Me and My Calories

A short while back I had to go through a bit of a wringer in
the form of a hospital rotation. I worked for 3.5 weeks at Madigan Army Medical
Center, partially to maintain currency as a medic, but mostly as part of my
civilian education. At the same time I was doing 11 credits of college
coursework online, and preparing for a deployment with my unit. During one of
those weeks I clocked 100 hours at work!
I noticed a strange thing during that time, and in the
months since. I did not have time to work out, but I kept eating as I always
did and my weight went up. It crept up from 210-ish, to 215, then 220, and
finally topped off at 225 right before I deployed. More interestingly still, it
did not spontaneously drop on its own!
Now, I have always despised dieting. I have never needed it
before. When I was 19 in Korea, I used to order a 21 inch, 6 topping meat
lover’s pizza and a dozen wings from Anthony’s Pizza on post, eat the whole
thing in one sitting, and then go out and run six miles the next morning like
it was nothing. I did this every weekend,
and never weighed more than 205.
Now at 28, almost 29, I do not have that ability anymore.
Ironically, I would not for anything in the world go back to being the 19 year
old me. 19-year-old Ryan was a bit of an idiot.
However, now I have to think about things realistically. I
have diabetes, hypertension and high-cholesterol on both sides of my family,
with a tendency towards overweightness I get from my mother’s side. My fiancée
keeps insisting that I am not allowed to die at 55 or 60. Additionally, I have
always been active, and I enjoy being active. I like to be able to run up a
mountain to see the view at the top, I like to be able to pick up heavy things
without breaking my back, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be caught in a tight
spot and not be able to give a good account of myself without passing out from
exhaustion. All this to say, I have had it easy up to now, but from here on out
if I want to be healthy and active for the long haul, I am going to have to pay
for it.
So I have started counting calories. L
It isn’t as bad as all that. Wouldn’t you know, there is an
app for that! I simply type in what I eat, use the drop down menu to select the
closest match, and all the calories and most of the nutritional data are added
for me. If it has a US barcode I can scan that, but not many things in the
Philippines come with US barcodes. I guesstimate a lot. I can also add my
workouts, and that gives me a ballpark of how many calories I am burning.
Having used it for a month now I have gone from 225 to 220, while also bulking
up quite a bit from heavy lifting. It is neither as difficult nor as time
consuming as I thought it would be. The only downside is the hit to my pride,
but as my mother would say, a little “humbilification” never hurt anyone.
There are two things I have learned from it so far. As
Aristotle would say, errors come in pairs. On the one hand it would be very
easy for me just to let it slide a little here and there and eat a little bit,
and not plug it into the app, as if I was fooling anyone but myself, but in the
end my body doesn’t lie. It either is a lean, strong 215, or it is not. The
iPhone does not control that.
On the other hand, it is also easy for me to get obsessed with
things, and start looking at food as simply numbers, just nourishment to be
shoveled into my mouth. It’s like budgeting money. I can become obsessed with
budgeting to the point where I become stingy.
As with everything, this has a spiritual dimension as well.
The old monks used to practice asceticism in food by eating only enough to
maintain life, but denying themselves any pleasures of the sense by eating not
one scrap more, and denying themselves anything tastier than dry bread, bitter
herbs, gruel and so forth.
There was a touch of Manicheaism among some of those
practices. The notorious contempt for the body and physical creation so often
caricatured was more of a remnant of old pagan notions than an authentic
Christian tradition. However there is some truth in their philosophy. The body
should master food, and not be mastered by it. (I am not talking about fasting.
I am talking about establishing a baseline daily diet that is mastered by
reason.) The idea of a daily calorie and nutritional allotment is a way of
tailoring their spiritual discipline to my personal vocation. I eat enough to
maintain my bodily health and strength, and then I say “No.”
On the other hand it is also true that the pleasure of
eating is a legitimate gift of God which we ought to take care not to despise
on the grounds that it is “unspiritual.” We may choose to give it up for a
time, short or long, but, I think it should only be because we hope to receive
a greater gift. This is why the Church calendar revolves around both fasts and
feasts. But we are a Resurrection people, so the feasts outnumber the fasts.
So I find it is best if I maintain two simple rules:
Eat tasty food. Do not sacrifice taste for
quantity, i.e. go by the “I can eat as much as I want as long as it tastes like
cardboard” mentality. Instead I look at it as a spiritual exercise. I eat good
tasting food, I enjoy it as much as I can, and try to glorify God in my
enjoyment of it.
Just like with my financial budget, it is
important deliberately to blow the budget once in a while. Once a week I have a
day, usually the Sunday, where I celebrate by eating whatever I like (although
still within moderation for spiritual reasons.) When I get back to the states I
will still be throwing pizza parties, and I will still be making my pizza with
all the verve and pizzazz I can muster, serving the best beer I can afford, and
rejoicing in the magnificent prodigality of gifts God has given me.
On the whole, so far it seems to be a sensible and
maintainable habit to build. We will see how I modify it as time goes on.
whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:32

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