I know, I know. That’s no way to start a blog post. It’s just that I’m worried about how these words will be received.
So…. what follows is my truth, ok? Not a humble-brag. Just the simplest answer I can give to the question, “Why in the hell are you going vegan for Lent?!”
Except, it’s not exactly simple.
I have this relationship with food that perhaps isn’t 100% healthy. No eating disorder, no body dysphoria. But something…
Why don’t we start at the beginning? It’ll probably make better sense that way.
In the beginning, I was a skinny kid. Like, a painfully skinny kid. No lie, I looked like the children in the Feed the Children commercials with distended stomachs and skin-covered bones for limbs. My childhood best friend called me an Ethiopian. At 7. No, that friendship did not last.
So here I am, this tiny string of a thing and I would barely eat. And I was picky. Beyond picky. I wouldn’t even eat the crunchy McD french fries.
Like any caring mother, my mom sought the advice of my pediatrician, Dr. Heiny (pronounced like Heinz ketchup but with a ‘y’. Yes, I loved saying his name as a kid. And now, since he’s my kid’s doc too. But I digress.) Dr. Heiny (ha!) said “give her what she’ll eat. If she wants to eat cereal three times a day, let her.”
My mom took the advice and for years I ate cereal whenever I didn’t want what was being served. Which, in practice, meant that I was eating Kraft mac&cheese 2 nights a week and cereal the other 5. I was the happiest kid on earth.
Not in the common sense. Ok, maybe that way, too. But also in a much deeper way that had something to do with power and control. Hold on to that thought. We’ll come back to it.
Fast forward some years to age 11 when I’m entering puberty, and something changed. It’s like a switch went off in my stomach and suddenly I don’t want to do anything BUT eat. Four meals per day became my norm. And not small meals. By 13, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have third helpings. By 14 or 15 I was keeping up with my dad at the steakhouse. I was literally ravenous all the damn time.
Of course, this 180 did not go unnoticed. At first, my family seemed relieved. I was finally expanding my palate beyond fried chicken, cereal, mac&cheese and happy meals. Then they were amused — “Look at her eat!” “Where does she put it all?” But when I didn’t slow down, and began pushing 14, the warnings started — “You keep eating like that and you’ll get huge.” “It’s gonna catch up with you if you don’t watch out.” “Do you really think that you should eat all that?”
Spoiler alert: I didn’t get huge. It never caught up.
Of course, I wanted a little something to catch me. At 15, I was still stick thin with nary a curve or bump to show for all that hunger. Boys ignored me. Girls made fun of me. And when a particularly foul teenage specimen called me “an anorexic bitch”, I cried. Hard.
That wasn’t the last time that someone’s opinion of my body and its relationship with food was hurled at me like a weapon. In fact, 20 years later, I hate having conversations about diet, weight or exercise. Because no matter how hard I try not to, I end up sounding like a complete tool (trust me, the Wife has assured me I do). No, I don’t watch what I eat. No, I’ve never dieted. No, I don’t workout. Like, I hate me just typing that.
So what does all this have to do with Lent?
My body has not been well for nearly 5 years. I take three daily meds, another as needed, and another 2 I keep on hand for particularly rough periods. Over the last 5 years, several well-meaning folks have suggested trying to alter my diet for symptom relief. And I’ve read dozens of articles that suggested modified diets that might bring relief. Each and every time, I balked.
Do what? Change the way I eat? Not eat certain things? Because it might make me feel better. Ummm… NO. I eat what I want, when I want, and however much of it I want. I control what I eat, not this damned nameless illness. It has already taken so much from me, not the least of which is my peace of mind. There’s no way in hell I’m letting it take control of my diet. NO. Way.
So there it is, my truth: I am emotionally tethered to a sense of control, or, perhaps better stated, a lack of need for control, of the food that I put into my body. So much so, that I have been unwilling to even consider minor changes to my diet that might have real, positive effects. I derive a sense of power from my relationship with food. But, in reality, it is the food that has the power, not me.
I am challenging myself to make a major change and go vegan for Lent in order to break that tether. I want to tear down and rebuild my relationships with both food and power/control. I want to approach food as fuel, not as a subconscious exertion of control acting as a substitute for the control/power that I do not have in other areas of my life. I want to learn to be at peace with the things that I cannot control or exert power over. You know, everything.
And in that sense, my Lenten sacrifice isn’t really much of a sacrifice at all. By learning to be at peace with things that I cannot control, I will gain so much. Hell yeah, I’m nervous. Hell yeah, this is going to be hard. But it’s also going to be worth it. All of the best sacrifices are.
P.S. You can read about my 2012 Lenten sacrifice that’s still going strong here.