Part of my Lenten striving this year has been to embark on a lifestyle change that includes the complete overhaul of my diet. I’ve undertaken a whole foods program that eliminates all sugars and sweeteners, additives, grains, legumes, dairy, and other non-nutritive foods and beverages for a period of 30 days. I chose this program because it was recommended to me by my dentist – of all people – to help me with chronic inflammation. Her brother and sister-in-law had done the program and loved the results; she thought it could help me, too.
I initially shrugged off the idea because the list of things I’d have to eliminate from my diet looked daunting to me. No more peanut butter, ketchup, or tortilla chips? Yikes!! Even the hummus and my favorite salad dressing had to go. (It’s incredible how many of the items we buy from the grocery store contain some form of sugar or other not-good-for-you ingredients.) And yet the possibility of reducing my inflammation (and yes, my waistline), feeling healthier and more energetic was like a siren song calling to me. Besides, it was only 30 days. So, I decided to undertake the program after my last speaking gig. That way I’d be home for a few weeks and better able to control my intake.
I admit that it was somewhat of a hassle at first to read every label and forgo many of the foods and condiments that I was used to eating on a regular basis. I had to carefully evaluate every single thing I put into my mouth and it made me think about what I eat and why. At the same time, I started to feel results almost immediately, which was a great surprise to me. It made me think hard about how I treat the body God has given me and the responsibility I have to care for it. Living with chronic inflammation is no fun at best and can cause serious damage in the long run. To me, the sacrifice of the whole foods program was worth the effort.
Most definitely it’s been a benefit to me physically but also spiritually. I’ve incorporated prayer into my eating plan and it’s helped me to be more disciplined and purposeful. On top of that, of course, is the graces God has given me to stay motivated and resist temptation. I certainly can’t do this without his help! It’s also led me to some deeper thoughts about my spiritual life in general, something I didn’t expect to have happen.
Just as we can have chronic inflammation of the body, I think we also can have chronic inflammation of the soul. When we habitually take in things that are not beneficial to our spiritual life, when we haphazardly consume the world around us, it affects the overall health of our souls. You could say that our souls become inflamed, even diseased when we repeatedly assault them with things that are not nourishing. Chronic inflammation of the body slows you down and can mar your ability to carry on a fulfilling and productive life. Chronic inflammation of the soul slows you down and can mar your ability to carry on a fulfilling and productive life as well. An inflamed body is in a constant state of pain and irritation and an inflamed soul constantly feels the pain and irritation of not completely resting in God’s grace.
In light of this revelation, I’ve been carefully examining everything I take into my soul as well as everything I take into my body. It’s incredible how many of the things we consume on a regular basis contain not-good-for-you ingredients and components disguised amid the good stuff! I’m evaluating every conversation, reaction, impression, and interaction. I’m reconsidering the entertainment, music, Internet, art, the printed word, and diversions that I consume and weighing their impact on the health of my soul. If it doesn’t nourish my soul, it doesn’t go in. On the flip side, I’m careful to intentionally consume things that are good for my soul like spiritual reading, extended prayer times, more frequent reception of the sacraments, holy conversations, silence, devotions, sacred music, and podcasts that will deepen my Catholic faith. Only that which is spiritually edifying enters through my eyes and ears or exits through my mouth.
I’m coming up on the end of Week 2 of the whole food program and seriously considering carrying on with it after the 30 days. The same goes for my spiritual whole foods program. Reducing the chronic inflammation of my body is great; reducing the chronic inflammation of my soul is even better.