The Whole30: How It Relates to Friendship, Lent, and Education

Recently, my neighbor (a dietician by trade and wonderful friend, mother, and wife by occupation) shared an article entitled “A Day in the Life of 5 Intuitive Eaters”. It’s a pretty neat article that illustrates a concept that is rather new to me but seems to make a lot of sense. The concept is, as the title indicates, eating intuitively rather than according to strict rules, unreasonable restrictions, or fad diets. This idea sounds really great, but there is one potential flaw I see. What if all I want to eat intuitively is PB & Js or Doritos or enchiladas doused in queso? What if intuitively I naturally gravitate toward donuts, M&Ms, and those chocolate chunk cookies with salt sprinkled on top (wow… that one got me there… the craving has begun)? The problem is not with intuitive eating in and of itself. That sounds great. The problem is that my appetite is for that which hurts my body rather than that which promotes health.

This is where Whole30 comes in. Whole30 is a 30-day commitment to eating an essentially paleo diet. After the 30 days is over, there is a process for re-introducing different food groups methodically back into your diet. As Melissa and Dallas Hartwig say in their book, It Starts With Food, it is not called “WholeLife” but “Whole30” because it’s not a life-long commitment but rather a commitment to re-trigger for 30 days. Why 30 days? The idea is that it takes 30 days to break the old habits and form new habits. Today I am on day 27 of the 30-day commitment. It has been harder and easier than I thought. Here are my reflections on Whole30 as it relates to education and the Christian life.

First, I have seen the importance of friendship in committing to the things that we know are best for us but that we still have a hard time committing to. I would not have done this alone. I have never been able to hold to commitments like this in the past, because I have tried to go-it alone. I like to do things alone. I have found that solitude is best for efficiency more often than not. I love efficiency. But what we must remember is that efficiency does not mean effectiveness. We can be very efficient at the things that don’t matter—that’s not effective. Effective growth happens in community. Friends are essential to our commitments to change our lifestyle habits. Churches are essential to our spiritual health. Schools are essential to our educational health. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all three (friends, church, and school) were in unity together?

Second, Whole30 is to the body what Lent[1] is to the soul[2]. Many people misunderstand Lent. They will say things like, “If you shouldn’t be doing it anyway, shouldn’t you be giving it up permanently rather than just for Lent?” But Lent is not a time to give up things that are bad per se. You don’t give up lying or cheating for Lent. Just as a one-day fast is not a fast from gossip or pride, but rather is from food, something that is actually good for you. It is about depriving yourself of something that you normally enjoy, perhaps with thanksgiving to God, for a period of time, so that your soul may be re-oriented. What I learn when I fast is how weak I am. I learn that I am like the disciples falling asleep in the garden while Jesus prays. What the Whole30 has taught me is that I have been a slave. I have been a slave to my appetites. I have been a slave to some things that are harming me. What I have realized is that I don’t actually enjoy many of these malnutritional foods, but that I eat them out of impulse, emotional attachment, or simply bad habits. As with Lent, we need periodic times to hit the “reset” button—to say “no” to “good things” so that we are freed to say “yes” to the “better things”.

Third, Whole30 has shown me the importance of retraining my appetites. As I indicated in the opening paragraph, as much as I would love to eat intuitively, my intuitive appetites are harmful for me. As Christians, we believe this is true of our souls as well. We are born with corrupted appetites. Our most fundamental longings (our eros love) are for self. What we need is a re-orientation of our hearts. This is what education and discipleship should be primarily about. James K. A. Smith says, “if you are what you love, and love is a habit, then discipleship is a rehabituation of your loves.”[3] Christian education, when understood to be virtually synonymous with Christian discipleship, is like Whole30 for the soul. It is an intentional subjection to restraint from “lesser things” so that we might be freed to behold the “better things”.

Deep down, somewhere in the bottom of my gut, I want to eat healthy. I have wanted to for a long time, but it has taken the external process of the Whole30 for me to actually experience what it’s like to say “yes” to that deep longing. In the same way, our souls have a deep longing for God; each one of us, somewhere deep down longs for God. As Augustine famously said in his Confessions, “our heart is restless until it rests in You.”[4] Christian education is the hope that by the power of the Holy Spirit and under the direction of fellow Christ-followers that we might learn to say “no” to the “lesser things” so that we can be re-oriented to what is better. In the same book as mentioned above Smith says, “‘Learning’ virtue—becoming virtuous—is more like practicing scales on the piano than learning music theory: the goal is, in a sense, for your fingers to learn the scales so they can then play ‘naturally,’ as it were.”[5] One day, when the process of sanctification is complete, we will truly be virtuous “naturally” or “intuitively,” but in the mean time we are still in process. We cannot trust our appetites, but we can seek and pray for our appetites (our eros love) to be conformed to Christ.[6][1] Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14, 2018. For more information on Lent, speak with a pastor at your church about how your congregation observes Lent.

[2] If you are interested in combining a re-orientation to food with a re-orientation to the “least of these” during the Lenten season, check out Chris Seay’s book, A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor.

[3] James K.A. Smith. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. (Grand Rapids: BrazosPress, 2016), 19.

[4] Augustine. Saint Augustine Confessions. Oxford World’s Classics. trans. by Henry Chadwick. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 3.

[5]You Are What You Love, 18.

[6] Smith says, “Instead of setting ups false dichotomy between agape and eros, we could think of agape as rightly ordered eros: the love of Christ that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5) is a redeemed, rightly ordered desire for God. You are what you desire.” Ibid., 10.

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