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Dr. Denton on Curbing the Temptations Which Can Surround Food

By Dr. Denton D. Weiss, M.D.
February 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Prayer gives me the strength to have the discipline I need to curb my appetite. However, it takes work. The Lenten disciplines are also a means to overcome the disorder and find the freedom which comes from a re-ordering of my appetite, and my priorities. 

PORTSMOUTH, VA. (Catholic Online) - Dear Dr Denton: The difficulty with fasting without meat and milk is nothing compared to fasting with only bread and water. How do you make it through the day when you choose to fast on bread and water?

This week I quietly meditated on the power of hunger as an appetite which, like all appetites, is subject to becoming disordered. My weight is unchanged from last week and I realized that the difficulty is my succumbing to the temptation to eat too much, or to eat the wrong kind of food.

Food is a gift, a good, given to us by God for our nourishment, our health and our enjoyment. The problem is that our appetites can so easily become disordered. That is why the spiritual and physical disciplines of Lent can be so helpful. So too, the readings offered to us in the Bible.

This week I reflected on a biblical story which helped me to understand more fully the dangers of a misguided appetite. I want to share it with my readers.

Jacob and Esau were twins, born with Jacob hanging onto Esau's heel. The birthright belonged to Esau, but later Esau became famished and traded his birthright for a simple bowl of lentil soup.

I read this account in the Book of Genesis (Gen. 25:30-33) over and over again this week. I reflected upon its meaning for my own life. Over and over in my mind I asked myself the question, "how was it possible?" 

Then, I tried fasting for one day on bread and water - and came to understand!

I quickly understood the power of food over the best of our intentions. I experienced the lure of appetite over the weakness of will. Now, I can also sympathize more fully with my patients who literally lie about their food intake because of shame. I truly understand in a way I had not before.

This week, when I heard the Gospel offered to us at the Sunday Liturgy (Luke 4:1-13) I was struck by the fact that after 40 days in the desert without food the devil tempted Jesus with food. I noticed that he tempted Jesus first not with power, riches, or worldly treasure, but with a simple stone that only needed to be turned into bread. That bread, said the tempter, would make the hunger would go away!

But will that kind of hunger ever go away with bread alone?

What was offered by the Tempter was about much more than bread, it was about the order of our relationships. To eat the bread offered by the tempter would lead to a lifetime of turning to bread alone for sustenance - and not turning first to God the Father who is the source of all that nourishes and sustains us. Jesus set the tempter straight, "It is written: a man does not live by bread alone, but by every utterance of God." Luke 4:4

Man does not live on bread alone. That means men and women, you and me.

The answer to the question asked by my reader, "How do you make it through the day?" is as simple as it is challenging. Prayer gives me the strength to have the discipline I need to curb my appetite. However, it takes work. The Lenten disciplines are also a means to overcome the disorder and find the freedom which comes from a re-ordering of my appetite, and my priorities. 

I try to look at the day as units of time much like our monastic brothers and sisters do in both the Catholic and the Orthodox Church. Their day is broken up into points of prayer - instead of points of consuming food. Simply put, prayer becomes the focus. Morning prayer - Noon prayer -  Evening prayer - Night prayer. Prayer, that ongoing dialogue with God, becomes the food and drink of the soul.

So it can become as well with each one of us. Oh, I know we are not monks. But we are Christians and the same practices and disciplines can help to bring about the freedom which comes from a voluntarily structured relationship with God.  For me, Morning Prayer is literally at the moment I wake up. I slide to my bedside and pray.

Noon hits and I am in the Operating Room or in between cases and I silently pray for strength and clarity. I sip a cup of water and slowly eat my bread, one piece broken off, and one prayer of thanks.
The slowness of the moment gives my mind time with the Lord. The slowness also allows my stomach to adjust to slow my cravings and keep my mind clear.

I finish the busy work day. That is when the temptation seems the strongest. So, I drink 2 glasses of water, pray again and then eat a small amount of bread. Again, eating the bread while slowly meditating on the strength Jesus Christ had to say "Not on Bread alone". In Him, I find the strength I need.

Slowly thinking of a man who gave up his birth right for a bowel of lentil soap, and then thinking of Jesus Christ who, in His Sacred Humanity, had the strength to say No, helped me curb the temptations which can come along with food.

The night closed with peace - a peace rooted in completion. I am thankful that my day was only a day and not 40 days. A piece of bread - and a glass of water - and a nightime prayer.

This week I ask all of you to be Strong in the Lord and Pray.

Good Night

Dr Denton

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Dr Denton D. Weiss, M.D. is board certified in both Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Weiss' approach to his medical practice flows from his convictions about the meaning of life which are deeply rooted in his Catholic Faith. He and his wife, Michelle strive for an integrated approach to life which recognizes the unity of the body, mind and soul. They call this approach "Bella Vitae" or "Beautiful Living". He, and Michelle, are contributing writers to Catholic Online.

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