Because You Asked
Hi there, I am wanting to go low carb again, and it is hard with Lent here. I would be interested in hearing about what you think of a vegetarian diet from a penitential aspect, but when a person is carb sensitive. I would like to be more penitential myself, but am not willing to gain weight.
L in WA
Hello L in WA,
I'm going to try to answer your question to the best of my ability. This means I might end up blogging about some pretty personal stuff. Pray for me.
Lent this year is the first year I've ever felt like I was "keeping the fast". And ironically enough, I have NOT been "keeping the fast" in a strict sense. Let me explain. Ideally, Orthodox Christians are asked to fast from meat, dairy, eggs, fish, oil (or olive oil depending on your interpretation) and wine. What have I been fasting from? Olive oil (that one's easy, come on!), meat and wine. What have I NOT been skipping: dairy and eggs and some fish sometimes.
But here's my caveat: I am very very carb sensitive and for most of lent thus far, I've also been strictly avoiding carbs. So in a sense I have been "fasting from" my very favorite foods in the world: bread, sugar, crackers, cookies, potatoes, pasta (I sure do miss pasta!), fruit etc.
And to make matters even more boring, I am allergic to another lenten staple: Nuts, especially peanuts. No peanut butter, no sunflower seed butter, or anything like that for me!
In years past, I have always used lent, and the strict adherence to the lenten fasting diet as an excuse to eat the very foods that I am wont to indulge in, and which make me sick. The very foods that feed my passions. THIS IS NOT FASTING even though technically correct. (Speaking of course strictly of my own heart and not judging any one else at all).
What sort of fruit did I get for my "fasting" in the past? Obsessive worry about my body, a very very bloated gut (I had to wear a maternity top one year to pascha because I'd been eating too many carbs and my body could not deal with them), weight gain, self pity, illness, and very indulged flesh.
So, this year I am staying on my low carb plan. I'm eating lots and lots of vegetables, so much shrimp that I dream about it at night (yes, indeed! The other night I was dreaming about taco sized shrimp. Gross. I don't normally ever dream about food-usually my dreams are about running away from tornadoes and falling off cliffs). I"m eating eggs. I don't really like eggs. This is hard. I'm using coconut oil and palm oil for my cooking and baking. I'm using cream and butter and eating cheese (but avoiding the fancy kinds). Occasionally I'll open a can of tuna, or cook a little bit of fish. Maybe once a week.
[Aside: in case you are worried about how many saturated fats are in my diet...my cholesterol is LOW. Almost too low. So there.]
But like I said, the bread and things like that are not much at all part of my diet. I have moved into phase 2 of MM, and am allotted 20 gram of carb every 5 hours. So the occasional slice of bread, or the occasional high fiber english muffin, or the occasional orange or apple or glass of milk is included now...but it's strictly portioned and strictly counted and certainly is not indulging anything. Portion control.
What about the spiritual aspect of all of this?
Well, for once I'm finally being obedient to the type of diet my doctor has told me to follow. This is important for Orthodox Christians with health concerns. I've spoken with priest after priest after priest, and they all say the same thing: obey your doctor. So that comes first.
It has taken me years to surrender the pride of wanting do "do lent correctly" in order for me to "get it". This is what self denial looks like for me, in my body. I can't indulge myself and call it self denial any longer. I know myself and I know my own passions and sins.
What sort of fruit is it bearing? Well, lent is supposed to make us more aware of the spiritual, bring us to a place of penitence and dependence on God. It's here to "break us" a little bit, make us long for resurrection. It's here to help us to repent.
From that perspective, I'd say lent is bearing better fruit in my heart this year than it has when I've lived on bread alone. ;-)
And yes, following a carb-restricted eating plan without MEAT is not easy, even with the eggs, cheese, shrimp and tuna. I can tell the difference when I'm not eating beef, or chicken. My body misses bone broth and liver. I'll be glad when lent is over.
I would say this is the most important thing: Talk to your doctor and talk to your priest. Don't just use going on a low carb diet as an excuse not to follow the fast. But if you have blood sugar issues or some other health concern that necessitates carb restriction, be obedient to your doctor, and talk to your priest about it.
Pray for this sinner. I hope I did not write too much here and cause anyone to sin.