The Cure for the Common Cookie

The Cure for the Common Cookie

“The will is a rational appetite—rational as guided by the mind and an appetite as excited by the affections, and so in its operation or actings has respect to both, is influenced by both.” – John Owen

We are mere hours into the New Year and the annual advertisements for weight loss programs are in full swing. The expectation that Americans have over-indulged during the holidays is taken for granted. As we less-than-eagerly approach our closets, having disposed of the evidence of our indiscretions, we glance balefully at the mirror and sigh. We always seem to succumb to the notion that celebrating means feasting and thus capitulate to the suggestion that we must reduce our waistlines. It is almost as if we have lost the capacity for independent thought in our willingness to become conditioned by marketing.

But since our pants are tight and the sales are ramping up, we may as well plunk down some Christmas cash on the newest supplement/gym membership/diet fad. Because diet and exercise alone require a commitment that is beyond our short attention span.

But not so fast! Have we forgotten last January or the January before that? Shall we recall the gym membership we paid off but only took advantage of a handful of times? Do we remember the fridge full of shakes or the bottles of pills that were guaranteed to speed up our metabolisms? Sure, we lost a few pounds, but when we wearied of restriction we ran back to our vices and refused to drop another dime on something that not only made us miserable, but wasted our time and money in the process. Suddenly our hopefulness turns to helplessness and before we can say bariatric surgery we have collapsed into the couch with a tub of buttered popcorn and the intention to numb away our self-awareness with the latest episode of Stranger Things.

Somewhere along the way we have forgotten that human beings are of sound mind and can face adversity rather than surrendering to despair. Hope is a choice much like love is a choice, but we will never develop our mental faculties in this regard if we continue to sulk in the corner of our self-made prison and pretend we don’t stink. Fantasy has robbed us of reality and it’s time to wake up and smell the moldy bag of cheese puffs.

“But I’m addicted to sugar!”

I was enjoying a festive New Year’s Eve when I turned into the biggest jerk I know. A friend of mine was talking about his journey with Type 2 Diabetes and the various medications he takes to control it. He said his doctor was nothing more than a pill pusher and he doesn’t think he needs all those drugs. He had just finished telling me about his short stint in the ER earlier this year because his A1C was over 13. Without checking my tongue I blurted out, “You just need to give up sugar!”

He didn’t throw anything at me but his eyes twitched and his mouth made a firm line.

I recovered with, “I know. It’s easier said than done.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve got a real sweet tooth.”

What I should have done was looked down at my shirt to make sure my cookie crumbs weren’t showing. After all, I’ve been eating a handful too many each night for the past few weeks with no end in sight. I keep promising myself I’m going to quit, but then around 10:00pm each night they start singing their sweet temptation song, and like the defenseless sailors who sail the high seas, I respond to the siren song.

I regret my words to my friend and wish I could unsay them. Today I can only offer my penance by way of this… Hello, my name is Margaret, and I too am a sugar fiend and diet hypocrite. When I consider my own powerlessness in response to sugar, how dare I sling such casual fare in his direction?

In retrospect, I should have offered something more helpful, but I try not to give advice when it is not solicited. I am well acquainted with the “stop preaching your healthy lifestyle at me” look of death. So I suppose I can respond here on my humble blog and I will start with myself.

I have not gained a tremendous amount of weight over the holidays (about 5 pounds) but it’s not the pounds that bother me at this point in my journey; it’s the knowing I have lost control of my will. I know in my heart that I will fall prey to compulsive eating if I don’t find some way to manage my mind.

I would start to feel anxious except I realize I am not helpless. I do not have to give in to temptation. I will not die if I don’t eat cookies but I do need a strategy. So I do what I always do when I am seriously struggling, I sit down to read, meditate and pray. First and foremost I focused on a passage I read in “Mere Christianity” not long ago on chastity. C. S. Lewis illustrates so well where we must begin.

“Before we can be cured we must want to be cured. Those who really wish for help will get it; but for many modern people even the wish is difficult. It is easy to think that we want something when we do not really want it. A famous Christian long ago told us that when he was a young man he prayed constantly for chastity; but years later he realized that while his lips had been saying, ‘Oh Lord, make me chaste,’ his heart had been secretly adding, ‘But please don’t do it just yet.'”

How many times have I promised myself that I would not consume certain foods only to give into temptation at the earliest opportunity? I crave my secret rendezvous and secretly opine for my moments of salivary solace. Much of my relationship with food centers on my physical propensity toward anxiety and the opiate sugar is for my brain. Unfortunately the sugar fuels depression and thus repeated consumption kicks off a fierce cycle of addiction.

Early on in my journey I found it difficult to fall asleep when my brain was screaming for sweets. Can there be any more helpless feeling in the world than realizing one is powerless over their body? But as I worked through each evening, praying for help to resist the compulsive eating tendencies, I found that it was possible to fall asleep without snacks. Make no mistake, it was difficult. I had to tell my body that I could live without M&M’s and Nestle Treasures. I had to memorize Bible verses to replace the maddening thoughts that wracked my mind and heart. But I was desperate to escape the prison that was my body and I refused to be a slave to my flesh any longer. This re-training of the mind was integral to exercising, making healthy food choices, and recovering when I made poor choices. It is the formula I follow when I go off the rails and the prescription most necessary for anyone who wants to make serious changes in a life marked by physical and spiritual anarchy.

Elisabeth Elliott discusses it this way in her book, “Discipline: The Glad Surrender” in the chapter titled, “The Discipline of the Mind”. She uses II Corinthians 10:5 as a guidepost when discussing a particularly stressful situation, “My thoughts had to be brought into captivity over that one. The taking of captives is not a gentle business. They don’t want to come.” Many do not want to acknowledge loss of self-control as sin, but I have to in order to put my body and mind in uniformity with my will. I have a deep love for Jesus and a great respect for what he endured on the cross on my behalf. I am certain he did not suffer and die so that I could live a life crippled by food addiction. I memorized Titus 2:11-15 a few years ago in the hopes that I could apply it to my life. This is one of the lessons I have to frequently revisit, but that’s okay. Maybe one of these days I’ll learn it forever and refuse to put processed sugar into my body ever again.

John Owen is one of my favorite authors and I have been digesting the 12th chapter in his epic work, “Indwelling Sin” where he discusses the success of the deceit of sin in its conception. His discourse on the consent of the will has been very helpful in my resolve to stop over-indulging. He says, “There is nothing in the soul itself that remains to give check unto it when once the will has given its consent.” And then he goes on to say that when we neglect our duty in preventing sin, we give implicit consent to our will. In short, we must prepare a response to temptation before it occurs. And then, lest we despair in the midst of it, we must remember that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)

I may have lost some readers at this point. John Owen’s writing can be very dense and then there is scripture, but I think the important thing to know is that if we want to break the cycle of addiction, we must formulate a plan and stick to it. I could not have lost 140 pounds without God’s help. My near constant suffering in the first few months alone was balanced only by the immeasurable grace given because I chose him over food. This may sound archaic and rigid, but adhering to godly principles led me straight out of the valley of despair and into a freedom I never imagined possible. God’s love has sustained me where cookie dough and ice cream never could. And while the great puritan writers like John Owen prove difficult to decipher at times because we are unaccustomed to study in a culture defined by instant gratification, we have much to learn from them about training our minds. If we do not, we will never escape our vices and find the true and lasting peace that comes from loving God more than ourselves.

Finally, I’m not sure my friend would appreciate this advice and guidance, but it has proven helpful on my journey. Also, it certainly seems like a good place to start the New Year. Today if you are struggling with an addiction, there is hope. You are not abandoned. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. And lest you think that escaping the prison cell of obesity or heroin addiction or an insane need to buy expensive shoes, take heart! Help is only a prayer away.

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