Now, before you jump on the bandwagon and completely remove every ounce of refined sugar (or gluten or dairy or grain) from your diet, let me first offer a few considerations for you to nosh on for just a bit.
Second, sugar-free or whatever-free challenges are sneaky terms for “diets.” Yes, I know, you have all the best intentions. You may or may not even be eliminating sugar or another food for weight loss. Perhaps it’s to have more energy or physically feel better. These are all good things. However, restricting a specific food usually leads to craving larger quantities of that same food as Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch explain in their book on intuitive eating. As psychologist Fritz Heider said it, “The moment you banish a food, it paradoxically builds up a “craving life” of its own that gets stronger with each diet, and builds more momentum as the deprivation deepens.” For example, let’s say you decided to do a sugar-free January challenge. What’s more than likely going to happen in February? Rebound eating. (I know I’d be eating a whole lotta Valentine’s Day chocolate come February 1.) However, if you give yourself unconditional permission to eat the “forbidden food” (for me, that previously would have been chocolate), the intense feelings of deprivation dissipate and you’re less likely to overeat and feel guilty about it.
Thirdly, think about how your diet intentions for 2018 intersect with faith. Perhaps you felt that your love of sweets and food became an idol this past holiday season. Maybe you’re concerned that starting another new diet will take away precious time from other priorities. Now I can’t say what the Holy Spirit is convincing your heart, but here’s just a few things to pray about:
- Food is morally neutral. (Unlike excess alcohol consumption which can lead to loss of self-control and recklessness.) Am I misplacing guilt when I eat “forbidden foods” while in reality there’s something else going on in my heart?
- Do I truly believe I am (including my body) fearfully and wonderfully made by God? Or am I dieting because I still idolize a cookie-cutter image that the world and diet-culture glorifies?
- Is a strict diet-culture-made eating plan going to bring me closer to God or could deprivation cravings actually pull my attention away from God? (This does not include Biblical fasting which I understand there may be a time and place for that.)
Finally, before starting a sugar-gluten-dairy-wheat-free meal plan in 2018, consider the amount of mind clutter and mental energy it’s going to cost you to stick with it. I don’t know about you, but the last time I dieted, I thought about when I was eating next and what I was going to eat nonstop! I’d meticulously meal plan and excessively strategize my food at outings instead of enjoying time in heartfelt conversation. And those who were also on diets, what did we mostly talk about? Food. Mostly food. (I’m sorry if you were bored.) Furthermore from my experience as a dietitian, the people with conditions and intolerances requiring special diets are the ones who would rather not spend the extra energy diet planning.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve wasted so much time and energy on diets that didn’t work and body-shaming a body that’s wonderfully made.
There’s a time and a place for health, nutrition, and meal planning in 2018, but don’t let the sugar-free challenges, detoxes, and (especially not) juice cleanses keep you from making progress on all your other important goals, dreams, and priorities.