Gluttony, addiction, and not listening in prayer
This past summer I decided that now was the time for me to finally deal with gluttony. Not only was my weight creeping up higher and higher after each pregnancy, but for as long as I could remember I’d had a real problem with overeating that I seemed unable to conquer.
I first tried to get this problem under control when I was 15, and had been trying — and failing — ever since. None of the zillions of diets or programs or mental strategies I tried ever worked on a long-term basis. Starting this past summer, however, I decided to try something radically different: I would ask for God’s help. I was sure that this was the missing piece of the puzzle, that by leaning on the Lord I would be able to get my tendency to commit the sin of gluttony at least somewhat under control.
I was surprised and disappointed — you might say, “crushed” — when things didn’t play out like I’d hoped they might.
I was incorporating prayer into the fabulous No-S Diet plan for conquering gluttony, and that took me a long way…but not far enough. After a few weeks went by I started to fail. A lot. I have so many vivid memories of sitting in front of a plate of food and saying a prayer begging God to give me the strength to not have extra helpings, pleading for him to let me stop eating when I felt full…and then I’d eat to the point of being overstuffed anyway.
I know, it makes no sense. Why didn’t I just stop eating if it were so important to me? If you’ve never experienced this I’m not even sure I can describe it. “Stop! You’re full! You’ve had enough!” one part of me would say; but some other, much more powerful force within of me would rise up and override all other thoughts, fixating on the food in front of me in a blind panic. It was truly a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type situation, the Dr. Jekyll in me powerless to stop the gluttonous Mr. Hyde.
I prayed over and over again to ask God to help me stop overeating, yet it continued to happen day after day, week after week. Eventually I stopped praying about it.
Then, a few months later, I got in a regular habit of going to Adoration. I even got to the point where I would leave my list at home and try to just clear my mind and let the Lord lead me. And a funny thing started to happen: even though I had long since given up on the topic, I started to feel strong guidance when it came to my food issues. Through prayer and meetings with my spiritual director I got a loud, clear message that my bad eating habits were not just leading me to the sin of gluttony but leaving me tired, sluggish, irritable, and thus impacting my family and spiritual life.
After a profound moment in Adoration when I finally realized after 17 years of repeatedly falling flat on my face that my way wasn’t working, I admitted my powerlessness and turned the whole thing over to God. With no more plans of my own, I finally began just listening when I prayed about this issue.
And, sure enough, God had something to say.
Shortly after that moment, a series of “coincidences” led me to discover the concept of food addiction. A rough summary of the theory is that some people’s bodies react to sugar- and flour-based foods like alcoholics’ bodies react to alcohol and that, like alcoholics with alcohol, these people need to surrender to the fact that they’ll never be able to eat those foods in moderation, that they must abstain from them completely.
It sounded pretty extreme. In fact, I probably would have blown it off I hadn’t encountered people who had had astounding results by putting it into practice.
I had the pleasure of corresponding with a blog reader who shared with me her own dramatic story of being chronically overweight, eventually topping out at 370 pounds and feeling suicidal. After she got the right information about food addiction she not only got down to a healthy weight of 150 and has kept it off for eight years and through two pregnancies, but her spiritual life grew by leaps and bounds as well (a version of her inspiring story written a few years ago is available in a Word doc here). When I joined the “The Body Knows” food addicts email list I encountered many other people who had almost identical stories to hers. Their testimonies were intriguing and compelling…and sounded vaguely familiar.
After a lot of research and more prayer, I decided to go ahead and cut out all foods with flour and sugar, as well as other processed foods, just to see what happened. Unlike other times I’d done something like this as part of a short-term diet, this time I would do it indefinitely, letting God lead me day by day.
That was in late December, and the results over the past 12 weeks have been amazing.
- As the food addiction theory would predict, when I cut out the foods I was addicted to, the insane cravings went away. Not having those foods in my system tamed that Mr. Hyde inside of me, so much so that I could even serve my family things like biscuits or cookies without having one myself — something previously unthinkable.
- Gluttony has become manageable. I quickly realized that when there’s not a sugar- or flour-based food involved in a meal, I can act like a reasonable human being when I sit down to eat. Suddenly those voices that said “You’re full! Stop eating!” actually had some impact on my actions. Though I still have a tendency to be gluttonous that’s not always easy to overcome, with that powerful Mr. Hyde vanquished from the table it is at least now possible.
- I’m no longer yanked around by food-induced mood swings. Not only has it been easier not to commit the sin of gluttony with this new way of eating, but it’s been easier to avoid a lot of other sins as well. The post-meal “crashes” that I used to experience on an almost daily basis left me extremely vulnerable to angry, selfish, slothful behavior. I still have all my same bad personality traits, of course, but without the biochemical factors to exacerbate them it’s much easier to overcome them. (My husband says it’s been stunning to see how much more calm and “able to deal” I seem when he comes home in the afternoons.)
- I’m much more detached from food. When I used to think of detachment from food, I assumed that that always meant eating all things in moderation. For most people, that’s probably the case. It’s taken me 17 years of banging my head into the same wall over and over again to realize it, but I finally see that the way for me to be detached from food is to cut out the foods that I cannot control myself around. I am now able to enjoy meals in a spiritually healthy way — that is, appreciating and taking pleasure in them without obsessing about them — and I don’t even miss the foods I’ve given up now that they’re out of my system.
- There have also been some dramatic changes physically as well. I am noticeably less “puffy” (I get many comments on that), and less inflamed and sensitive to pain. Also, my body has started dropping weight like crazy, even though I wasn’t trying to lose weight. Despite eating more than the recommended calorie intake for pregnant women, I lost a few pounds during the third trimester, and am already down to a post-baby weight that it usually takes me months to reach (in fact, after baby #3 I never did get down to the weight I’m already at now). I’m trying to make sure I don’t get caught up in the dangerous “high” of the scale, but it’s been amazing to see how my body naturally began to release weight after I cut out processed foods.
- And, finally, my daily diet is so much more nutritious than it used to be. I eat so many more fresh fruits and veggies than I used to, I recently calculated that the increase in vitamins and minerals from my new way of eating is almost equivalent to taking a daily multivitamin.
The biggest lesson I learned, however, was about listening. In all that time I spent chattering at God about gluttony, ordering him to help me follow through with my plans to stop overeating, I thought I had all the answers; it never occurred to me that I might be barking up the wrong tree. It was only after I got still and calmly let the Lord guide me that I realized that my particular problem was one of gluttony and addiction, and that I couldn’t treat one without treating the other.
The lesson I’ve learned here has made me think about how often I do this in other areas of my life: I think I know exactly what needs to happen, so I pray to ask God to make it so, as if I’m the one in charge and he’s some kind of wish-granting genie. Considering the dramatic changes I’ve seen in terms of my relationship to food, it makes me wonder what else the Lord could do in my life if I spent a whole lot more time listening.