Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dark Night of the Diet

In one of the blogs I regularly read, Sister Mary Martha (how’s that for covering all the bases?) firmly contends that fasting is not the Catholic diet. Penance is penance, she holds, and dieting is dieting, and never the twain shall meet. I see her point: Penance is undertaken in reparation for sins, ours and others, and that intent ought not be polluted by other, more selfish, motives.

On the other hand, my motives are rarely pure, so why should this be any different? And sin is what got me into the condition that I have to think about dieting in the first place--gluttony and sloth, two of the biggies. And two of the sins that show so very clearly to the world at large without my saying or doing anything else. I can make all kinds of excuses: remarkably sedentary job, injuries that kept me from exercising, getting older--but the fact remains that God handed me a challenge, and I pretty much blew it, preferring the pleasures of food and drink to the rigors of changing the way I act in order to keep myself in shape.

I will lay aside for the moment that yet another vice (vanity) propelled me into doing something about this, and concentrate on the good part. In the first week of the year, my husband and I (I am not content to sin by myself, mind you, but, like Eve, managed to drag my husband into it too...) have made a good start on a reformed way of life, eating better and getting up long before dawn to exercise together.

Which brings me to an aside. Were I not such a good Catholic, I might be tempted to conclude that God loves men better. My groom dutifully steps on the scale every morning and announces to my dismay that he’s lost another pound, two, four. No doubt about it, he sheds the pounds faster that the law or the female constitution allows.

I have demurred from stepping on the scales because I know that seeing the number I have reached would send me into the depths of dietary shame and despair. This has become the subject of some amusement on the part of my groom (“If you’d been stepping on the scale, you’d see a change too,” he chides) and a little insight on mine.

First, this has been a lesson in humility. I really hate the way I look and my pride is injured, but the rest of the world, for the most part treats me the same as when I was thinner. In my more cynical moments, I am prepared to believe it’s only because they are kind or polite, but really, I know it’s because the “me” they know isn’t really different in any appreciable way. The body I inhabit is just in need of renovation.

The second has been a lesson in faith. Cornered by my unspeakable fear of that number on the scale, I have had to decide how I am going to progress in this dietary marathon. Am I dieting just to see a number get smaller, or am I doing it to get my life, my whole life, in line with using the gifts and blessings God has given me? Am I doing it to salve my pride, or to honor my Maker and care for the body He gave me? It’s those mixed motives again....

Although my husband tracks his numbers, I have made the conscious decision not to, not now and not for a long, long time. It’s turning out to be a bit like praying, worshipping and witnessing. Am I doing it just to see results, or because I serve Someone greater whose Presence demands these activities of me? And it’s turning out to be a bit like the minor dark nights, I’ve encountered from time to time, only this time it’s of the will and not the soul. Am I going to do this because it needs doing--or because I see the results on my scale? Am I doing it to feed my relationship with God--or my mirror and the camera that, at present, I will not let my husband point in my direction? Given that I am in a constant wrestling match with my will and my motives, these are not such a bad issues to be dealing with.

So I fast from the scales and I offer up the uncertainty and the occasional waves of despair that I’ll ever be back in shape. I offer up the occasional pangs of hunger and habit that punctuate my day as I learn to reach for water instead of a snack, as I measure portions and miss my evening glass of wine and never, ever sample the warm cookies and brownies I set out every morning for the men who are renovating my house. And I do think longingly of those smaller clothes now housed in the basement, but I’ve set a date certain by which they’re out the door (remember that other resolution?) if I can’t wear them.

Mixed motives indeed, but it’s the best I can do. It’s turned out to be a remarkable spiritual exercise that is helping me to cultivate the detachment from things--even bathroom scales--I need to have in order to love God and serve Him for Himself.

Who would have thought?

1 comment: