I was a fat child, an overweight teen, and an obese young adult. I tried diet after diet, and nothing worked. Low-carb diets just made me high-crab (grumpy) instead. I spent a lot of money on commercial diet plans to lose only half a pound a week. The problem was that I was raised with sugar four times a day, and with tasteless fruit and vegetables. Yet I conquered my obesity with God’s help, and want to share with you what I learned about the spirituality of dieting.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my battle of the bulge. Now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control state that the percent of American adults 20 years and older who are overweight—including obesity—is 69 percent (2011-2012) and the percent of children and teens aged 2-19 who are overweight—including obesity—is approximately 32 percent. The numbers of obesity alone are expected to rise to one-half of all Americans by 2030. This is urgent!
In my opinion, diet books tend to be written by M.D.’s and nutritionists, indicating a very clear plan of what the body needs to lose weight. However, it’s been my experience that I needed a psychological trick. I had access in my profession to all the medical literature indicating how to lose weight, but nothing worked for me.
It was only after reading the Book of Daniel, Chapter 1 one night during my spiritual prayer and reading time that it occurred to me that what I really needed was a good way to eat vegetables. But I hated vegetables! Who looks forward to sitting down to a plate of celery? A few days later, I was staring at the dip end-cap in my grocery store, realizing that that was my answer: Make veggies tasty with dips.
So, I lost nearly 50 lbs. eating vegetables with dips, without hunger, and lost it twice (once before and once after pregnancy.) Dr. Jen’s Dip Diet: The Book of Daniel for Life was born; it’s an ecumenical book and diet plan, based on Judeo-Christian values. Here are some portions of the book that are crucial concepts to the spirituality of dieting:
Overeating according to Christian Teaching
Among other things (e.g., disobedience, theft), the very first sin that caused the Fall of Mankind in the Garden of Eden was a sin of gluttony. Gluttony (Latin, gula) can be defined as the overindulgence and overconsumption of anything to the point of waste. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “The capital sin of gluttony is an inordinate love of the pleasures attached to the eating of food.” He further explains that there is a difference between eating food the body needs to survive, and eating to satisfy the pleasures of appetite.
Moreover, gluttony is considered one of the seven deadly or mortal sins because it destroys the life of grace and charity within a person. It is also considered a cardinal or capital sin because it can lead to other sins. As with the other deadly sins, it is a form of idolatry.
If by chance you have packed on the pounds over the years as I have, then you have probably looked at food in an idol-worshiping kind of way. I know this is displeasing to our Lord. Luke 16:13 says, “A servant cannot serve two masters. He will hate the first master and love the second, or he will be devoted to the first and despise the second.” We cannot serve both God and food. When I was eating sugar daily, I was obsessed with it, and it was a false god to me. God is our creator and father, and he wants us for His own.
Fasting and Prayer
“At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11). This is so true with dieting.
Transcending the boundaries of religion, prayer and fasting traditionally go hand in hand to deepen one’s relationship with God, signifying hope. On religious fast days, try fasting on fruit, vegetables and protein instead of the traditional bread and water. (I fasted once on bread and water, only to find that I gained a pound!) Fasting paired with prayer is not just for the purpose of losing weight, but rather it helps us focus on God, deepen our relationship with Him, and do penance for wrongdoing. It also causes us to rely on Him for our strength, wisdom, endurance, and other blessings.
I once watched a DVD by Fr. Stan Fortuna, CFR, on suffering, entitled, “Everybody Got 2 Suffer.” This video is life-changing, and truly worth watching. The message is important: Suffering is part of life, and all of us must suffer from time to time. Christians call it “carrying your cross” in reference to the Passion that Jesus bore for us. Suffering is meant to make us grow emotionally, and also grow closer to God, our Creator by relying on Him to help us endure our sufferings. Here is the truth about suffering: Although it is a necessary part of life, God never allows us to endure suffering without providing consolations. Ultimately, we are redeemed by our suffering.
However, our society does not want any part of it. We are told through books, videos, TV, magazines, and the internet that we are NOT supposed to endure suffering. Here, take this pill. It will stop the suffering. Here, buy my expensive product because it’ll stop your suffering. Our society says we should be in a constant state of pleasure, with new possessions, new spouses, new cars, and new food. But, is this truly how we were made in God’s eyes? Pleasure is fun, but transient; loving God, doing His will, and practicing healthy discipline is the source of lasting joy. Eating healthy food and having a healthy body for my spouse and family provides lasting joy.
In order to grow in maturity, we have to face our sufferings, and in terms of weight loss, that means sticking to a diet, and going without some fun things to eat for a while, or possibly a very long time depending on how much you have to lose.
Even vegetables involve some small level of suffering: Most veggies are a bit bitter. Once I just accepted that veggies taste a little bit bitter, I was able to start enjoying them more, and began really eating them in volume, especially with the dips since they mask the bitterness.
In reality, I became overweight because I sought pleasure from food as a consolation, in an attempt to avoid suffering. You could even say that I idolized food. Food gave me the transient, false peace of the devil instead of the lasting, true peace of God. These are the consequences of not facing our sufferings properly and seeking pleasure instead.
The nice part is this: Dr. Jen’s Dip Diet really does not involve much suffering after all. That is also what makes it more of a lifestyle change toward permanent weight loss.
Repentance is not a one-time event. It is a continual process required for us to grow in holiness. Dieting, and giving up eating in excess is a continual repentant process. It’s like spiritual muscle-building best done daily in order to win the battle and reach goal weight. The daily examination of conscience, in addition to regular Confession aids in this conversion process. The point is that the process of dieting and refusing gluttony on an hourly basis makes us ready to receive all the graces that God wants to give us.
Ask the Saints for Help
Even though there is not a particular patron saint of dieting, here are some saints who are sure to help: St. Thomas Aquinas, a large man; patron of dietitians, St. Martha; and St. Anthony of Padua, a patron saint of the starving. Saints Michael the Archangel and Benedict are in the forefront of helping us fight temptation. Petition for help those who lived on the Eucharist alone: Bl. Alexandrina da Costa and St. Catherine of Siena, St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Catherine Fieschi of Genoa, St. Nicholas de Flue, St. Silvinus, among others. Marianne De Jesus (a.d. 1645) may be particularly helpful in this diet because she once lived on fruit and vegetables alone. Ask for their intercession on your behalf.
At my goal weight, it’s been a new life for me. I love looking my best and only having to diet to take off the occasional pound gained. I still struggle daily to not idolize food and to keep my appetite in check. I will battle that temptation my whole life. But I do feel that I’ve built up a spiritual muscle of fasting that is invaluable to open the chute between God and me, a portal for His graces and gifts. Know that I will hold you up in prayer for you to have the courage and perseverance to do the same.