I had never been one to try dieting, but a few years ago my dad started talking to my family about the benefits of restricting carbohydrates and sugar. It had helped him lose some weight and regulate his blood sugar to eliminate the need for medication. I decided to try it for a month and see what effect it had on me. I didn’t really want to lose any weight, but I did think I consumed a lot of sugar and pasta, so I thought this might be a good change.
As with any (semi)extreme adjustment to behavior, this one had some unexpected and spiritually trope-able consequences.
First, I felt strangely weak. I think mainly because my body was used to a lot of sugar and carbs, not only did I not feel like eating what was available on the diet, but when I did eat vegetables and meat, I still felt like I was missing something necessary to be satiated. I felt faint and almost like I was fasting, even though the diet doesn’t restrict the amount of food you consume, just what kinds. Whenever I have to resist something, my physical weakness pops out like an ugly alter-ego, where I’m more likely to be irritated, tired, and dissatisfied.
Spiritually, this is the same. Trying to resist any one sin can seem to bring out a whole host of inner atrocities. The effort of self-restraint is a strain for sure. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:
No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.
Second, the diet got both easier and harder as it went along. On the one hand, my body did get used to the diet, and after a couple weeks or so I didn’t feel so weak or like I was missing out horribly. I got better at knowing what to eat and finding recipes and knowing which few restaurants would have good options. But simultaneously, the longer it went on, the harder it was. Times that people offered me cookies and cake at work increased, and it got pretty tiring always turning things down. It took a lot of effort to make all my meals and never just grab a bagel or a bowl of cereal. Doing anything all the time wears on you, but at the same time you do begin to develop habits based on behavior. I probably didn’t stay on the diet long enough for it to really become second-nature.
It is possible for us to spiritually “become weary of doing good” and feel like the effort’s not worth it after many years (Galatians 6:9). Part of being human is the acceptance that things just get old after a while and lose their excitement, their luster. But at the same time we can be encouraged that practicing and staying diligent makes even extremely difficult things easier.
Third, I felt weird. I started to become “that person,” and defined by my oddity. Other people responded more strongly than I expected. A lot felt bad for me, and told me that they could never do a diet that extreme. Others expressed doubt or scorn, sure that the diet was not good for my health and that I was making life difficult for no reason. I could only shop in two aisles out of a whole grocery store, and order maybe three things off the menu at any coffee shop. It became clear how different I was from other people and society.
Luckily, I was pretty used to feeling weird, since growing up in the church is good preparation for that. But it was interesting to feel weird for a new reason, and to understand that lots of people feel weird for their various beliefs and behaviors. Knowing that I was making my decisions for a reason that I believed in definitely strengthened me, but it’s still hard to keep down the desire to be accepted and feel normal around other people. Being weird does open up the opportunity for conversation. Lots of people asked about the diet just as lots of people ask about my religion. Their questions always expose what I don’t know, which is embarrassing, but also important and helpful.
I realized through dieting that I need to find balance in health just as I do when delving into God’s truth, and that the right balance isn’t just what I’m used to, nor is it defined by my emotions. I learned that it’s good to question why and what I eat, just as questions help me discover and unpack more about God and His word.