Dieters often ask, “With all the cooking shows and eating excursions, how do you stay healthy?” I jokingly respond, ”As a priest, I wear black clothes. It’s very slimming!”
Though I could stand to lose a few pounds, I don’t give in to diet fads, whether a pill or plan to get skinny quick. Getting healthy, like developing faith, has no quick fixes – it’s a daily determination, a lifetime of disciplined choices.
Secondly, while I’m happy for those who’ve experienced dramatic weight loss, I recognize certain methods guilt people into unhealthy attitudes.
When it comes to food choices, guilt should never be the motivating factor because it can preclude a person from authentic enjoyment of what God has provided. Rather, the Catholic answer is discipline and moderation.
Discipline, rooted in the Greek word “discipulos,” means “student.” The more we become food disciples — in learning about food — the healthier our diets become without resorting to “going on a diet.” I’m not talking about scrupulous calorie-counting, but a better understanding of how foods are prepared, the effect they have on genetic makeup, moderating eating, understanding portion control, and learning how to boost flavor.
I was recently asked to cook and present a thesis on “theology of food” and our “Grace Before Meals” movement before a group of diners. Preceding the dinner event, the host contacted my organization to inform us someone was on a strict low-carb-no-sugar-no-red-meatno-fat-diet. I appreciated the information because I want to prepare something everyone can enjoy, and I relish culinary challenges. What I later discovered annoyed me. The person had no food allergies, no religious restrictions, and no medical reason to avoid certain foods. This person was healthy, quite thin, and perfectly able to tolerate all the foods I would prepare. The reason for the “strict diet” was partially for eating healthy, but more of vanity and pride – to look good for a family member’s wedding in a few months. Seriously?! Sigh
Diets have become a debilitating cult for some. Jesus gives us a humble approach when he says, “Eat what is set before you” (Luke 10:8). It’s Jesus’ way of making his disciples more approachable and effective. If the disciples judged people because of diet, they would have limited their ability to develop authentic relationships with those they were called to serve, either as dinner guests or spiritual shepherds.
Food disciples are also food missionaries, willing to venture beyond their comfort zones. Food disciples are NOT diet nazis. Instead, they possess diet knowledge and social decorum. They know an occasional, modest piece of chocolate cake, a little wine, two strips of crispy bacon at Sunday brunch, and even a mouthful of natural carbs are not mortal sins!
Relax, celebrate delicious foods on occasion, practice moderation, and avoid being a food Pharisee.
As Catholics, we must maintain healthy bodies as temples for the Holy Spirit, by becoming disciples about everything we put into our mouths and disciplined about what comes out of it. In Matthew 15:11 Jesus says, “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.”
A sincere food disciple puts Jesus’ culinaryinfluenced-teaching into practice, especially in today’s diet-demoting world that now shuns the daily carbs of The Daily Bread.
FR. LEO E. PATALINGHUG, Catholic priest, chef, TV & radio host, best-selling author, renowned conference speaker & corporate presenter, founder of GraceBeforeMeals.com.
Tantalizing Sweet Potatoes — A Healthy Side
1 sweet potato or yam, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch thick discs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. paprika
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. Combine in a large bowl the olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon and paprika and whisk together. Add the sweet potatoes and mix ingredients to cover all sides of the potato. Layer potato discs onto sheet pan, spacing apart evenly. Place sheet pan in oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender & slightly charred. Serve as healthy starchy side dish.