• Obsessive Eating vs. Sacramental Eating

    For several years now I have been thinking a lot (i.e. obsessing) about food. What foods I should or shouldn’t eat, how they should be eaten (raw, steamed, soaked, sprouted, etc. etc. etc.).  In this age of information, it is easy to find advice about nutrition. I have spent over a decade learning about nutrition via books, scientific studies, and the Internet. This past year I had reached a point of total saturation. I had consumed so much information about nutrition and clean eating from so many different sources that I was afraid to eat everything. Even these grass-fed steak tacos from the trendy clean-eating hub True Food Kitchen
    Clean-eating obsessions are actually becoming a growing problem. There is even an eating disorder label for this phenomenon: orthorexia. Here’s a description from Sondra Kronberg, nutritional director of the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative:

    Orthorexic eating becomes almost like a religion. . . . It becomes a position instead of a preference. You can’t eat out with a friend. You can’t go to the party. You have to bring your own food wherever you go (Orthorexia: When healthy eating becomes an obsession).

    I lived this reality for a long time last year, though I had no idea I had an “eating disorder.” I brought food everywhere I went, literally (ask my friends). I lost thirty pounds. My husband and I stayed at a hotel on our anniversary, and I finally, painstakingly, allowed myself to eat a meal prepared at a restaurant in the hotel lobby (but only after specifying that they put nothing on the halibut but butter, lemon, and salt). Then I spent the rest of the evening worrying about the meal I had eaten. Had they forgotten my request? That fish seemed too flavorful. Had they marinated the fish in something containing monosodium glutamate? Happy Anniversary to me, right?

    After too many months of this, a scripture began popping into my head:

    Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:25).

    And finally I listened. It took (and still takes) a great deal of effort, but I try not to obsess about what I’m eating. Of course God wants us to take care of our body temples. But I wasn’t taking care of my body temple. It was like the Word of Wisdom on steroids. And it was detrimental to me. I wasn’t preparing anything with “with singleness of heart” (D&C 59:13). I prepared every meal with double-mindedness… doubt, fear, knowing I needed to eat, but afraid that what I was preparing to eat was going to hurt me. For someone else, double-mindedness might look like:

    • Cooking a box of macaroni and cheese, but feeling guilty that it’s not homemade.
    • Frying onions in butter, but mentally imagining that butter going straight to her hips.
    • Making a batch of brownies, but feeling upset that it’s the third batch she has made that week.

    fork quote-1Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condemning macaroni and cheese (praise the Lord for those blessed boxes), butter, or brownies. I eat a lot of butter, and I love brownies. But I think what God wants us to take to heart is this: Don’t think so much about what you’re eating. Think about what you’re thinking. How would it change our meals if we spent that prep-time thinking good things instead of guilty/fearful things? How can we prepare our meals with singleness of heart?

    I found Truman G. Madsen’s The Highest in Us on my parents’ bookshelf when I was seventeen years old. As I read it, I felt like I had found a dear long-lost friend. My ravenous spirit devoured it and then every other book I could get my hands on written by this brilliant and in-tune man. In his essay, “The Sacramental Life,” Brother Madsen blends spiritual and linguistic insights in a way my English-major heart adores:

    It is interesting to me that the word ordinance has the same root as ordained and order. Those connotations are appropriate. But it also has the same root as ordinary. That, too, is relevant. An ordinance takes the most ordinary of elements (for what is more commonplace than water, bread, olive oil?kneeling, clasping hands, lifting of arms are ordinary things) and gives them or receives them or consecrates them as holy. . . . Ordinances make possible the transformation of the ordinary. Our ordinary work, ordinary breathing and speaking, ordinary pleasures, become extraordinary when they are consciously sacramental (p. 38, The Highest in Us).

    Delicious, no?

    What if we thought about preparing our meals in the way a Priest might think about preparing the sacrament? How does blessing a meal before eating it change the food? How does the blessed food change us? What happens to the foods I prepare for my family if I’m afraid?  If I eat a meal prepared with love will it be more nourishing?

    What do the sacrament prayers say? Here is the prayer for the bread:

    O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

    What if every piece of bread we ate was eaten in remembrance of Jesus Christ? What if all of our food was sanctified to our souls? I have begun asking for many of these things when blessing my food. I do not mean for any of this to reduce the sanctity of the sacrament. The sacrament is a sacred ordinance, and that hasn’t changed in my heart and mind. Instead, I intend to increase the sanctity of my every day life, to invite Christ into every meal I consume.

    In our book, The Gift of Giving Life, Felice wrote a great essay called “Constant Nourishment.” In it, she quoted from a book by Wendy Mogel, PhD, about Jewish teachings for raising self-reliant children. Felice shared:

    Mogel said, ‘At its core, Judaism is a table-centered religion. With the destruction of the ancient Holy Temple, each family’s table serves to replace the original holy altar.’ When we think of the table as an altar, it changes the way we think about what we put on it, how we come to it, and how we behave while there (p. 241).

    Wow, right? Is my table a holy altar? That definitely changes the way I think about family dinner. And if my table is a holy altar, then I am (as the preparer of meals) in a sense a “priestess” who presides over my family’s nourishment. Maybe I’m being melodramatic? Or maybe I’m not? For someone like me, it would be easy to take this to an unhealthy extreme (not feeling able to cook a meal unless I’m in a good mood, etc.). All things in moderation.

    So what am I trying to say with all of this?

    • Release your fear of food. It’s not serving you.
    • Think more about what you think than you do about what you’re going to eat.
    • Are you eating fear or faith?
    • Eat what you have with gratitude and joy, even if it’s macaroni and cheese.
    • Blessing a meal is powerful. Ask God to sanctify your food and remove any toxins (some are unavoidable, no matter how “clean” you eat).
    • Make the dinner table a sacred space and approach food preparation with reverence and love.
    • Relax. Breathe. Pray. Eat.

    Let me close with these insightful words from dear Brother Madsen:

    All root music, all painting, all artful motioneven the art of conversation or baking a loaf of breadcan have eternal significance. It is the individualizing of ordinances. ‘Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times” (D&C 59:11). We may infuse them with our own individual creative talents. If we are to acknowledge the hand of God in all things, an indispensable first step is to summon him into all our things (p. 46, The Highest in Us).

7 Responsesso far.

  1. Lara S says:

    Lani, thank you for these thoughts so beautifully put together. This is something that I have been struggling with for several months and it has reduced the task of preparing meals for my family to a dreaded stressful chore. You have given me a lot to think about with this post. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in order to bless others.

  2. Judy Adams says:

    What a concept “…if my table is a holy altar, then I am (as the preparer of meals) in a sense a “priestess” who presides over my family’s nourishment.” I always felt it was an important responsibility, but you raise it to a spiritual level.

  3. Sheridan says:

    I love this Lani. Such a great balanced view and powerful view too. I am going to look at our dinner table a whole new way.
    Once I was preparing a meal for a family in our ward. I feel I am not the best cook, so as I prepared I just poured my Love into it and prayed they would be able to feel my love as they ate. They said it tasted delicious. I am quite certain it was my intent they tasted, not my cooking. :)

  4. This reminded me of a movie I watched called Babette’s Feast.
    I remember clearly the day a good friend of mine pointed me to Romans 14 that got me off my food high horse and back to being a gracious guest and an accommodating hostess.

  5. Brittany says:

    Very helpful insights! Many times in the past when I have tried to make nutrition changes, I would get caught up in wanting to eat “perfectly,” then I kept getting overwhelmed and then giving up and swinging to the other extreme of only eating the quick and easy processed stuff. Recently I’ve gotten into a healthy eating phase again, but there have been moments where I have been upset that the healthiest choice was just not practical. Inevitably there will be times when I don’t have the energy to cook, havn’t made it to the grocery store, etc. This post is a really helpful reminder that I don’t need to beat myself up about ordering a pizza or making a box of macaroni and cheese sometimes.

  6. I agree with this SO MUCH. I talked about something along similar lines in my blog when I described it as “the false god of health”.

    I love the idea of mentally thinking of the dinner table as an altar. Awesome oxytocin is released when people eat together – science is slowly catching up to the prophets when they understand that eating a meal as a family really does bind them together in a way nothing else can match.

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