Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Does faith offer help with food issues? (Or, Life after Lenten dieting)

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the April 8, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell As I enter into the rituals of Holy Week and begin to anticipate the joy of Easter, I wonder if I’ve changed this Lent. As I think back over my several Lenten practices the main thing that comes to mind-aha, I’ll be able to eat ice cream soon. (I gave it up for Lent.)

Then I feel extremely shallow and totally unholy. But to be honest, food is a problem for me. And apparently, I’m not the only one.

Dr. Paige Numata, a marriage and family therapist, says, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting someone who is, or has been, dealing with disordered eating.”

Even among children, obesity is at an all-time high. As I battle my own appetite for junk food, I worry about my children. Will they be able to control their eating? Will they choose exercise and healthy foods? Will they grow up to be overweight adults?

It seems we’re fighting an almost impossible battle against poundage in this land of plenty. As a species we evolved to survive starvation, not to resist abundance. A 1993 National Institutes of Health expert panel reviewed decades of diet studies and found no matter what kind of diet it is, from the Atkins, to low fat, to wiring your mouth shut, people initially lose weight, but they do not keep it off. The review showed that within a year, 90-95 percent of people regained one-third to two-thirds of any weight lost, and regained all of it within five years.

There is good news for parents. A similar study of children showed 30 percent of obese children who underwent simple behavioral teaching about eating less lost weight and after 10 years continued to keep it off.

Does our faith offer us any help with food issues beyond “giving up sweets for Lent”? A recent study shows that Christians are more often overweight than non-religious people. Although Baptists seemed to be at the heaviest end of the scale, Catholics landed somewhere in the middle, compared to Jews and non-believers who fell toward the normal or lightweight end of the spectrum.

Our faith clearly calls us to respect and care for our bodies, which St. Paul reminds us are “temples of the Holy Spirit” and will be resurrected with Christ. But how do we translate this into daily life? If diets don’t work, what does?

Numata recommends that parents provide children with a variety of foods at regular meal and snack times. She says from the earliest age children should decide if and how much to eat. “If parents don’t interfere, children will use an inborn, God-given ability to control their intake,” says Numata. “They won’t use food for things food can’t do, like to fix boredom, sadness, or other bad feelings.”

If your kids already have bad habits like eating while watching TV or eating to cope with stress, do whatever it takes to change the patterns in your household. “Even if it takes an apology,’ says Numata. “Say, I didn’t know what I was doing before, I’m sorry, but now I know and this is how we’ll eat from now on.”

Fear of over-emphasizing thinness makes many parents reluctant to talk about weight with their teenagers. As Christians we can unload this loaded issue by putting food into a context that encompasses the whole of life.

Eating for us is sacrament. Food is not just fuel for our bodies; it’s a sign of God’s love and providence. Eating is not merely about nutrition or gratification; it’s about receiving and sharing God’s gifts. Meals are times to slow down and savor.

I feel a certain amount of satisfaction having lived for six weeks without ice cream. Through the grace of Easter, may I be renewed in my commitment to put food in it’s proper perspective in my life, and to guide my children to do the same.

© 2004, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the new book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)

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