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.

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