One morning she boiled molasses and sugar together until they made a thick syrup, and Pa brought in two pans of clean, white snow from outdoors. Laura and Mary each had a pan, and Pa and Ma showed them how to pour the dark syrup in little streams on to the snow. They made circles, and curlicues, and squiggledy things, and these hardened at once and were candy. Laura and Mary might eat one piece each, but the rest was saved for Christmas Day.
– Little House in the Big Woods
For the past six years I’ve tried different diets to get my Crohn’s disease under control. The one I’m on now is the strictest so far. It is simply amazing how psychologically and emotionally satisfying food can be. I’ve thought about food way too much these past few weeks, but in doing so I’ve come to some realizations:
- For many people, food is only about survival. Most people in the world live off of a few basic food sources. Those food sources are usually bland grains, but the people consuming them are simply thankful to have nourishment.
- Having lots of food choices is nice, but we can become too dependent on variety. I’m a full-blown foodie. Going to interesting restaurants has become a source of enjoyment for my family when my unpredictable health precludes other activities. I really appreciate the culinary arts. But I’ve also conditioned myself to expect food to always be an interesting treat, so these experimental diets often send me into real psychological withdrawal.
- Overindulgence is not just a physical thing. Our whole mindset of food being an unrestrained pleasure affects more than just our bodies. Overindulgence affects our attitude about everything. It trains us to be greedy, self-centered, overly-sensual, and undisciplined.
- Look to ancient wisdom regarding the philosophy of food. Many health advocates recommend returning to a “traditional” diet of some sort. These traditional diets often involve consumption of whole animals, broths, fermented foods, organic produce, etc. I can’t claim that this kind of diet has healed me physically (yet, at least.) What I find most poignant about traditional cultures and their diets is not necessarily what it does for physical health, but what it also does for spiritual health. Pretty much every religion involves periods of fasting and feasting, abstinence and indulgence. The ability to both deprive oneself with discipline and to enjoy oneself with subsequent rewards is essential to health and happiness in a world with ups and downs, a world where “for everything there is a season.”
- It’s probably best to raise children who appreciate simple things. The quoted passage above from Little House on the Prairie should speak for itself. I’d rather my kids err on the side of Laura and Mary’s precious delight in the tiny Christmas candy treat than expecting sweet food at every meal, every day.
- Losing something enjoyable will always involve grief, but it usually opens the door to a new source of enjoyment. Humans are so very adaptable. My autoimmune disease has brought me to grieve the loss of certain hobbies or interests or luxuries at different points in my life. But I realize now that those periods of grief have also been opportunities for me to discover new things! For example, my joint problems reduced my piano playing, but led to my writing more. During this time of limited food options, my family and I are really focusing on outdoor adventures. And I hope that one day when I’m not up for a walk, I will discover something else to fall in love with.