Dieting versus Discerning

In need of spiritual nourishment, I went out into the heat and humidity on Sunday in order to worship at my church, the beautiful and historic Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Rev. Joy Segal’s sermon was about discernment, or the process of sensing information which was once obscured from awareness. Discernment, she reminded us, requires stillness, patience, meditation, or prayer. Though I’m certain Joy’s message was relevant to the scriptures we had just read, I must admit my mind wandered off on a tangent about the relationship between discernment and eating disorders. It occurred to me that when you have an eating disorder, it is nearly impossible to discern anything.

I thought about my own experience years ago with the seesaw of dieting and bingeing known as Binge-Eating Disorder. In the early 2000s, there was only one voice I listened to: the voice of “ED”, or my Eating Disorder. His voice was louder than all the rest. ED told me when to eat, what to eat, and how much. He couldn’t stand variety and did not want me to deviate from the meager meals and snacks he had planned for the day, no matter how much my stomach rumbled or I craved a different food. If I did deviate, ED changed his tune and said, “Why not eat all the junk food you can find, all at once?” ED berated my body constantly, checking its shape in every reflective surface and insisting upon being weighed on every scale. Every waking moment was spent listening to ED’s incessant chatter. I was so fearful of not tuning into him, that I rarely allowed myself the moments of quiet reflection that may have helped me discern some important truths about my life at that time. If I had been able to ignore ED’s voice and listen to my heart and spirit, I might have discerned that my marriage was in dire straits, my spirit needed tending to, and my inner child was still wounded. Instead, ED distracted me from all of it, promising that the key to happiness was through dieting, restricting calories, and weight loss.

To this day, I feel angry when I hear my friends and loved ones talk about the diets they’re on.  I know this anger is misplaced; it should be directed at the industry that makes billions of dollars from our misguided, forever unfinished pursuit of happiness. And I know my anger stems from the knowledge that my family members, friends, and I all wasted precious opportunities for genuine connection with each other in the pursuit of thinness/happiness.

I’m grateful that I have since learned that diets don’t help us discern anything. In fact, diets are designed so that we ignore our body’s needs. The diet plan tells us what to eat and what not to eat and how often to do so. Forget listening to our body’s need for nutrition, hydration, rest, and play (though more insidious diets will tell us that they encourage this mindful awareness, while reminding us to pay for next month’s product or risk gaining weight and being forever miserable). The diet industry wants us to believe that, without them, our body would betray us and make us eat junk food all day long. This couldn’t be further from the truth. True mindful eating requires quiet discernment and I guarantee that if we spent time discerning what our body needed, we would realize quite soon that it does not need or want junk food all the time. (Just ask anyone who has traveled extensively and not had easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables for a time; the body begins to crave them!)

Discernment is a process that doesn’t happen overnight – neither is weight loss. So, the next time the urge to diet strikes, consider instead taking a moment to breathe, sit still with your thoughts and feelings, and discern what your body, mind, and spirit really need.

Peace, joy, and health,

Megan