Sunday, January 27, 2013

T Minus 5 and Counting

This post is adapted from my January 2013 "Words of Wikstrom" column for the monthly bulletin of the Thomas Jefferson memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist.  And while it is clearly directed toward the members and friends of the congregation I serve here in Charlottesville, Virginia, it's invitation is open to anyone, anywhere, who'd like to join.

As some of you know, a few months ago I got very excited about something. And it all started with a movie.  I’d gone to see my new doctor. After she took my health history, and looked over my various numbers, she said to me, “I’m not saying that this describes you, but I’d like you to watch a movie.  It's called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” I did, and it began to change my life.

The movie is about an Australian man – Joe Cross – with a severe auto-immune disease and who could fairly reasonably be described by the movie’s title. He came to the United States – home of all of his favorite foods! –to regain some control over his health. He began by embarking on a 60-day juice fast. That’s right. For 60 days he consumed nothing other than freshly made vegetable and fruit juices. (He’d consulted with a doctor and a nutritionist before beginning, of course, and was monitored regularly through the fast.) He traveled across the country, and along the way he encountered other people who needed to make changes in their lifestyle who also decided to kick-start a rebooting of their systems, if you will, by an extended juice fast.

After watching the movie I borrowed a juicer that a friend had in her basement and began what would turn out to be a 30-day fast. In that time I lost a little over 50 pounds, my blood work improved dramatically, and both my mood and my energy increased to levels I hadn’t known since junior high if, in fact, I’d ever known them before.

Many folks noticed these changes. Some took on their own juice fasts of various lengths. Others took other approaches – increasing the amount of vegetables they eat, for instance, or decreasing the amount of heavily processed foods consumed on a daily basis. Others said that it had gotten them to at least think about the relationship they had with food and eating.

I didn’t stop with watching one movie. I’ve now seen such films as Food, Inc.; Supersize Me; Forks Over Knives; FoodMatters; Fresh; Dirt!; Processed People; Hungry for Change; King Corn; PlanEAT; and HBO’s The Weight of the Nation among others. I read the works of doctors Mark Hyman, Joel Fuhrman, and Alejandro Junger. I am currently enrolled in the Nutritional Educator’s training program in Dr. Fuhrman’s institute, in order to deepen and expand my understanding about nutrition. And I also looked at how other ministers and congregations have worked to respond to the links between food and faith, health and wholeness . . . the interconnectedness of the whole body-mind-spirit-ecosystem-social justice matrix.

Yes. I became something of an evangelist. I do see this as part of a bigger picture, the kind of Big Picture I think our churches should be working on. Because the truth is, there are a lot of sick people in our country . . . in our county . . . in our congregation. Sick in body and in mind and spirit. We are a sick people in a sick culture on an increasingly sick planet. The more I learned, the more embarking on a Health and Wholeness Initiative here at TJMC has been making more sense.

This coming Friday -- February 1st -- I will host a public showing of the film that, for me, started it all -- Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.  I am also in the process of buying for the church ten Breville juicers -- the kind Joe uses in the movie!  And I am challenging . . . no, inviting . . . anyone who wishes to to join me in a fresh vegetable and fruit juice fast for the month of February.  Not quite thirty days, but long enough to break some of the bad habits/ingrained triggers that many of us have with food -- especially the so-called "Standard American Diet" (aka, SAD). 

For so many of us eating has more to do with emotional self-regulation than it does with providing nutrients to our bodies.  We eat because we're bored; we eat because we're upset.  We reward ourselves with food when something goes really well; we comfort ourselves with food when things go badly.  When we need an energy boost we eat, and when we want to chill out we do so with some of our favorite foods.  A brief, intentional fast is one way to break some of this unhealthy habituation when it comes to eating. 

Another thing a juice fast can do is give the body a quick infusion of high quality nutrients.  Yes, there is debate as to whether or not juicing is healthy.  Some argue that by removing all of the insoluble fiber from our diet we are doing our body harm.  And long term this could be true.  (And please note that for some people this would be true in the short term, as well.)  For most people, though, the benefits of a temporary and well-planned juice fast far outweigh the intentional harm.  (Pun intended.)

And what are those benefits?  Well, the break in our normal eating pattern, as already mentioned.  And few of us eat anywhere near the amount of fruits and vegetables we should, and these foods are filled with micro-nutrients our bodies desperately need.  It takes a lot of veggies to make a juice, far more than most of us are likely to eat regularly, so juicing is a way of giving a "turbo-charged" infusion of the phytochemicals and other nutrients we generally lack.  In so doing, we begin to rebuild our body's own innate ability to heal itself . . . something that the Standard American Diet has seriously damaged in many of us.  It can also re-tune our taste buds.

And so, this Friday, with the showing of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and the launch of the month-long juice fast, the TJMC Health and Wholeness Initiative will be officially launched.  Is this the beginning of tyrannical food police trying to guilt all of us into eating rabbit food? Lord I hope not. But is this the next step – building on a history in the congregation and our wider Unitarian Universalist movement – in taking seriously our responsibility to our-selves and one another to care for the health of our planet, our communities, and ourselves? I most certainly hope so.  I like to say that it is an invitation for us to make as "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" in our food choices as we do in other aspects of our lives.  What we eat affects not only our own health, but the health of our communities, and our world.

Two caveats.

First, please consult with your doctor before engaging in any kind of fasting program.  Even though a short and well-thought-through vegetable and fruit juice fast will provide most people with all the nutrition their bodies will need, not all of us are the same.  Our body's have different needs, and our various health conditions can cause us to be more or less vulnerable.  If you think your doctor would simply be horrified at the thought of something like this . . . I can recommend my doctor who has said she would be willing to see anyone who wanted to see a doctor both open and receptive to this kind of thing.

Second, please, please do not jump on any particular band-wagon too quickly.  Advocates for various understandings of what makes for a healthful diet can become as fundamentalist as advocates for anything else.  Some will say NO meat.  Others will say LOTS of meat.  Each can be absolutist in their declarations.  I encourage us to engage this Health and Wholeness Initiative with what we might call a Unitarian Universalist attitude -- seeking the truth both responsibly and freely and as it resonates with our own lived experiences.  I like this passage from the writings of an MD named Mark Hyman:
"It’s time to focus on the broader discussion…people shouldn’t be eating industrialized foods—period. If you choose to eat meat, you should be wary of where it comes from, what it’s fed, how it’s raised. For the average American, animal protein is a real problem. For the country and the globe, animal feedlots are a real problem. I think that’s the bigger issue.

People have fanatical beliefs about diet, but the truth is that you can be healthy on a multitude of diets. If you look at the research, you can argue both sides, but are saying the same thing. I think we are over-arguing the issue instead of looking at our commonalities, which means that we are missing the real issue. The real issue is that we need to be off our of industrialized diet."
So . . . if you're interested in a learning about one approach to "rebooting" your internal systems back to their more naturally healthy state, come by the sanctuary this Friday, February 1st, to watch Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead at 6:30 pm.  (Or plan to watch it at home on Netflix or on the Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead web site.)

If you're interested in taking my up on my invitation try joining me in a month-long fresh vegetable and fruit juice fast, come to church this Friday evening (or check in with me before then).  We'll have ten juicers to loan out (first come, first served), and can give you information about where you could get your own.  There'll even be a juicing demonstration following the movie and a hand-out with some delicious juice recipes.

And if you're interested in trying the juice fast, but don't feel like you could do a whole month, there'll be a "second wave" starting on Wednesday, February 13th.  This one will also start with a showing of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, this time at 7:00 pm.

And feel free to follow this blog.  During this month I intend to focus on how the fast is going -- for me and for the community -- as well as on providing information about nutrition and health (personal, communal, and global) such as book and movie reviews, links to other web sites, and discussions of various issues in this unfortunately all-too-complex debate.

Today is "T minus 5 and counting."  I don’t know where this will take us, but I didn’t know where settling down in front of my TV a few months back would lead, either. I still don’t. But I’m excited to find out.

In Gassho,


PS -- if you're interested in learning more about the involvement of the wider Unitarian Universalist movement in the issue(s) of food check out the links on the UUA's Ethical Eating:  Food and Environmental Justice page. Print this post

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