For Lent this year, I gave up diets.
Yeah, I know. That sounds less like sacrifice and more like indulgence.
But here’s the thing: I was secretly obsessed with diets, bouncing on and off various forms of them for at least the last decade. For weeks at a time, I would restrict whole food groups, all under the guise of “healthy eating.”
When Chris passed away, my kitchen filled up with food from amazing family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. I was blown away by the generosity and kindness of the people around me. At a time when I could barely function, at least I knew I could feed myself and my son.
The food lasted right up until most of the shock wore off.
And then I fell apart. I spiraled deeper into grief than I’d imagined possible. Anger prickled beneath my skin, and guilt ran thick. But more than anything, I hated feeling out of control. Death made me feel helpless. Grief made me feel powerless.
And so I grabbed desperately at the only tangible thing I believed I could control: food.
I began to control every single morsel of food that went into my body. No sugar, grains, dairy, beans, additives, or preservatives. None of it. I quit cold turkey, eagerly and angrily.
I lasted about a month.
After four weeks of “clean eating,” I thought I felt great. I threw a big and beautiful summer garden party. I was the happy host, smiling and chatting and enjoying the sun.
In retrospect – and probably quite obviously to my close friends and family – I was a bomb waiting to go off.
Turns out, restriction and repression can only take you so far.
Late in the evening, after everyone had left my party, the loneliness wormed its way into my gut, dissecting me piece by piece. Empty and hurting, I poured a glass of red wine and reached for a plate of cookies.
In the weeks that followed, I plummeted into a dark, anxious grief, tormented by daily panic attacks and nightmares. It took months and months to emerge from that dark hole, and there are still days when that place looks far too familiar.
I know my obsession with controlling food didn’t cause this. I know this profound grief would have struck me anyway. But the diet served as an important lesson.
It might have been an effective diet if I truly believed all that food was bad for me. But that’s not why I cut it all out. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize that in manically controlling my diet, I was in fact spending all my energy trying to gain control of life the only way I knew how.
But who really has control of this life?
Not me. Of that I am sure. Yeah, I have choices. I can control my everyday actions and reactions, basic decisions and arrangements.
But life and death? Nope.
I am a 28 year old widowed single mother. Never in a million years would I have made that choice. I had no control, and it was time to come to terms with it. No diet could change that, no matter how diligently I stuck to it, no matter how much I denied reality.
And so this Lent, I decided to give it up once and for all.
The way I see it, our bodies are naturally able to tell us when and what we need, if only we listen. It knows when and what we’re hungry for, both physically and spiritually. It takes a little intuition, a lot of faith, and a whole truckload of practice.
But in giving up the illusion of control, I have instead practiced listening.
And in the silence, I have found answers.