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.

2017: A New Year

goodbye-2016Target Audience: Evangelical Christians

Today marks the beginning of a new year. I will not bore you with New Year’s resolutions because like so many others, I make grand plans only to see them fizzle within weeks or months of making them. I think there is something rather egotistical about New Year’s resolutions anyway. 

While a quick postmortem of 2016 is appropriate, rehashing the highs and lows of last year really serves little benefit to anyone. Last year was probably no better or worse than anyone else’s 2016, except for Hillary Clinton. I think many would agree she had a much worse ride last year than many of us. Yes, she hit some highs too, but the crushing defeat she suffered in the presidential election will undoubtedly take some time from which to recover.

Unlike Hillary, my greatest moment of tumult occurred in the summer when I found myself homeless for the first time in my life, and I sincerely hope, the last. I was never on the street, although sleeping in my truck for a week gave me a rude awakening that any delusions of becoming a sixty-something hippie were just that: delusions. I landed in a motel, renting weekly for a month and a half before moving into my current digs with a friend of mine in Oakville. While the cost of living in Oakville is considerably higher than what I had prior to my flight from a previous stable, but unsuitable place of residence. I had been living in a renovated three bedroom bungalow in Etobicoke with six other people and a pit bull.

By the end of the year I was a member of a Healing Care group at my church. Now I have had a number of experiences with various kinds of healing in churches and approach all of them with a fairly well-earned skepticism. Too many are little more than amateur psychobabble groups that attempt to “fix” what is visual and obvious without dealing with the more painful issues that require much more work and dedication. The drive-thru healing groups which I have encountered in the past caused me to balk at this one. The material for this group, though, is based upon the experiences of a minister named Terry Wardle. I know very little about him, but from reading his book Draw Close to the Fire, he experienced a breakdown in his life. The book is about his journey from the pit of darkness and despair, to seeking God in the darkness of the pit, to realizing that until the Holy Spirit heals the deeper wounds in life, it is impossible to experience the fullness of the Christian experience. Unlike the drive-thru healing groups I have encountered in the past, this is a journey. The course is 16 weeks, but from the first session, the leaders made it clear that this is a much longer journey. At best, the material will help recalibrate my thinking and concepts of God and myself. Once that work has begun, I can then proceed to deal with the deep wounds, some as far back as childhood, others as recent as today or last week, with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is not magical “poof” healing. I doubt I will see any flashing lights or feel flames of fire burning away the chaff of abuse and hurt from long ago. There will be no bright light that blinds me from the abuses of the past. I doubt I will forget any of the pain I have suffered, but the Holy Spirit will, in His own time, heal me and help me to enjoy the intimate relationship with God He desires to have with me.

Moving forward into 2017, I do have some goals. These are not resolutions, but just things that I need to do in order to keep breathing into 2018.

Nothing is more critical than my weight. Last week, after my annual Christmas binge, although this year wasn’t as bad as some previous years, I tipped the scales at 370 pounds (168kg). I am 5’10” (178cm) for those in metric countries. Obviously, I am about 200 pounds (91kg) overweight. Personally, I like the sound of losing 91kg more than 200 pounds. At my present weight, I am unable to walk but very short distances and find standing to be extremely painful. Exercise is almost out of the question until I drop some weight. I have set up a spreadsheet on Google to track my food intake. I have been to Weight Watchers at least 8 times, and Overeaters Anonymous at least twice. I have tried a high protein, low carb diet, which worked for as long as I could handle it, but once the boredom of eating the same things over and over again became too great, I binged on chocolate cake and never could get back on track. I know how to lose weight. It isn’t rocket science, but it is a discipline that most people who are overweight find difficult, if not impossible to stick to for long periods of time. I seem to be able to drop 50 pounds almost by thinking about it, but once I begin to feel good, I become careless and start eating things that pack the weight on.

So 2017 has started. I am hoping that I can make significant changes to my life, not just my weight, but spiritually as well. I am hoping that by the end of 2017, I will be healthier and happier than I am today.

Happy New Year! 

Depression: Isolation

In about 30 minutes, I am supposed to leave for my small group meeting at my church. I enjoy them. In fact, I am actually excited about the fact that I have the privilege of attending this meeting every week. At this point, though, I feel like my feet are glued to the floor. I have showered, got cleaned up, fresh clothes, had supper. Everything is in order for me to go to the meeting. There is nothing for me to do, but I feel like there are hands holding me back. Of course, there are no physical restraints. I am free to come and go as I please, but I squander much of the good weather we have in this country. When the nasty days of winter come upon us much sooner than they are welcome, I will tell people that I would give anything I own to be able to get out, go for a coffee, or just do a bit of grocery shopping that I will have to put off until a better day.

Let me reinforce the fact that there are no physical restraints keeping me in my apartment. There are no physical obstacles to me walking down to my truck and driving to the small group meeting. On a conscious level I know very well that going to that meeting will be good for me on every level, but there is a conversation happening, even as I type, in my mind, attempting to persuade me to avoid going out of the apartment. It isn’t just a small group meeting at my church. My doctor wants me to go to a clinic to have blood work done. This is just as effortless as going to my small group meeting. There are plenty of clinics in my neighborhood with easy access and it really only takes a few minutes. Even if it took more than a few minutes, so what? It isn’t as if I have to get to work or I have a slew of appointments and people will be disappointed if I’m late. 

It isn’t just the conversation that is happening in my mind or the fact that my feet feel like they are glued to the floor. There is anxiety, a feeling of physical heaviness in my chest, that I experience when I am in this place. It is a place of darkness, of defeat, of loneliness, of despair. I know that I am by no means alone, but I feel so alone right now. 

There are times when social contact is the precise medicine I need to lift my spirits and make me feel like I am part of the human race again and the family of God. Isn’t it a curious thing that I have the head knowledge (the theology) that I am a child of God, that Jesus Christ died for me, that when I die, I will be with God in heaven, but I can feel so alone, so isolated, so unwanted, and undesirable right now? You would think that with all that Baptist theology I would never feel anything again, well maybe that is a bit exaggerated, but for decades I was taught according to the Fact Faith Feeling train. We base our faith upon Facts. Our faith is not dependent upon our feelings, but just the facts. For decades, I suppressed feelings with respect to my faith. 

My feet are still glued to the floor. I still feel those hands on my shoulders, those invisible hands, those hands that do not exist, that are holding me in this chair. If I was laying in bed, I would feel like I was paralyzed, unable to move my legs, but in reality, my legs would move just fine. I would imagine that I am tired, exhausted, emotionally drained, even though I haven’t done anything to warrant those feelings.

On days when I experience the deepest, most severe isolation, a major breakthrough is having a shower, or cooking food, or washing dishes. Some days when I am in the pit of isolation, getting out of bed is a victory. 

What am I feeling right now? Right this minute? To be honest, I am rather confused about what I want. One part of me wants to go to the meeting. I know I will enjoy it and have a bit of fun. The other part of me is emotionally drained, or at least I feel like I am. That part of me wants to crawl into bed and spend the evening reading or playing games on my tablet. I will have a busy day tomorrow and I am not mentally prepared for the busyness of tomorrow. Yes, I am the same person who, in my last post, begged God for just one busy day. I will be busy, but it isn’t going to be that intense, I hope. As I have grown older, I have found that I do not have the stamina I did at one time. Yes, what I am feeling right now is fear that is irrational. Did I mention that much of what I experience in depression is irrational?

My battle with depression is a journey. It started when I was a teenager, which is when I first remember feeling “blue” or “despondent” and it wasn’t just because I didn’t get my own way or get what I wanted. In those days, most people, including my parents, hadn’t really been educated with respect to mental illness and there was a huge stigma attached to it. People who suffered from depression were, at times, considered, “not all there” and should be avoided. I journeyed through those years, but this is still a battle. Most people I know understand, at least on a surface level, depression and they attempt to treat me with dignity and respect, for which I am truly grateful.

If I am going to that meeting, I have about four minutes to get moving. My feet still feel like they are glued to the floor and I am still feeling anxiety over going out at all tonight. There have been times when I have forced myself to do things, particularly  social things, against my will and have experienced heightened anxiety or panic attacks. If I feel trapped with respect to where I am sitting, I can experience a panic attack, which is usually a sudden difficulty breathing, sweating, confusion, and sometimes physical paralysis, which means I am unable to walk or move without assistance. A case in point is a potluck dinner I attended a few years ago at a church. I was standing in line, waiting to be served, when I suddenly realized that I was in the midst of a crowd and there was no easy path of escape for me. I descended into confusion (there was this din of noise and activity that didn’t make sense) and I had trouble breathing (shortness of breath) and I began to sweat profusely. Fortunately, one of my housemates saw what was happening, and led me to a wall where I stood, back against the wall. I “crawled” along the wall to a door, went through the kitchen into the foyer of the church, where I had oxygen and space. The panic attack subsided within minutes.  When I used to ride public transit, I remember sitting in the middle doorway of a bus, on the steps, because I could not handle standing in the middle of a crowd. I would take a subway train in the wrong direction until I could get on a train where I would get a window seat and have the illusion of not being “trapped”. 

It’s too late to go to the meeting now. For the rest of the evening I will deal with feeling defeated because I really did want to go to the meeting. I am not sure if feeling defeated is helpful. I feel like I missed an opportunity, which indeed I did. This is a journey and there will be times when I miss opportunities because of elements of my battle with depression. This is a journey. There are deep wounds that I have ignored for many years that I am now confronting and for which I am seeking healing. Yes, I feel defeated, but by God’s grace, I will be at next week’s meeting.