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feasting, fasting, and dreaming of bread

Ricky and I are almost finished with our Whole30–an elimination diet that cuts out all grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, alcohol, and anything processed for thirty days. The idea is to reduce inflammation and discover if any of those foods are making you sick, and for us, it’s also a way to shed some holiday pounds and detox from sugar. In case you’d like to know, our Valentine’s Day dessert was a roasted sweet potato with ghee, strawberries, blueberries, and a sprinkle of nutmeg–which is actually quite delicious–but it was hard for me to focus on that after smelling the warm, cotton-candy aroma of fresh-out-of-the-oven red velvet cupcakes I’d baked with the kids. But–lest you think we’re noble or anything like that, know that we’ve both cheated. Ricky ate a fish sandwich when a friend came to town and I took a big bite of Silas’ peanut butter and honey sandwich one day when no one was around (it was an awesome moment). We discovered that our trail mix has sugar in it and ate it anyway, I’ve drizzled  honey into my coffee a time or two, and last night we seriously considered making it a Whole25 so we could be done before the weekend.

Also, every Sunday we gladly accept a broken piece of bread and a sip of wine. Our pastor sometimes gives out very large pieces of bread, noting that it’s a habit he formed during his prison ministry days, from wanting to offer the inmates as much nourishment as possible. We don’t complain.

Since I’ve confessed, I feel justified in bragging that we sat and watched our kids eat McDonald’s at the Air and Space Museum (it was the only food choice available, it was dinnertime, and they were about to stage a mutiny) and did not eat a single fry. I was totally having a battle in my mind. We then drove an hour back home and picked up some Chipotle bowls–green salad, steak, grilled peppers and onions, pico de gallo, and a gigantic scoop of guacamole. It tasted like heaven, and victory. That was a high point.

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A few other high points: whipping olive oil, and egg, and some lemon juice into mayonnaise that’s better than anything you can buy, better skin from our increased avocado consumption, and making Paleo spaghetti with our friend Adam, who came to visit us right in the middle of our Whole30 and jumped right in with us. Roasted brussels sprouts and bacon. Coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon and plain almond milk. Sparkling water (Silas calls it spicy water) with a squeeze of fresh lime. Berries with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, no sugar necessary. A new appreciation for the beauty and versatility of whole foods.

A low point: discovering I’m allergic to plaintains. What the what.

It may seem like unnecessary self-torture, but I’ve also been reading Shauna Niequist’s luscious book Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table during our Whole30. It was just too beautiful of a book to put down until February 25th (oh yes, I’m counting down at this point.) The book is full of mouth-watering recipes like blueberry crisp, breakfast cookies, and risotto, but there’s also a chapter called Feasting and Fasting that strengthened my resolve. She writes:

I love the feasting part of life. I don’t want Thanksgiving without stuffing or Christmas without cookies and champagne. I don’t want to give up our family tradition of deep-frying everything we can think of on New Year’s Eve. But I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully–physically, spiritually, and emotionally–in a life that also includes fasting.

And:

Fasting gives me a chance to practice the discipline of not having what I want at every moment, of limiting my consumption, making space in my body and in my spirit for a new year, one that’s not driven by my mouth, by wanting, by consuming. (both quotes from Kindle edition, p. 133)

On days when I’m home with my children, my life seems to revolve around food. Ricky and I alternate making breakfast, then there’s a morning snack, then lunch, then dinner planning mid-afternoon if I’m on top of things, then making said dinner while handing hungry children slices of clementine oranges to tide them over, then a steaming cup of reward-tea after all littles are tucked into bed. I don’t go more than two hours without thinking about food, and sometimes it feels like a burden. It makes me think of some nursing shifts, when I would run like mad from 7 AM until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and suddenly realize I hadn’t eaten anything, find some food to inhale, and get back to running. There was something freeing about it, in a way–being too busy to think about food very much.

Fasting is different, though. Fasting is when you’re thinking of food but intentionally moving those thoughts elsewhere. That’s more like what this Whole30 has felt like–spanning lots of cooped-up, snowy days and the holiday of chocolate and sugar. I feel a new sturdiness inside. I have more energy. I really, really want to eat the things I can’t have, simply because I’ve told myself I can’t have them.

There’s a space in my life that isn’t being immediately filled. That, I think, is the point of all this.

I’m fascinated by the parallels between my relationship to food and my spiritual well-being. Our church foremothers and fathers were onto something big as they observed the church calendar, which is essentially a series of feasts and fasts.  I’m in Church Calendar Kindergarten right now, but I’m loving the guidelines I find there.  They help as we try to settle into a rhythm of enjoying the bounty of the earth and caring for our bodies,  holding ourselves back from having all things at all times, making the days of fasting worth it, and the days of feasting a true reward.

Those are kind of lofty words for a cheater-pants, I know. Fasting is about humility, too. Let’s just hope we can make it five more days.

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