was a canned pear half, with raisins for eyes and a cottage cheese tail. For birthdays she made wonderfully decorated homemade cakes and a fabulous punch featuring a variety of juices and frozen strawberries.

We ate it all. Then we went out to play.

I often think that if I ate that way now, I'd be terribly fat. My mom doesn't cook that way anymore, either. She actually relies on a lot of frozen dinners and processed meals. (Shame on you, Mom!) Truthfully, it is hard for her to cook these days and I can't blame her for going with convenience. But it would be cool to have those dumplings again...

Anyway, around our house we don't push cleaning the plate. A recent family dinner at the home of a relative made me realize how differently we manage food around here. My nine-year-old son ate two thirds of the large hamburger he wsa served, and proceeded to the kitchen to throw out the leftovers. This is what he would do at our house, without question. It didn't go over well.

"What are you doing?" his aunt asked. "You better eat that!"

"Don't you throw that out!" said another aunt.

"Remember what we heard when we were kids: 'in your mouth or up your nose!'"

Hardly advice for healthy eating habits.

The truth is, if I don't clean my plate, it will not affect the food supply in thrid world countries. If it goes in my mouth or in the garbage can, it is gone either way.

We Christians seem to have a particularly hard time with this. We think we are wasting food and money, misusing the gifts God has given us. In reality, when we eat more food than we need simply because it is in front of us, we are denying God's ability to give us what we need when we need it. I better eat all of this right now, we think. There may not be more for me. Better get it now! Stuff it in!
It's as if we don't trust God to provide for us.

Next time you are tempted to clean your plate, even when you're not hungry, try this. Picture whatever is left on your plate in HUGE quanities. Imagine an entire room filled with this food. Realize that there is indeed a whole world of food (and everything else you need) out there. Then trust that God will provide you with the nourishment you need, just when you need it.

Then guiltlessly put those leftovers in the trash, and teach your children to do the same.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's a Numbers Game

It all started with the carbs.

About 13 years ago, I wandered through a Kmart feeling sorry for myself. I had given birth to my fourth child several months earlier, and I was feeling bad. (Bad equals fat, of course.) I had always gained 50-60 pounds during pregnancy, and this time was no exception. The difference that time around was this: I was almost 30, and the weight was not coming off, despite the fact that Joey was almost a year old.

So as I walked through the aisles of that discount giant, feeling like a giant blob, shopping for cheap pants with an elastic waist, I was praying for a solution. The rack of paperbacks next to the candy bars caught my attention. Actually, a question in bold print on a book jacket stunned me: Are you a carbohydrate addict?

YES! I practically shouted. Isn't everyone? Doesn't everyone love bread, pasta, cereal and sweets? Is the answer in this book? Can I be cured?

So of course I bought the book, and read through it that night while munching on cinnamon toast. It described me perfectly, so the next day I began the plan that would insure instant thinness.

This particular book's author (not a medical doctor or nutritionist, by the way) insisted that if I eliminated carbs from breakfast and lunch, I could eat ANYTHING I WANTED for ONE WHOLE HOUR every evening.

Crazy? Sounds like it. But I tried it. And it worked.

I ate this way for months, and I did lose some weight. Eventually I got to a plateau, and I never left it. It began to feel weird, not right, stuffing myself each evening. Could this really be the way I was supposed to eat? When the weight stopped coming off, I decided I was still consuming too many carbs. So I read another book (this one had doctors on the cover) that suggested I up my protein and drop down to no more than 30 grams of carbs a day.

So I did it. For several more years, in between my next three babies. I learned the carb and protein counts of any and all foods. I obsessed over them. Eventually if it even looked like it contained carbs, I wouldn't eat it.

I lost a little bit of weight, but I was still not as thin as I needed to be. I new that because more than my interest in carbs, my life was consumed with other, much more compelling numbers -- the ones that I saw on the scale.

I cannot remember a day in my adult life that I have not stepped on the scale at least once. Usually I torture myself with the dreaded device two or even three times a day. It became the measure of my worth, instead of what it really is: a piece of metal that indicates the effects of gravity on a given object.

So for years, the numbers have ruled my life. Are there too many carbs in that? Enough protein? Recently I decided to count calories and grams of fiber instead, realizing that I had gone too far with the carb restrictions. I bought a food scale so I could be sure I wasn't eating too many ounces of chicken. The scale in my bathroom continues to be my nemesis, but I am drawn to it like an abused lover who knows it is what she deserves.

While I'm revealing the depths of my ridiculous behavior, I'll even share this secret with you. For YEARS I not only weighed myself several times a day, I also logged this information in a notebook (along with the fat percentage numbers revealed by a high-tech new scale.) Every few weeks I would also take my measurements and record these dreaded numbers as well. (I'm happy to say I've managed to overcome at least this one facet of my obsession with the numbers!)

But since I had these handy records, I used them to alternately torture and reward myself. I knew what I weighed for every significant and not-so-special day of my life. And sadly, I still tend to do this.

My eldest daughter was married this May. I know exactly what I weighed that day, and of course I had a goal to lose some weight before the NEXT wedding, that of my younger daughter, which is tomorrow! I had seven weeks in between the two, so I figured if I counted, counted fiber and fat and carbs and protein, counted calories consumed, calories burned, counted miles walked, I would be a few pounds lighter. And that somehow would translate into this event being somehow magical, right? If the ultimate measure of my worth said I had less of a gravitational pull, the wedding of my baby girl would be so much more enjoyable, right?

What nonsense. How sad that I am even thinking about this.

And by the way, even with all that counting, you know what happened? I gained four pounds.

Such is the pull of the numbers. I share this because I know I am not alone, and that so many of us are struggling to learn that our value is not determined by our size, our shape, or how many grams of fiber we consume each day. As you can see, I'm still struggling, too. But I have to share one more number, one that I plan to discuss in much more detail soon.

145. Psalm 145.

The hand of the Lord FEEDS us; He answers ALL our needs.

When I heard this psalm at Mass last Sunday, that proverbial lightbulb was shining above my head. I have to stop obsessing about all these numbers: carbs, fat, fiber, pounds, inches. I have to stop relying on my own power to feed myself what I need. I have to allow God to feed me.

There is much more to say about this, for I know it is simple but not easy to accomplish. But just for today, I will commit to focusing on that number: 145. (And this time, not as a goal weight!)

And just for today, I will stay off that scale.

And not even consider how many carbs I'll be eating!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Silencing Cookie Monster

I found something the other day scribbled down in an old notebook. I vaguely remember it being a draft for a characterization exercise for one of my theatre classes in college. The scary thing is, I can recall times in my life when I shared a similar thought pattern over what I should or shouldn’t be eating.

Oh, that cookie looks so good. Just look at the chocolate chunks in that sucker. Mmmmmm…. But I can’t eat that cookie. It’s huge. I bet it’s at least 500 calories. Maybe more. I don’t want to even think about how many fat grams are probably crammed into that circle of deliciousness. It looks so chewy and gooey and good. I wish I had a super fast mutant metabolism. Then I could eat it and not have to worry about it showing up later in the form of cellulite on my thighs or as a soft pooch on my belly. At least I can suck in my stomach. Why can’t we suck in our butt or thighs?

I have been good today though. All I had for lunch was a big salad. I did use some dressing though, but it was the light stuff. I’ve been exercising every day, too. Don’t I deserve a little treat? I mean, it’s just a cookie. I could skip a meal tomorrow to compensate for the extra calories. Or I could workout twice in one day.

Maybe I should try on my jeans first. If they feel big, then I should definitely just eat the cookie. Or, I could weigh myself. Or better yet, why don’t I just have one bite? I don’t have to eat the whole thing. One tiny morsel won’t hurt me. That’s the perfect solution. Here, I’ll break off this tiny piece and put it in my mouth….

Oh, my goodness. That is so good. It tastes even better than it looks. Maybe I’ll have just one more bite. Besides, the chocolate taste like dark chocolate, and dark chocolate is good for you. I mean, I’ll be fighting cancer if I eat some more of this cookie. Just one more tiny bite… Oh, so yummy. Well, gee. Now I’ve already messed up. What’s the point of leaving half a cookie? I might as well go ahead and eat the rest of it. Yummy! That was so good.

Wait a minute. What did I just do? I can’t believe I just ate that entire cookie! It’s the size of a freakin’ plate. I swear, I’ll never do that again. I need to go to the gym…right now. I’ve got to burn off some extra calories. I’m so weak. Geez…the stupid cookie wasn’t even that good. It tasted kind of artificial, really. It was too chewy, too gooey.

No more cookies for me…ever. Except maybe at Christmas. And I can have some cookie cake on my birthday. But that’s it. I’m detoxing my body of all processed food starting tomorrow. What’s wrong with me? I feel fat already. I bet I’ve already gained a pound, and my jeans will definitely be tighter. I’m going to go try them on now…

A little funny? Yes. And a bit sad, too? Definitely.

Perhaps you’re wondering who really spends that much time thinking about a stupid cookie besides that furry blue monster that entertains preschoolers. I’d bet more people than you’d think.

And even if most of us don’t agonize that much over one cookie, I’ve heard plenty of people talk about their constant struggles with food choices.

Now let’s think about all that cookie and body angst this way: Just consider for a moment what would happen if we took all the time we spend obsessing about what we eat or how we look and used it instead to pray. We may not look like Heidi Klum (or Brad Pitt for you men out there), but we’d surely be more at peace.

I admit I sometimes still categorize food into good and bad categories, but as my husband reminds me: There is no good or bad food. It’s just food – fuel for your body. Some of it’s better for your body, of course. Whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and veggies are the premium fuel. But consuming the other stuff – cookies, salty chips, butter and fried food – in moderation won’t sabotage our health.

Most of the time when I start obsessing about ice cream or a piece of chocolate, I just allow myself a small indulgence and I really savor its taste. If I start to feel guilty about noshing on something that’s less than nutritious, then I remind myself that the virtues of prudence and temperance are helpful in achieving balance when it comes to healthy eating and living. When we apply the order of reason, enjoying an occasional ice cream sundae or full-bodied glass of wine won’t kill us, and indulging in them every once in awhile does not make us bad or weak.

So, here’s my advice for today: Give in to a craving. Enjoy it. Eat it slowly, and savor the taste, the texture, everything you love about it. And when you’re finished, do not feel guilty. I repeat: DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. If you start to, go on a walk and thank God for your taste buds and everything else he’s given you. And the next time you’re tempted to start obsessing about what you eat or don’t eat, try praying instead.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Slim Goodbody

It's never too early to start teaching children about their health. Just today my 3-year-old and I had a conversation about why man cannot live on ice cream alone.

Unfortunately, sometimes the wisdom Mom imparts isn't nearly as interesting as what some cool dude named Slim Goodbody has to say about everything from healthy eating to how our circulatory system works.

From his website:

In 1975, John Burstein created the Slim Goodbody character to help him teach healthy living at the Floating Hospital in New York. Five years later, the character exploded on PBS with his first television series, The Inside Story. Today, Slim Goodbody hosts the amazing National Bodyology Tour and now dozens of new characters enhance the full K-8 school curriculum.

Slim Goodbody has entertained children with his unique, exciting and enlightening shows for 30 years. Currently his programs air on over 120 public TV stations nationwide and he has authored more than a dozen children's books. Donning his signature outfit, he educates children by combining humor, music and incredible visuals into an inspiring performance.

Slim Goodbody has 111 National Bodyology Shows in 31 states. To find a venue near you, click here.