Spiritual Lessons I Learned While Dieting

January 1st came and went, and hopefully some are still resolutely following their New Year’s Resolution. Each year we probably make the same resolutions: eat better, drop weight, and exercise, to name only a few. One family I know shared with me their new diet regiment. I can tell you that losing weight is not one of my New Year’s resolutions, but if I continue to drop pounds, I won’t complain.

Back in May, I stepped on the scale and saw the highest number I had ever seen. I knew that a change was needed and I heard the success some people had with an app called My Fitness Pal, a calorie counter combined with computations of calories expended through exercise. At the end of May I started to diligently watch what I ate and did, consequently I saw the number on the scale decline. Throughout the experience, what I found while dieting were pertinent lessons corresponding to the spiritual life. Here’s what I learned.

Self-Knowledge

The first few days of counting calories brought me to a point of self-knowledge.  It became easy to discover why I gained so much weight in two years and it helped to illuminate what changes needed to be made. The same is true in the spiritual life. If we want to root out sin, we need to become self-aware.  Is there a certain time when I fall prey to sin?  Or with a certain group of people?  What sin is it that I need to address?  Self-knowledge sheds light into the areas which need to change and can be beneficial not only to dieting but also in the spiritual life as well.

Self-Control

Counting calories as I dieted forced me to keep my appetite in check and exercise moderation.  I love hors d’oeuvres and could eat a ton of Spinach and Artichoke dip in one sitting.  With self-knowledge, I knew I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted.  Instead I needed to be vigilant and deny myself certain foods.  On the very first day of my diet, I went to a graduation party and was faced with a plethora of food options.  With the help of the My Fitness Pal app, I was able to identify what I could eat and stay within my limits.  Dieting allowed me to grow both in virtue and the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Root Out Vice

One of the vices that my self-knowledge showed me was slothfulness.  If I had a very sedentary day, I did not burn a lot of calories, meaning I would have to eat within the set calorie limit.  I was motivated to move from inactivity to activity in order to open up calories for dinner or a snack.  Another vice dieting rooted out was gluttony because one’s goal can not be met by overeating.  Dieting proved itself to be a way to grow in virtue.

Solidarity

I sometimes went to bed with a slight hunger during the first few weeks of my diet.  It was the days that I ate a bulk of calories in the morning or for lunch that forced me to eat a smaller dinner, maybe even just a yogurt.  Going to bed with a little hunger can become a spiritual act by remembering that so many people are going to bed hungry, not only in third world countries, but also on our streets.  Even if I wasn’t completely satiated, I realized that I had experienced many blessings throughout the day and could offer such a small sacrifice as penance.

Planning Ahead

With the help of tracking calories on the app, I knew how many calories I could eat in a given day. If I projected that I would be having a bigger meal in the evening, it would require me to eat smaller meals or be more active so as to open up calories. I had to plan ahead. This is true for the spiritual life. If we want to have a good spiritual life and dedicate some time to prayer each day, we need to plan ahead.  If I normally pray in the morning but have a 5am flight, when will I pray during that day? Or if I have a late evening commitment and that is my time for prayer, when could I pray earlier?  The saints called this remote preparation. It was needed for dieting and it is something we need in our spiritual lives if we want a healthy relationship with God.

Honesty with Self

The goal of dieting, especially when tracking through an app, is to not use up all your calories for a given day. The goal would be to have a deficit every day. Sometimes that didn’t happen. There was a temptation for me not to enter all my food intake so that I could have the satisfaction of coming in under the count when I knew I exceeded it. I had to be honest with myself and admit what I ate and adjust going forward. This is true for the spiritual life as well.  Sometimes we need to be honest with our selves about the changes we need to make. If we desire holiness, and we know that one path will lead to it and the other won’t, we need to be honest, and journey down the right path. It’s true for the confessional. Some people might find they are embarrassed by their sins and want to omit it from their confession. We need to be honest and admit our sins, not only for the validity of the Confession, but also for ourselves as we strive to reject sin and live virtuously.

Habits of Life

From the time I began counting calories back in May to the present day, I’ve dropped nearly 30 pounds and am very content with my progress.  I had a little extra help in the process by having orthodontics installed on my teeth which also serves as a preventative measure against harder, high calorie food.  After just three months of calories, I really haven’t logged into the app to enter my food intake or measure my activity level.  I acquired the habit and now know what I need to do and how much I can eat.  It took a little training but now it has become a way of life for me.  Again, the same is true for the spiritual life.  When we give God time each day, when we attend Mass weekly or even daily, it becomes a habit, and we couldn’t imagine our life without it.

At the present moment, I continue not to count calories and I consistently am seeing the declining number on the scale, getting me closer to the goal I set when I first began.  If I should see the number on the scale creep up, I know what I need to do: become self-aware of what I’m eating, exercise self-control, and begin planning ahead once again.  As you carry out your New Year’s resolution after about several weeks into the New Year, may you discover good health, not only physically, but also recognizing the spiritual value of what you have undertaken.

Fr. Edward Looney

By

Fr. Edward Looney was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin on June 6, 2015.  A member of the Mariological Society of America, Fr. Looney publishes regularly on Marian topics, including the approved 1859 Wisconsin apparition.  He is the author of the best-selling rosary devotional, A Rosary Litany and his latest book is A Heart Like Mary’s: 31 Daily Meditations published by Ave Maria Press.  You can also follow Fr. Edward on Twitter,Facebook,Instagram, or Soundcloud

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  • Kathy

    Father- this is a wonderful bit of wisdom. Awareness is what has been lacking, good intentions are not enough to survive . It seems the higher the stress the bigger the near occasion of sin. We are all trying to live , survive and thrive, but sometimes we need a plan in place to help us do better for ourselves and God.
    Thank you for the insight , and honesty.

  • Michael Siddle

    Great analogies Father. Having lost and gained large amounts of weight over my life I have found calorie counting to more often than not, end in failure. 2 years ago I switched to a low carb diet, where calories are no longer relevant. The diet I chose is the New Atkins diet and have lost and maintained a 50 pound weight loss. It still requires discipline and awareness to minimise your carb intake but hunger and calories are not an issue.

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