Bless the Lord, O my sole

Guess what?  I’m fat.  About seven permanent pounds for each kid.  I usually manage to lose some between pregnancies, but after baby #8 was born, I just kept gaining.

My husband thinks I’m beautiful, but I don’t.  I hate wearing special sizes with labels like “Curvy Coordinates!”  “Luscious Lady Plus!”  “Gee, Your Ass Looks Enormous!”  Being fat feels bad, but knowing I’m still gaining feels horrible. The real misery is in feeling like I had no control.

Many and many a time I’ve tried to just snap out of my face-stuffing ways, and go back to the habits that have worked in the past:  counting calories, swearing off sugar, working out four times a week, etc.  These things always worked before.  But this time, I couldn’t even stick to them for a day.  I knew I was in trouble, I knew I was making myself unhappy, I knew what I wanted, and I knew it was achievable.  But for some reason, I failed and failed and failed like there wasn’t any such thing as not failing.

(Actually, I know the reason. It was so I would learn sympathy with other people who struggle.  Okay, Lord, I get it!  Now lay off.  And stay with me, reader:  I’m not just sobbing in public — there is a point to this post.)

Anyway, last week I decided to try something new:  I wasn’t going to have a goal. I was just going to make the teeniest, tiniest improvement I could manage, the slightest motion away from my emotional squalor, and try and do that for one day.  I was just going to try and get control for one stinking day.

Step one was just to take notice every time I ate something.  Just:  “Yep, I just put that piece of ham in my mouth.  That was me doing that.  Idiot.”

Step two was to admit that I was eating partially (sigh) to punish myself for being fat and weak.  (Yeah, that makes sense.)

Step three (a big one) was to realize that God doesn’t want me to treat anyone that way.  Mothers are so used to dealing out justice and compassion and punishment and rewards, we sometimes forget that we are somebody’s child, too.   I wouldn’t consciously treat someone I love with contempt and injustice.  I don’t love myself, but I know God does, so I’ll work with that.

Step four was to only eat things that I actually want to eat, either because I’m  hungry or because I think they’d taste good — and to try to enjoy them, because they taste good.

Step five was to decide, at least sometimes, only to eat something good if I’m also hungry.

And step six is to decide not to eat things even if I’m hungry, because I’m trying to lose weight, and I want that more than I want to feel full.  That’s the step I’m on right now.   Eventually, I’ll work my way up to a weight loss goal, and regular exercise, and meal plans — all the things that have worked before.  It’s humiliating to go so easy on myself.  It’s distressing to realize I need such gentle treatment.  But none of the drastic steps were helping, so what else can I do?

And why am I bringing this up?  Because, in all the comments that people have made in response to the Pope’s remarks about condoms, one phrase stuck in my head:  conversion is incremental.  That’s how it is, whether it’s for me getting back into normal-sized pants, or for more dire lessons of the soul.  For the hypothetical male prostitute, the goal would be to renounce fornication and seek healing for his disordered sexual appetites.  But can he do that in a day?  Of course not.  You can’t just strip away every aspect of your old life in a single motion, and expect to live that way from now on.

But he does need a new life.  So how can he do it?   With tiny, pathetic steps in the right direction — by, for instance, at least desiring to protect his sexual partner from disease.  It’s not enough.  But it’s a small step that probably can’t be skipped.

Sometimes we get knocked off our horses, or experience a miraculous infusion of knowledge of the faith, or the angel has to come and break our bones for us.  Okay, then we’re converted.  But for most of us, we don’t go from sin to virtue, just like that.  It takes lots of time.  Some decent folks are outraged by what seems like mediocrity and dawdling:  All or nothing! they holler.  If a sinner isn’t willing to renounce his sin, then nothing of value is going on!  True conversion of the heart is a radical thing!  No man can serve two masters!  The Lord will vomit the lukewarm out of his mouth!  And so on.

But we’re not talking about being lukewarm here.  We’re not talking about being satisfied with halfway measures.  But we’re acknowledging that — well, at some point, you do have to be halfway.   That’s how you get places:  you have to spend some time in between before you arrive.   Not to say that there is no truth in a fiery conversion.   It’s just that, unless you’re on your deathbed, the fire is not sustainable.  It’s not even desirable, because stewing in your own weakness teaches you compassion.

As long as we’re talking about food:  you know how you get a nice, juicy roast?  First you sear it on the outside.  High temps for a short time seals the juices in.  But then you turn the temperature way, way down and let it stew for the rest of the day.  That’s how God makes us so tender and delicious by the Second Coming:  first He applies the heat, and then He turns it down and lets us stew.

Let’s be patient with ourselves, and with each other, and try not to lift the lid too often.  We’re not done yet.


  1. Yay! Go you! Baby steps are worth it and can make us feel great at the end of the day. My husband’s secret to weight loss is to beg the Lord for graces to keep to his diet/exercise commitments. It works for him.

  2. You are awesome. And you somehow always manage to say what I need to hear, even when it’s not something I would have the courage to say myself. Your family is so blessed to have you. And we’re so blessed that you blog.

    And I like the Jerk, too, so I’m glad you keep him around. 😀

  3. Wow – “me, too” is the best I can come up with. I have nothing but admiration for folks who 1) recognize and accept the healthy bod challenge, and 2) leave behind, in a fairly short time, some serious pounds and habits that took years to develop.

    Thanks for the “vomit” and the “stew” references. I just lost my appetite. For about 5 minutes.

    Yours in solidarity (and sobbing in public)….

  4. This is a really awesome piece. This is a struggle that I have shared for many years and incrementalism has proven (at least for me) the only escape.

    We human beings are pretty puny creatures, even with God’s grace we can only move one tiny step at a time.

  5. I’m a former smokaholic. I would rather hide out smoking on my porch than deal with my children. I’d rather smoke than talk to my husband, I’d rather smoke than go to a cocktail party and see friends and neighbors.

    I finally hit rock bottom and went to confession. The priest told me he’d pray for me, and every time I lit up he said I should ask Jesus Christ to heal me of my addiction. I did this for about six months, every single time I had a smoke. One day, the phone rang. It was the insurance company. It was time to renew my life insurance policy in which I was a “non-smoker”. I set the appointment for 2 weeks out for the nurse to come and give me a blood test. I threw my pack away and I haven’t had a smoke in almost 2 years. The weird thing is, is that I lost the desire to smoke. Completely. It was without struggle. I honestly think I was healed, just like all those dudes in the gospels.

  6. Baby steps are heroic!! At least that’s what I tell myself….

    Baby steps are real. Fiery conversion is real too, but it’s rarer, and it only happens when God lays the smack down really, really hard. I think a lot of times we try to make our own fiery conversion, rather than plod the dreary and unimpressive path God has actually laid out for us. And then….the inevitable…crash and burn.

    I think positive, gentle baby steps are like building a road in front of you, instead of crashing off into the jungle and getting eaten by snakes.

  7. Simcha, I can relate. I finally realized that when I would go to the gym with a particular weight-loss or clothing-size goal, I would end up thinking about that goal, and therefore thinking about how I was falling short of it, the entire workout. Which made me feel terrible, and since every time I went to the gym I felt terrible, I lost motivation to go.

    Then I decided to focus on the little good things that I WAS doing – “hey! I’m using my muscles and getting blood pumping!” and “Look at that – I did 3 minutes more than I did last time!” and just accept that the process of exercise was good, regardless of the weight loss result it might have in the future. When I started doing this, my time at the gym was time I felt good about myself the whole time I was there. I started wanting to go more often and worked up to about 4 times a week, 45 minutes each time.

    (then I got pregnant, had hyperemesis, and haven’t been to the gym in 6 months, but when the baby is a few months old I’ll pick it up again.)

  8. Hey, is The Jerk really Mr. Simcha? Suddenly things make more sense…

    My husband thinks I’m beautiful, but I don’t.

    I’ll tell you what, this is so true. I’m starting wrinkles around the eyes, and it irks me no end, but all my husband can say is that he doesn’t really notice anything and that I look fine. Which is doubtless what he believes, but I’d kind of like the fact of the wrinkles at least acknowleged, even if he thinks I look beautiful with them. Only another woman can understand this tension, I believe.

    On the eating note: I know I’m carrying baby fat, and I only have two pairs of pants I fit into, and yet I still ate half a sleeve of crackers while reading a book, in a quasi-destructive fit of pique: I know these have tons of carbs which will make me fat, but I don’t care because I feel like eating a cracker now. So there. Perhaps my ferocious scorn of the fat will burn it off without my exercising any self-control.

    • oh my goodness, I understand! It’s similar to how I get annoyed at my husband for saying he thinks I’m beautiful and not fat, and he doesn’t care how I dress, because that really takes away any motivation I had left for working hard at looking good!

  9. I also find I get impatient with myself for not changing fast enough, but you’re right about not letting yourself get too discouraged by weakness. When I was trying to give up ice cream (my body doesn’t like dairy products), I felt doubly guilty when I indulged, as if I were trying to make myself sick. I started offering it up each time I passed it up. Then I’d tell myself, don’t bother, you’re just delaying, not denying. After praying about it, I figured that a small offering can still be good, and the Holy Spirit showed me a way to turn it into a worshipful experience (instead of mocking myself). Now, when I put off the ice cream, I sing (in my head), “Your love (God’s love) is better than ice cream, better than anything else that I’ve tried.” When the Holy Spirit planted this notion, I knew it was Him not me, because that Sarah McLachlan song had special significance for me. My daughters loved that song when they were little, and when they found out their father hated it, they would serenade him with it after car rides where they had patiently endured his favorite fiddle music. He would let them listen to their Sarah McLachan CD eventually, and then, when that song began, they would all pipe right up and sing it and giggle when he cringed (the melody is very monotone).

  10. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    i do not articulate very well – you put into words those things i have “known” but i now KNOW from reading this post.
    thank you.

  11. Beautiful, truth-filled, honest.

    On weight loss, you know you are not alone. It helps me to remember that it’s also just the “season” of my life that I am in right now; with little kids, homeschooling, older kid activities, etc. I don’t have the time or energy to give myself a big smackdown. Little steps are all that is sustainable.

    On compassion, yeah, right on. Only my crosses have ever brought me along to having more compassion for others in a big way.

    And a big yes to conversion usually being incremental. Well said.

  12. The one good thing about the press garbling yet another religion story is that, after the snickering dies down, the blogosphere produces a lot of really great essays. My relatives on Facebook are probably starting to filter out my posts, I’ve been sharing so many links in the past few days. Loved this one.

    On a more practical note: if you don’t mind spending a little money, Weight Watchers really works.

  13. I think it is really brave and heroic of you to keep on at your goal, even in inching forward. It is inspiring.

    Here is an article on a very different approach to overcoming a harmful habit. This, together with another article I can’t find right now, have literally changed my entire approach to overcoming.

    Extinction Burst*:

    *You have to get past the Skinner talk for the good stuff on the Extinction Burst article.

    The other article talked about how we choose what to actually do with our present self, not our future self. So that we put off a good action to future self, but when we arrive at that future, it is actually our present, so we actually do what our present self wants, ie instant gratification.

    So we make good plans for our future self to fulfill, but never accomplish them, because it is always our present self acting. So the key here is to lay a trap for our future self, so that when it becomes our present, we are funnelled into the action we wanted to take.

    An example, would be to not purchase cookies, so that when I get to the future where I intend not to eat cookies, there will be none there to eat!

    Another example would be to note the most dangerous times for me to overeat and then plan an interruption ahead of time.

    We imbue our future self with endless virtue, but the real actor is always the present self, so we have to plan to defeat the real actor.

  14. Thank you Simcha. If there’s one thing I’m still learning, it’s that there’s no substitute for a lot of little steps over a looooong time.

    • Oh, gosh, me too. After over four decades, I’m still finding “Aha!” moments in such simple advice as, “Trust the process.” When did I fall so deeply into the “instant gratification” crowd?? Argh!

  15. I love this post. It’s especially helpful for those people who are about to be 42, and whose bodies decided sometime in the last year that they didn’t need no stinkin’ metabolism, and for whom all the old easy little tricks (leave cheese off sandwich! skip dessert! go low carb for two weeks! etc.) no longer budge the needle on the scale at all.

    Not that I know anybody like that, of course…

  16. Sorry about the outburst.

    Thank you, Simcha.

    I intend to use your method on myself, especially since I still have my earthly father barking at me in the back of my head.

  17. I’ve been doing the Light Weigh bible study to gain peace with food because each and every one of the issues you touch on, eating to punish, mindless eating, etc. I’ve been struggling with for years.

    It’s a really cool program and if you could use a boost along the way you might want to check it out.

    The overall principles are simple:

    Only eat when hungry
    Only eat a portion the size of a coffee mug
    Leave a bite for your Angel
    When you resist temptation to go off track offer that sacrifice for a specific intention.
    If you go off track simply begin again by waiting until you are hungry to eat.


  18. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!!!! I have 10 pounds per kid- at least…one thing we moms can do- REFUSE to eat lousy, cold, half-eaten kid food. Ever eat a cold chicken nugget UGH- we should all go on the ‘snob diet’- eating only yummy, quality food that we want to eat- or go hungry. I know it is sinful to be both gluttonous and (I think the word is) delicate- but I think I need to move in the direction of overly obsessive about my food.

  19. Aw man, I wrote up this awesome comment, and it was eaten…

    Anyway, hear you on the “husband says I’m beautiful” thing. My husband professes not to notice the wrinkles beginning to congregate by my eyes, although they’re LARGE AS LIFE.

    My preferred method of non-coping is to eat what I like, and hope my scorn for the calories will burn off the fat. It hasn’t worked yet, so I keep trying harder.

  20. I have always struggled with food & weight obsession. I was inspired by a friend of mine who lost over 100 lbs. after having her third child to try weighing and measuring my own food. After having my fifth child I was pretty desperate to try to find something to help me. I started in May of 2007. This will be my 4th Thanksgiving weighing and measuring my meals and abstaining from sugar and compulsive overeating. It really helped to give over the humility it takes to do this and live this way and to admit that I’m addicted to sugar and have a problem with compulsive overeating (binge eating, restricting, and obsession). I hope you find peace. I totally get what you’re saying. I can honestly say that the monkey chatter in my head around food has stopped as well as the desire to eat compulsively or to crave sugar, fat, or just something to make me feel better (less hungry, angry, lonely, or tired). Though it has taken a lot of prayer, surrender, and support.

  21. Here are a few baby steps that don’t involve either food or exercise:

    1. Make a point of not using the “fat” stall in the ladies’ room.

    2. Clean out your handbag. Switch to a handbag that isn’t “fat.”

    3. Wear a little dab of mascara each day. When you put it on, pray for the grace to see with the Lord’s eyes.

    4. Wear nice shoes, and nice clothes every day.

    5. Smile at yourself each time you see your face in a mirror.
    And here are two that DO involve food, somewhat:

    1. When you’re craving something crunchy, ask yourself what idea you need to chew on. Thank God for the insight your body has given you. Then pray.

    2. When you’re craving something smooth and creamy, ask yourself how you need to be soothed or comforted. Thank God for the insight. Then pray.

    Interestingly, I recently observed that my two chief cravings are for crackers and wine. What I really need is deeper hunger for the Eucharist.

    I’ll pray for you: The battle you fight is not trivial, and, given how many people fight it, you have a lot of spiritual company.

    • This is a great post and I like your idea Kathleen – I think a lot of time I overeat because I want to be comforted and nurtured (I always want something sweet and creamy). Better to look for the true nourishment to be found in the sacraments, the scriptures, prayers, and in our loved ones.

  22. Simcha-

    So much of what you wrote reminds me of the teachings in Father Pinto’s amazing booklet “Steps in Littleness”. If you can get your hands on it, it’s a must read.

  23. The personal reflection is beautiful but the principle “conversion is incremental” is all wrong with regard to the conversion away from mortal sin. The Pope is *not* suggesting that we advise prostitutes to use condoms. We need to advise them of something much better — to turn away from sin and believe in the gospel.

    Virtues grow progressively, and the spiritual lives of souls in the state of grace grow progressively as well. The problem is that mortal sins such as prostitution deprive a soul of sanctifying grace, effectively killing that soul’s share in the divine life. Without sanctifying grace, it doesn’t matter how much natural virtue we have — we are dead. For a Catholic to advise prostitutes to use condoms as making their sin “less bad” would be like advising a despondent person to choose a less painful means of suicide.

    I think we can grant the Pope’s hypothetical about a prostitute inching toward virtue without altering the advice we give. The good news we Catholics have to share is that God offers us each a share in His divine life. Natural virtue is not good enough. Condoms are certainly not good enough. We need sanctifying grace, and to receive that we all need to stop all mortal sin, all at once, right now.

    Only then do our interior lives really begin. After the way of the Lord is prepared by the elimination of mortal sin, we spend the rest of our lives developing a closer union with Him, bit by bit.

    Again, I am very touched by your personal story. I wanted to bring out the fact that mortal sin is different in kind than other sins and imperfections. Thank you.

  24. Anon –

    Thanks for your careful reply. I agree with you,and I appreciate you drawing out the distinction between mortal sins and lesser imperfections.

    I should have made this more clear, but what I was speaking about was one’s state of mind while trying to make that first change. Yes, of course we need to stop all mortal sin, all at once, right now. But what if we are living a life that is completely mired in mortal sin, and we want to stop, and we keep trying to stop, but we just can’t seem to do it? I’ve experienced that, too. It’s a story more personal that my diet struggles, believe me!

    Sometimes we are so closed off from God’s grace that it’s as if the kind of conversion you speak of is not possible yet. Someone who is near starvation can’t be fed a turkey dinner. Someone with frostbite can’t be thrown naked into a hot tub. The way to treat frostbite is, if I remember right, to apply snow – to allow the skin to thaw very, very gradually, to avoid further damage.

    I understand that God can do anything. I understand that people really do throw off the shackles of sin very abruptly sometimes, and that God gives them the strength to do this, and that it is what is necessary.

    I’m just talking about what happens interiorly, emotionally, BEFORE that moment. I’m talking about the small steps that we make toward conversion.

    • I agree completely with you, Simcha. Interestingly, so most of the greatest moral theologians of the Church.

      The whole particular discussion re: Pope Benedict and the condoms reminded me of something I read in one of St. Alphonsus of Ligori’s work – a serious moral theologian who was not a sissy. He was advising incremental change to those stuck in mortal sin. His example is even goes beyond condoms and male prostitutes, namely, moving from beastiality to prosititutes. While it would obviously be better to just stop mortal sexual sin, he advised those that struggled with beastiality to at least move closer towards a more natural state of sexuality with prosititutes. I guess the modern world isn’t much different from old Christendom. How thankful I am for a Church who goes all the way down into the muck of human nature and tries to claw us out by every means possible.

    • Simcha, I have to tell you that last night I was in line with several hundred other Catholics shuffling up to Communion on the first Sunday of Advent & I was praying about this post on your blog. The reason that it came to mind was bc I was looking around at all of us average suburban USA Catholics going to receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist & wondering if any of us really had any idea of what we’re really doing. As I glanced at Blessed Mother’s statue reigning serenely over the whole scene, your reflection on the Pope’s reflection on Conversion by Increments came back to me. In a sense, Jesus too had to “learn obedience through suffering” as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us. So, in his human nature, his conversion too must have been somewhat incremental. What a great thought to begin Advent with. Thank you, you write more than you know!

  25. Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for putting yourself out there with this post. I am right there with you!!! I think I feel some little stirrings of inspiration starting – it’s a miracle!

  26. Thanks Simcha, this post is such a great reminder of the power of Grace.
    You might want to consider the ‘Body Clutter’ program by Marla Cilley and Leanne Ely. Its all about the babysteps and feels sustainable in a way no other program I have tried ever did…

  27. Also to add another thought to Anon’s comments…as I read it, the Pope was not ADVISING a prostitute to use a condom, but merely saying that a protistute’s decision to use a condom as a responsibile act may be a move in the more moral direction for him. It seems a distinction lost on the media, sigh…

    Simcha, great post, great analogy, and God be with you in your journey and struggles! We all have them, food or otherwise.

  28. I, too, didn’t lose the weight after the last baby. I finally had to go to Weight Watchers, which really helped; but I still struggle with emotional eating. I keep falling off the wagon and then pullng myself back on (minus any judgment). As I always tell my kids, persistence pays off!

    But I’m still planning to enjoy all those pies I bought for Thanksgiving. Yum.

  29. When it comes to the weight loss I sometimes feel it is like 3 steps forward, 1 back, 1.5 forward, 2 back, 2 back, 3 forward, 1 forward, 3 back…. etc. Slowly I am moving in the right direction, but after a lot of mistakes, and a lot more, and a lot more confessions of gluttony in the confessional.

    I think everyone is called to be a martyr. And in a way, I think the martyrs who are celebrated with the red vestments almost have it easier because it was one short, but incredibly intense, denial of the flesh’s will and yes to Jesus. We ordinary people have to martyr our flesh every single day. And for some of us, it seems like every single moment of every single day. I am not trying to belittle the martyrs and what they did; thank God for the martyrs! But we all have to struggle through it — whether slowly or quickly.

  30. I just lost 15 lbs. on the be-gentle-with-yourself plan. I have no intention of stopping now. If that isn’t good enough for some people (all or nothing!) then they should have talked me out of it 15 lbs. ago. Too late. I’m already happy. And thinner.

  31. You know, they usually say that something is only worth doing if you do it well. That never rang true to me and somewhere along the line, I think I read a quote from a Smart Person that said something like this: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing half-assed.

    So, yeah…good points you make in this post. Very un-Catholic (my type of Catholic) of you, but really good!

  32. Stopping for chili at Wendy’s I saw an alien from a outer space. I saw this alien throw away her offspring’s left over nuggets. I could only assume her craft didn’t have on board refrigeration and she was not able to digest nuggets. There was no other explanations for not taking them with her or just consuming them herself. Thin aliens are so interesting. .

  33. Wow. That’s pretty much all I feel like I can say. I love this post. I’m so glad that the Pope talked about this issue, in this way. I think it is something that we have all known, but because perhaps it hasn’t been addressed with just this sort of angle, view, what-have-you, it hasn’t been so fully comprehended.
    I’ve often felt that if I’m not going straight “from sin to virtue” that I must be failing God. Thank you for writing this piece.

  34. […] Simcha Fisher on weight-loss and conversion or sanctification. For poetry lovers, Dave Wheeler on Advent Ghosts. (HT: the High Calling, a great site for laymen and women pretty much by laymen and women.) Christianity Today on The Leavers. When I asked that question in the Sermon about living from the Mount of Olives, this is in the background. Into deep water here. The Monday Sermon for preachers. What does Ambrose and Celibacy have to say to a sex drenched culture. Culture   Ambrose, celibacy, Church Fathers, conversion, links, Mount of Olives, poetry, stray thoughts, witness      Pick it up and read it / Prepare for the Coming King » […]

  35. […] already read this one; I’ll be back next week with something new. *****Last week, Simcha wrote a post about grace coming in increments. In the post Simcha talks about having to be more gentle with herself in her efforts to lose weight […]

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