As I briefly mentioned in my previous post, the first half of a Spiritual Formation course I took last semester focused on getting to know God by practicing means of grace, which are spiritual disciplines like prayer, solitude and fasting. Much of our discussion on this topic was centered on Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines. As long-time readers of this blog know, just before Thanksgiving 2018, following a shocking weight reading at the doctor’s office, I decided I wanted to respond in a manner that went beyond the superficial efforts of most Americans to lose weight by not making merely a physical commitment to weight loss, but a spiritual commitment to health. I was going to take seriously Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 to honor my body as a temple to the Lord by only consuming foods that were healthy. As for foods which I enjoyed so much that portion control was difficult for me, I was going to abide by Matthew 5:29: “if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.” So I gave up altogether peanut butter, Larabars, red meat (including pork), chips/crackers, traditional desserts and cheese. Since unrefined, whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice, and starchy foods like potatoes are beneficial if limited to one serving a day, I allowed myself to eat one serving of these foods a day, but only at breakfast so that my body would have the whole day to metabolize it. I limited my consumption of refined sugar to one square of Ghirardelli 92% dark chocolate which is just 60 calories and less than 1 gram of sugar, and because it is high quality, intense chocolate, I can eat just one and be completely satisfied. Instead of rice or pasta at dinner, I ate riced cauliflower or zucchini noodles. Other than one visit to a favorite vegetarian restaurant where I gave into the crackers and hummus they brought out as an appetizer, and one week just before Thanksgiving 2019 when I had such a craving for pumpkin pie that I ate two pumpkin pie Larabars that had been sitting on a shelf in my bedroom that whole year, my new lifestyle was a raging success. The mood of my 2019 annual physical was much different than 2018, as my doctor congratulated me on losing 40 pounds!
Just a few weeks before the 2018 doctor visit, our church challenged the congregation to a day of prayer and fasting, a challenge I did not accept. I have occasionally had to fast for medical tests and procedures, so I knew I was capable of fasting, but I absolutely hated fasting even out of medical necessity. Just knowing I couldn’t eat made me anxious so that all I could think about was food, and when my siblings who did not have to fast made food, it smelled even more delicious than usual. I could not find the motivation to fast for nonmedical reasons. As I reflected on my shocking weight the afternoon after my 2018 doctor appointment, this unembraced challenge offered by my church came back to mind, and it occurred to me that I had let food become an idol. By eliminating unhealthy food from my life, I truly believed I could break free of the grip food had on my life. To a small extent, this has proven true. Even before making my commitment to healthy eating, I was aware of science which proved that optimal health is 80% dependent on what you eat, and only 20% on how much you exercise. In other words, even if you run say, 10 miles a day, you still cannot eat whatever you want with reckless abandon. But I was so addicted to my eating habits that I deluded myself into believing that if I was fanatical about exercise, I could offset the unhealthiness of my diet. So I made sure I got on the treadmill, set the speed to at least 4 miles per hour and walked for at least 30 minutes each day, even if I wasn’t feeling well. When my parents and I took walks outdoors in the spring and summer months, few things infuriated me more than a neighbor stopping us to talk, or when we went to a park, my parents wanting to stand at an overlook and listen to the sound of the river or watch the ducks. I had to keep my heart rate up, and if I stopped too long, I felt like I would have to redo my walk on the treadmill when I got home because this walk wouldn’t count for exercise. I am still very diligent about getting aerobic exercise, as exercise is important for optimal health. But because my diet is healthy, I have the freedom to be less fanatical. I am not as staunchly opposed to skipping the treadmill occasionally, or walking at a slower pace for less time if I don’t feel well. When taking walks outdoors, my smile when neighbors stop us to talk is genuine, and I can truly appreciate the soul-restoring sounds of the river and the ducks. Back when I was addicted to the typical American diet, my stomach was often upset after meals, but the way I eat now, an upset stomach is a rare occurrence, and I cannot help gloating a little when the rest of the family who has not found the will to break free of the typical American diet complains of stomach upset on an almost daily basis. Because I don’t allow myself to indulge even on holidays, I am not consumed with guilt or despair in January over all the weight I gained over the holidays. But in the course of prayer and reflection during my spiritual formation course, and recent events this summer, God has brought me to the sobering realization that the freedom I have experienced by eating healthier has only been surface-level, superficial, like pulling up the stem of a dandelion, but failing to remove the root. The sobering truth is that food is still an idol in my life.
I started to recognize this truth in week 6 of the Spiritual Formation class, when the discussion forum prompted us to share our past experience practicing a spiritual discipline discussed in our assigned reading from Dallas Willard. I decided to post about my struggle with weight, and my decision in 2018 to abstain from favorite foods. Although it didn’t fit neatly into the spiritual discipline of fasting because it wasn’t a complete fast from food, in my mind, especially in the early days when all I could think about was how much I craved these foods, I viewed my radical decision as a spiritual discipline. But our reading also warned that even good things like family relationships, ministry success, or physical fitness can become idols, meaning they are given unhealthy priority over our lives that can cause us to stray from God. In my post, I expressed the recognition that my commitment to health which started out as a spiritual discipline may have become an idol in my life, citing as evidence the fact that although I mostly looked forward to the end of the pandemic and a return to normal life, I dreaded the prospect of social engagements, and travel for fear that my hunger, or the fear of being socially awkward would get the better of me and I would slip up and return to unhealthy habits. Another insightful classmate replied that perhaps my anxiety around health was due to a deeper insecurity, or fear of losing control, and suggested I spend time in prayer about this.
Even without prayer, I knew this classmate hit the nail on the head. I don’t remember being a control freak as a child. I think it started in July 2012 when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and suddenly I couldn’t just eat whatever. Going on vacation, or just going out to dinner, things I used to do without a thought, now required careful planning. Even as a teenager before I had dietary restrictions, I was beginning to dislike traveling because of the way it made me feel as though I was a dog on a leash, dependent on and controlled by others. But after my Celiac Disease diagnosis, my disdain for travel intensified because packing all of my own food is a pain, and sometimes isn’t even feasible, and every meal in a restaurant is fraught with unknowns and potential risks. Over the years, we have cultivated a list of trustworthy places including Chipotle, Bonefish Grill, and Cafe Manna (the local aforementioned vegetarian restaurant). But on vacation, these places often aren’t available, or sometimes even if they are, someone in the family will object, craving spontaneity, not understanding that I cannot think of anything that make me more anxious than walking into some random hole-in-the-wall place on the fly and asking about gluten free options, especially when English is not the first language of the staff, as is often the case in tourist places like New York City. I will say that since my commitment to eating only healthy food, one source of anxiety/paranoia has been removed when I eat out. Back when the priority was pleasure, I would order gluten free bread or pasta whenever possible, but could never fully enjoy it because of the niggling paranoid fear of a mistake, or plate mix-up. I read a horror story of a chef who didn’t believe Celiac Disease was a real thing and would purposely just give everyone gluten pasta, but the fact that I only saw one such story confirms such egregious conduct is rare, and I still believe most people are decent and well-intentioned, so any mistake or mix-up would most likely be completely innocent. But nonetheless, the immune system doesn’t care about motives or intentions, so I could never fully exhale until the following morning when I woke up without a nasty migraine. But now that I no longer eat simple carbs like bread or pasta, a huge contributor to my former weight problems, I only order naturally gluten free meat and vegetables. Even a few crumbs of gluten can cause a reaction, so I still worry about cross-contamination, or a soy sauce mix-up. But at least I don’t have to worry about accidentally eating a whole plate of gluten pasta. But trying new places without at least a couple hours notice to scope them out online still gives me anxiety because of the potential for cross-contamination, so while everyone else looks forward to vacations, this is one reason I dread them for weeks in advance, and breathe a sigh of relief when they are over and I am back home, independent and in control of my meals once again.
Then, as was the case with everyone, the pandemic reminded us how quickly life can change, and how little of it is actually in our control. In my case, I never intended for my position at the Social Security disability law firm to be a life-long job. In fact, for the past year or so before the pandemic, I had been contemplating going back to school, but for the time being was enjoying the smooth sailing of life and the financial security this job provided. When all of a sudden it was no longer safe for me to go to the office, and no one had answers as to when it would be safe again, I think I took even more comfort from the routine of home life, set meals at prescribed times. At least this was one area of life I could still control.
But my suspicion that food might still be an idol in my life was confirmed when I came to Dallas Willard’s section on fasting, which he argues is one of the most important ways to practice the self-denial Jesus required of those wishing to follow him (matthew 16:24), and which Dallas Willard therefore recommends for Christians today as it “reveals to us how much of our peace depends upon the pleasures of eating” (Willard 1990, 166). I was immediately convicted, but just like in 2018, I once again found myself thinking, “I’ll pass on that discipline, thanks” and “Thank goodness practicing the discipline of fasting isn’t required to pass this course.” It also occurred to me that because I hadn’t gotten to the root of my food dandelion, the stem was starting to grow back in the form of small lapses in diligence regarding even my surface-level commitment to physical health.
I vividly remember March 17, 2020, just a couple days into that surreal week when everything changed. That day, Mom and I were both glued to Facebook, curious as to how friends and family were coping with this strange new world. Mom saw jokes from a few people that before the lockdown was over, they would gain the COVID 19, as they found they were eating to cope with the boredom and anxiety. “That won’t be me,” I found myself thinking smugly. And for a few months, it wasn’t. Even during the strange time of supply shortages at grocery stores and long waits for grocery delivery, I never went a day without salad, bean soup, and plenty of other fruit and vegetables. I have re-introduced natural peanut butter, one of those foods that caused me to sin, because it has nutritional benefits and is found in many of Dr. Fuhrman’s recipes, and I realized I could save quite a bit of money by stirring two tablespoons into my oatmeal two or three days a week rather than getting my serving of nuts from nutrition bars every single day. I would just make sure to only touch that jar on oatmeal days, and after stirring exactly two tablespoons into my oatmeal, to promptly put the jar away! In other words, I would practice self-control which is actually a fruit of the spirit that should be cultivated rather than avoided. But my commitment to avoiding red meat, cheese, simple carbs and traditional desserts has never wavered.
But gradually, I began to backslide in other ways, eating servings of chicken that were far larger than the recommended deck of cards, or snacking when I was not really hungry, just bored or tired after an afternoon of studying. Two weeks ago when my parents and I got dressed up for a cousin’s wedding, the first dress-up occasion since my brother’s intimate, pandemic wedding last August, we all came to the disheartening realization that our clothes were a little tighter, and decided summer was a good time to re-join the gym where Mom and I enjoyed swimming, and where Dad used the elliptical and weight machines before the pandemic. I had not checked my weight since my annual physical December 31, a purposeful decision as my obsessive compulsiveness is bad enough without letting myself stress over every little fluctuation in my weight as is the case with some people who weigh themselves often. But I was curious to get a baseline now that I was swimming again. To my disappointment, I had gained the COVID 12. This was humbling, but did not send me into despair. I was still nowhere near the 186 pounds of November 2018, or even the 168 pounds of 2015 when the job developer implied that my clothing was not flattering. My seminary education also helped me understand on a deeper level that although the Christian life requires effort on our part, the fact that we are saved by grace means God still loves us even when we make mistakes. I just needed to re-commit myself, remembering that God never intended for food to be the source of all of our comfort and pleasure.
My attempt at frugality by letting Mom help me chop up onions and peppers rather than buying them dehydrated was also completely negated when last summer, I became addicted to crunchy kale. Until then, the only processed snack I allowed myself to eat was roasted seaweed, which is very low in calories, high in nutrition and much less expensive. I discovered crunchy kale, and came to love it as a unique, flavorful, healthy snack in 2016, but even then when I was riding high on having a credit card for the first time and earning my own money, I realized this could become an expensive habit and put the kibosh on it after ordering two cases. But perhaps because pandemic life lacked uniqueness and flavor, I craved it in the form of crunchy kale, and quickly fell into a routine of rewarding myself after an afternoon of studying by cracking open a bag of kale chips at 5:30 with the same delight as normal people might crack open a bottle of whine. Another spiritual discipline Dallas Willard discussed in week 6 of my Spiritual Formation course was frugality, and with a sinking feeling in my stomach, I thought of my crunchy kale addiction which cost $4 a day, and realized I was failing pretty miserably in this discipline too!
But the final nail of confirmation that food is still an idol in my life came when I was invited to our cousin’s wedding. There was no reason for food to have been a source of anxiety for me at this event. There are several relatives on that side of the family who also have Celiac Disease, so the mother of the bride who planned the wedding took this into account. The invitation gave us two dinner choices, chicken piccata which the venue said could be made gluten free, and salmon which was naturally gluten free. The invitation also had space to indicate dietary restrictions. I chose salmon, not just because it was naturally gluten free, but because it is something I like to eat whenever available anyway because it has health benefits. For a while, I didn’t give the food at the wedding another thought. But a few days before the wedding, I began having second thoughts. What if there was a miscommunication and the venue did not get the message about my Celiac Disease? Sometimes, I will bring along a can of soup or some fruit as a back-up plan to events in case things go wrong, but it would be tacky to bring my own food into such a formal event: in fact Mom and Dad probably wouldn’t have even ben willing to facilitate it. Why didn’t I just RSVP that I couldn’t come to the reception, but would come to the wedding mass at the church, my first inclination before remembering that this side of the family is familiar with Celiac Disease, and seeing the well-thought-out invitation. I knew I couldn’t in good conscience back out of my commitment for such ridiculous reasoning, so I ate two apples when we went home for an hour in between the ceremony and the reception, and mentally prepared myself for the possibility that if things went wrong, I would just smile and eat nothing, knowing that I could eat a late dinner when I got home. I didn’t want to stay late at the wedding anyway and planned to ride home with my brother and his wife who didn’t want to stay late either.
My anxiety about attending my cousin’s wedding reception would have been understandable if I didn’t normally over-focus on food, and was merely anxious because it was my first formal event post-pandemic. After spending over a year hardly ever leaving home, anxiety about returning to normal life has been common, and I have seen multiple articles from psychologists about how to adjust. The problem is that my over-fixation on food is nothing new. As I write this, I am having a hilarious flashback to an incident when I was in first grade. At that time, an itinerant teacher pulled me out of the regular class for an hour each day to practice reading braille, and at the end of each week, I was rewarded with M&Ms, my favorite candy, based on how many pages I read that week. As I was leaving the resource room to return to class after a reading session Monday or Tuesday one particular week, I remarked casually, “I cannot wait for M&M day!” to which the teacher sighed and said something to the effect that I needed to get excited about things other than food. I was kind of taken aback by this remark and didn’t say anything in response. Nowadays, I would love to go back and respond with something funny like “you need to realize I come from a family that loves to eat. The family joke is that our favorite word is buffet. You started working with me when I was three years old, and at that time, as you know, I had an aversion to the texture of most foods. So I would have thought you would be happy that I enjoy eating now, and that I am fully assimilating into my family, a clear indication that the hard work of you and all the teachers on my preschool team paid off!” But in all seriousness, this teacher was on to something. Nowadays, I do live in eager anticipation of more than just food: I get excited over an upcoming choir concert, or musical we have tickets to, or feedback from a professor on a paper I am proud of, just to name a couple examples. But there is an element of truth in that I do get anxious and over-fixate on what I will eat, especially when I cannot be at home, in my controlled environment.
At the same time I was acting all spiritual writing this post about how by abstaining from favorite foods, food would no longer be an idol in my life, I was dreading an upcoming trip to New York City that March. Despite the fact that the highlight of this trip was going to be seeing Hamilton on Broadway, an incredibly generous gift from my sister and her husband, I begged and pleaded with Mom and Dad, to no avail to just let me stay home and see it when it would eventually come to Milwaukee, especially after the unsuccessful attempt to send some Fuhrman soups ahead to my sister’s apartment. In my mind, by the time of that trip, I will have come so far in my healthy lifestyle, well on track to loosing weight and feeling awesome, only to be derailed by meal after meal in restaurants where I may not always be able to find a healthy option. In 2019, one of my friends from the young adult bible study group I used to host at my house invited me to a New Year’s Eve party at her house. She offered to pick me and another girl up about 3pm that day to hang out and set up for the party, with everyone else arriving right in time for dinner. Instead of fully focusing on the fact that instead of falling asleep before midnight at home as I usually did on New Year’s Eve, I would be celebrating the holiday with friends, I was agonizing over meal logistics. She wanted to pick me up too early to eat dinner beforehand, and I couldn’t think of a tactful way to ask what she planned to serve. I could try just skipping dinner if she had no healthy options, but then I might start getting a headache and feeling cranky and I felt socially awkward bringing my own meal. I ended up bringing my own meal of chicken and riced cauliflower, which my friends seemed totally fine with. When the host picked me and the other friend up, we stopped at Aldi’s for party food, and everyone loved my idea of a vegetable tray with hummus for dipping, so I felt like I was sociable, partaking in the party food without compromising on health. So it all worked out, but looking back, I am ashamed at this anxiety which made me hesitant to enjoy a party with good friends, especially since during the pandemic, life circumstances changed for all of them, and I don’t know if we will ever get together like that again. Last August, my brother and his wife had an intimate pandemic wedding at their house, with only immediate family in attendance. Again I wasn’t the only person in attendance with Celiac Disease, so my brother and his wife decided that after a brief ceremony, they would order Chipotle one of my trusted places because they are very accommodating for food allergies, and it is something everyone likes. I should have had absolutely no reason to worry about food then right? But in the days leading up to the wedding when I should have been focusing on the joyful occasion of my brother entering a new chapter of life with a wonderful woman, I was worried that with such a large order for nine people, Chipotle would mess something up. I wasn’t actually worried that it wouldn’t be gluten free, as the only gluten item Chipotle serves are their flour tortillas. I was more worried that all the burrito bowls would come with cheese and/or sour cream, or worst of all, that they would give me brown rice or white rice by mistake instead of riced cauliflower when I only eat grain for breakfast, and prefer to portion it myself as restaurants give you way too much. All of these events went relatively smoothly. For my brother’s wedding, Chipotle did not make any mistakes. For my cousin’s wedding, everyone was given salad with cheese on top, but Dad was able to get most of it off mine, so I only consumed a few trace shreds. The salmon was delicious, and the venue got the message about my Celiac Disease, even noting it on the name card at my table. In New York City 2019, I was a little perturbed because since the Fuhrman soups could not be delivered, we bought ingredients at Whole Foods for Mom to make bean salad, but she couldn’t find my sister’s measuring spoons to measure out dressing as she did when making it for me to take to work, so she just poured until it looked good. This sent me into a bit of a panic because who knows how many extra empty calories of oil I had eaten by not measuring! So I made sure to be extra diligent for the other meals. But as it turned out, even if I did eat extra empty calories in oil, I guess it didn’t matter because with all of the walking we did that weekend, I lost three pounds!
The week before my post to the discussion forum, the assigned reading from Dallas Willard’s book discussed the history of monasticism during the dark ages. Although Jesus, and Paul saw value in ascetic practices like solitude and fasting, they believed in a sensible ascetism that was not about earning merit, penance for sins, rejection of the world or hatred of the body, but “effective and full enjoyment of active love of God and humankind in all the daily rounds of normal existence where we are placed” (Willard 1990, 138). Willard argues that the Protestant Reformation over-corrected for the extreme, and unbiblical monastic practices by rejecting the idea of ascetism altogether. But ascetism, when practiced in a sensible way and with the right motivation behind it, is extremely valuable, even necessary to grow in spiritual maturity, in the same way that physical training is necessary to become skilled in any sport. In fact, when writing to Timothy about the importance of spiritual discipline, Paul uses the Greek word gumnaze, from which we get the word gymnasium. Another parallel Willard draws between athletic training and spiritual training is that just as an athlete must practice what they are not good at if they really want to excel in a sport, growing in spiritual maturity requires practicing precisely the disciplines that we struggle with. In my life, this means I don’t need to practice solitude. I love it, relish it, sometimes even wish my parents would go on vacation so I could have more of it. But prayer and Scripture meditation are disciplines I struggle to stay diligent with, and I have never even attempted complete fasting when it wasn’t medically necessary. When I made my radical commitment to healthy eating in 2018, in my mind I really believed I was making a spiritual commitment, especially when 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and Matthew 6:24 where Jesus says that no man can serve two masters, came to my mind. But because I struggle to stay diligent with Scripture meditation and prayer, these verses are where my Scripture meditation stopped. If I would have read just one verse further into Matthew 6, I would have read, “Do not worry about what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. IS NOT LIFE MORE IMPORTANT THAN FOOD, and the body more important than clothes?” Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the discipline quickly took precedence over the spiritual. One of the strange monastic practices of early church history that Willard recounts was the practice of proudly keeping track of the number of years they had gone without seeing a woman. I laughed out loud when I read this, but then it occurred to me that I had been proudly keeping track of the years I had gone without eating junk food. So what I am guessing started as a well-intentioned effort by these monks to live a celibate life devoted to God, or avoid the temptation to lust, because of lack of interaction with, or misunderstanding of the Bible, soon devolved into self-righteousness and pride in themselves for their commitment to the discipline itself, which is far removed from the way God wanted us to live. In a similar manner, what started for me as a well-intentioned effort to honor God by not defiling the body he has given me with junk food, soon devolved into an attitude of spiritual superiority (also known as gloating over how good I felt) and pride over my commitment to the discipline itself because I overlooked the importance of sustained interaction with God through prayer and Scripture meditation. In other words, I was just as spiritually immature as the monks of the dark ages! That was a humbling revelation!
And although my thoughts revolved around healthy food rather than junk food, because I have never fasted voluntarily, my sense of peace still revolved around the pleasure of eating. All of this has brought me to the inescapable conclusion that I need to start a regular habit of prayer and fasting. Some people who practice the discipline of fasting fast from both food and drink. In my case, given that I have medical conditions that can cause my electrolytes to get out of balance, and because the Bible advocates for sensible ascetism, I would allow myself to drink water and pedialyte. Starting July 9, I am going to institute Fasting Friday. I came up with this plan, not only because it is catchy and may help motivate me, but because Friday symbolically is the perfect day for such a discipline as Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Even though I feel as though my faith is better nurtured in the nondenominational church than the Catholic church, I always admired Grandma’s dedication to her faith. She told me that when she was growing up, her parents did not ever serve meat on Fridays, not just on Fridays during Lent as is the custom now. Her parents also would not allow her to go out on Fridays, which pretty much precluded her from attending school dances and such, because they believed Fridays should be spent at home reflecting on Jesus’ death. While I disagree with these practices, especially not allowing teenagers to go out on Friday nights, the principle behind these practices is intriguing, and came to my mind when contemplating when I would fast. (This Friday, my sister, her husband, my brother and his wife will be here to celebrate July 4, and since fasting should be accompanied by prayer, it would be more sensible to start when there is nothing going on and I can engage properly with this new discipline.) In the video lecture for the unit on these disciplines, the professor recommended starting small, perhaps skipping one meal at first. So my plan is to eat a normal breakfast at my usual time, skip lunch, and then eat the soup and salad I usually have for lunch at the usual dinner time, which will equate to about ten hours of day-time fasting. Eventually, I would like to work up to 24 hours of fasting, which I am capable of because I had to fast that long before a surgery in 2009. Between meals, I will engage in Bible study using study guides I downloaded from Intervarsity Press. At lunch, I will take a break for Pedialyte and to talk with Mom and Dad while they eat their lunch, so as to practice being sociable, not somber while fasting as Jesus commanded in Matthew 6:16.
Some could understandably argue that in sharing the details of how I plan to fast on this blog, I am no different than the self-righteous Pharisees who prayed on the street corners for all to see. To guard against this temptation, I have always strived for full transparency in this blog, just as the Bible is credible precisely because it does not spare the ugly stuff, like the fact that David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle, or that Paul oversaw the execution of Christians before his conversion. In that spirit, remember my previous post when I said I would start the discipline of daily Bible study time June 1? Yeah, that lasted exactly one day. On June 1, I downloaded a study guide for Genesis, and on June 2, completed one lesson. And then I just let the days get away from me without making this study time a priority. Unfortunately, I have always been the kind of person where unless I have had a wake-up call of life-threatening magnitude to kick me in the butt, or a course grade is at stake, I am terrible at committing to a discipline. But I am going to try again July 1. I will be fully transparent about the good, the bad and the ugly about my fasting experience, even if I end up chickening out on the whole idea again altogether. But I really hope and pray that I don’t chicken out, that I will take this spiritual wake-up call as seriously as the 2018 medical wake-up call. Hopefully by being transparent about my journey, I can help others who struggle with food idolatry as well because while I have seen a ton of Christian resources related to alcohol addiction, or immoral sexual behavior, even greed which is idolatry of money, I have not seen a lot of Christian resources addressing gluttony and/or food idolatry.
While reading Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live in preparation for his radical six-week diet in 2015, he warned that our bodies, which were accustomed to the modern American diet, would experience symptoms of withdrawal. I started this diet on Sunday January 18, 2015, and the following morning woke up with a nasty migraine reminiscent of the ones I used to get when I ate gluten. Ideally, Dr. Fuhrman advised not taking pain medication if possible as all medications are toxic to some degree, and the whole point of the six-week diet, especially the first couple days is to allow the body to detoxify, but I absolutely had to take my excedrin because it was one of those headaches that was so bad I felt like I would throw up or pass out. So I had a cup of sugar-free applesauce, took my medicine and went back to bed for a couple hours. But even though I didn’t fully detoxify, once my headache went away, I felt amazing! Even though I could not have possibly lost any weight in just 24 hours, I already felt lighter, and I didn’t realize until that day when my stomach was silent that it had always been a little rumbly. This feeling lasted the entire six weeks, and to a large degree returned when I re-committed to health in 2018. I don’t anticipate experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms because I have gotten through fasting for medical reasons without getting a migraine, and actually, I fast for about twelve hours between dinner and breakfast most days. The only difference is that I will be awake for this fast rather than sleeping most of the time. But I do anticipate experiencing spiritual withdrawal symptoms, such as the inability to concentrate on Bible study because I am “starving” when in truth, I know that I am absolutely fine, but find peace and pleasure in the routine of eating lunch at lunchtime. While I am not looking forward to the withdrawal symptoms, I am looking forward to hopefully maturing spiritually. Dallas Willard says that because of the pervasive role food has in our lives, those who practice fasting regularly find they are able to cope with, even cheerfully endure suffering and depravation of all kinds. I am excited to see how this discipline might indirectly change my entire personality for the better. But mostly, I want to get to the point where I can be invited to a wedding or a friend’s party, and my first thoughts center on the joy of the occasion not, “Darnit, what are they planning to do for food?” Intellectually, I know that life is more important than food, but I want to get to a place where I truly believe this, and live accordingly.
Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. HarperOne, 1990. (276 pp.) ISBN: 978-0060694425.