This Year, Don’t Diet: Eat with Joy

I love food. I enjoy thinking about new recipes, planning menus for dinner parties, cooking, and, of course, eating: everything from fresh baguettes, cheeses of all kinds, chocolate, and, especially, the New York pizza I grew up with; the kind that turns the paper plate transparent because it’s so greasy.

Fewer than ten years ago, though, I wouldn’t have been able to admit that this most basic of human comforts–food–brought me so much pleasure. In fact, food didn’t bring me all that much pleasure in those days. For a full ten years–from age 14 to 24–I struggled to get by mostly on Diet Coke and Granny Smith apples. I was eating so much raw broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach that I had intestinal trouble and my doctor, after calculating how many servings of fruits and vegetables I was consuming each day, insisted that I needed to cut back for the sake of my health.

I had to cut back on vegetables and fruits. For my health.

My body–still growing during many of those years; I was a very late bloomer–craved heartier nourishment, and as a result, I began an unhealthy pattern of alternating self-starvation with the consumption of huge meals (often eaten in secret) after which I always felt guilty and awful. Once, I walked for miles and miles to ‘atone’ for what was, in retrospect, a thoroughly normal meal. I was embarrassed to be seen eating. I didn’t want anyone to know that I secretly loved food as much as any person, maybe even a bit more.

I thought the ideal attitude to have toward food was indifference: ‘fill the tank with healthy fuel, not too much, just enough’ was the philosophy I tried to live by. If I happened to enjoy eating something at one time or another, I’d be filled with guilt and shame. Dietary “righteousness”–usually in the form of huge salads with no dressing besides a splash of vinegar–was all that could please me. I tried to live as if I had no sense of smell or taste; no hunger or cravings.

I wish I could say there was a single moment in time when that all changed–a New Year’s resolution I made to start enjoying food and stop abusing it (and my body) for good. But the truth is more complicated, as the truth often is.

{this post continues at iBelieve}

There Really Is No Such Thing as a New Year.

On Monday of this week I combed through closets and drawers and shelves, searching for what could be gotten rid of; eager to make everything clean and clutter-free for the new year, as if trying to lay a foundation of perfection. I got out of bed as soon as I woke up and drank a lot of water before drinking my coffee. A few minutes later I was yelling at the dog, who jumped all over me with muddy paws. Lunchtime brought a heated debate with my five year old, who was dissatisfied with his meal. And the chronic stomachache that’s been plaguing me off-and-on for weeks (months?) now, which seemed to be better this morning, has already returned.

I have made New Year’s resolutions but rarely–and kept them almost never–but when I glance through the scrawled-over calendar of the ‘old’ year, noting goals set and achieved (or missed), appointments forgotten and kept, and start a fresh, new one, I cannot help longing for a certain kind of perfection: worthy goals to be set boldly and achieved uniformly and excellently; bad old habits to be expunged; good new ones to be formed. No more yelling at my kids. No more undignified stewing over petty things. And certainly no more wasting time: that precious stuff of which this life is made.

cc licensed photo via Flickr user John Piepkorn
cc licensed photo via Flickr user John Piepkorn

There’s an old Peanuts comic strip somewhere in which Linus–I think it’s Linus–is rifling through old calendars and discovers one that seems to match the new year’s calendar. “This isn’t a new year at all!” he protests. “We’ve been stuck with an OLD YEAR!” He sits down to write a letter of complaint, and then, stumped, asks, “Who’s in charge of years?”

There really is no such thing as a “new year,” is there? There is, of course, always hope. There is always the promise of change. But there is also brokenness and pain and fallibility that follows us from one place to another, from one day to another, from one year to the next and the next. And yet how comforting it is to believe that we might finally kick our bad habits and be somehow made into new and better versions of ourselves.

I suppose that beneath the longing for being ‘better’ in a new year–or a new day–is the Christian hope, to which I cling, of a “new heavens and a new earth,” of hearing the glorified Christ say, “Behold, I make all things new.” It is not that I do not treasure this life, this imperfect and impermanent life, for it is its very imperfection and impermanence that makes it so precious. How quickly will my five year old be arguing with his five year old about exactly how many bites must be eaten before leaving the table? One day the dog will be arthritic and incapable of jumping on me in that exuberant puppy way, and I will miss her ridiculous muddy paw prints on my pajamas from her overexcitement over her coming breakfast. One day my home will not be cluttered with bits of paper and crayon and Lego, and I will miss it all.

So I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. I just try to think, along with the inimitable Anne Shirley, that “tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet,” knowing full well that there will be mistakes by the end of the day and that all of these days and years, somehow, in ways I don’t pretend to understand, will be repaired, renewed, redeemed, and even remembered by the God who collects each tear in a bottle even as that same God promises to wipe each tear away. That God who is faithful when I am faithless, who gives grace when I am ungracious, whose love endures forever.

Happy New Year! (or, why I don’t make resolutions)

Forty to forty-five percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.

I’m not one of them.

Anymore.*

As you might guess, many (if not most) of the commonest resolutions have to do with bodies, weight, food, eating–things that we talk a lot about around here.

I used to make many such resolutions–about exercising, about restricting calories, about general self-improvement.

Thumb through the Sunday paper around New Year’s Day, and you’ll see that many of the coupons and advertisements are aimed at getting you to part with your money in pursuit of these resolutions.

Lose weight fast! Get healthy quick! Get the body you want now!

These messages are filled to bursting with the notion that you can have it all and get a ‘perfect’ body with minimal effort. And they want to promise you that lots of other things will fall into place for you when you reach your goals: love, wealth, joy, popularity, peace, success–you name it. Of course they don’t come out and promise those things. They just offer the gentlest suggestions that their product–and that reshaping your body, remaking your diet, revamping your wardrobe, or whatever–will satisfy your deepest longings.

CC licensed, http://www.flickr.com

If you’ve read much of this blog, you can probably already guess what I think about such ads and their claims.

(If you haven’t read much of this blog, here, here, and here are good places to start–or start with the top 10 of the first 100 posts.)

I guess the thing I don’t particularly like about food/diet/body resolutions is that they seldom shine the light where we most need it. Being thinner doesn’t necessarily make you happier. Eating “healthy” can be a real bore.

Aiming for these things doesn’t necessarily help us be more fully the person God has made us to be–which, I suspect, may be the best goal of all.

I guess that’s my resolution, such that it is. Just one. And I can’t really do it all that well. But maybe that is the point. Not so much to try to become someone else–as resolutions would often have it–but, with God’s help, to live fully as we already are, in the place God has put us, with the people God has given us.

And that, to me, is at once much more ludicrous and much more sensible than any of the resolutions I’ve ever made.

CC licensed, http://www.flickr.com

Peace and joy to you this first day of the New Year. I’m looking forward to many good conversations with you here in 2012!

*{Well, okay. Since you twisted my arm, I am going to confess that I plan to incorporate a bit more physical exercise into my days to help with chronic back pain from my scoliosis and OI. But this isn’t a resolution, per se. Is it?}

{If you like resolutions, check out Gretchen Rubin’s Six Questions to Ask Yourself about Resolutions. She’s pro-resolutions, and explains how to make ones that have a good chance of actually sticking–and shining the light where you most need it.}