Often, it’s not the fear of failure that holds us back but the fear of success. – Mary DeTurris Poust
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In Cravings, Mary DeTurris Poust shares a thoughtful account of her own struggles with food and self-image.
When she was a ten-year-old, Mary confessed, “I hate myself.” In Cravings, she reflects on the ways her eating habits were driven by emotions – candy bar binges in times of celebration and Tab-and-sugarless gum diets before pool parties and school dances.
In revealing his personal journey, Mary creates a safe space where readers can begin to reflect on their own relationships with food, and with themselves.
Cravings is a powerful way to look at body and spirit as two united parts and in doing so, gaining self-awareness and self-acceptance.
Mary helps readers confront the fact that God truly does love us unconditionally. With this awareness, the need for external gratification diminishes, as does the urge to count calories.
I’m happy to share a closer look into Mary’s journey and her inspiring faith found in Cravings, and also offer two autographed copies of her book (be sure to read the Giveaway details below).
1. How are our eating habits driven by emotions?
I think it’s a matter of wanting control.
So much of life, especially in our fast-paced society, feels beyond our control, so food becomes one way we can feel like we’re in charge, but often it’s just the opposite.
We stuff ourselves or starve ourselves in attempt to become something we’re not, something we imagine will be so much better than who we are right now.
Most of us recognize that we use food as a reward or a comfort, but I think it goes much deeper than that. We use food to fill a void or a hunger for something more – love, acceptance, a relationship with God or others – but food can’t satisfy that deeper hunger and so we end up with problems.
Of course, as I say in my book, sometimes a cookie is just a cookie. Not every snack or indulgence is a statement on our self-worth, but a lot of it is.
So this work of developing a good relationship with food doesn’t start with calorie counting but with self-acceptance and a willingness to do some soul searching.
2. Why do you think self-image is such a common problem, particularly among women?
Well, the obvious thing is our society’s obsession with physical perfection.
We all know what it’s like to stand on line at the grocery store and look at a seemingly endless display of magazine covers that tell us on the one hand how to make delicious food and on the other how to lose 10 pounds in 10 days or whatever the latest promise might be.
Magazines, television, movies, all of it promotes this false ideal of beauty and this notion that you’re not beautiful unless you are a size 2 with flawless skin, perfect proportions, shiny hair, and blindingly white teeth.
And we all know that much of it is the result of Photoshop or plastic surgery or both, and yet we buy into. I still do at times. It’s really powerful. I can see it starting already in my 12-year-old daughter; the societal drum beat to be someone other than who she is.
So I think we have to push back, to recognize that our worth is not determined by a number on a scale or by our waist size or by our bank account or whatever it is outside ourselves that becomes the barometer of our worthiness.
We have to start to really, truly understand that we are loved by our Creator, however you see that Creator, for the amazing creations we are, whether or not we’d like to lose 10 pounds or gain some muscle.
It requires being counter-cultural and stopping those internal voices that keep us trapped in that “If only…” way of thinking.
3. How has your relationship with food changed since you were a child, a young parent and today?
I love food and even consider myself a bit of a “foodie.” I love to experiment with recipes and share recipes and enjoy a good meal.
As a kid, food was always important – in a good way. My mother was a great cook and my Italian side of the family was, well, typically Italian with the love of food and meals that went on forever.
But at some point, probably early high school or maybe even earlier, I started to focus on my weight, always thinking I needed to lose, even if it was only five pounds.
And so started the crazy diets – Tab soda and sugarless gum for lunch one day and then a giant chocolate bar for lunch the next, depending on whether I was getting ready for a big dance or date or celebrating some special event.
By freshman year of college, when so much of my life felt totally out of control, food became my weapon. I became fanatical about my food intake, even counting that one calorie in a stick of gum or diet soda.
At one point pounds were dropping away at an alarming rate. I was clearly headed for an eating disorder and I think my mother recognized that and began to work hard to turn it around. I’m lucky.
Many people are not able to get off that path so quickly. I was, but I can see how easy it is for young women especially to get sucked into the idea that they control their fate by controlling their weight, and to look in the mirror and see only flaws and pounds and regrets.
That’s pretty heavy stuff, so again it comes down to doing some real soul searching and looking far below the surface. That’s hard work, and that’s why I think we sometimes continue resort to food. It’s easier to try a new diet than to face up to our fears, our desires, our hopes, and secrets.
As a mom, I put an emphasis on family meals. We eat together as a family most nights, which is a real blessing. And we focus on good food.
My middle daughter and I are vegetarian, so planning and shopping and cooking require some extra thought, which works in our favor, I think.
We always start every meal with a short prayer. Half of us may already be chewing at that point, but we try to make it work. I think that helps set a different tone, just that 30-second pause to express our gratitude.
4. Was there a defining moment when you connected your struggles with food and self-image to your relationship with God?
God has always been an important part of my life, but I don’t think I really made that direct connection until a few years ago.
I went on my first silent retreat in the Adirondack Mountains. I wasn’t allowed to talk, read, write, or make casual eye contact. It was a Catholic retreat with some Buddhist elements.
For someone like me, they might as well have said, “Oh, and no breathing.”
So there I was, sitting across from a stranger, unable to talk or distract myself with all of my usual crutches. It was just me and my corn chowder. It shifted things for me.
On my first morning back at home, I returned to my usual frenetic way of eating and multi-tasking – eating while I answer emails, do a crossword puzzle, check my blog.
I realized that although I often say I need peace and solitude and silence, I find ways to fill the space even when it falls in my lap, and oftentimes food is my go-to thing to fill that empty space.
So that day I started having what I call “mindful oatmeal,” where I put away everything, clear the table, light a candle, and pray.
Then I eat slowly and mindfully. I think that really was the beginning of my awareness of that direction connection between what’s going on (or not going on) in my spiritual life and what’s on my plate.
5. Each chapter ends with Food for Thought – questions you ask the readers. What is the purpose and expected benefit of asking these questions?
I guess it has a two-fold purpose.
The first is to encourage people to sit with these ideas and questions and make them their own. I know from experience that if I just read a book, I may like what’s there but I never get around to applying it to my life.
So I’m hoping the questions and meditations and practical exercises will motivate people to put some of these ideas into practice. I also wanted to provide questions in case people want to use this for a book group or as the text for some sort of support group.
When it comes to diet or exercise or even prayer life, it always helps to have a buddy, so I’m hoping readers might find like-minded friends who want to walk this journey with them and use the questions as a springboard.
6. Do you think your Catholic perspective of the connection between food and spirituality is the same for other faiths? How is it the same? How might it be different?
I think the connection between food and spirituality crosses faith boundaries for sure.
We can look at all of the major religions and find times for feasting and fasting and special rituals surrounding foods. However, for Catholics it’s sort of taken to another level because our faith revolves around a meal.
Every Mass is essentially a sacred feast, where we come together to share the Eucharist, or Communion, bread and wine that becomes Jesus for us. In addition to that, food is so central to the stories of our faith.
We can look at the Gospel stories of Jesus’ life and find Jesus sitting down to dinner with saints and sinners over and over.
His first miracle happens at a wedding feast. He multiplies the loaves and fish to feed 5,000. After his resurrection, he disciples recognized him in the breaking of the bread. Over and over food plays this central role in our faith story.
Although the Eucharist may set us apart in one sense, the importance of the food-faith connection is there in other faiths as well.
Look at Jewish celebrations throughout the year with their focus on specific foods for specific feasts. Of course, we come out of Judaism so that makes sense.
But even in Buddhism you’ll find that connection to mindful eating. In fact, it’s Buddhist monks like Thich Nhat Hanh who probably first brought the whole idea of mindful eating into contemporary society.
I think we can learn from each other and incorporate practices from other faiths to strengthen our own faith life, whatever we believe.
7. What is your hope for this book?
If I had to sum up my hopes for this book in one line it would be this: I want readers to come away from Cravings knowing that they are loved by God unconditionally for exactly who they are at this very moment.
Expanding on that a bit, I’d say that learning to see yourself with these eyes of love doesn’t mean you don’t want to improve yourself or your life, only that you understand that you are good enough just as you are.
We have to start from a place of self-acceptance and self-love because otherwise all of our efforts to improve are based on “If…then…” thinking: If I lose ten pounds, I’ll be good enough. If I get a better job, I’ll be worthy. If I fit into my old size 5 jeans, people will love me.
We have to break out of that and know – really, really know in our hearts and souls – that we are enough, that our self-worth and the amount of love we deserve is not based on a number on the scale in or on our bank statement or on a clothing tag.
That’s my greatest hope, for myself and for others, because everything flows from that.
Our relationship with food, with God, with others really hinges on our understanding of ourselves and our place in this world. And that’s not something that happens overnight; that’s really a lifelong journey.
We don’t achieve self-acceptance and just move on. We have to live it day by day.
8. What’s next for you?
Well, I had another new book come out almost at the same time as Cravings, so I’d like to spend some time spreading the word about that. It’s called “Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality,” and it focuses on weaving prayer and spirituality into the mundane moments of daily life so that eventually our very life becomes a prayer.
In some ways, it’s actually a complement to Cravings in that it takes mindfulness and awareness and applies it not just to eating but to all of life.
So I’d really like to get out there and talk to people about that because I think it can be transforming – turning things like the laundry or cleaning bathrooms into moments for meditative prayer, exploring retreats and pilgrimage, becoming comfortable with silence and solitude.
On top of that – or related to that – I’m hoping to have more time to focus on my blog, Not Strictly Spiritual, where I write about everything from parenting and gardening to contemplation and exercise, with plenty of recipes thrown in for good measure.
Often when I write a book – or in this case, two books – I don’t have as much time for the blog, but that’s a real passion of mine because it lets me connect with people and journey with them.
And, of course, I’d like to spend some time with my husband and our three kids. Unfortunately, they often get neglected when my work life gets busy, and it’s been very busy this past year. So I’m hoping the coming months will be a time to focus on my family a bit more.
There’s no place I’d rather be than home with them.
Two winners will be selected to receive a free, autographed copy of Cravings by Mary DeTurris Poust.
To enter the giveaway, share you answer to this question, “What are you hungry for?” Is it a deeper connection with your children; finding self-acceptance; or a renewed faith?
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