I am a practicing Catholic. By birth and by choice. With that, my family and I observe Lent in the traditional way, fasting and abstaining on Fridays, giving up something, attending an extra morning mass during the week, and putting a touch more $$ in the alms basket. For Lent I historically have picked up more housework that I would normally do begrudgingly, and I have cut down on t.v. My biggest Lenten sacrifice, though, that all of my coworkers and local friends (aka people in my daily life) have known about over the years is giving up baked sweets. Baked Sweets. But when I used to bite into a rosemary roll over dinner, a well meaning friend would gasp, or if I had a scoop of ice cream in the faculty room a co teacher would say, “tsk tsk”. No, people, no… you’ve got it all wrong. Not baked goods AND sweets, just BAKED SWEETS. Coffee cake, pie, a danish, a cream puff, a donut (oh wait, donuts are fried not baked?) …
My clearest explanation was this:
I can have a croissant and I can have chocolate, but I cannot have a chocolate croissant. NO PAIN AU CHOCOLAT for me, capish?
This would go on for forty days year after year. For forty days I would keep to myself and acknowledge my weakness while gaining more strength in my spiritual focus. I would be forced to sit with the psychological noise that would normally prompt me to shove a piece of cake down my throat when sad, or crumble a handful of cookies into my trap when happy. Though I loved food, it was not always my friend. Lent was my annual “Come to Jesus” time with my food obsessions. Last year, we brought my very very favorite Coffee Crunch cake from Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop to a going away party during Lent and all I could do after dinner was stand around the dessert table while people cut slices of black forest cake, piled high with a small cupcake, pushed to the side with another cookie, leaving just enough dessert plate room for the crunch cake.
I stood next to my husband, not a coffee crunch fan, who agreed to take one for the team and eat a slice for me. “Is it light?” I asked him, “Do you feel the cream slide from the roof of your mouth to the back of your throat?” I prodded… “Did you reach the crunchies? Did you get a mouthful of small bits, or one full piece? Doesn’t it transform to like a chewy nougat when you bite down on it surrounded by some of the cream filling?” My dear husband looked at me partly frightened as he swallowed, my eyes literally inches away from his jaw, like a hungry mountain lion ready to pounce on this frightened camper. I could practically smell the cake through his nostrils.
This Lenten season is completely different for me. This year, I do not have to give up baked sweets, or the ambiguously-fried-not-baked-loophole-of-a-sweet-treat-the-doughnut. If you know me, you will know I didn’t have to give it up for Lent, because I haven’t truly been able to eat baked goods (or doughnuts) much less conventionally baked sweets for months now anyway. No Gluten. No Dairy. Even though I am used to it, I sometimes still can’t believe that I have stuck with it, with painful slips here and there. Even though it has done wonders for my health, amazing things to my mood, and eased quite a few unexplained aches, even though I am committing to it for a lifetime, I still feel the pain of no pain (au chocolat) in my life.
Though my way of eating has opened up an incredibly colorful world of food, health and creative cooking beyond what I had imagined, I sometimes still long for a regular bowl of bolognese. The fact that I am hardly ever itchy anymore, have the untainted digestion of a one year old and have an significant increase in stamina, I still wish I could eat a piece of Costco’s chocolate cake (hey, I have sophisticated taste, okay, but I am just keeping this real… it IS a good piece of dense, fudgey, margarine iced cake, isn’t it?).
But so is life, we make choices. We can make good ones as easily as we make bad ones. I have embraced making the choices that are best for me, make me feel physically better, and spiritually better as well. I have made the decision to live stronger, thus living lighter. It doesn’t mean it is easy. There are times when it is hard for days. Even when I have my mental cheerleaders saying, “It’s okay, you can do this! You’ve come this far!” they don’t take away the sting of what I miss most.
The pain of no pain. Day by day, my friends, day by day.