What Are You Craving?

As many of you know, I am fighting the battle of the bulge as middle age creeps on my already bulky frame. So when I was asked to be part of Mary DeTurris Poust’s blog tour for her latest book, Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God, I took an immediate opportunity hoping there would be something to gain (but not a few pounds) from reading about her journey.

Reading Cravings is like being on a spiritual retreat that opens one up to answer the deep question: What are you really hungry for? It’s not an opportunity to count carbs or to increase one’s protein level (perhaps good things, but not the focus here), rather Mary asks us to examine our eating habits. How are we eating? Do we rush through meals losing the sacred art of meal-making and meal-eating? Her own husband noticed how often he was eating in the car (Me too!) and cut that out of his regimen.

Starting out with Psalm 139, Mary reminds us that how we look at ourselves tells us much about how we treat our bodies. Are we “wonderfully made?” Do we really believe that? Do negative thoughts creep in each time we look in the mirror? If so, perhaps it’s time to stop playing those old tapes and listen to the new Mp3 that Mary is offering: Simply put, we need to see ourselves as God sees us, a wonderfully made human being. When we do that all need for anything else slips away. God can truly be all we need.

But how does that relate to our need not for food, per se, but for nourishment? Mary deftly provides us with some of her own journey, like the time she tried to exist on a diet of saltine crackers and cucumber salad in order to drop some poundage. (Note: Not recommended!) She offers that while Psalm 139 tells us we are wonderfully made, some other pieces of Catholic tradition might be misinterpreted as “body=bad” and “spirit=good”. This dualistic notion makes us our own worst enemy as we head into looking at how we nourish our bodies. It’s not that the early monks hated food, but that they thought it to distract them from what God was calling them to. It seems to me that she rightly is pointing all of us to center ourselves on finding a healthy image of God to work with on our journey to a better self.

She writes:

“…much of this dieting delusion is wrapped up in low self-esteem. We think we’re not worthy. We imagine that we need to do something in order to be lovable. We attempt to find that “something” through diet, but because our issues go far deeper than what we see in the mirror or on the scale, we are easily thrown into a tailspin when dieting doesn’t change who we are at our core. It comes down to seeing ourselves as more than the sum of separate parts or pounds.”

And so we need to become more integrated with God through prayer, mindfulness and meditation to be able to see ourselves for who we are. We cannot try to be someone else, but rather we need to be happy with who we are becoming as people. What do we really believe about ourselves.

I’ll admit that I haven’t always had the best vision of myself. I’ve often tried to be someone else and often thought that I wasn’t good enough. I’m the king of self-depricating humor and Mary’s book touched a nerve. I’ve started examining my own feelings and began to open up to God a bit more in prayer because of that. But how might one ask does that all relate to eating?

One her recommendations has paid off in dividends for me already. Keeping a food journal alongside a spiritual practice journal was one recommendation that has moved me more into the mindfulness that I’d like to strive for. You see nourishing our bodies is really a matter of mindfulness, a word that I love. What happens when we eat? Mary invites us to look at that carefully. I noticed that I was gobbling down breakfast and dinner, racing my dog who often annoys me and wants attention during the dinner meal. I decided that I’d be better off taking my meals more slowly, even if it means having to pay a bit of attention to the dog at the evening meal, because it’s really not that big a deal. Ending the thought of the dog being an annoyance opened up a new world for me that enables my wife and I to eat together in peace. What’s more is that I’ve discovered a new morning ritual. I rise and have a half bowl of cereal or a piece of fruit slowly and deliberatively while my wife gets ready for work. I then drive her to work before heading to the gym for my half-hour training session or an hour long class. Upon my return the house is quiet and the dog is usually in a peaceful mood. We play for a few minutes and I then prepare a nice, quiet breakfast for myself. I sit and eat slowly…praying as I chew. I do my daily examen and consider what today might offer me in gratitude for the life I have to offer others and the food that nourishes me to do so. Food becomes an opportunity for mindfulness and the ritual of preparing and eating slowly and deliberatively (Mary suggests chewing at least 30 times before swallowing which can almost have a mantra-like effect at times), I end up going beyond myself and into the sacramental. Some days a bowl of oatmeal and a banana can nearly be a sacrament. Simply replacing a rushed breakfast with the opportunity to “feed myself” has given me a new look at how I treat my body and how I’m caring for myself. It’s even made me less angry and a better husband and dog-owner.

Mary also enables us to find joy in preparing for meals. In chapter 4, “Freedom by the Forkful”, Mary suggests more nurturing of the body by craving “healthier foods, slower meal-times, more physical and spiritual space.” Instead of grabbing the quick item, do we take some time and find ourselves wrapped up in the “magic of chopping, stirring, baking, eating, savoring and sitting around a table?” We know that we over-consume our resources as well and Mary doesn’t beat us up here, instead she fashions an approach that reminds us of Mark Bittman (the famed food writer from the NY Times) and his call for “sane eating.” Simply put, moderation and balance. The locavore movement of buying local and decreasing our consumption of animal protein and moving more into an increase in eating plant-food with room for the occasional indulgence is the mark she hopes we can all start to aim for. Her recommendations for shopping in the local supermarket (hug the outer perimeter of the store, avoid eye-level things in the middle aisles) have made my trips to the local Wegman’s a true adventure. I’ve tried a bunch of new things and have begun to phase out many bad habits and found some great local finds.

The most charming parts of this book is when Mary reminds us of the food traditions that her 99 year old Grandmother brought with her from Italy. They even made their own wine and the meal was always, always a savoring experience that happened slowly. It’s like taking a trip down memory lane with the wisest woman you’ll ever meet, who knows the glory in life is a good cookie, some good wine and time spent with family and friends.

So this is not a book to be missed! What’s more is that Mary has given me a copy of the book to give away to you. So the first person who can email me with the best reason for wanting/needing this book will receive them from me. Secondly, if you click on Mary’s picture above, you can enter a raffle for a FREE Williams-Sonoma gift card.

So good luck and may all your meals now be meditations as well.