A Guilt-Free Thanksgiving

I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a happy one. Mine was very good. Hubby and I made dinner for both sets of parents. Actually, he mostly made dinner, and I mostly made dessert.

Not a word was said about calories, or who’s gaining or losing weight, or virtuous or sinful food. It was glorious.

The fact that our parents, who hadn’t seen each other since our wedding more than seven years ago, actually got a chance to spend time together was also fabulous. (And everybody got along!)

Now, if I can just figure out what to do with all this turkey, I’ll be set. We made turkey nachos for lunch yesterday, and had hot dogs for dinner. I’m thinking “no more than one turkey meal a day” is a good rule.

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Mental illness is real. In other news, water is wet, and the earth revolves around the sun.

Apparently good Christians can’t get PTSD. Kenneth Copeland, on his show, told anyone with PTSD to just “get rid of it,” claiming that psychology and drugs weren’t necessary because God’s promises in the Bible will fix it.

I don’t have words for how evil it is to tell people to go off their psych meds and God will heal them, and if you aren’t healed you’re just not a good enough Christian. The phrase “lie straight from hell” comes to mind, though.

I guess I can sort of wrap my head around with Evangelical Christianity is so hostile to the mental health field. They seem to view it as both blasphemy and competition, trying to accomplish with science what’s reserved for God. And they don’t view mental illnesses as real illnesses. It’s seen as a soul problem, not a brain chemistry problem.

But all you have to do is look around to see that being a Christian doesn’t protect you from mental illness. Mother Theresa apparently suffered from pretty horrific depression. Martin Luther dealt with intrusive thoughts, which are a symptom of OCD or anxiety disorder. And if you go into any church, anywhere, you will see the same number of people with depression, or schizophrenia, or OCD, or severe phobias, as you do out in the rest of the world. At least, if you count the ones who *used* to go to that church, but were shunned because of their illness:

A 2008 survey conducted by Baylor psychology professor Matthew Stanford showed that 36 percent of mentally ill church attendees (and former church attendees) were told their mental illness was a product of their own sin, while 34 percent were told their illness was caused by a demon. Forty-one percent were told they did not really have a mental illness, and 28 percent were instructed to stop taking psychiatric medication.

I’d like to tell Kenneth Copeland to read the book of Job again. The guys who told the suffering man that his torment was his fault, caused by his sin, were no true friends. And he’s doing the same thing to people struggling with mental health issues. At least Job’s friends didn’t tell him to do things that would actively harm him, like Copeland’s advice to quit taking psych meds, which is a good way to end up suicidal.

I would also like to ask if he’d say the same thing to someone with cancer, that if they’re still sick, they must not have prayed hard enough. (I know there are people who really do believe that, but they seem to be a fringe even among evangelicals, where “pray away the depression” is much more mainstream.)

Real Food, Real Life

Michele, the Fat Nutritionist, has a fabulous post on why the idea of “real food” is problematic. She talks about how, for every food that’s viewed as unhealthy, worthless junk, there’s someone who depends on that food in one way or another.

Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.

There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.

There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.

There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.

There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.

There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.

All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.”

I think this is hugely important and can’t be stated enough. People vary. People’s needs vary. And just trying to get yourself fed is hard work sometimes. Trying to navigate your own particular health stuff, combined with your preferences, your time and ability to cook, all the messages you get about food. It can be overwhelming. And then, after you’ve done the work of making what really is the best choice for you at the time, and someone takes you to task for that choice, it’s incredibly discouraging.

One time I was out for dinner with family, having recently decided to cut out alcohol (interferes with meds) and caffeine (screws up my blood pressure and ramps up my anxiety). Everybody else was getting beer or wine or soda, and I missed being able to have the occasional drink. So, I’m sitting there pondering what can I actually drink. I settle on ginger ale. And my mother-in-law makes a comment about how she’s not sure she can approve me drinking soda. (I didn’t snap back with “That’s why I didn’t ask you,” but it was tempting.)

I feel like that, in a nutshell, is a perfect summary of our screwed up food culture. It doesn’t matter how “good” I’m being in avoiding things that aren’t good for me, it’s never going to be enough for the self-appointed health police. And my mom-in-law wasn’t even being mean–it’s just such an accepted thing to judge and moralize about food that it was a completely natural comment for her to make.

Predictably, a bunch of commenters on Michele’s post wanted to distance themselves from judging people who kale or low sodium is going to make horribly ill, but still judge anyone who “could” eat better (for that commenter’s definition of “better” of course).

There are, of course, lots of problems with that. First and foremost, adult human beings get to decide what they want to put in their mouths, and someone who *can* eat organic, free-range, whole grain homemade everything is under no obligation to *want* to.

Secondly, “sick” and “healthy” are not binary conditions. Neither are “rich” and “poor.” There’s a whole spectrum of both. Just because someone won’t die if they eat kale doesn’t mean it may not give them a little indigestion. Just because someone makes more than minimum wage doesn’t mean they feel comfortable paying twice as much for organic, or buying fresh veggies that may spoil before they can use them.

A side piece of this is that lots of people move in and out of those conditions throughout their lives. They may go through periods of illness interspersed with periods of relative health. You can go from being a broke college kid to a comfortable white-collar professional to a suddenly unemployed professional living on ramen all over again.

And the messages you absorb stay with you. If you cross that border from well-off to poor, or from healthy to sick, there’s no switch in your brain you can flip to turn off all the guilt and moral judgment you’ve picked up around food.

And, last but not least, as Rachel Held Evans is fond of saying in a completely different context, if your gospel isn’t good news for those who are struggling, then it’s not really good news. If your food gospel doesn’t work for people who are broke, or stressed out, or sick, or tired, then it’s not really the one true way of eating, and perhaps you should stop trying to preach it to everyone who will listen.