Food File: January 19 2019

Audience: Evangelical Christians

I thought that once Christmas was over, I would get right back on track again. Actually, I did fairly well at Christmas. The week after Christmas at Weight Watchers or WW, as it is now called, I maintained. The next time I went to WW, which was two weeks later, I gained 3.6 pounds. This week, as in today, I didn’t make it there because of a snowstorm in southern Ontario that kept me off the roads. That being said, I have not regained my passion or drive for losing weight and becoming more healthy.
One reason that I know for sure is depression. I have always been a depression eater. When I am depressed I have little resistance to every craving. It started with donuts. I had this irresistible, well it felt irresistible, craving for donuts in Hamilton (about 30 minutes away). This one donut shop makes their own donuts onsite as opposed to Tim Horton’s. Donuts at Tim’s are premade and warmed up, and you can tell the difference. I was experiencing a deep pit of depression and isolating in my apartment. I had stopped going to the YMCA, which actually helps relieve the feelings of depression, but I couldn’t get myself out the door. I had literally run out of clean clothes to wear and didn’t even have a bag large enough to get them to the laundry across the street. Using the laundry in the building would have taken days to finish all my laundry, so I felt trapped. It was at that point that I figured that if I could motivate myself to get out of the house to get a couple of these awesome donuts, then I could get a hockey bag to put my laundry in and then I could do my laundry. I made the trip to Hamilton, had my donuts and eventually found the hockey bag I needed. By the time I got home, though, I was exhausted. I had no energy to do my laundry that day. The next day, I was also having trouble getting myself moving, so I decided another trip to Hamilton made sense. I drove to Hamilton, bought four donuts this time and coffee. I noticed a coin laundry next door, but it was closed for some reason. So, I had to travel back home to my usual laundry. At least I got it done.
A few days later I had another chore to do, so I needed more inspiration. Once again I drove to Hamilton to buy more donuts. This time, though, I forked over $14 for a dozen donuts and coffee. My destination this time was actually in Toronto, a good 45 minutes away from Hamilton. As I drove to Toronto I munched on a few donuts. The sugar high had not hit me yet. When I got to my destination, I offered some donuts to my host. Of course, I felt better because I was not going to eat the entire dozen myself. By the end of that binge, though, I realized I was in serious trouble.
I returned to the Y one day and felt so much better, but the next day I woke up stiff and in pain. I had a good workout but there was a cost. Instead of doing the sensible thing and returning to the Y, I froze emotionally, then physically and did not return. Then came the nachos and by that point, I realized I was in serious trouble.
At this point I have the desire to lose weight and establish a healthy lifestyle. The truth, though, is that I do feel deprived sometimes when I want a slice or two of pizza or I crave a sweet dessert. I know, though, that sweets, for me, are the same as just a small glass of beer or booze to an alcoholic. One will is too much and a thousand will never be enough.

Food File: Christmas Edition 2018

Audience: Evangelical Christians, People who Battle with Weight

Mercifully, Christmas has come and gone for another year. For some in my family, this was a more difficult Christmas than any other. My mother passed away in March 2018, so this was the first Christmas without either of our parents. No matter how old you may be, when both parents are gone, there is a sense of being orphaned. For me, it didn’t last long, but the sense is still felt.

My battle with sugar began with the very first event I attended, my church’s Carol and Dessert night. I can honestly say I have never seen such a large spread of desserts. Most of them were manufactured (purchased from a store), but there were some that people actually baked themselves. I decided not to blow my calories or Weight Watcher points on donuts and stuff that I could buy at a store. While I did reasonably well at that event, the next event would prove to be more challenging.

The next event was a Christmas dinner put on by a local Catholic church. I was completely relaxed with respect to the first course, but then things went sideways. I got a glimpse of the dessert. The dessert that caught my eye was a log cake, mostly chocolate from what I could see. At that moment all sanity left me. I had to be sure that I had a slice of that cake. The moment I realized I was in trouble was when I engaged in an argument with someone over where the dessert line actually began. It was at that moment I lost my balance. There was no cost to me if I had merely turned my back and walked away. Instead, I held my ground, made a scene, and another person kindly let me in line ahead of him. The irony: the cake wasn’t that good.

The next event was my church’s Christmas dinner that they hosted for people who would not have a place to go for Christmas. When the dinner took place, I was not planning on celebrating Christmas with my family. Once again, I handled the main course well. When I approached the dessert table, I was disappointed because there were only manufactured desserts, yet this time I indulged. I left feeling like I needed a sugar hit of some kind.

The morning of Christmas Eve I decided to celebrate Christmas with my family after all. So, I made the 2 hour drive and attended the annual Christmas Eve dinner, which was more finger food this Christmas. Once again, I handled the “main” offering with dignity and control. When the dessert tray appeared, I became fixated on the shortbread cookies. There were plenty of cookies and most of my family prefers other goodies. There was no treat of FOMO (fear of missing out).  I didn’t go nuts, but I had more than I needed.

The next challenge after Christmas Eve was a party hosted by B&D, two friends of mine. This time desserts were not the threat, but crackers and cheese. Even though I munched a bit too much on crackers and cheese, in this situation, I handled myself fairly well.

Over the holidays, I have experienced two major binges. The first one happened on a Saturday when I had this craving for Christmas cake. I bought the smallest Christmas cake I could find at Walmart and inhaled it in one sitting. I thought my cravings were satisfied. The second one happened last night. Sugar and depression go hand-in-hand with me. The last few days I have been feeling rather down, somewhat depressed, and unable to do routine chores and personal commitments. After going to the movies yesterday afternoon, I experienced this overwhelming craving for something sweet. I had to stop by Walmart anyway, so I bought 6 cherry turnovers, and a package of 12 cookies. I ate the cherry turnovers, again in one sitting, but tossed most of the cookies in the trash.

While I am back on track this morning, I realized when I woke up that I need to treat desserts in the same way an alcoholic treats booze. No alcoholic who is serious about recovery would have just a little alcohol. As I couldn’t sleep last night, I journaled my path from having a moderate serving of sweets to the binge that happened last night. I have concluded that one is too much and a thousand will never be enough.

Food File: December 1 2018

Target Audience: Evangelical Christians

It’s been a few weeks since I have added to this file. We are now officially into Christmas season. That means lots and lots of caloric disasters, AKA food landmines. This year will be a bit different. I won’t be celebrating Christmas with my family. Instead, I will spend much of the Christmas season with my church family. There will be plenty of parties and events for me to attend, so I doubt I will go without at least a few turkey dinners.
This week at Weight Watchers I maintained, which means I did not gain any weight, but I did not lose any weight. I knew exactly why I didn’t lose weight. First, I have only been to the Y once this week and it was days ago. At the minimum I am supposed to be going to the Y two to three times per week. Yes, at this point in my journey, it is a battle. I don’t like exercising, but I must admit that after I go to the Y, I do feel better. It takes a day or two for me to actually feel better. Right after my workout I am rather stiff and sore. That is the best reason to keep going, but like many other overweight/obese people, I am a master at self-talk. Usually the self-talk is about me not doing something like exercise or avoiding foods that are not good for me. The second reason I did not lose weight this week was I treated myself once too many times. I generally eat my way through Costco. Most of the time, though, the samples (not snacks) aren’t worth the calories. Hence, I am much better to just pass them by. I never buy the samples anyway.
My goal for the month of December is to lose weight at Weight Watchers every week of December. Now that may not sound like much of a goal, but most people tend to gain weight in December. Even if I lose half a pound in a week, I will consider that to be a victory.
I do have a game plan. First, there will be a number of parties that I will likely attend. Most of these parties are pot luck or community dinners where I have no control over the fare. Those who are familiar with Weight Watchers know that there are zero point foods, like chicken, fish, vegetables, and fruit. If I have an average size dinner plate and half of that plate has zero point food on it, I am off to a good start. Then one quarter of the plate can be starches, like potatoes, rice, or some other starchy food that looks good. Then another eighth of the plate can be fruit, which is also zero point, but portion control is important here too. Then the final eighth of the plate can be a high calorie dessert that I would like to eat. One of the dangers at this time of the year is being too harsh and narrow, thus denying all the stuff that I would like to eat. No one wants to go to a party merely to watch other people eat and have fun. No one wants to be the person who says, “Any chance I can get a second toothpick with my water, please?”
If I am merely on a “diet” to lose weight, then when I eventually lose the weight, I will go back to eating all the stuff that packed the weight on me in the first place. If, on the other hand, I look at this as a change in my life, not that I can’t ever have desserts or the things that I used to love again, but that I now use portion control, even when I am out for dinner, then the weight will come off, I will regain my health, energy, and be able to truly enjoy life again.
This season will not be easy. Next week I have my first party on Saturday night. It is a potluck and I am sure there will be plenty of high calorie food there. Sunday my church is having a Carol and Dessert night. Again, plenty of danger at the dessert table. One thing that can help is if I am able to become more serious, more committed to exercising more frequently. Being able to indulge in desserts isn’t the reward for exercising, but it does help burn off calories and get me into better shape.
I will do my best to check in next week with a report about my exercise, the two Christmas events that I will attend, and, of course, a report about how my week went at Weight Watchers.

Food File: November 22, 2018

Target Audience: Evangelical Christians

It’s been a while since I have posted to this file. Right now, I am cooking my boneless, skinless chicken breast for supper. This is a sign of growth and progress in my life. Oh, I have cooked many boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my life, but I have been going through an unusually high time of stress in my life. Normally, I would be sitting at my computer with a bag of tortilla chips, salsa, and a couple of tubs of sour cream. Not tonight, though. I have lost almost 30 pounds in the past three months at Weight Watchers. I have started working out at my local YMCA and I am starting to look really good again. Oh yes, I have been here in the past. 
There will always be times of stress, anxiety, and depression for me. Being a Christian does not insulate you from the emotional realities of life. Christians can be subject to abuse of all kinds. I will have more to say about abuse in another post, but abuse does relate to how I have eaten in the past and my relationship to food. I have always looked at food, particularly sugary desserts as comfort food. That is what my mother used, as did a lot of mothers of her generation, to comfor kids when we were sad, when we celebrated, when we were stressed, etc. When I was growing up, no one thought about long-term consequences, like being morbidly obese later in life. 
Times are different now. We know a lot more about nutrition and the negative impacts of sugar, sodium, and fat in our diets. Until recently, that never stopped me from indulging in my food drug of choice, usually donuts or chips of some kind. 
There is still a long road ahead for me. I may have lost about 30 pounds, but for me to really be in shape and healthy, I have to lose about another 170. That is such a large number. At the moment, my goal is to lose 60 pounds in six months. That number is much more attainable. I will take the next chunk when it happens.

Misconceived Leadership

Target Audience: Evangelical Christians, Conservative Christians

It has been my observation over a number of years that, in a number of churches and denominations, that strong leadership is characterized by the ability of people to control other people and outcomes. That statement is about as judgmental and general as it can get. It isn’t a judgment against any one person or group of people. Perhaps the concept of leadership in churches has always been characterized by strong, dominant, assertive or aggressive individuals who pilot agendas from beginning to end. I offer no evidence to support this claim or to contradict it. I have also never been to the Global Leadership Summit, or Leadercast, as it once was called, albeit a number of leaders in various churches have attempted to coax me into going. 

The fundamental misconception of leadership is that it has to be “strong”, or “assertive”, or “aggressive” and that its ultimate objective, in an ecclesiastical environment, is to “pilot” an agenda from beginning to end. I believe this concept of leadership is completely foreign to the New Testament concept of leaders being equippers of God’s people. 

320px-Cquote1_black.svg.png

The Apostle Paul writes:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for the works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV

The one thing God asks of the offices listed above is that they equip his people for the works of service. Please note that he didn’t say the well-educated people, or the rich people, or the good looking people, or the successful people, or the experienced people. He just said that those in leadership in churches should equip God’s people for the works of service. I like the fact that “works” is plural and not singular. I have heard it so often used in the singular inferring that there is but one work in the ministry, but there are so many. 

While church leaders today would be loathe to admit it, I believe there is a separation of “sheep and goats” when it comes to selecting leaders in churches. In my own church I have experienced this discrimination. I have been told that I am not “ready to lead”. I find that to be a most curious statement. What does it mean to be “ready to lead”? Does it mean that I still think too independently for the tastes or the comfort of the appointed church leadership? Do they think that I am not mature enough in my faith (after 45 years as a Christian)? Perhaps I am not. Merely being a Christian for decades does not necessarily mean one is mature in the faith. Who, then, is qualified to lead? How do they determine who is qualified and who is not qualified to lead? When I read passages like the one I quoted above, I am led to believe that God feels that all of His people are qualified to lead, otherwise He would not have given those in leadership the perpetual task of equipping His people for the works of ministry. I tend to think that the very word “leadership” or “leader” is so polluted by ungodly imagery that it may no longer be useful within churches.

Those in leadership may assert that I am sucking on sour grapes because I was not “chosen” or “selected” for a leadership position in my church. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I abhor the notion that leadership itself is something to be obtained or a goal, or that if you are in leadership, you have “arrived” at some lofty plateau of Christian excellence. In many, many cases people celebrate their ascension to leadership rather than approach it with a sober humility. In a recent chat with a leader at my church, I asked him why he picked the study questions for our Bible study each week. [Now I want to couch his response with all due respect and humility because he may have fired off a hurried response without taking time to think about it. I have been there many times and have always lived to regret it.] He responded that he selects the questions that he feels are most important and because of time constraints not everyone will be able to discuss questions that are relevant to them. Sadly, his response is very consistent with many other leaders in churches today. 

Picking the study questions in a youth Bible study or a study for young children is entirely appropriate as they may have not yet gained the intuitive abilities necessary to choose their own questions in a group. This leader, though, is leading a Bible study of well-educated and mature Christian adults. The notion that they are not capable of rationally choosing their own questions for discussion is offensive on the surface and leads to yet another question about liberty and legalism.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NIV

The Greek word for freedom in this passage is eleutheria (ἐλευθερίᾳ) which can be translated freedom or liberty, in particular, liberty from slavery. That first sentence could accurately be translated, It is for liberty that Christ has set us free. Google defines “liberty” as: the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views, or: the power or scope to act as one pleases. Even within the restrictive context of the Bible, God creates a balance between liberty (the ability to choose) and order (see 1 Corinthians 14). Unfettered liberty is in itself a form of slavery as we become slaves to our own desires that will ultimately lead to fractured communities. Liberty within the context of a structured environment, though, produces freedom when people are offered the ability to make choices that result in growth and greater intimacy with God.

Leaders that seek to manipulate or control people and outcomes deny the liberty that is rightfully given to people by Christ. They are leading, but if their ultimate goal isn’t to equip all of God’s people for works of service, then what is the object of their leadership? If they are not leading in a manner that results in people being equipped to do their jobs, essentially putting them out of work, then how are they truly equipping God’s people? If leaders are selected by criteria that is a clever blend of worldly imagery and Biblical principles, how does that serve to bring people on the margins (and every church has them) into the full fellowship of the church? 

I believe the answers to these problems lie not in the blogosphere but in open and honest discussion within churches, including people who feel as if they are on the margins, those who may not be “ready to lead” or those who others may not see as leaders. I don’t think there is a simple answer because the world we live isn’t a simple place. Blogs such as this one and others can contribute ideas and thoughts to a discussion that needs to be ongoing in progressive churches that have an interest in growing, both numerically and in the sense of intimacy with Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food File: September 29 2018

Target Audience: Christians

There is a reason why I list “Christians” as my target audience and not overweight Christians, obese Christians or other kinds of unhealthy people. The reason is that it isn’t just overweight or obese Christians who are unhealthy and do not honor God with their food. In many ways, church leaders are enablers and facilitators with respect to dishonoring God with food and beverages. This blog post will not change the overwhelming majority of churches in North America in particular that serve high sugar, high fat, high sodium snacks and desserts to their members. Perhaps more appalling is they blithely comply with a culture of addiction to these cardiac killing desserts. Now I am aware that very few teenagers collapse with heart attacks or strokes due to too many desserts or too much sugary soda. That being said, it is standard fare at most churches. A case in point is The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario, the church I happen to attend. It is an awesome church and I love the ministry team and the teaching of the church. During the month of September, though, they greeted people coming into the building with large baskets of Timbits (small donut holes of various varieties). They were ubiquitous throughout the building each Sunday. I managed to avoid them every Sunday but the first one. My point is that we need to find other ways to celebrate than food. Perhaps they could have given everyone a pen with the name of the church on it, or some other non-food item. Is it wrong to celebrate with food? Not at all. I think as our society is among the unhealthiest in the world, though, we might rethink the kind of food we use to celebrate. More and more people are celebrating with creative fruit platters and veggie platters. In my mind, it doesn’t sound as appealing as Timbits or chocolate cake, but I am still almost 200 pounds overweight, so I wouldn’t put my weight into what I think.

As far as my weight loss is concerned, things have been going fairly well. I went to Weight Watchers today (about to be rebranded Wellness that Works) and was up .8 of a pound. That happens. This past week has been difficult, but not totally unmanageable. Last Saturday night my family took me out to a restaurant for my birthday dinner. While I enjoyed the salmon dinner, which should have been a low point dinner, restaurants are notorious for hiding things like sodium, fat and other additives that can turn a seemingly healthy meal into one that is not. Then last night I met with some of my university buddies. We go out to a pub two or three times a year. I don’t drink but a couple of the others like their beer or ale. Anyway, I had treated myself to a steak dinner before I left home but found myself curiously hungry when I got to the restaurant and saw a salad that one of my friends had ordered. I ordered the same salad and it was good, but I wasn’t aware of the Ramen noodles in it, or the amount of oil they used as dressing. Everything else about the salad was good and healthy. Had I asked for dressing on the side and for them to leave out the Ramen noodles I might have been fine. 

This journey is more than just shedding 200 pounds, although that is a main motivator for me. It is about adopting a permanent lifestyle change of healthy eating, exercise and a mindset that shatters the connection between food and emotion. Dr Phil McGraw, a noted psychologist, commented in his book on weight loss that until you divorce your emotions from your eating you will never be truly successful. I will freely admit that I am an emotional eater. I have been ever since childhood when my parents medicated my moods with food. If I was unhappy, it was time for cookies. If I was celebrating something, cake or pie, if I lost a job and was feeling like a failure, a dish of ice cream would pick me up. It isn’t my parent’s fault, by the way. Long after their influence ended, I carried on this tradition in my own life, when I lived independently. If I was feeling apathetic, then tortilla chips, salsa, and sour cream would be an easy “meal” or two or perhaps even three. If I didn’t feel like cooking and just wanted to veg in front of my computer, a frozen pizza was on the menu for lunch or supper. 

This journey is also about how I feel. I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that I am walking easier. Yesterday and today I left my apartment without my walker for the first time in a long time. Now the walker is an excellent “cart” when I have 30 pounds of groceries to haul up to my apartment from my car, but when I am not going shopping I have now started leaving the walker in the apartment because I don’t need it. 

My goal for this coming week is to try a couple of new meals and to move more. The weather is getting cooler and it is easier for me to walk, which is precisely what I need to be doing. The Canadian Thanksgiving is next weekend and while I have opted not to join my family (a 2 hour drive each way) for their meal, I will be celebrating with one of my university buddies and his wife and friends at their condo. The goal: honor God with my food.

Food File: September 8 2018

Target Audience: Christians

So far this month I have lost just over 7 pounds. This week was somewhat disappointing because I lost a mere 1.7  pounds. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want it back, but I always hope that I can do better. My actual goal is between 3 – 5 pounds per week consistently. In order for me to achieve that level of weight loss I will have to become much more active that I am now. I am older now, almost 64, and not nearly as mobile as I used to be. Even with my walker and a cane occasionally, I have trouble walking. Standing can be extremely painful, which means the faster I lose the weight the better. In balance, though, I want to avoid costly fad methods of losing weight or doing things that may work in the short term but will bite me later. 

This week I have decided to go “breadless” for at least one week. I don’t eat a lot of bread, but I must confess I add it to meals, like breakfast, where it isn’t really necessary. My usual breakfast is low-sodium bacon (2 strips), 2 large eggs, with some egg whites added in. I have been adding two slices of bread or toast under the scrambled eggs. It just adds carbs to a rather good breakfast. In time, I will likely substitute ham for bacon, or perhaps peameal bacon. 

Tonight I am having my homemade chili made with ground chicken. On Weight Watchers, this is a zero point meal, until I add parmesan cheese at the table. There is a danger with zero point foods. Weight Watchers zeroed out chicken and fish, all fruit and all vegetables. While that can be a good thing, it can also tempt people like me, when I make something that is particularly good or tasty to eat more than I should. The Free Style program at Weight Watchers (WW) is good and I am enjoying it, but portion control is still essential to losing weight, even with zero point foods. So, I will have two cups (measured) of my chili tonight. I buy Jello Fat-Free, Sugar-Free puddings. They have been a food savior for me in the past because they are very low calorie and low point value. I can eat half the serving for 2 points in the evening, which makes a sweet snack without triggering my urge for real sweet desserts. 

I also learned this week that Timbits, a Canadian favorite, are not my friends. At church last weekend they were giving away these caloric bombs. I figured they were probably 2 points each, so I had five of them. When I checked only the plain ones were 2 points. Others were as high as 5 points. The worst catastrophe of the week happened on Wednesday night. I had my usual bacon and eggs breakfast that morning, but decided to have a really light at lunch and only had two cobs of corn. That was zero points except for the margarine. Then at dinner I decided to make a salad adding tuna for my meat. Except for the parmesan cheese and the salad dressing, that too was a zero point meal. I went to my Wednesday night Bible study and had two cups of coffee. When I got home, though, I realized I was ravenous. I had acquired a package of Italian salami at a food bank this past week. I didn’t eat the whole package, but I ate most of it while watching TV. I tracked the points to the best of my ability and racked up 80 points for that day alone. 

I share those hiccups in my weight loss journey because losing weight can be a very lonely experience, even if you are part of an organization like WW. There will be days when you are on top of the world and everything is just flying by. Then there will be days when you do things, like I did this past week, that I knew were wrong for me, but I still ate the salami and the Timbits. If you are on this journey too, I have a nugget of wisdom that I got from a man much wiser than me. The last meal that you ate means nothing now. You can’t do anything about it, nor should you try. It is history, in the past, and will be nothing more than a bad memory. The meal that matters the most is the one ahead of you because you can do something about that. Weekends can be treacherous times, because that is when Friday nights happen, Saturday dinners with friends, and whatever  other places of temptation we encounter that don’t happen during the week. It does get better.