How Diet Affects the Spiritual Life

“May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:23

When it comes to our well-being, we are not just bodies with souls or souls with bodies. We must look at the body and soul together as one. There is unity between our body and soul — which means that no matter how deeply we tune in to our spiritual practice, we also need to focus on human health-- and how we fuel our bodies. Food does not just fuel the body, but the soul as well. We are this unity.

In our past two posts, we’ve shared about the benefits of spiritual fasting and how to fast. In the last video of a three-part series on Ascension Presents, Jackie talks with Franciscan Friars of the Renewal on the importance of diet in your spiritual life. 

When it comes to our well-being, we are not just bodies with souls or souls with bodies. We must look at the body and soul together as one. There is unity between our body and soul — which means that no matter how deeply we tune in to our spiritual practice, we also need to focus on human health-- and how we fuel our bodies. Food does not just fuel the body, but the soul as well.

Food connects us with others; we gather together with friends and family to break bread; to share our faith, culture and heritage. When properly understood as a gift, it becomes clear that food is a tangible expression of God's love for us. Food connects us to God. Because food is a gift, what we eat and how we eat it—is much more than a matter of convenience, taste, desire, or consumption. In today’s society, food is the source of endless angst and anxiety and can play the role of God in people’s lives. We struggle with obesity and eating disorders and endless disease. How we respond to the gift of food indicates how we feel about the giver.

When food is healthy and grown with reverence for its environment and with care for those in our communities it provides genuine nourishment, body and soul.

Consuming poor quality food can tarnish the body and the soul causing symptoms like brain fog, depression, weight gain, gut dysbiosis, hormonal imbalance, etc. This results in dis-ease and distracts us from God--and yes, even leads us to sin. God intended for us to delight in our food and for it to give us life, not take it away.

Are you ready to feed your spiritual life? 

Focus on Quality

Eating whole, real, unprocessed foods that are life-giving (like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, high quality animal/plant protein) nurtures both our body and soul. Just as food brings us closer to God, the wrong kinds can also separate us from Him. Recognizing this and bringing it to God is the first step to truly nourishing your body and soul. 

Take An Individual Approach

Food and fueling ourselves is very individual - what we need is different based on our genetics, health history, blood type, wellness goals, etc. One thing that rings true for everyone is that we need to eliminate food that brings dis-ease to our body or separates us from the soul. Ridding your diet of inflammatory foods (like gluten and processed sugar) is an important step to do this.

Seasonality: Flexibility with the ebbs and flows of life

Just like seasons, our prayer needs change throughout the year-- and so should how we fuel ourselves. There is no “quick fix” or one-size-fits-all approach. The Lord keeps us hungry and as life shifts, we must, too. Our stress levels, nutrition needs, movement and sleep all fluctuate throughout the year, and we must alter our diets to meet the demands we place on our body.  With an emphasis on eating natural, whole foods, it’s also important to pay attention to what’s in season and to fill ourselves with what nature gives us. Eating enough to meet the demands we place on the body is essential-- just as getting in adequate prayer that our soul calls us for.

We invite you to tune in to how God is nudging you fuel your body and soul. What are you clinging to the most? What can you eliminate to create more space for God? What can you add to grow closer to Him? How can you better nurture your body? Yes, this can be a difficult challenge, but little by little we can cut the branches to bear more fruit and draw closer to God. Come to the table, partake of the Bread of Life―and eat with joy.

“May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Thessalonians 5:23

How do Catholics Fast?

“Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever;  and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”
— St. Augustine


It’s here! Part two of the three-part series on fasting with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal on Ascension Presents. In part one, we discussed the spiritual intimacy and emotional growth fasting brings. In part two, we break down how fasting also provides a myriad of physical benefits. Taking a break to go inward, silence the noise, and connect with God is an extremely rewarding practice; changing our physical, mental and spiritual constitutions in powerful ways. When paired with prayer, the power of fasting is more satisfying than any worldly pleasure. 

Dis-ease in the body leads to disease. If you’re feeling like you need more energy, better sleep, less inflammation, a clearing of mental fog, or just a boost in your overall health, fasting allows for this physical healing to take place. Fasting creates space for digestive healing; taking space from eating to cleanse our body. In the process, it also helps to prevent neurodegenerative disorders, enhances heart health by improving blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels, delays aging and extends longevity. 

Despite the long list of possible health benefits associated with fasting, keep in mind that it may not be right for everyone. Fasting is a stressor on the body and as with most things, it’s individual and unique to us. It is essential to dedicate time to pray and discern before embarking. Fasting must be coupled with prayer, especially from the beginning.

Fasting makes us more conscious of how present God is and how He is calling us outside of self and directly to Him. If you’re unsure how and where to start, I invite you to watch this video, where we outline different ways to fast and steps to begin your fasting journey. Step in and try it. If the desire is there and from God, He will help you fulfill. You’ll be able to take the renewed energy and physical healing received and order it toward honoring God, loving, and serving others.  

Next up later this week, Part III: How Diet Affects the Spiritual Life: Eating to nourish both our body and soul. Stay tuned!



Spiritual Benefits of Fasting

It was an answered prayer to be the first ever layperson invited as a guest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal on Ascension Presents. Reform Wellness founder Jackie joined Fr Mark Mary and Br. Elijah of the CFR’s to record a series on the physical and spiritual benefits of fasting. 

Fasting is a topic that comes up often at Reform Wellness under our wellness pillar of space. It’s a practice that creates space for healing within the body and soul to invite God in. In this first video of our two-part series, we speak about the spiritual power of prayer and fasting. 

Fasting makes our intentions incredibly powerful (see Mark 9:29) and it also cultivates and sustains intimacy with God. In a world where we seek immediate gratification, it feels impossible to “stay hungry” for anything--especially God. Fasting gives us the opportunity to pause and grow closer to God. We’ve heard so many times in our culture that the best things in life are worth waiting for. Fasting is a habit that allows us to fully experience and embody this sentiment. It’s when we sacrifice the immediate needs of the body and open the eyes of the soul that we can dive into the deep places that we are typically not able to go. 

There’s a lot of resistance towards fasting for most because it’s uncomfortable on both a physical and emotional level. And we are here to encourage and remind you that we rarely ever grow when we’re comfortable. 

If you’re at the point where you want to go deeper in your spiritual life and establish a more intimate relationship with God, if you have a big prayer intention, if you want to repair your soul, if you want to come outside of yourself and take that leap of faith, if you want to create more space in your life, to dive deeper--we invite you to take 15 minutes to watch this video. Let’s die to the ways that no longer serve us to become healthier, happier and holier, together.

Stay tuned for part II: the physical benefits and how to implement fasting soon!

An Invitation To Stillness

“Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize”- Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

This time of year, it can be especially challenging to manage stress. The season can be overwhelming: finals week for students, end of Q4 for businesses, extra social gatherings, travel plans and financial strains. We receive many invitations to divert our attention throughout this season, but many of us are missing the biggest invitation of all: an invitation to be still.

When experiencing stress, people report symptoms including:

– Feeling overwhelmed
– Brain fog and decision fatigue
– Poor digestion
– Racing heartbeat
– Frequent mood swings
– Physical fatigue
– Waking up throughout the night
– Racing from one obligation to the next
– A constant sense of urgency

Sound familiar? As a society, we’ve become addicted to stress-sustaining habits. We accept demands to do more, be bigger, faster, and multitask to increase our productivity. We’ve started to believe that the busier we are, the greater our value. We’ve confused being busy with being productive. We are getting it wrong.

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” (Thoreau). What are we busy about? We might stop and consider if we’re being deliberate in everything we do throughout the day. Are we acting with clear, focused intention and attention? Are our engagements habitual or purposeful? Is our time spent allowing us to value those we hope to celebrate most this season – including ourselves?

We might consider how our ancestors lived for thousands of years by replenishing, restoring, and recovering over the winter season. They weren’t racking up debt to add more unnecessary objects to their lives; they weren’t walking around like zombies glued to electronic devices. I invite you to join me in rethinking the holiday season narrative pushed onto us by our careers, families, and personal expectations and allow ourselves a big timeout. But how?

Here are some strategies that might help us slow down when life seemingly speeds up:

– Eliminate unnecessary tasks and “obligations”: Saying “no” does not need an explanation.

– Plan for margin: We tend to underestimate how long things take us to do or how long it takes to get somewhere. Allow for transition time and plan for possible delays. If it takes us thirty minutes to drive to work, plan for forty-five. This allows time for the unexpected road detour or gas stop without adding stress. We may even arrive early!

– Identify your triggers: Pay attention to what causes stress and anxiety in life. This takes courage and often requires honesty in giving up things we are attached to while creating new, healthier habits. Check out this recent blog post: The 3-Step Process to Turn a Bad Habit Good.

– Cut down on caffeine: Reread the previous bullet. I repeat, sometimes we might [temporarily] give up attachments. Chances are, we are stimulated enough.

– Surround yourself with people who raise your spirits and give you energy: Have you ever noticed that you leave some people or situations feeling drained? And others where you feel energized, empowered, and joyful? Which ones would you rather be around? Choose wisely.

– Ask for support: Sometimes, life derails us with things that are beyond our control. Enter: the power of community. Ask for help and support. We don’t have to do it all on our own.

– Create a routine: Our brain likes a plan, especially under stress. Creating predictability and consistency with what we can control (meal timing, sleep, work schedule) can help offset unexpected stress.

– Manage perfectionism: Allow yourself permission to approximate. Explore the balance between “all-or nothing.”

– Train smarter, not harder: Think about your overall health as a bank account. If you withdraw too much, you’ll end up in the red. Things like high stress, inadequate sleep, inconsistent food intake and continuous high intensity training can compound to ensure poorly managed health. Take care of yourself, by making deposits. You may want to consider low to moderate intensity training that you enjoy like strength training, yoga or hiking to invest in yourself during busy seasons.

– Breathe: Simply inhaling and exhaling is one of the fastest ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and shift us out of the ‘fight or flight’ stress response towards relaxation. It improves attention and fine-motor coordination to get us out of our heads and back into our bodies and the present moment. One of my favorite stress relieving breathing practices is alternate nostril breathing.

– Gratitude: Starting or ending our day with five points of gratitude can change our whole perspective and mindset. Gratitude is the attitude!

– Unplug as often as you can: Power down, presence on.

The honor of your presence (not presents!) is requested to share in the celebration of the season and yourself. You are cordially invited to do less, rest, restore, recover. Be still.

Give Yourself A Break

My last post, No Sleep is No Joke, I invited you to join me as I give myself permission to be still and rest well in the new year. While everyone hustles off to the gym, makes ambitious to-do lists, tries to fit in that new hobby, I challenge us to question our motives and rest as hard as we plan to play. This post builds on my invitation and unpacks replicable steps you might take to improve your quality of rest.

“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have. Finding them in each other – activity in rest and rest in activity – is the ultimate freedom.”-Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Science Says, Rest (Take a Break)

Lack of adequate rest can lead to high levels of stress and fatigue. In addition, inflammation rises, mental capacity decreases, immunity drops, and metabolism and mood suffer. The distracted, moody monster we become desperately reaches for sugar and caffeine rather than taking the break required. Sound like 10am or 3pm, anyone?

The Living Experiment, a must-listen podcast, features an episode called “Pause.” In this episode, hosts, Dallas and Pilar, explain how to recognize the body’s signals for when a break is needed. Our bodies respond to circadian rhythms– patterns related to 24-hour, night-and-day cycles and they also respond to ultradian rhythms– patterns that occur many times throughout the day.  The hosts reveal, “the science is clear: taking brief, periodic … breaks improves not just your health and happiness, but also your productivity, creativity, energy and mood.”

Put simply, our bodies and minds require quiet time to repair and re-energize. Stephen Covey, best known for his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, discusses “sharpening the saw” as the last habit, suggesting that a consistent, continuous dedication to self-renewal (i.e. rest, play, exercise, personal exploration) can empower us to maintain sharp mental and physical edge. Covey notes, “…you can renew and better yourself through appropriate rest and relaxation or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything”. (https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits).

So how do we build more rest into our day? And what benefits can we expect if we do invest energy into powering down, chilling out, and most importantly having a little fun?

3 Forms of Rest: Total, Active and Passive

Total rest: Complete, utter, thorough, absolute, out-and-out rest! This form is exactly what it sounds like. It means eliminating everyday stressors (i.e. work, working out, errands) for an entire 24 hours. Periods of total rest are the very foundation of the recovery and repair cycles. There should be one day of total rest built into each week.

Active rest: is a reduction in workload. Active rest may include putting effort towards daily engagements, but at a less intense level. By decreasing our workload intensity, we give our mind and body the chance to re-energize itself so that we are re-focused and recovered when we return to full involvement.

Passive rest: is a short-term break from the work tasks or projects. There are all sorts of ways to get passive rest including: meditation (Headspace –a favorite app!), light reading, listening to music, a short walk (sans technology), restorative yoga, or have a healthy snack with a cup of tea or water.

Plan your rest, just as you would plan any other appointment. Your body and mind will thank you for it and you’ll work, perform and play more efficiently.

Now, Let’s Improve Your Sleep!

Light Exposure: Preparing for good sleep starts first thing in the morning. Bright, natural light exposure, direct to the eyes is needed. This exposure creates balanced rhythms between the hormones that put you to sleep and those which wake you. To follow this rhythm, dim the lights in your home after dark and maybe even get yourself a pair of blue blocking glasses.

Eat!: Start with a protein rich breakfast and continue to meet the nutritional demands of your body throughout each day. Research suggests sleep deprivation interferes with hunger and satiety hormones crucial to regulating appetite. Inadequate and inconsistent food intake can make or break quality of sleep. Getting ample sleep and nourishing thoroughly go hand in hand.

Unplug: Eliminate exposure to all technology for 30-60 minutes before bed. Create headspace to fall asleep more easily with meditation, deep breathing, or light reading (avoid heavy or intense content).

Wind Down Routine: Take a bath, get into pajamas, brush your teeth, read a book and lights out—sound familiar? For some, this was the consistent childhood bedtime routine. Our brain would recognize the habitual series of events and signal that it’s time to rest. We need to borrow this old habit and recreate it as adults, or invent it, if it was never instilled. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time consistently (even on weekends!) will get our brain and body in healthy rhythm.

Magnesium: Essential for more than 300 enzymatic processes in your body, magnesium calms the central nervous system helping to quiet a racing mind and relax muscles. My favorite kind is PurePharma M3.

Sleep Environment: Sleep in a dark, cool room. Being too hot or too cold can disrupt sleep. Conceal light that may beam from your digital devices (i.e. alarm clock, TV) and minimize extra noise with earplugs or a white noise machine. Leave electronics out and save your bedroom for two things. (Hint: one of them is sleep).

Ditch caffeine and alcohol: Research reveals that any significant amount of alcohol or caffeine within a couple hours of going to bed negatively impacts sleep. This results in abnormal sleeping patterns. Being asleep is not the same as being in a deep sleep. Caffeine is expert at interrupting, and alcohol is pro at destroying our quality of sleep. You might ditch caffeine after noon, and experiment with ditching alcohol completely.

Train smarter, not harder: High intensity training, especially in the evening, can interfere with sleep. If you prefer to get in some pre-bedtime movement, try yoga or simple stretching– both can help you unwind and relax into a restful night.  Continuing to think about our health as a bank account, we need to manage withdrawals so we don’t end up bankrupt– overtrained, under recovered and sleep deprived.

Clear the Commotion: Save the intense TV dramas, work emails, heavy reading material, or bone-to-pick for daytime. All of the above stimulate the stress response and make it harder to wind down.

Bottom Line: Adequate rest and sleep are essential to our health. Both improve the quality of our life and allow us to operate at our best. Rest is a skill and an artform. It’s vital to our wellbeing. Give yourself a break!

References:

The Power of Rest, Matthew Edlund, MD

http://livingexperiment.com/

https://chekinstitute.com/blog

http://pilargerasimo.com/all-about-ultradian-rhythms/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDpiI6GTCUM