This post is part of a series about re-thinking my relationship to food, which I call “The Saint Diet” to remind myself that the ultimate goal is deeper union with God. You can read all the posts on the subject here (scroll down to see them all).
Over the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer in order to get more clarity on what, exactly, God is leading me to with this clear call I’ve heard to rethink my relationship with food. After a lot of mental gymnastics and overanalysis on my part where I tried to figure out if this is about cutting out sugar or being more healthy during pregnancy or getting set up to get to a good weight postpartum or what, in prayer one day it became crystal clear that there is just one simple goal that I am being led to by following this path:
That’s it. I need to discern the unique path (a path that’s different for everyone) that will release me from the unhealthy attachment I have to certain nutritionally void foods and put food in general in its proper place in my life. The other things that I might want to see happen — reaching a goal weight after breastfeeding, cultivating a taste for nutrient-rich foods that are conducive to physical and mental fitness, etc. — will probably come as part of the process, but they’re not the main goal. They can’t be. Even though those things are very important, 17 years of experience have taught me that I cannot achieve those goals on a long-term basis on my own. I must have God’s help; and the more detached I am, the more room I give him to help me.
This is probably obvious to a lot of people, but it was a big breakthrough for me. To be detached from food (or anything) doesn’t mean that you think it’s bad or you don’t enjoy it, just that it has no power over you, that you don’t ever want it more than you want God. (Aimee Cooper has more on the subject of detachment in a great post here. The last two paragraphs are especially helpful.)
This is critical for someone like me to understand, because it’s easy for me to get derailed into sin or self-indulgence when I get too focused on the sub-goals that are part of the detachment process. For example, I might discern from prayer and talking to my doctor that I need to cut out foods full of refined sugar for some period of time, and that might be a good and worthy goal. But if I fall into the mentality of thinking that the entire goal is “to cut out sugary foods,” that too easily leaves me open to developing new attachments to other foods, overeating because I miss the pleasure of sweets, fixating on this one plan even if it’s clearly not doing what it’s supposed to do, developing a controlling, perfectionist mentality that will inevitably lead me to throw in the towel, etc.; whereas if I see the goal as “to cut out sugary foods as part of the overall process of becoming detached from food in general,” with an openness to carefully modifying the plan if it doesn’t bear good fruit spiritually or physically, it helps me approach it in a much more God-focused way and not get derailed into sin or self-indulgence when I hit roadblocks.
This is why I thought I’d go ahead and share my ramblings on this aspect of my spiritual life, even though I know many people don’t share my specific issues with food: because most of us have some worldly thing (or, for some of us, many things) to which our attachments stand in the way of our relationship with God. And this part of my spiritual journey is not about a diet; it is, I now realize, about detachment.