Health Martyrs

In our new age cleanse-crazy, well-intentioned but sometimes over-the-top society, we can get a little “give up greedy.” What I mean by that is we can get a little addicted to “giving things up.” Am I speaking to you?

What made me think of this is that I saw the other day on my calendar that we’re coming up on Lent. Since childhood I’ve given something up for Lent every year. It was always a dietary vice. Something tangible. Soda, chocolate, chips. Mind you, as an adult I’m not a practicing Catholic, and I wasn’t raised strictly religious by any means. But the idea of Lent, giving something up for 40 days and 40 nights, was just common practice, at least for my Dad and I. So, as an adult, I’ve kept that practice for its sentimentality as well as the meaning behind the practice.

That being said, I proceeded to rack my brain for several days over what I could give up. Dial tone. I couldn’t think of a single thing. This has become increasingly difficult each year, but I was truly faced with a conundrum in the realm of renouncing this time. Truthfully, as a studying nutritionist, wellness couneslor and yoga teacher, the lifestyle I lead is fairly free of vices. Physical, tangible vices, that is. Sure, I could swear off stress, negative thinking, snapping at loved ones, etc. for the duration of Lent (and would love to, in fact I always tack those on every year anyway come March!) but I prefer something tangible like cookies. The problem? I don’t eat cookies. I don’t eat meat. I don’t drink alcohol, or caffeine, I don’t smoke or eat refined foods. None of this is really a problem of course, but I don’t even eat sugar, for goodness sake, so what have I to give up?

I could have just shrugged it off and chosen to release the need to practice Lent, or just picked something intangible like cursing (I’ve tried giving this up in years prior and it just ends up with me bathing in shame for having blurted the f-word by mistake whilst in traffic…classic Irish Catholic guilt, har har). What gripped me most, though, was the furious need to find something to give up. Something. Anything. At one point I chose my almond butter addiction, and I was set on that. But then I realized it’s a key component of healthy fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and essential calories in my plant-based diet. Then I settled momentarily on one of my favorite herbal teas, which I burn through at an alarming rate. “It’ll help my budget!” I thought to myself, in justification, before it dawned on me that giving up a soothing, mineral-rich, delicious digestif that benefits my body and health on a daily basis was just a little silly and foolish.

Then something else hit me. Something real. The core of the matter, if you will. We are a society hell bent on “giving up,” in whatever capacity we can.

For the average person it’s usually a temporary thing, like going a diet or doing a cleanse. Others of us make positive changes and cut foods, behaviors, people, whatever out of our life to better serve our holistic wellness. It can be great to do a clean-up of one’s diet, lifestyle and relationships, don’t get me wrong. What I’m honing in on here is the addictive nature of the act of renouncing.

It was an act of fear to feel like I had to give something up for Lent. It’s an act of fearlessness to instead choose to celebrate the healthy lifestyle I’ve cultivated and the truth that I don’t have to do it “just to do it.” I fully respect and hold the notion of Lent practiced by devout Catholics. More power to you. Sacrifice in the name of Holiness is beautiful. But the wording, don’t quote me on this, is something like “renouncing habitual sin.” Are almond butter and licorice root tea sins? Good gracious. Need I even answer that question?

More power, also, to those who give up unhealthy foods or actual sins for Lent. That’s great. I applaud you all who participate in such a way. But I think the point is that, if something is truly sinful and harmful, shouldn’t these 40 days and 40 nights serve as a purification process, a cleansing of these foods, behaviors, what-have-you from our lives permanently? That doesn’t seem to be the case, in my opinion. I remember waiting anxiously for that first bite of meat or chocolate on Easter. I remember it well.

 

Frankly, this big realization of mine had nothing to do with religion or purity, and everything to do with a conditioned response I recognized; the want to punish or challenge myself. An ugly confession, that is. It didn’t feel good to come to terms with that, but once I had, I released it all. I realized that we are conditioned to behave this way, especially those of us in the health and wellness world, but even just as women in modern society. Dieting and cleansing is on every corner. The idea that we must regularly purify in order to go on living is pounded into our heads. There’s always the next trend, fad, miracle cure, the inevitable next “thing” to relinquish. And I firmly believe that all it does is fortify the chronic yoyo effect that so many people, females especially, suffer from.

So you know what? I’m saying no. I’m saying no thank you, actually.

I’m choosing, instead, to focus on embracing aspects of myselfand my life. Lent aside, I’m calling for action. We need to stop with the restrictive “giving up” and then reverting back to our old behavior so violently we get whiplash. It’s not about refusing to make healthy changes in our lives, I hope you understand that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m suggesting is we say wow I’m really grateful for access to fresh, organic produce, I think I’ll try one healthy and clean recipe each day this week rather than starting tomorrow I’m cutting out wheat, sugar and caffeine cold turkey. The latter usually results in a mess of wrappers and guilt. Ripping something out of our lives and scolding ourselves like little children. The first, however, builds a relationship of warmth and acceptance. Championing oneself for one’s good practices and looking forward to trying more healthy practices, rather than succumbing to fear trying to swear off everything bad in one fell swoop.

This isn’t about me so much as it is about a cultural topic. An epidemic, really. But I will say that in my own life, it took me years to get where I am. I didn’t set out to “give up” a whole lot of things. I just ended up doing so, on my own personal journey. It’s not the “right” way, it’s just my way. Not drinking alcohol or caffeine, not eating meat or sugar, not eating processed foods or eating cheese. So many things I don’t do that would, to some, be considered “impossible” to give up. But it happened over a great deal of time, bit by bit, as my soul prescribed. It was not a knee-jerk change and, because it wasn’t, it’s a lifestyle I maintain (and have maintained for some time now) with ease and joy.

My point is this: let’s get off the merry-go-round and quit being health martyrs. Are there things about yourself that need changing? Perhaps. Do they need to be changed temporarily for 40 days and then forgotten about? I think not. Change happens over time, gradually, with dedication and commitment. In the meantime, may we count our blessings. That is the true purpose of Lent. We can dedicate ourselves to sacrifice in the name of the Divine every single day, without involving a promise to stop chewing gum for 40 days, or whatever. It’s actually harder to focus on emotions, mental habits, the sins we commit against our own precious spirits on a daily basis. Self-judgment, fear, doubt, insecurity, unkind thoughts, hatred, stress, distrust, I could go on and on. May we challenge ourselves to spend the six weeks of Lent with our eyes wide open. Seeing the gratitude seeping from our pores right now, just as we are, instead of constantly searching for things to change. We’re perfect. Let’s embrace that. Plant seeds of change and water them, watch them grow. Patience. Perseverance. Practice. Perfection is a myth. Let’s shatter it with our excellence, and our exquisite imperfections.

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