Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God


{This post is a part of the Cravings blog tour.}

Five years ago, I resolved not to diet. (Go ahead. Read it. I'll be here.) As I said then, I come from a long line of dieters, and an astonishing number of women with eating disorders. For the rest of that story, you'll have to click the link. For today, I want to tell you about the last five years and a most extraordinary book. 

Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God was written by Mary deTurris Poust. 

Mary is an author, columnist, journalist, speaker, and blogger who has written for dozens of Catholic and secular publications. I think you will want to add her blog, Not Strictly Spiritual to your "read frequently" list. I first read Mary when I picked up Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship.

The funniest thing happened right after I read that book. Well, maybe not the funniest, but definitely worth smiling about. Linda, one of my dearest, closest friends in the whole world called to tell me that she was reading this awesome book that just reminded her of us and she wanted me to read it with her. Had I ever heard of Walking Together?

Um, yep. A little;-). I had blogged about it and had a delightful conversation with the author and Lisa Hendey for a Faith and Family podcast that very day.

Linda doesn't read my blog:-)

I love her any way. But I digress.

So when Mary asked me to review this book, I jumped at the chance. Honestly, I wasn't all that enthused about the subject matter, but Mary is an excellent writer and I really like to read her books because she thinks big thoughts and she thinks them thoroughly. In this rapid-fire internet world, those big thought, thorough books are becoming rare.

I wanted to read this book, not because I have an obsession with dieting or any kind of eating disorder, or even a poor body image. I wanted to read this book because, dang!, it's really, really hard to eat the way I have to in order to avoid setting off an autoimmune reaction. Between Hashimoto's and Celiac disease, I've learned to eliminate all grains, dairy, legumes,and sugar. Ideally, the meat in my life hasn't been fed grains, either. Think about that a minute. That's a whole bunch of food that's not in play. I feel like I think about food all the time, just to figure out what to eat next. And frankly, I'm tired of wreatling with food all the time. I don't diet, but sometimes I starve--not because I mean to, but because there truly isn't anything available to eat. Poor planning. 

So, I read this book with different eyes from most of the reviewers on the grand blog tour. Much of what Mary wrote about the voices we hear as women rang true, but for me, I was looking for something else. I had mostly quieted those voices; the taunting of different voices was ringing in my ears.

From the middle of July until last week, I stuck carefully to a very strict eating plan. And I felt well, really well. And then, all at once, the wheels fell off. I helped myself to spoonful of cream cheese frosting, then, two chocolate chips, and before I knew it, I was dipping bread in butter. That day, writhing with a stomachache, my mouth full of blisters, I tried to help my family see my son off to college. Emotional eating? No way! I had conquered that, remember?

Maybe not.

Walk with me a few minutes through Mary's book. I'll pull some quotes that spoke to me and hope they speak to you, too. They are a bit eclectic. Think of it as a buffet.

Make a list. Start to write down the tihngs you've always wanted to do, a Bucket List of sorts. I did this not long ago and was suprised by some of the things that made their way onto my list...Weight loss or  poor body image don't seem to have anything to do with those things, at least not on the surface. But when you dig a little deeper, you begin to see that a poor self-image makes us less likely to tackle something new, something that might call attention to us, when what we really want is to fade into the background.

Oh, yes. That fade into the background desire. I know it well.

I've often said the greatest weapon I have in the war against eating something that makes me sick is the Eucharist. If I can remember between times that I receive Communion that I won't even take the Lord in a form that contains gluten, it's hard to persuade msyelf that any other forbidden food is worthy.

Mary quotes Cathy Adamkievwicz, who says, 

Whenever I go to Mass, I'm offered Jesus himself in the Eucharist. It's become a profound reminder that he will feed me--repeatedly. He is always there, ready to give me exactly what I need.

And really, I don't need a grilled Brie sandwich on artisan sourdough.

Nurturing the connection between body and soul starts us down a road less traveled, one where we crave healthier foods, slower mealtimes, more physical and spiritual space. From this new perspective, we willingly choose fewer mindless high-calorie fillers [or fewer autoimmune triggers?] because we don't want to bog down our bodies and souls with things that wear us out, fatten us up, and lead to sluggishness and dissatisfaction and acedia, or inertia...We can find magic in the moments of chopping, stirring, baking, eating, savoring, and sitting around a table and enjoying our food rather than standing at a counter eating directly from the bag. But that shift in attitude takes work, so get out your shovel and let's start digging.

My college going-away-day binge?  I don't think it was deep-seated emotional muck that required a steam shovel. Instead, I think it was largely fatigue and about eight weeks worth of to-do lists that never once bulleted self-care moments. It was the royal crash my spiritual director had warned about the night before the wedding, when he gently chided, "Martha, Martha..." This book and a small spade, and I think I can shovel out of this one.

I loved Mary's reminiscing about Sunday afternoons in Brooklyn. They reminded me very much of my cousin Ellie's similar memories. I could smell the Bolognese gravy and hear the great-aunts arguing about the right way to make the perfect meatball. I don't think the value of Sunday dinners can be overstated.

In the chapter on balance, Brother Victor of The Gift of Simplicity and the wonderful Monastery Kitchen books, writes, 

Make preparing food an enjoyable time. People can get into it and learn the value of these different elements, how to balance a meal. It's not just a question of eating and filling ourselves up and then just forgetting. Making food is something that can really bring quality into your own personal life and your family, not only on feast days and special occasions. Do it as an everyday thing, even if it's in a simpler form, and then perhaps on weekends or feast days you do something more elaborate.

My kitchen time of late has not been enjoyable time. It's been crazy-busy, hard pressed, and utilitarian, even when feeding large crowds of loved ones for special occasions.

Brother Victor again:

The daily rhythm of a monastic life attaches great importance to the time spent in the kitchen and food preparation, to time in the refectory and the act of consuming food. Saint Benedict attached great importance to these matters, and throughout the whole of monastic tradition, food retained a sacred character because of the importance given to it by Christ himself. Anyone participating today in the life of a monastery notices the importance the monks and nuns give to their meals, their practical and healthy method of cooking, and their reverential way of serving food at the table and their equally reverent consumption of it.

I've been at war with food. A former foodie with an Italian passion for food and feeding my family, I've been fighting food this past year. It's truly too hard to feed an entire very large family with my food restrictions. After reading this book, I'm ready to fill myself with Christ, and--so filled--to cook with intention for my family, secure in knowing that I can forego some of the foods they are eating because food isn't bigger than the Spirit that fills me. 

I'll let you know how it goes. 

I highly recommend the book and I have a copy to give away. Leave a comment below; join the foodie conversation (I truly do love foodie conversations). I'm going to try to pop in frequently in the next couple days and follow up on comments.

You may leave separate comments if you share this post/giveaway on Twitter and Facebook (or even Instagram--I love Instagram. And foodie Instagram, all the better. I'm @heartofmyhome). The contest ends at 8 pm EST on January 25, 2013. 

Also, there's this giveaway. It's a biggie! Win a Williams-Sonoma gift card.