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10. Food Freedom and Healing from a Catholic Perspective

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What is your role in the nutrition world and how did you become interested in food and nutrition? 

“If you visit my page on Instagram (Made Whole Nutrition), you’ll see that I have a mix of content primarily for educating people and then for other practitioners to use that information & materials in their practice. I like to call myself the ‘educator of the educators.’ I love science communication, and it really kind of grew into a passion, like I said, through my own eating issues. 

When I was in high school, I developed several gut issues and was diagnosed with celiac disease, which means I can't eat gluten. At the time, I also had a lot of body image issues. Just looking at my body differently, I think as many women start to in high school and trying to be healthy. I think it was a really good desire to be healthy. But then I was just inundated with diet, culture messaging, which is about counting calories and restricting foods and looking a certain way. And so my eating became very irregular. I started to play mind games with myself and I really lost touch of my intuitive sense and what my body was really communicating. 

I struggled with that for many years before even acknowledging to myself that I probably had disordered eating before I even realized it was an issue. And then from then, just like the many years of healing from that and just rewiring my brain and really getting to the root cause of where some of those lies were coming from or where that disorder was coming from, I'm still learning. I think a lot of it goes back to how I see myself and how I am able to receive, whether that's physically from food or mentally, emotionally, spiritually, from the Lord.” -Ellen

For a woman who may be listening and wondering, do I have a disordered relationship with food, what does that look like? If they're asking themselves that question?  

“I would argue that actually every woman to some degree has a disordered relationship with food. Someone could check my theology here, but I really think it goes back to the garden and the original sin, right? Like, the devil tempted Eve with a lie about her body and about having control, and it was connected to food. Right. And so how do we see this playing out? 

We are tempted to believe lies, that we need to control something that God isn't good enough, that he's not going to provide, and that we need to change something about ourselves in order to feel a sense of control or a sense of power or a sense of belovedness. It plays out a little differently in every woman's life, but I think there's an opportunity for healing for everyone. It's kind of a spectrum. So on one end, there are diagnosable eating disorders that you would need to go to a psychologist or perhaps a doctor to get that diagnosis. But then on the other end of the spectrum, it's what I call disordered eating, right? Where maybe there's never a diagnosis, but there's just certain, like, habits or thought patterns or insecurities that exist when it comes to food that somehow steal your freedom and somehow impact and harm your relationship with your body.” -Ellen

So, yeah, kind of on the topic of food freedom, can you talk a little bit more about that? Is it a phrase that is often thrown around places on Instagram, but is it a true solution? 

“Food freedom, I think, has kind of become like a trendy phrase. So in the past few decades, kind of when the USDA came out with nutrition recommendations, all of the sudden, there was a lot of emphasis on, like, my pyramid, which now is my plate, and it was about portions and servings, and there was an emphasis on not eating too much fat, counting your calories, etc. A lot of nutrition advice was focused on measuring. That really had profound impacts on our culture, especially on women in the way that we look at our bodies, because the way God created us, we are very intuitive. 

The way that our bodies even cycle throughout the month, right, where we have different hormones and we actually have different nutritional needs throughout the month right. Depending upon where we are in our cycle. And so there's so many things, like we're living creatures, we are not machines that need a measured amount of energy every day. And so again, women desire what's good for their bodies. They desire to be healthy and beautiful, and those are good desires.” -Ellen 

So someone has struggled with that. How could they heal from that, and how can they seek healing from you know what I'm saying? 

“Maybe you're reading and you're like, I can identify that I struggle with disordered eating to some degree, or maybe you're not quite sure that it's a huge issue, but you do want to just nourish your body and honor your body with food. I love drawing the connection between the words like healing and health and bringing it even further and connecting it to wholeness and holiness. They actually all have the same core root word. And I think that this is really telling because when we talk about holiness in our Catholic faith, what is that? It's fullness, right? It's a fullness of life. It's sainthood. It's letting the Lord really just pour into our lives. And so when I think about health and healing, I think it's actually a really similar process. Right? It's fullness, it's not like an absence of disease, but it's like a fullness of life. 

When we're seeking healing, it really just needs to be a process to draw the analogy to if you get a wound, right, you first need to identify if there's anything still in there, right? If there's something aggravating the wound, if there's still a splinter in there, you need to remove it. And so if that is with your relationship with food, maybe it's Pinterest, maybe it's certain accounts on Instagram, maybe it's a certain friend, maybe it's certain magazines, maybe it's a certain TV show, or maybe it's certain clothes in your closet, etc. What are those things that seem to be triggers for you and that are really not promoting, like, a healthy relationship with food? Remove them from your life, at least for the first part of the healing process. 

The next step of cleaning a wound is disinfecting it. You need to wash it out. And this is typically the most painful stage, and this is really something that the Lord is waiting and ready to do. He wants to wash our wounds. And so actually prayer becomes a really big part of this process in healing your relationship with food. Saying a meal prayer is great, but if you can invite the Lord into that moment when you're sitting down to a meal and tell Him how you're feeling about your body, tell Him how you're feeling about that food, and just be raw, vulnerable and honest with Him in that moment, I think that is profoundly healing for any type of disordered eating. 

And then if it's actually something deeper than bringing that into your daily prayer time and just being like, why do I tend to obsess about food? Or, why am I so insecure about my body? What's at the root of that? Why do I feel that way? Why do I feel like I need to change something about myself or control something or manipulate something and just really let the Lord wash that? 

The final piece of that is from a physical perspective of if we have a wound, the body needs to have certain nutrients and resources to heal that tissue and to grow a new layer of skin. And so in the same way, the Lord wants to restore and make this new, and so we need nourishment for that. And that's where the Eucharist is so incredibly healing. This is where I look at other world religions and different spiritualities, and it's almost like a sadness for the poverty of people who don't actually believe that there's a way to receive God, like Himself in a physical form. I still don't even grasp, like, a drop of the ocean of grace that's available by just, like, going to Adoration or to Mass. The healing potential in the Eucharist is I think if we had any idea, like, it would blow our minds. And so just prioritizing at any time when you can draw near to the Eucharist and let Him nourish you in that way, that is profoundly healing.” -Ellen.

So you talk about the mental and spiritual aspects of healing, this relationship with food. What are a few practical tips from a physical perspective? 

“It's a good question because it all ties together. We are body, mind, and soul. And that's our whole person. Taking care of our body is still really important. From a physical standpoint, I think eating regular meals is really important. There's a certain order and a rhythm that our bodies were created to have. We know that just mindlessly eating throughout the day, that actually impacts your digestion, it impacts your hunger hormones, it can impact your blood sugar regulation. And so to give yourself set times throughout the day to be as consistent as possible about giving your body nourishment for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try not to skip meals and try to make those meals as balanced as possible. 

So having vegetables, protein, some healthy fat, and then some sort of carb or grain. It seems maybe a little bit elementary, but it is. It's so fundamental. All the nutrition advice beyond that doesn't really make sense or work until you have the basics down. I also just want to emphasize, again, counting calories, I think it's falling out of favor in the nutrition world, especially as we learn more about how our metabolism works.” -Ellen

So do you have one piece of advice that you want every young Catholic woman to know? 

“I want to affirm that you are very good and that God looks at you and he sees you very good. There's so many messages out there in the culture, and a lot of them are really sneaky. Many of them are even disguised as well meaning nutrition advice that, again, if your identity isn't rooted as a daughter and if you don't really truly understand your goodness in God's eyes that pursuit of health can actually become a God in a way. I just encourage you to go to the source, just rest, and let Him tell you that you're very good.” -Ellen


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