Friday, January 25, 2013

"Choose to Eat Mindfully and Prayerfully:" A Guest Post Reflecting on "Cravings" UPDATED

Update: I've updated this post to reflect more of how this guest post came to be written and shared here. 

When I was getting ready to review Cravings by Mary DeTurris Poust, I knew another person whose feedback I wanted was my dear friend and fellow blogger Marcia Mattern of "I Wonder Why."  Mostly, I wanted someone more "expert" than I to read the book.

It was really helpful to get some thoughts and ideas, since Marcia has a background in nutrition and is a deep thinker when it comes to spiritual things.  After a fun (dare I say mindful?) talk over coffee and treats last month, Marcia shared that she, like me, found Cravings a great read and very thoughtful.

She also said there were quite a few books written by dietitians on these themes, especially mindful eating, ones not mentioned in Mary's excellent bibliography.  Marcia also liked, as did I, how Mary drew on different religious traditions, but noticed that Eastern Catholic thought was not represented.  Since Marcia's family often worships at a Byzantine Catholic parish, I asked her to write a guest post for Reading Catholic, sharing some of the other resources, and even bringing in Eastern Catholic thought on food and eating.  

Once Marcia sent me this reflection on Cravings, I shared with her that it was more like a reflection than instructive, and would really benefit from photos.  That's how I looked around for some photos from my library (of coffee and chocolate, as if there were any doubt!) and asked Marcia for some other ones, and she graciously shared.  

I've updated this post to reflect some of the additional books that are helpful for additional reading, as well as some of Marcia's prior writing on these issues.  I think they make a good complement to Marcia's guest post, as well as provide additional reading for those interested.

Thanks to Marcia, for being willing and for reflecting on these themes so beautifully.  And thanks to Mary, for writing such a timely book, Cravings, that inspires discussion and reflection on these themes.


It's all the hype in early January.  What ever shall you do to lose that weight?  Eat differently, right?  And we make great lofty plans...But now it's nearly the end of January and...  poof.

We are back to our "regular" eating habits.

But what is regular, healthy, normal eating?  Is it the Paleo, the vegan, the TLC diet, the DASH diet, the raw food diet?  We try various approaches with hope and goals in mind.

Some believe that the best diet for you is the one that you choose and are able to stick to the rest of your life.  Does the word "diet" present challenges for us? Might we instead speak of our relationship with food?  Mary DeTurris Poust skillfully discusses this in her book, Cravings:A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God.

Think you can do that with the Paleo?  Probably not.  Can you go without meat or eggs or milk the rest of your life?  Perhaps no.

But you can choose to eat mindfully and prayerfully the rest of your life.

If we think of food as simply nourishment for our physical self, then choosing more grains and vegetables with smart meats sounds ideal.  But we have options for chocolate and candy at our disposal.  Aren't they tasty too?   There is room for everything wonderful (and not so wonderful) in this world in our diet.

What if we ate what we wanted and liked, but carefully opted for being thankful before, during and after it?

God has given us a bounty of goodness.

How often do we just hurry through our eating without having tasted anything past the first mouthful? When I slow down and taste the goodness of food, I am encountering something of the goodness of the Lord.

So how do we practice being thankful and mindful during eating?

We can begin by a prayer before every meal.   You might think this simple, but do you ever miss a prayer before a meal?  Remember the meal you ate in the car?  Over the kitchen counter?  Those are meals too!   What if you prayed over the cookie you got at the drive thru with your coffee?

If a prayer before meals is a habit for you already, how about choosing a personal prayer rather than the memorized prayer?  We say in the Creed each week "I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth...". So why not begin by thanking THE ONE, in your own words, who creates the substance from which all our foods come?

To begin first pause, to recognize his presence.  Then say in your own words what you want to say.  It could be: "Thank you God for this peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Make it nourishing to my body.  Help me to feel full and strong to accomplish my work today. Amen."

Simple?   Yes.  Mindful?  Yes.

Next stop during your eating and thinking about what you enjoy.  Take a moment to again thank God for it.

" Wow, God.   You created some amazing things for me.  Today this peanut butter is salty.  The strawberries in this jelly is so sweet. I enjoy this very much!"

And again when your meal is over.  Once again thank Him.

"I'm full, God.  Thanks again for making this world for me.   Help me to remember how great this lunch was when I get distracted from all your gifts for me today. Amen."

So what if mindful prayers over food has already become habitual for you?   Can you add to your prayer even more?  Would being prayerful about each mouthful you take impact what kinds of foods you eat?  Would you choose a greater variety of foods this way?  Would you be less likely to mindlessly eat a whole bag of cookies or things less healthful for your physical self?

What IS the connection between faith and food?

It's the abundant blessing that God has already provided for us his sheep (John 10).

It's Eve and Adam when they allowed their physical passions to contribute to broken communion with God (Genesis 3).

It's God continuing to see our fragile humanity and providing always for our physical need of food even in the desert (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11).

It's the restoration to wholeness at the Eucharistic Banquet (John 6).

God creates us in his image.   We reflect His image when we foster growth of the virtues gifted at our baptism.  When we see the greatness of God and desire to know him more, this honors Him.  We are responding to His love for our human needs and this draws us closer to Him.    But we don't live our our faith in isolation.  We live it with others!  We participate in the Liturgy with others each time we go to Mass.

Eating and sharing a meal is sacramental and has a foundation in the very life of the sacramental economy. When we receive the Eucharistic presence of Christ as food, we are nourished. Eating is a profound form of communion!

Research over the past few years has linked families eating together with healthier lives.  It's not just about the food you consume, but also the smiles, laughter and chatter around the table.  Building relationships with those we eat in our own home is basic to life.  We know this about the Liturgy as well.  We worship, adore, petition and praise as well as consume the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ with others that profess the faith with us.  And those we eat with can encourage us to eat better.  Just as those who we worship (and eat the Blessed Sacrament with) encourage us in our life of faith.

It's still January.  Let's begin again towards a better relationship with food.  Can we make a new step in growing in love of God as we draw closer to Him around the table?  The mindfulness we have at prayer over food is a step toward living healthfully.  We can find persons (even in our own family) to help us make wise choices each day and support us in those good decisions.  Embrace the gift of normal, regular eating God has given us and thank Him.

For further reading and exploration:

21 Days of Eating Mindfully: Your Guide to a Healthy Relationship with Yourself and Food by Lorrie Jones.

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole

Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth.

Marcia has also written about food and Eastern Catholic thought on her blog, "I Wonder Why."  Here are just a few posts that relate to the spirituality of food.

The St. Phillips Fast

Adjusting to new circumstances: home management meets food changes.

What are we eating.  Marcia's written a number of times about The China Study (I'm not a fan, which has made for interesting discussions around the dinner table when our families gather, wink), and her entire family at least once has done the book's 30- day vegan challenge.

Marcia Mattern fosters wonder and awe with her husband and six children around their dinner table and at the door of the refrigerator.  Her experience as a Registered Dietitian and conversion to Catholicism has impacted her study of food and faith.


  1. Wow! I love this - so much "food for thought" - really! I am not interested in following strict diets, but I do need to be more mindful of what I eat and probably how, when, where, and why I eat it. Thank you for the reminder that our prayer can and should go beyond saying grace. (And thank you for the yummy pictures, which are making me hungry!)

  2. My goodness, Marcia, you must have the charism of spirituality. What beautiful and deep insights about the sacramental aspects of food, prayer, and the family table.

    My mindfulness with food has gone in fits and starts lately. Your words here resonate, now giving me an opportunity to "wonder why...!" I'll be pondering and praying more; thank you for the nudge.

  3. I so agree about "food for thought" here in and Cravings. In my Q&A with Mary about the book, I asked specifically about mindful eating in general and how to apply it to the entire family:

    While I've been trying to be "more mindful" in general with eating, I haven't had the nerve to try a consciously "mindful meal" with the whole family. Yet!