Food and weight, and exercise, and being healthy. Such important topics that have disappeared off the radar, with the global pandemic still swirling around. For some people, managing their weight is really, really hard. For some people, it seems easy. We are all designed differently. The issue comes with food that is consumed, not for nutrition or to keep us alive/going, but is consumed solely for pleasure, when we over-indulge habitually, when we comfort-eat and ignore the consequences.
For Lent (Ash Wednesday this year is February 17), we, as Catholics, have a tradition of sacrificing something, of “giving something up” for Lent. For six weeks, we go without, and this is a form of self-mortification and sacrifice. It can be seen as a practice that can help us in the current world, where instant gratification and excess are the norm. Common things to “give up” are chocolate, alcohol, coffee, lollies. The things we give up often revolve around food or what we consume, and I think this shows us just how strong our association with food is, as a culture. I have seen some great non-food things that can be foregone — for example, giving up Facebook, or other forms of social media for Lent. Some people give up watching Netflix or YouTube.
The Bible shows us that having meals, specifically sharing a meal, is an acknowledged and special part of human life. A wedding feast
was, significantly, the first time Jesus engaged in his public ministry. The Last Supper was when he gave us the ultimate way to remember him, through consuming his body and blood together in community at Mass. Food and sharing a meal were, no doubt, as important then as they are now. However, when people have problems with food, it is not so much the meals that are the issue — it’s usually snacks; high calorie, low nutrition snacks. Combined with our overall less-active culture nowadays, there is a big mismatch.
People talk about mindful eating. This involves thinking about what you are eating, and how much you are eating, while you are eating. Some people struggle, in that they just don’t get the same signals as others as to when to stop eating. In other words, when they feel full. That is hard, and then they need to actively monitor their portion size, and stop at a reasonable amount. We get only one body, and being embodied is the way in which we are human. Our bodies are God-given. That said, we all have different gripes or issues with our bodies. At the end of the day, it’s always in our best interests to look after ourselves as well as we can.
The pandemic has placed unusually high stress on many people for various reasons and, when under stress, some people eat less, some more, some exercise more, some less. So, for some, they lose weight and others gain it! Praying about our health, and seeking peace in our hearts, will help control emotional overeating, and help decrease stress levels. We know in Exodus that God rained manna (bread) down from heaven, providing for his people in the desert. We do have the extremes in New Zealand of people who need food parcels to feed their family, yet there are those who have excess, and struggle with food for different reasons.
Reflect on your relationship with food. Do you eat too much? Do you eat too little? Do you struggle to get the balance right? Do you eat mindfully? Consider thinking about giving something up for Lent.
In our family, we eat fish on Fridays in Lent, but I’ve thought the last few years that isn’t a sacrifice at all, because we all love fish! So I’m not sure what the value of that is for our family, to be honest. I’m going to reflect on how we can keep moving towards healthy eating and portion control, while remembering that meals are to be eaten together and shared, just as Jesus showed us.
Ecclesiastes 9:7; “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart.”
Helen Luxford is a physician, working part-time. She is a parishioner of St Michael’s, Remuera. Together with her husband Michael, they are raising their children in the Catholic Faith and reflecting on the challenges and joys that brings.