This month I am celebrating one year being gluten, Diet Coke and gallbladder free. When I think back to how I was living this time last year, or hanging on rather, I am amazed by the differences in my energy, weight and overall health. After the hormones I took to get pregnant and then a nine-month celebration binge on meat and cheese and anything that wouldn’t eat me first, I was at my heaviest. I was drinking Diet Coke on the hour. Yes, the hour. Meals consisted of anything I could eat with one hand while I tried to balance motherhood and running my freelance business out of our always-messy house.
My gallbladder died on a Sunday. The Friday before that, I had refinished five, pieces of furniture in one morning and for lunch, I had eaten a Starbucks Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake and washed it down with a venti vanilla latte. I remember our neighbor laughing as he passed our driveway and saying, “Girl, you’re going to burn out if you don’t slow it down!”
We went to a friend’s wedding on Saturday. I had glass after glass of Diet Coke and I took quick bites of mashed potatoes I had loaded up with cheese and bacon while trying to chase Ada. We skipped dinner, still full from the wedding, but snacked on spoonfuls of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter. The next morning, I woke up with that pain in my right side that I had been trying to ignore for months but it was too intense to pretend it away. I had finally pushed myself too far.
The real wake up call I got was a meeting we had with my surgeon. He was impressed to learn that I was still nursing our 18-month-old daughter. He praised me, saying he wished more American women would follow the recommendations set by the World Health Organization to nurse up until the second birthday and beyond if capable. And then he held a scan of my gallbladder to the light and studied it for a moment. “Do you drink soda?” he said, squinting. My husband laughed.
“How many sodas do you drink a day?” the doctor asked.
I held my side and admitted that I drank as many as six or seven Diet Cokes a day to keep myself going.
“So, how is it that you are committed to giving your child what’s best but you don’t give yourself what’s best? Haven’t you heard that you should put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can take care of someone else? You keep living like that, you’ll be here next year at this desk, discussing the loss of a second organ.”
Wake-up call received.
Now, a confession: I am great at taking care of everyone around me but lousy at taking care of myself and I think it’s because I’m more forgiving of others than I am of myself. I used to think of food as comfort but really, when I think about it, I was punishing myself with food.
The house is messy! You need to grab something fast and get to work!
You gave up your salary to be home and now you want to eat organic veggies?
Your husband ate a cereal bar for breakfast and you want to cook yourself a spinach omelet?
I’ve talked a lot here lately about giving others grace but just as the doctor said that you’ve got to put on the oxygen mask before you can be of service, you have to offer yourself grace before you can truly offer it to others. And I believe that offering grace is the ultimate gift of love. And love is God so any love we pour out for ourselves or others must bring us closer to God.
This year I’ve learned that when I reach for chips instead of veggies, it’s usually a sign that I’m trying to satisfy something more than hunger. I’m stressed or I’m sad or I’m feeling defeated. And it’s a vicious cycle because those foods take more than they give so I end up going back to them, over and over again, wondering when I’ll ever be satisfied. I had always heard how we are what we eat but I never realized how my food cravings could indicate what my spiritual life looked like.
And it all seems so complicated at first, to skip the middle aisles of the grocery store where the easy-to-cook boxes of food wait to make life easier. To pass up Hot and Ready pizzas when we’re tapped out and starving. To admit that the foods that give us a temporary high are the ones that are driving us to the depth of our lows. But in reality, it’s very simple to just choose God-made food instead of relying on anything created by man to sustain us. We’re the ones who complicated it all with our chemicals and dyes and foods made to look pretty without providing any nutrition.
I mess up still. I eat corn chips and ten minutes later, I feel lousy and can’t stop sneezing and I’m asking myself, “Why did I do that?!” I give into that voice that tells me a mocha frappe from McDonald’s will make everything better. And I learn, over and over again, that the only thing that really makes me feel better is choosing the genuine things. But thank the Lord, grace is abundant and deep and far-reaching. It even finds me when I’ve reached the bottom of a bag of Lays.
If you’re interested in learning more about eating clean, there are some great resources I’d love to share with you. Just email me and I’ll be glad to point you in the right direction. You can also follow me on Pinterest, where I’ve created a board called “Paleo Blue Plate Project.” Based on the Southern tradition of a “meat-and-three,” the board shows Paleo meals I’ve created for my family. We use “meat-and-three” like an equation around here, planning a meat and three tasty sides to make planning easier.