I am grumpy.
A few short days ago I was enjoying the sunshine of Rome, strolling around in shorts, looking at interesting old things, chattering away happily to a particularly brilliant man whose hand was squeezing mine. And eating. Oh, were we eating. Fresh bread, pasta, cheese, ice-cream, steak and chips. The nicest bottle of red wine I’ve had in a long time. My stomach couldn’t have been happier.
But right now… well now, both me and my stomach are pretty unhappy. It’s Lent and I’m well aware that I need to be both a bit healthier, and a bit better disciplined. As our holiday to Rome fell inside Lent I didn’t want to give anything up for the full 40 days, but when a friend at work told me about the 30-day diet he was doing, it sounded a good bet.
Whole30 is a programme that reduces your diet to meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and a few ‘good fats’ like avocado, olive oil, and seeds. It’s a kind of super-strict paleo diet that you attempt for 30 days, as much to kick bad food habits as to detox your body. I like meat, fish, eggs, fruit, veg, and ‘good fats’ as much as the next person. It sounds okay when you list what you can have. But what you can’t have is a much scarier list:
- Dairy (no milk, no cheese, no butter, no cream, and no goat’s milk or sheep’s milk either)
- Grains (no flour, no rice, no bread, no pasta, no oats, no corn, no bran, or anything vaguely related like couscous or quinoa)
- Potatoes (although sweet potatoes are allowed)
- Legumes (no beans, no peas, no chickpeas, no lentils, no peanuts)
- Sugar (no chocolate, no sweets, no honey, no syrup, no ketchup or barbecue sauce, no anything that has sugar added to it at all)
- Alcohol (…)
- Replicates of junk food (so no sneakily making treats out of approved food – you can’t make coconut-milk ice-cream or flourless brownies, because that would be missing the point. Apparently.)
It’s safe to say that most of my diet consists of carbs and dairy. Cheesy potatoes. Buttery toast. Cream on almost everything. So this feels like a pretty major challenge.
I’ve been grumpy today not just at eating a carrot instead of biscuits. Not just at the prospect of not eating these things for the next 30 days. I’ve been equally grumpy at my own lack of self-discipline, at just how uncharted this territory is for me. And that’s why I want to do it.
The Bible rates self-control highly, that much I know. I had a bracelet with ‘s-e-l-f-c-o-n-t-r-o-l’ written on it when I was a teenager lest I possibly forget. It’s not an appealing part of Christian life for those of us who would rather ride a wave of self-indulgence and luxury through life, given half a chance. But for all kinds of reasons including putting other people first and choosing holiness over temptation, we’re called to have control over our cravings, to learn to say no to ourselves. And that takes training, like the athletes or a soldiers that the Bible compares us to.
About 4 years ago, I decided to run a 10k race, to raise money for the youth centre I was working at. I’d never run before. About 90 seconds in to my first attempt at a training run (in which I ran less than 1km), I regretted that decision. I trained, grudgingly, for months, and on every run my thoughts would turn to how I could fake breaking a leg in order to get out of it without looking bad to the people who’d sponsored me. I hated it with a passion. Even when the race eventually came around, my first thought at the finish line was, ‘I hope I never have to put one foot in front of the other again.’
That was my one attempt at self-discipline so far. It was pretty pitiful. So now I’m trying again, this time to overcome my urge to eat whatever I want to eat.
Just for 30 days. I’m expecting to hate every minute of it. I know that’s a terrible attitude to start with. But maybe by the end I’ll be singing the praises of a healthier diet, a more disciplined life, and the God who calls us to bring mind and body under control.