Wednesday, April 10, 2019

How the Keto Diet Brought Me Closer to God

I am Italian, and for Italians, food is life. In fact, food is almost equal to God, if not more so. Growing up, my entire family life centered around meal planning and food. We ate dinner together as a family every night. While we ate breakfast, we discussed what we were going to have for lunch. The holidays were a smorgasbord of fancy meat dishes, exotic pasta sauces simmering on the stove, piles of cookies, and lavish desserts. We rarely ate out as a family, as our cooking skills far surpassed any local restaurant.

Even though I was raised on a daily healthy portion of bread and pasta, I developed a sensitivity to gluten around the end of High School. We never ate organic food, so my negative reactions were probably more of a response to the Round-Up that is sprayed on some American wheat. I can further confirm this from my own personal experience: when I lived in Italy for a month (a country that has very strict pesticide guidelines) I had no problems whatsoever eating their bread and pasta.

But I didn’t know this at the time, and this Italian girl wasn’t about to give up her grains. I switched to gluten-free pasta (which was gummy, mushy, and awful) and spent lots of money on bread made from rice and potato flour. My stomach problems only worsened. Throughout the rest of High School and all of college, I was plagued with inflammation, bloating, nearly unbearable acid reflux, constipation, and (yup) horrendous flatulence. I can’t even remember how many times I would have to excuse myself at social functions and cower in the bathroom, literally doubled over and crouching on the floor trying to expel the gas that wracked my colon. To say it was embarrassing and crippling to my self-esteem would be a gross understatement.

I won’t even say how much money and time I wasted at the hands of doctors who poked, prodded, drew blood, took stool samples, and put me through scans that cost thousands of dollars. All my blood tests showed up negative for gluten allergies, so the doctors figured I must have had a twisted intestine due to the immense pain I was enduring on a daily basis. During one appointment, I had to eat radioactive scrambled eggs and come back to the hospital every two hours so they could x-ray the ball of disgusting food as it made its way through my gut. This was at the Mayo Clinic, one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world. On another occasion, I had to do a home enema and then submit to a tube being stuck up my rear end by a male doctor who was super awkward about the whole procedure. The last straw was the CT scan that cost me $3,000 out of pocket and once again produced the prognosis of absolutely nothing. It seemed I had exhausted every resource of modern medicine. I tearfully resigned myself to a life of nearly paralyzing gut pain and taking monstrous doses of TUMS and Gas-X just to get through every meal.

But God has a way of working things out, even things as seemingly insignificant as our diets. After all, God created a garden full of food for Adam and Eve, and some of the most significant events in Jesus’ life happened around the dinner table (the wedding at Cana and the Last Supper, to name a few). After going through a very bad breakup (the stress of which significantly contributed to my gut issues), I met the man who is now my husband, and who introduced me to the Keto diet.

What exactly is the Keto diet? I’ll give a brief summary here. Basically, it’s a diet that avoids high-carb foods and focuses on eating fats and proteins. Meat, cheese, seafood, and most green vegetables are all acceptable. Grains, most fruits, sugar, potatoes, legumes, and most dairy products are not. It’s certainly a diet that can feel very limiting at times, but the point of it is to get your cells to start burning fat instead of sugar for energy (ketosis). I lost about 10 pounds within the first two weeks, and after I got over the carb cravings (they’re a thing, and they suck), I was amazed at how I felt. No stomach pain! No more gas! No more bloating! I could barely believe it!

Besides the obvious health benefits, here are the four key takeaways I’ve gotten from the Keto diet.

1. It helped me gain self control. Although I’ve never been seriously overweight, there were certainly times in my life where I felt like a slave to food. After gaining control of my appetite, I was amazed at how freeing it was. It was definitely a struggle at first to pass up the donuts on the staff room table and to forgo the bread on my sandwich, but only after I realized how attached I was to food did I understand how my appetite controlled other things in my life, such as my combat with laziness, lust, and several other vices.

Part of the Keto diet includes fasting for intermittent periods of time as well as for several days in a row. The Church highly recommends fasting for a reason! It’s the most quick and efficient way to gain self-mastery. I always hated fasting, and dreaded when Ash Wednesday and Good Friday would roll around every year. Now I look forward to fasting as a way to refocus myself on what really matters in life. Besides, when you don’t have to eat, it frees you up to do many other things.

2. It helped me grow closer to my husband. Luke is a man of superior self-mastery, and he would hold me accountable when I was whining for a burger and fries. Having his help and support to keep me in line was crucial to my being able to work through my cravings and stick to the diet plan. If not for his constant coaching and gentle reminders, I would have never been able to do it.

I hate the term “accountability partner,” but that’s really what Luke was for me, and I for him. We would both laugh and suffer our carb cravings together, and became a lot stronger for it. As a bonus, now that we are both focused on eating healthy, it makes it much easier for me to cook and grocery shop. When you marry someone, you truly do become one flesh, and part of that is supporting each other especially when the other is weak and wants to throw in the towel.

3. It helped save us money.
As a horse trainer, Luke often spends late nights at the barn and doesn’t want to be bothered with cooking a meal at home. We used to eat out A LOT. I’d say, maybe five times per week, and mostly at fast food places. While it was delicious and convenient and fun, we always felt crappy afterwards, and we were definitely living beyond our budget.

However, the Keto diet really puts the kibosh on where you can eat out. No bread! No potatoes! No sugar! That eliminates just about every restaurant except a steakhouse, and even then you have to substitute broccoli for your baked potato. Now it’s just simpler to go to the store and buy ground beef to cook at home. It’s made our meals more intimate and more healthy, and we have extra money to put away for our arena!

4. It made me more detached towards worldly goods. Don’t get me wrong; food is not a bad thing. But like all things that are not God Himself, they can distract us from our ultimate goal of attaining heaven. By sacrificing that ice cream sandwich and Jimmy John’s run, I realized just how unimportant earthly things really are. Food is not life, and your life should not revolve around your meals.

Honestly, it surprised me how angry I was that I could no longer eat crackers, cupcakes, and enchiladas! My anger and frustration over something so trivial really put things in perspective for me. I was obsessed with all the wrong things. I was directing my energy towards something completely ephemeral. If only I would get that upset over missing my daily Rosary or not being able to get to Mass!

Don’t get me wrong; this diet is a difficult one, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without Luke’s support. But the payoff has been truly amazing, and coming from a girl whose entire life was centered around pasta and dessert, I am stunned at how God transformed my attachments. He truly can change even the most stubborn human will if we let Him.

If you’re interested in trying the Keto diet for yourself, some good information is here. I’ll also be posting some of my favorite Keto recipes in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Best Insurance Against Divorce

Many women are not going to like what I have to say here, but that’s OK.

We are told by our culture that women don’t owe men anything. That we don’t need to change ourselves in order to have a successful marriage. That our man should accept us, love us, and adore us just as we are.

I’m sorry, but this just ain’t so.

We need to recognize and reject the glaring double standard that is ruining our marriages and our relationships. How do we do this? It’s quite simple, really. Just remember the Golden Rule.

Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

This, ladies, includes our husbands.

Do you want your husband to always listen to what you have to say? To love you unconditionally? To take care of you when you are sick or in need of emotional or spiritual support? To agree with your decisions and input?

Yes, of course, you say. All of that.

Well then, your husband should expect (and get) nothing less from you.

You must listen to what your husband has to say instead of just dismissing him because he “doesn’t get it” or because of his gender. Don’t you expect the same from him? Doesn’t he deserve your respect?

You must love your husband unconditionally, not just when he’s doing everything that you want, and not just when he’s not annoying you. Don’t you expect the same from him? Doesn’t he deserve your love?

You must take care of your husband when he is sick, and not laugh at his pain or tell him to “man up.” You must support your husband when he needs someone to listen to his problems. Don’t you expect the same from him? Doesn’t he deserve your undivided attention and care?

And here’s the hardest one. You MUST respect and yes, even agree with his decisions and input. Not all of them, but most of them. Don’t you expect the same from him? Doesn’t he deserve your support?

Perhaps you are thinking “My husband doesn’t deserve any of this because he would never treat me this way.” But it’s not fair to say that if you aren’t treating him with kindness and respect as well, that is, if you aren’t treating him the way you would like to be treated. It’s a two way street, and sometimes one of us has to take the high road and be nice first. So why not us?

Remember, the only person you can change is yourself. You cannot make your husband do anything. You can’t force your husband to behave how you want him to. But you can control how you respond and initiate contact with him. You can be cold, bitchy, selfish, and wait for him to make the first move. Or you can try the Golden Rule in your marriage and see what happens.

If you’re still skeptical, I ask you to try implementing the Golden Rule in your marriage for one week. Just seven days. It won’t kill you, I promise. Just try it and see what happens. Don’t nag your husband. Don’t tell him what to do. Don’t ask him to do something you could very easily do yourself. Listen to him when he talks. Say Yes if he initiates sex, or even initiate it yourself. And see what happens.

It may take more than a week for your husband to notice the change in you. That’s ok. You’re doing this for yourself too, so even if you don’t immediately notice any visible, drastic changes in your husband’s behavior, don’t get upset. Maintain your good deeds. Continue your kindness. Notice how it makes you feel when you’re not complaining or harboring resentment or fighting all the time. Hopefully you feel more peaceful? Less worried? More at ease with yourself? Less guilty?

Jesus asks us to serve others, and this especially includes our husbands. And it’s usually much easier to serve our neighbor down the street or donate to a charitable cause than it is to serve the people we share a roof with, isn’t it? Serving our husbands through the good and the bad is hands-down one of the hardest and most humbling things you can do. It will make a saint of you much quicker than you expect!

Marriage isn’t easy. You know this. And initially, serving your husband and treating him the way you want to be treated will seem like it’s making marriage harder than it needs to be. Serving always includes dying to self.  And that’s always, always hard.

Unless your husband is a total bum, a degenerate jerk, or abusive (and if he is, this article is not for you), he will respond in a very positive way to your kindness towards him. It might take him a while, but he will respond. Men are uncomplicated creatures. Most men will say they just want three things from their wife: respect, kindness, and (you guessed it!) sex. That’s it. Can we give that to them?

Let’s rise to the challenge. Let’s give our men the love they deserve and treat them the way we want to be treated.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Friday, August 24, 2018

I Lived With My Boyfriend and I Regret It

The man I was engaged to for two years and friends with for six years left me a few weeks before our wedding.

I had already sent out invitations, bought my dress, and booked a church. We had gone through intensive (and expensive) marriage prep together. And we were living together  in an apartment that I had spent hundreds of dollars to furnish and make our home.

Miraculously, though we came close, we never had sex, though we often shared a bed and committed various sins of impurity that I shall not mention here. I am a Catholic. I try to take my faith seriously. And I am here to warn you that living with your significant other before marriage is a death knell for your relationship. I know; I went through it all.

Now, I am sure there are some couples out there who live together, make it work somehow, and eventually get married. And I’m sure that most couples who cohabitate before marriage intend to get married eventually. But there are many more couples out there—I’m sure you know a few yourself—who are just living together with no clear goal of marriage. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? 

Cohabitation was the most efficient and easiest option we had at the time. We didn’t have to pay rent for two separate places, I could get away from my annoying housemates, and we could both start preparing for our future married life together. It made so much sense then, and I knew I was going to marry him anyway, so why not? Not to mention that everybody else was doing it. Which doesn’t make it necessarily right, but it does make you wonder sometimes if you’re the only fool missing out on something.

So why not live together? What’s stopping you? That damn Catholic church, that’s what. Spoiling all our fun. Trying to suppress our healthy sexual desires with rules and regulations. Forcing God into my bedroom where He doesn’t belong.

Yes, it’s hard to be a Catholic today in a world that is so open to everything but Christian morality. It’s hard to see couples have all the sex they want, whenever and however they want it, like some kind of 50 Shades of Grey Buffet. So why not just shack up, Catholic or not? We’re adults, we can make our own decisions.

Well, the answer to this question is complicated, and the world doesn’t like complicated answers. In fact, it doesn’t like answers at all, because it likes to pretend that there are never consequences for an individual’s actions. If you get pregnant and don't want the baby, get an abortion. If you live beyond your means, declare bankruptcy. If you want to cheat on your spouse or significant other, it’s your right to be happy at any cost. In our age of convenience, where computers and slave laborers in China take care of everything, we demand a lifestyle of instant gratification with zero consequences.

Our generation sadly forgets that a life without consequences in itself begets consequences. We can never avoid suffering, and even if we do temporarily, someone else always suffers instead.
I thought that me and my ex were fully committed to each other, but he left, and everything fell apart seemingly overnight. Many encouraged us to “test drive” our marriage before it even began, and that’s just what we did, but we destroyed our marriage before we even got to the altar. For one thing, marriage is not a car, nor is it something you can pull out of its context and examine before it actually happens. After a couple is fully and legally committed to living together, a whole host of different opportunities and challenges arise that can’t be found when a couple is just sharing a bed and a bathroom.

The problem with cohabitation is that it offers an escape, an out, a second route if the couple realizes that they really weren’t meant for each other. If the sex becomes boring, if the finances become tight, if the future in-laws become too overbearing, someone can book out at any time. Is this good practice for marriage? Hell no. Marriage is for better or for worse, through sickness and health, in good times and in bad. When the couple exchanges vows, they don’t say “I will love you and honor you only as long as it feels good and is convenient for me.”

That’s exactly what happened to me. Once the going got tough, once we were fighting all the time and barely speaking to each other, there was no incentive to work things out. The door to escape was open, and he took it.

But a failed relationship is better than a failed marriage, right? This is the excuse many couples use: “we’re just trying to see if we’re compatible before marriage so we won’t have to go through a messy divorce later.” But like I mentioned before, cohabitation is NOT an accurate reflection of what marriage will actually be like. Why? Because it offers the tantalizing prospect of sex without commitment. Because it allows the option of parting ways if someone better comes along. It’s kind of like teenagers who never want to fully commit to an event on a Friday night in case something more exciting pops up. Ask if them if they’re coming to your party and they’ll respond with “maybe.” Cohabitation is the “maybe” of marriage.

Of course, all of this is coming from a Catholic perspective of marriage, where you don’t just get divorced when you feel like you don’t love each other anymore. Christian marriage draws on the sacrificial example of Christ. Secular marriages have no such inspiration to stick together. In truth, secular marriages survive only as long as the happiness and convenience are present. Once things go downhill (and they will) there’s no reason to stick around and suffer. Why waste time with someone who won’t make you happy? You deserve to be happy no matter what. You are the only one that matters. So you divorce and move on to the next person who makes you happy, and leave them once they, too, become inadequate. It’s a vicious cycle. You may as well not get married at all, and that is why so many couples today don’t even bother to.

You see, the commitment of a Christian marriage rooted in the sacrificial teachings of Christ gives you the strength to put up with your partner’s weaknesses. It doesn’t give you the option of backing out if you suddenly realize that your spouse’s bad habits and body odor are unbearable. Marriage gives you the perfect environment to work through your problems together rather than hitting the road to avoid them.

Going back to cohabitation, perhaps there are some of you out there who believe you have superior self-control. We can live together, you say, because it will save us so much money, but we won’t have sex. We’ll have separate bedrooms, even. I’ll sleep on the couch! But as anyone who has shared a house with other schmucks knows, it’s difficult to maintain privacy when you’re in close quarters with somebody. There is something very intimate about sharing a small apartment or house with someone that should be reserved for the ultimate commitment of marriage.

I, too, thought I had superior self control. I thought I was above the other weak fools who couldn’t control their sex drives. But I was wrong, and if not for the extraordinary grace of God, I would be pregnant now and trapped in a miserable marriage to a man who never really wanted me anyway. I committed some terrible sexual sins with that man that haunt me to this very day. I was a “good girl” who never thought I’d go beyond kissing and holding hands before marriage. I was the nice Catholic who had all the books about pure love and even posted on this very blog about how important it is to save sex for marriage. The heat of the moment makes hypocrites of us all. Innocent hugging and kissing on the couch can quickly escalate if no one is around to hold you accountable.

I once heard someone once describe cohabitation as a “trap.” I think this is indeed an accurate statement, for it shows how living together can literally ensnare you in a lifestyle that is very difficult to get out of. If the relationship ends up failing, one of you has to leave and drag all your physical and emotional baggage with you. And you’ll probably never want to look at that couch he bought for you again, much less remember all the times you had sex on it.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to our relationship if we had not lived together; if it would have lasted, or if it would have ended a lot sooner before it got so unbearably painful and far along. I wish that, instead of living together, we had focused on other things that would have brought us joy and satisfaction as a couple. Rather than letting the physical aspect of our relationship consume everything we did, we should have let it compliment everything we did.

When you and your future spouse have made the decision not to have sex until your wedding night, you have room to explore other fun couple things rather than just hanging around and wondering who is going to strip first. It frees you. It liberates you to explore other aspects of each other’s personalities that just don’t surface when you’re both naked and slobbering on each other. And as most of us know, it’s much harder to break out of a relationship when sex is involved. Both partners may be afraid to call things off when they have already invested so much and given all of themselves, even if the relationship is very clearly doomed to fail. I was so invested in the relationship that I was desperately afraid to end things, so I let them stagnate and progress until the last worst possible moment, mere weeks before our doomed wedding.

Yes, staying chaste and living separately is hard. Miserably hard. But nothing worth having is easy. There’s a lot of truth to the expression “easy come, easy go.” Cohabiting couples have separate names, separate bank accounts; there’s an implicit agreement that either can back out of the relationship. In brief, they are rehearsing a low-intensity commitment. But marriage involves a high-intensity commitment. Nothing worth having is easy.

If you are wavering between cohabitation or no cohabitation, consider the consequences. There are serious implications to this decision that our modern society ignores, downplays, or shoves under the rug.

I will also mention one last thing: scandal. Most people only see this word on the front cover of People magazine, announcing a new divorce/affair/breakup with so-and-so. To a Christian, scandal is something entirely different and very serious. If you identify as a Christian and seriously practice your faith, and if your friends, family, and co-workers know that you are Christian and yet shacking up with somebody, what will this say about you? What will this say about Christians in general? How will this reflect on you when someone sees the cross around your neck as you crawl out of your bae’s apartment on Saturday morning to fetch the paper? Christians have already received enough flak for being hypocrites these past few centuries. Why perpetuate the blitzkreig? “My God is OK with it” is not the appropriate response. There is only one God, and He wrote a book that specifically condemns cohabitation.

I brought terrible shame on my family by living with my ex-fiancé before marriage. I betrayed my faith and my conscience. I will pay for those decisions for the rest of my life.

But the question of the economic benefits of cohabitating still loom in the background. But this where you, as a Christian/Catholic, have to make a choice. What is more important to me: my money or my soul? Some might scoff and say that it’s not as black and white as that. But a good Catholic should prefer to wear clothes from Goodwill and restrict their eating out on the weekends than have to deal with a painful potential breakup, hauling all your belongings around multiple times, and worry about whether your boyfriend wants you for your character or your body. Let me put it another way: if you follow God’s will, no matter how impossible or even stupid it seems, He will provide. He will come through for you. The money will be taken care of. God never neglects those who faithfully follow Him even though everyone tells them that they are nuts for doing so.

In short, stay strong, and don’t do what I did. You’re not married yet, and a lot can happen between popping the question and the wedding day. Love your future spouse by doing what is truly best for them, by not endangering their soul, by giving them a chance to love you for your character and not for what you can bring to their bed. I will have to live with the guilt of my decision to cohabitate for the rest of my life. Don’t let it happen to you.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

What I Learned When My Fiancé Left Me

Sometimes we single folks do all we can do, and it's still not enough. We dress well, we go to all the right social events to meet new people, we maintain our prayer life as best as we can, we frequent the sacraments. And yet we still suffer greatly, watching others who seem far less holy than we are have all the babies and pretty homes and handsome husbands. We are following all the rules and God still seems to be withholding His favor from us. So why follow the rules at all, then, if there's no payoff for us? Why not just be bad and happy instead of good and miserable? These questions interrogate me every day. My coworkers are all living with their significant others, getting all the sex they could ever want, buying new homes, and living lives of ignorant bliss. Whereas I, the "good girl," come home to emptiness and nothingness every day, and run to confession countless times a week to confess sins I wouldn't have to confess if I were married.

“Just give it time" and "God will bring someone along at just the right time" are two of the most despicable and pathetic pieces of advice you could ever give a single person. It is poor comfort indeed when we're sitting alone at Mass (like I was this morning), surrounded by young families with lots of kids, breastfeeding mothers who look like they just graduated high school, and the like. It's difficult indeed not to start scrutinizing others: "How could SHE find somebody to wed and bed THAT... and I can't!? WHAT THE HELL, GOD!!!"

Something I've learned these past few months is this: 1) We cannot depend on others to complete us, and 2) We cannot become angry at God when He doesn't always give us what we want.

We cannot depend on others to complete us, to take away our loneliness, and to solve all our problems, because only God can do that, and our spouse is not and never will be like God. When I was engaged, my entire life revolved around my fiancé. We did literally everything together. He "completed me," or so I thought. When he left, I realized how empty my life really was. I wasn't me anymore--I had become a parasite dependent on another man for my happiness instead of God. Even in marriage, if we aren't finding our completeness in God, we will be miserable no matter how much great sex we get or how wonderful, caring, and attentive our spouse might be.

We cannot become angry at God when He doesn't always give us what we want, because God owes us nothing. Our very conception and next breath are a gift from Him. We are so completely dependent on Him that if He forgot about us for even a moment, we would evaporate into the dust from which we came. With that in mind, how dare we whine and scream at God for not always giving us what we want! We are not following God for the "sweeties," as the White Witch from Narnia would say. We are not the followers of Christ only as long as the good times roll, only to abandon Him at the foot of the Cross. As long as we are in a state of grace, with a roof over our heads and food to eat, we truly have nothing to complain about. It is important for us single folks to adopt an attitude of gratitude, or else we'll get so immersed in our misery and curmudgeonly ways that NOBODY will want to be around us.

Now, with that being said, God is a good Father who loves to give us joy, just as an earthly father loves to make his children happy. And it's perfectly all right to be honest with our Loving Father and tell Him that we would very much like a spouse, and that it is so hard to wait, and could He please bring along someone before we turn 70? He knows the road of singleness and chastity is a hard path indeed, because He trod it Himself. No one was more lonely in His life than Our Lord. No one longed more to have someone understand Him and enter into His life and heart than Jesus, who came into His Own who received Him not, who had nary a place to rest His Sacred Head, who sweated blood in the Garden of Olives alone while His so-called friends slumbered. No one understands loneliness and longing for companionship more than Christ. Are we not perfect for each other, then? Can we not enter into a beautiful communion with Him now that, in this period of our single lives, we have no man (or woman) between Him and ourselves?

Marriage and holy sex are good, God-given things, so we certainly aren’t doing wrong by actively seeking them out and praying for God to bestow them upon us. However, it is possible to seek something good in the wrong way, that is, in a way that causes us to lose our peace. If all we can think about is getting married, if we obsess over how lonely we are, if we let our desires for love and marriage disturb our peace of soul, then we are seeking our vocation in a way that is not of God. We should never let anything, even our desires for good things, take away our peace. Our souls are like lakes. If we are peaceful, serene, and calm, then God’s love and wisdom can reflect off our waters like the sun. If, however, we are tempestuous, ridden with angst, blown asunder by the storms of life, then God’s love and grace will not be able to calm us.

Do what you can, within reason, to seek marriage. There is a fine balance between waiting for God to send that special someone into your life and actively seeking your vocation. On one hand, we can become passive and before we know it, we’re 45 and still single. On the other hand, we can become obsessed with finding the right mate, spend copious amounts of time online and money on dates, trying to fill the hole in our hearts that no one can fill but God. Most of us have probably been at both ends of the spectrum at one time or another. Seek your vocation, pray for your future spouse daily, but don’t forget to have a life.

Finally, give yourself time to grieve from any past failed relationships. Don’t shove your very real emotions and needs under the rug. If you are lonely, if you are feeling hopeless, if you are becoming borderline desperate, acknowledge that. It’s OK. You are human, and humans feel things. Give these emotions to God as many times a day as you need to. Even Jesus cried out in His despair from the Cross. King David wrote hundreds of Psalms pouring out his emotions to the Lord.

The cross of singleness is a heavy one, but Our Lord carried it first.