An overweight nutritionist-that was me for several years after my fifth child, my daughter, was born. You’d think that watching my weight would be so easy, considering the fact that I have a degree in dietetics and have worked in the nutrition field for 23 years. But just because you have the knowledge to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the ability, strength or the desire to do it. You’d expect a nutritionist to only eat healthy foods all the time and to be extremely thin. After all, how many people want to listen to an overweight nutritionist telling them what to do? But I confess that it is not easy! For me, it was, and still is, a constant battle! Temptations abound, especially with a house full of children. When they were little, I was tempted to eat their leftovers,and now that they are teenagers and constantly eating, it seems that I am often tempted to join in! I often feel guilty when I tell others how to eat healthy and lose weight, knowing that I plan on baking a high fat cheesecake for my family dessert in the evening. It does seem to take away from my credibility a bit, doesn’t it, if I am overweight and eat lots of junk. I punished myself with my own version of the motto "Physician heal thyself", only with the words "Nutritionist, go on a diet!" Yes, the vices of gluttony and laziness had been my daily companions, accompanied by a hefty dose of low self-esteem.
It was three years ago that I looked at myself in disgust, firmed up my resolve and worked out a plan to change my eating and exercise habits. I kept a written food diary, counting every calorie that passed my lips as well as every calorie that I intended to allow past my lips. My daily goal was 1200 calories or less. I began to exercise to aerobic DVD's for one hour each day, then joined the YMCA and sweated to the grueling classes, unable to believe how hard some of the women in the groups could work, as I panted and grunted alongside them until I collapsed in a heap at the end of the session. Some of the best perks I got from those classes were the kind remarks of one of the fitness instructors who complimented me on my energy and my newly budding muscles. I thought maybe she was talking to someone else! I took up running for the first time in my life and bragged about how I could run a 5K in 30 minutes! This was quite an accomplishment for the girl who was always chosen last in gym class because she was so lacking in physical fitness!
Soon, the hard work paid off, and within a year I had lost 30 pounds! It was a thrill to shop for new clothes as I whittled my figure down from a 16 to a 10! This was more like it, and I was proud to go to work each day and teach clients about healthy eating, knowing that I was a better role-model for them. I was so happy to donate all of my larger size clothes to a charity, which in turn donated the clothes to the poor. It was a win-win situation as far as I could see.
Then I got sick. I fell into a bout of anxiety and depression that affected me not only emotionally, but also physically. I was unable to eat for months. Everything I ate went right through me. Twenty more pounds disappeared like nothing! I hadn’t fit into a size 4 since high school, yet here I was shopping in the junior department! I couldn’t believe that the person I saw in the mirror was really me! I kept making frequent visits to the charity to donate more clothes that were now too big for me. You’d think that the joy of that weight loss would have been enough to snap me out of my depression, but anyone who has ever been depressed knows that there is no such thing as snapping out of it!
After much prayer, hard work and medical and psychological care, my depression has lifted. I have returned to my joyful nature, for which I am extremely grateful. Let me tell you that aside from the weight loss, there was nothing pleasant about that experience of emotional distress in my life!
So, naturally, as I began to feel better, I fell back into my old eating habits, and the twenty pounds came back on quickly. Although my laziness has returned and I’ve nearly given up all of the forms of strenuous physical exercise that I had brought into my daily routine, I do continue to aim for a daily walk. I am so grateful that the original 30 pounds that I lost have remained lost.
Recently, as I was listening to the homily at daily Mass, Father explained how the verse from Genesis 19:26, “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt”, about Lot and his family leaving Sodom, was about the dangers of looking back. That reflection came back to me when I returned home and was trying to choose some appropriate clothes to wear to work that day. I joined with women everywhere who cry, “I have nothing to wear!” I felt that everything I owned looked hideous on me and nothing fit me, everything was too tight. I started to complain “If only I had kept that 20 pounds off!” and “Why did I ever give all those larger-size clothes away, I could sure use them again!” and then caught myself. Had I turned into a pillar of salt? Why was I looking back to that horrible time in my life as if being thin was better than being happy? I know that God did not create me to be thin, He created me to be joyful. Was I regretting the fact that my charitable donation of clothes was being put to good use by those who needed them more than I? Why would I regret helping those in need? With these thoughts running through my mind, I looked at my hands and was relieved to see that they were still covered by skin and not the white grains of salt. Whew! Close call!
But now I had a new worry. Was vanity replacing the gluttony and laziness that had so long been a part of me? Will I never be free of those deadly sins that threaten to keep my soul out of heaven?
Then, while reading St. Augustine’s Confessions, I came across a very interesting quote and I could not believe it when I read: “Placed, then, amid these temptations, I strive daily against lust for food and drink. For it is not the kind of temptation that I can resolve to cut off once and for all and never touch it afterward…the brindle of the throat, therefore, is to be held moderately between slackness and strictness. And who is he, oh Lord, who is not carried in some degree beyond the bounds of necessity in it? Whoever he is, he is a great one! Let him magnify your name. But I am not such a one, for I am a sinful man.”
Well, well, well! I am in good company in my struggles to resist the temptations of over-indulging in food and drink! Who knew that way back then in late 300’s, people struggled with over-eating? I thought that obesity was a modern day epidemic! Isn’t it nice to know that we are not alone and that our struggles to consume only what we need for optimum nutrition and nothing more than what is required, is an ancient struggle? I was also surprised to learn that our modern-day mantra of “Eat all foods in moderation", is not so modern-day after all. It dates way back to St. Augustine himself!
Learning about all of the struggles that St. Augustine overcame in his quest to live in the light of God, I know that there is hope for me as well! I will press forward in my efforts to eat healthy, (only what I need and not more), and to fit physical activity into my daily habits,in an effort to be healthy, not skinny, knowing that with God, all things are possible! If St. Augustine struggled with overeating and still became a saint, what's holding me back from following in his footsteps?
Dear Loving and Forgiving Father, I ask you to pardon me for all of the times that I have allowed myself to become a “pillar of salt” by looking to my past with regret. With your grace, I vow to live my life in the present moment, even if that moment means too many pounds and uncomfortable clothes. I ask you to assist me in my efforts to refrain from gluttony, laziness and vanity so that the temple, which is my body, will bring glory to you through my care for it. At the same time, help me to realize that you love me for who I am inside, not for who I am on the outside. I know that it is the inner me with whom you are in love, and for that, I am most grateful. Amen.