Saturday, September 12, 2015

Food and Spiritual Health



For the past month I've been eating a fairly strict paleo diet in an attempt to reign in some severe (literally) all-over eczema that has plagued me since I gave birth in December. I've been no dairy, no grains, no refined sugar. Paleo is also kind of weird in that it omits legumes for reasons I don't remember, as well as white potatoes. This is not a permanent change for me as I believe beans carry a lot of nutrition, although I suspect my days of dairy are totally over. 

Per usual, God has used this time to really change me in some really unexpected ways. I love how he does that. I feel like there have been so many times when I head into a situation expecting a certain level of personal growth or change and then he just knocks it out of the park. 

For starters, it would seem that God began preparing me for this season back in 2012 when I did a Whole 30 (except I only made it 24 days-ish). Before that I really had an embarrassingly basic understanding of nutrition and virtually no culinary skills. There have been times I've wondered "what if..." in regards to my own upbringing and if my parents had been healthier (both have been overweight and struggled with various chronic health issues for as long as I can remember) perhaps I would be, too, but I am grateful to be learning what I am learning NOW and not 25 years from now when it would be probably too late. 

That first experience on the paleo diet really helped me get a grasp on my dependence on consuming a ton of sugar, and really helped me see that I really felt great not eating dairy or grains. Not to mention that I also lost a good 10 pounds which I had been trying to lose since we got married and I didn't have to exercise which was a win-win in my book. I also learned how to cook, the role of certain foods, and the difference between different types of vegetables and how your body processes them. 

When my eczema started to take a turn for the worst this summer, Marshall and I literally prayed for next steps. We asked God what was next. Giving up dairy? Giving up gluten? Using topical steroids? Using an oral steroid? All of the above? Some of the above? What are our options? 

Slowly our next step became clear. I had to clean up my body, inside and out. I had to clean up my life, too, by changing some habits. 

In terms of cleaning up my body on the inside, my diet had to change. I had to take vitamins and supplements. I had to drink  a lot of water. The outside, I had to stop using topical steroids (after an adverse reaction that resulted in a terrible weepy– my skin, not my eyes– flare all over my body). I had to moisturize. I had to put good things only on the outside. I had to change my soaps, shampoos, laundry and dish detergent to remove any possible harsh chemicals that I might be having an adverse reaction to. Habits? I had to sleep. I had to stop breastfeeding all night and go to bed at or before 10pm and sleep. I hadn't slept a stretch longer than 4-5 hours since Lincoln was born. I had to vacuum our house more frequently and reduce the amount of dog hair (a common eczema irritant) so we moved the dogs to the garage and outside only.

We made a lot of changes. We researched, went grocery and soap shopping, switched over to formula and relocated the dogs. Food was probably the biggest change. 

During this month I feel like God has revealed a lot of things to me about myself, food and how my relationship with food said a lot more about me and my spiritual health than I had previously realized. So, I am not one for the "guilt gospel". In fact, I flat out refuse to believe that our God uses guilt as a tactic to draw us close to him. I do not think that he tries to teach us lessons or catch us in sin to "teach us something" or whatever, and so I think had I heard a sermon or had someone try to tell me what I am about to write, it would not have been well received at all. In fact, I can just hear the cynical, sarcastic remarks in my head that I would be telling my husband... I can't believe they are trying to tell me what to eat! Seriously?!? The audacity! But really, my food habits reveal a lot about my feels towards God. 

Seriously. 

For starters? Emotional eating.

I, like most women, am an emotional eater. Good day? I would like to celebrate with an m&m cookie please. Rough day? Just pour me a venti soy chai with a side of cheese danish. Normal day? Thanks in part to that cappuccino I made myself this morning! So, what if I believed what the Bible says about God in 1 Peter 5:7 and that he cares for me and I should give my troubles to him? Nope. I did not. I was more like, "Cast my anxiety on this venti americano with a shot of hazelnut syrup, because it will make today happen."

Then, I read somewhere where someone had the health goal of seeing "food as worship". This stuck with me and became quite interesting. So, before taking the paleo plunge, I had been making baby food for Lincoln. Some people were impressed by this, which they should not have been. It is three steps 1) wash food 2) pureé food 3) freeze food. Repeat. But in a totally geeky way, I became completely obsessed with this process. Fruits and vegetables are legitimately beautiful. There are no colors more vibrant or deep than that of a bowl of pureed carrots or broccoli. Which got me thinking about our Creator. He created those carrots. He created that broccoli. He created colors. For us to enjoy! Suddenly, eating became a very worshipful experience for me. I mean like, I'm eating a peach and analyzing the texture of the skin, the flesh, the juices, the smell... and completely in awe.  Which leads me to 1 Corinthians 10:31... literally. I had never, ever, ever, ever considered that every fruit and vegetable (and animal, I suppose) was created with us in mind. It was designed meticulously containing the exact vitamins and minerals to sustain and nourish us, to not only keep us alive but to help us grow and thrive, and us glorifying Him in the process.

This completely weird obsession of what I am going to refer to as food as worship, then led me to the debate of whole/organic/raw foods vs. processed foods. I have never really been a big produce eater. Occasionally I'd have a hankering for a salad, or choose a fruit cup instead of fries, or an apple instead of a baguette. When I got pregnant and then was subsequently in the breastfeeding/postpartum period (see 'emotional eating above') all I wanted was comfort foods, which was bagels, cream cheese and a #1 combo, add cheese with a Dr. Pepper. Processed, fast, not healthy. Even when we would eat a healthy meal, like zucchini noodles with meat sauce, I'd load it up with cheese and eat my weight in accompanying breadsticks. I'm going to take an Andy Stanley moment and pose a question: What would the world be like if for one month Christians actively relied solely on God's direct creation ( i.e. not: 'God made man, man made Doritos' argument) for sustenance? 6 months? 1 year? What would that do to obesity rates? Heart disease? Diabetes? Again, not one for the guilt Gospel, but really. What if for one month we said "Hey God! I am going to trust you and your creation and only eat things that you created for me to eat (re: Genesis 1:29ish)." What do you think would happen? For me, great things happened. Amazing things happened, actually. Allowing myself to trust God in that way was HUGE for my heart– both the one that Jesus lives in and probably also the one that is responsible for distributing blood and oxygen throughout my body.

The last thing that I felt God teaching me about was stewardship. In recent years I've become very fixated on being a good steward of my things, although admittedly I run extremely hot and cold with this. Some days I am "save all the money!" and other days I am "buy all the things at Target!" so I can't really claim to be 100% committed to this, but I am constantly wanting to get rid of stuff we have laying around and wanting to be aware and take care of what we do have and use. I feel like especially in America we truly have a lot of stuff and I want to make sure that I am caring for it well. Dave Ramsey always says that our money is not ours, but we are managing it for God. While we still have a ways to go with our finances and getting out of debt, I would like to think that we keep that in mind when we budget and also approach our things the same way. Up until this month, it never really occurred to me to treat my body in that way. Like, God gave me one of them and if I want it to last, I should probably take care of it, and I can start doing that by watching what I put on and in it. Aha! Such a simple concept, yet it had never occurred to me until this season. As an act of gratitude and respect for the design of my body, and using what science has taught us about nutrition, I can care for my body in the best way by putting good things in it, and not putting toxins on the outside.

WOW. So it's been a good month. I am seeing an improvement in my eczema finally, after what seemed like weekly, discouraging cyclical flares. It could be diet. It could be dogs living in the garage. It could be the UV therapy I'm doing 3x a week. It could be the new shampoo I'm using. It could be the allergen/dye/everything free "soap" we use to wash the sheets and dishes. It could be that I am not breastfeeding anymore. It could be that it's almost fall. It could be that I switched toothpastes and deodorants. It could be the vitamins I'm taking. It could just be the typical "heal" before a big flare. Eczema is a fun disease like that. Nobody knows or can explain fully why it does the things it does. One of life's great mysteries, I guess.

But whether my body is healed or not, I would not change a thing about this month or this season. Certainly I would prefer to not have to deal with this condition, as it is an extremely emotional and frustrating thing at times, but the way that God has rescued me, held me and shown me so many things I can't help but feel grateful. And as redundant as it may sound, I am grateful for that gratitude.

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