Lenten Limits and 2 Weeks of Avacados, Almonds, Olive Oil and Onions

I was asked to read The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero- a book that purports one cannot be spiritually healthy or mature unless they are also emotionally healthy. I greatly enjoyed the book and affirm the  care for our holistic health- acknowledging we are spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual beings- the sum total of which God sees, celebrates, and molds into Christ’s likeness.

The most impactful chapter for me was one on embracing limits as a spiritual practice– receiving limits on our capacities as people and ministers as blessings from the hand of God, instead of restrictive or productivity stifling nuisances. The chapter illustrated Biblical limit respecters (see John 3:20-33-John the Baptist has a clear understanding of God as limit-giver, and can easily say, “I am… but I am NOT…”, thus understanding his ability and calling and stopping short of living based on others’ expectations or some all-consuming drive for greater personal success), as well as limit breakers (see Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 3 who, mistrusting that God’s one restriction was not to harm their life but to protect and bless it, transgress the limit they were given. The result of their mistrust, their idolatry of self, their ungrateful focus on the one thing they didn’t have instead of the myriad of abundance they did have, was sin in all it’s havoc).

Coinciding with Lent and the spiritual practice of becoming aware of the chaos, clutter, consumerism, and Christ-lackness of my life and faith, the book was a helpful read. Indeed, putting disciplines in my life during Lent that restrict my personal freedoms, add a spiritual practice that helps me pay attention or suffer a little bit, or ones that make me intentionally more aware of the Presence all day, help enhance my life, not DIMINISH it.  By putting up some boundaries, I could in all actuality be more free.

Then came yet another invitation. My sister Laura and her husband James were going to do a dietary cleanse in conjunction with Lent. Wanting to reorient heart, head, habits and metabolism, they were going to tackle a substantial change in diet for a set period of time. Each had differing goals and different fears surrounding the process.

When Laura invited me to join her in the two week cleanse, I was excited and petrified at the same time. I have very little discipline when it comes to eating and have rarely been able to set dietary guidelines that LIMIT my eating freedoms (especially when we’re talking desserts!) and stay within them. Yes, I eat a healthy diet, but I also eat a ton of sugar and I often eat for reasons besides hunger: habit, guilt, stress, because I’m lonely, celebrating, done working out and Sheridans frozen custard is just right on my way home etc… I enjoy making and eating good food, new recipes, seasonal favorites, and family staples. I wasn’t ready to say all those things are bad or wrong, but I was intrigued by the challenge of setting up some boundaries and living within them for 2 weeks with accountability and encouragement from someone with whom I could be honest and vulnerable. I felt a weight in a sense lifted with Laur’s invitation- that I could possibly regain some control and discipline in my eating life- that by setting up some parameters, I might really become more free.

The basics of the cleanse:

1. Avoid allergens and addictive foods: No caffeine, alcohol, gluten, dairy, soy, or refined sugars. Also avoid corn, vinegar, and white rice. If weight loss was the primary goal (which it wasn’t for me- discipline and habit awareness was), no brown rice and limited fruits.

2. No need to restrict portions of the healthy stuff- eat if and when you’re hungry. Healthy snacks between meals to ward off hunger were key.

3. Drink lots of water to help the flushing out of toxins.

4. Expect some physical lethargy and emotional change.

5. Look to feel better and be able to identify some food sensitivities, lose inches and pounds.

The cleanse came with recipe ideas and I shopped to be prepared for meals and snacks.

Breakfast was a rhythm of eggs, smoothies with almond milk, frozen fruits and kale/spinach, and eventually some steel cut oats. Breakfast without Greek yogurt and some homemade muffins or cereal was the hardest part, besides the no sweets! I didn’t mind the soup/salad, almond butter and celery sticks for lunch, and the dinners of meats, veggies, rice pasta, stir frys etc.. were tasty and enjoyed by the whole family. I consumed a lot of avocado, almonds in their raw nut form as well as almond butter and almond milk, and cut up at least one whole onion for a meal every day-which for me was great. My olive oil bottle was in and out of the cabinet frequently and my coffee pot was stored away in the basement. I enjoyed lemon and peppermint tea to start my day and turned to the tea when what I really wanted was to eat a treat.

We memorized Hebrews 12:1 &2- “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run the race marked out for us- fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross and sat down at the right hand of God.”  Week two I found this little gem of theological truth and very contemporary relevance in Psalm 63:2, 5, “My soul thirsts for you, my whole body longs for you…You satisfy me more than the richest of foods.”

My 2-week stint on the cleanse ended yesterday morning with breakfast, for which I drank coffee, ate a cookie, some Greek yogurt and some cereal. Two hours later I can report I did indeed feel lightheaded and dizzy! The system was a little shocked.

In all, I feel very good to have faithfully practiced the cleanse by making some serious and sudden changes to my habits and health. It wasn’t easy. At times I felt physically miserable (tired, hungry, or lethargic), frustrated, bored, weak-willed, or grumpy. At low points I’d text Laur to complain or ask for encouragement and I’d turn into the spiritual side of the cleanse- my intention to offer my body as a chance for God to change me, grow me, and deepen my dependence outside of myself and on Christ.

After celebrating the end yesterday by eating and drinking something from every category of the DO NOT CONSUME list, I feel as though instead of going back to the way things were, I really do want to keep up with many of the changes. I want to live with limits that lead to more life. I want to confront my habits, the desires I hide and fill with unhealthy things, and offer myself humbly and vulnerably for awareness and transformation. I didn’t lose an inch and only 3 pounds but I achieved my goal: more mindful eating, health, discipline and an adventure in facing my fears.

I’m off to have eggs for breakfast.






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