Book Review: Sweet Grace

Sweet GraceI first became aware of Sweet Grace: How I Lost 250 Pounds And Stopped Trying To Earn God’s Favor by Teresa Shields Parker through Melanie. Teresa begins her story with being in the hospital at age 45 and 430 lbs and finding out she had congestive heart failure (instead of the valve problem she thought she had) and high blood pressure and diabetes (which she had never been diagnosed with before). A cardiac surgeon bluntly told her she needed to lose 100 lbs. right away or she’d be dead in five years. He suggested gastric bypass surgery. Teresa had lost and then regained weight off and on through the years.  She knew this time she needed to make a definite change. Still, she wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it or if she could stay with it long-term.

She then backs up to talk about her childhood and the several things that contributed to her weight gain. Eating comforted her through various issues and situations, especially eating sugar or bread products. She had become a Christian, majored in journalism and Biblical studies in college, and wanted to write for and publish Christian publications. She got good jobs and married. She made lists of things she should be doing to please God – lists that seemed (and were) impossible. Every problem or pressure point drove her to comfort herself with food. She finally did have gastric bypass surgery. Afterward, she couldn’t eat a lot at one time, but she found she could eat a little bit all through the day – and her weight returned.

Then she shares the day “the flip was switched” in her thinking, how she realized she needed not only to pray for God to take away her cravings, but she needed to obey what He wanted her to do, relying on His strength in her weakness. In her particular case, she felt she was addicted to sugar and sensitive to gluten, so she cut out those foods completely along with exercising. She discusses various issues she had to learn to deal with (realizing that she did not need to eat in order not to offend people, forgiveness, etc.) Most of all she realized that God’s love was characterized by grace, that He loved her no matter what, and she didn’t need to keep long lists to keep in His love.

Although my reasons for being overweight are not the same as hers, and I wouldn’t follow her plan exactly, and I disagree with her on a few theological points, I did enjoy and benefit from reading her story. These quotes especially spoke to me:

A theme had formed. I allowed my physical body to dictate decisions rather than my soul or spirit (p. 61).

When I go to Him for help in my time of temptation, He promises to give me a way out, but I have to do something as well. I have to listen to what He says and then follow through. Sometimes it’s as simple as stopping and asking myself what I need (p. 194).

It involved giving up what I thought was bringing me comfort, only to clearly see they were leading to a sure and certain early death. I was committing suicide slowly, sweet morsel by sweet morsel (p. 219).

[God] won’t physically remove the donut from my hand, but He will, at my invitation, remind me of my former decision (p. 222).

[After pondering why she has trouble with sugar and other people don’t] God loves me so much He specifically designed me with a weakness that keeps me dependent on Him for any measure of success (p. 223).

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)


Two Books: I Deserve a Donut and Taste For Truth

DonutI first became aware of I Deserve a Donut (And Other Lies That Make You Eat) by Barb Raveling through my friend Kim. It originally started out as a list of questions and Bible verses Barb put together for her own use. When she shared some of it with a group of teenagers she was teaching, one suggested it should be an iPhone app. Since she had a son who created iPhone apps for a living, he helped her to do that. Then, realizing that not everyone has an iPhone, she put these truths into book form, both paperback and digital.

The study is based on Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The book is divided up into reasons – or lies – that cause us to eat and different emotions that can lead us to eat. For example, under the first section are categories like Entitlement eating (“I deserve this”), Garbage Disposal Eating (“I don’t want this to go to waste”), Good Food Eating (“That looks good. I should eat it.”), and Social Eating (“She’s eating. I should eat.”) The next section lists just about every emotion that could lead you to eating, with the understanding that the problem there is not just eating for the wrong reasons, but dealing with the underlying emotions as well.

Then, after you look up whatever situation or emotion is causing you to want to eat, you’ll find a series of questions concerning that situation or emotion, a list of Bible verses, and some tips. For example, a couple of questions under Entitlement Eating are “What do you feel like eating? Why do you feel like you have a right to eat in this particular situation? Do you think God would agree with your outlook?” plus six more. There are about six Bible verses listed, among them Philippians 4:11: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” There are about five short paragraphs of tips, including:

The best way to break free from entitlement eating is to adopt a biblical perspective of life. God never said, “You deserve the good life, and of course you have a right to eat.” Instead, He said, “If you want to follow me, you have to be willing to give up everything.”

TasteOfTruthTaste For Truth: A 30 Day Weight Loss Bible Study by Barb Raveling was one I saw recently again at my friend Kim‘s blog, and it works hand-in-glove with I Deserve a Donut (which is why I wanted to review them together.) They overlap a bit, but that is not a problem because renewing one’s mind takes place daily, reminding ourselves over and over of God’s truth, especially in response to the wrong thinking we’re prone to.

The first chapter talks about our part in making changes. I have the tendency to just ask God to change my thinking, which is necessary, but that’s just the starting place, not the stopping place. He has given us specific instructions, such as in II Corinthians 10:3-5 about casting down imaginations and bringing our thoughts into obedience to Christ, in John 8:31-32 about continuing in His Word, and of course Romans 12:2. One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from this section:

“The Greek word for abide used in John 8: 31-32 and John 15: 4-5 is the same word that’s used for living in a house. The idea is that we don’t just visit the Word for 10 minutes a day. We live in the Word. Meditate on it. Chew on it as we walk through the day. Let it fill us and change the way we think about life. Let it fill us and change the way we think about our habits. And even let it fill us and change the way we think about ourselves” (pg. 11).

The rest of the chapters are Bible studies with a place to answer questions about various topics related to breaking control of the hold eating has on us, such as “I Hate Boundaries,” “The Anatomy of a Habit,” Is Overeating a Sin?,” “When You’re Not Losing Weight,” and “I. Need. Chocolate.”

Here are a few more quotes that stood out to me:

God is not all about “do what you want when you want.” On the contrary, God is all about “love me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” One of the ways we love Him well is to hold His gifts with open hands, willing to give them up if they get in the way of loving Him (pp. 12-13).

(After discussing how a fence keeps children safe in a yard even though it limits them) That doesn’t mean the fence is bad. On the contrary, the fence makes their lives better because it protects them from harm. The same is true for us. Lifelong boundaries in the area of food make our lives better because they keep us safe. Yes, they cramp our style, but you know what? Our style needs to be cramped because there are consequences to eating what we want when we want (p. 13).

In many ways it’s like a home improvement project: You don’t know what you’re getting into. You uncover problems you didn’t know you had. You have to make multiple calls to your friend, the Carpenter, for help. And it usually takes longer than you think it will take (p. 61).

The renewing of the mind, like a home improvement project, is a taking off and putting on. You take off the old self. You put on the new self. You takes off the lies. You put on the truth. You take off a cultural perspective. You put on a Biblical perspective. You take off what you learned growing up. You put on what you learned in the Bible (p. 61).

Unfortunately, it will take more than one conversation to unlearn the lies we learned growing up. We learned those lies situation by situation, and I am afraid we’ll have to unlearn them the same way (p. 62).

I found both of these books very helpful and very convicting. I appreciate Barb’s matter-of-fact style. She assures that our thinking can and will change over time as we renew our minds, though the same temptations can come up again any time and we need to keep bringing our thoughts captive to God’s truth.

My friend Kim is taking the study very slowly, taking more than one day for each lesson so as to savor and steep in the truths there. That is probably the better way to go. I tended to get to the end of one lesson, see the title of the next one, and think, “Oh! I need that, too,” and I’d sometimes do two in a day – maybe even three on a few days. But I knew that no matter how slowly or quickly I went through the lessons, I was still going to have to go over and over them once I finished. Sometimes I tend to get to the end of a book, or even a word study like some I have done on anger and fear, and think, “There! Done!” But going through those truths once doesn’t renew our minds: we need to bring them to bear on our thinking often.

Barb has applied this same process of questions and Bible verses to other areas of her life, particularly procrastination. I am thinking of doing the same – just this morning I was struggling with a particular area of thinking and reminding myself of God’s truth pertaining to the matter, and thought I should probably write these out both for my own instruction and to have them as a ready reference next time it comes up.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: The Pound a Day Diet

Pound a Day DietI picked up The Pound a Day Diet by Rocco DiSpirito not so much for the pound a day part, but rather because I had seen Rocco as a chef on shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Weight Loss.” On one of them he mentioned that people often feel that when they want to lose weight, they can’t eat anything except grilled chicken and salads, and anyone would get tired of that after a while. That resonated with me, so I wanted to see what else he had to say and hopefully glean some ideas from him.

Part of his interest in lower calorie but tasty foods came from his own need to lose weight. When he became a chef and was working with great food all day, he packed on the pounds. When he decided to lose weight, he used his culinary skills to create recipes that were filling and flavorful yet lower in calories. Sometimes that involved substitutions for the higher-calorie counterparts; sometimes it involved using fresh foods and avoiding higher calorie ingredients. (You can see a before and after photo of him here.) He has created a whole series of books including some of these recipes and ideas.

In this book he advocates losing weight by consuming 850 calories on weekdays and 1200 on weekends in Phase 1. He gets away with the 850 calories by having a protein smoothie in the morning. He quoted a few studies saying that losing weight more quickly than the usually recommended pound or two a week is beneficial because the progress keeps one encouraged: when weight is coming off slowly, combined with the inevitable plateaus, people get discouraged and quit.

He advocates a Mediterranean diet, which involves a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fewer and leaner meats, and a lot of his general information about what kinds of foods to eat is common sense and similar to what you might read in other healthy eating plans (like eating carbs but choosing nutrient-dense, lower calorie versions rather than the calorie-dense lower nutrient versions). He also talks about benefits of exercise, different types, etc. Probably my favorite chapter was the next-to-last one, about healthier ways of cooking, ways to boost flavor without adding empty calories, the benefits of preparing one’s own food and buying locally (pointing out that food that has traveled 5,000 miles to get here is not going to be as nutritious as what you can get locally), etc.

The bulk of the book (some 140 pages) is recipes. In the reviews I saw of the book, several of them criticized his use of things like artificial sweeteners, powdered proteins, etc.  Though there is a lot of that kind of thing in the smoothies and desserts, most of the entrees and side dishes are just regular foods and spices. Though Rocco advocates preparing meals for yourself, he does include recommendations of ready-made foods that are close to the the recipes.

I marked several recipes I want to try and had wanted to do so before reviewing the book, but that didn’t happen. I was going to try the protein smoothie: I don’t have diabetes (my fasting blood sugar the last few times has been in the “slightly elevated, not enough to say diabetes, but enough that you need to make some adjustments” readings), but I do have a tendency to low blood sugar. If I just have cereal (even cream of wheat) and fruit in the mornings, within an hour or so I am dizzy and shaky and lightheaded and need  to eat something else. Over time I’ve figured out that I have to have something with protein for breakfast for it to last at all, so I wondered if a protein shake might help. As I started to look for the ingredients in the smoothies, I couldn’t find them locally. I did find them online, but as I added up all I would need, I decided that before investing in all that I should probably try a ready-made protein shake and see if I even liked it and if it worked. I liked it well enough, but it still had me just on the edge of feeling dizzy and shaky, even with eating fruit in addition to it. I don’t think I could use them every day – I’d miss the regular smells, tastes, and textures of breakfast foods – but they’d be ok for an occasional supplement. They did work well when I was recovering from oral surgery.

I like Rocco’s focus on foods and recipes because in so many of these weight-loss shows, the focus is on the workouts and the “drama,” with very little said or shown about food. Yet food is the major part of a diet, and if people can’t find a variety of things they like to eat, they’re not going to stick with any healthy eating plan long term. So I appreciate his efforts to provide not just healthy but also tasty alternatives. I’m still wary of 850 calories a day and foods that are made primarily of powdered ingredients (the high-protein chocolate breakfast shake has psyllium husk powder, fiber powder, protein powder, and egg-white powder besides the cocoa and monk fruit extract), but the general principles and a lot of the other recipes sound good. In fact, I received from my Christmas “wish list” his Now Eat This!: 150 of America’s Favorite Comfort Foods, All Under 350 Calories to glean some more ideas for pared-down favorites. You can check out some of his recipes here, and he has various YouTube videos as well.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: Made to Crave

Made to CraveMade to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst caught my eye a couple of years ago when a numbers of bloggers spoke highly of it. I was interested, but I thought from the title that it probably focused more on the emotional side of eating, like another book I read. I knew that was one factor in my problem with weight, but it wasn’t the only factor. I forgot about it until the e-reader version showed up either free or just a couple of dollars for the Kindle app last year. I got it then, but still didn’t crack it open. Then I saw on one of my friend Kim‘s posts that the Proverbs 31 Ministries, was hosting a six-week Bible study using Made to Crave, so I thought this would be an ideal time to read the book. The study just concluded last week. I’ve been jotting chapter notes here.

The book chronicles Lysa’s journey from being almost 200 lbs. down to a healthier weight. She discovered along the way that losing weight is not just a physical issue, but also a spiritual and mental one. The subtitle of the book is Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food. She explains that the Greek word translated “seek” in Matthew 6:33 is the word for “crave.” She says of the rich young ruler, who wanted to follow Jesus until Jesus asked him to sell his possessions and give to the poor. “Jesus didn’t mean this as a sweeping command for everyone who has a lot of money. Jesus meant this for any of us who wallow in whatever abundance we have. I imagine Jesus looked straight into this young man’s soul and said, ‘I want you to give up the one thing you crave more than me. Then come, follow me.'”

“When Jesus says, ‘Follow me,’ it’s not an invitation to drag our divided heart alongside us as we attempt to follow hard after God. When Jesus wants us to follow Him – really follow Him – it’s serious business. Here’s how Jesus describes it: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34).”

“God never intended us to want anything more than we want Him. Just the slightest glimpse into His Word proves that, Look at what the Bible says about God’s chosen people, the Israelites, when they wanted food more than they wanted God: ‘They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved’ (Psalm 78:18). Yikes” (p. 28K). Those who did so never made it to the Promised Land, but wandered in the wilderness the rest of their lives.

There are multitudes of spiritual principles discussed throughout the book, but there are physical ones as well, such as the fact (proven through research) that junk foods are addicting and do make one feel less full. Some people seem to be able to eat them with no problems – some people seem to be able to eat an abundance of foods with no problem – and we struggle with that feeling unfair, but we can’t compare ourselves to others and think, “If they can eat it, I should be able to as well.” If “they” don’t have issues with food, they have issues with something.

She gives mental tips, too (which overlap somewhat with the spiritual), such as have go-to scripts for certain situations to change the mental processes we’re used to and concentrating on what we’re gaining while going through this process rather than what we’re giving up.

Something that really stood out to me from the first chapter was the observation that Eve fell while surrounded by plenty: Jesus stood strong while in a deprived state of having fasted 40 days and nights. When I feel “deprived,” that’s no excuse to give way to temptation. “He quoted God’s Word. And so can we. When we feel deprived and frustrated and consumed with wanting unhealthy choices, we too can rely on God’s Word to help us.”

Another standout (among many) was the application of I Corinthians 10:12-13: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” The “way out” the Lord provided for Lysa, she says, was deciding in advance what she will and won’t have that day. I have to admit, when I think of the “way out,” I think more of God coming to my rescue with supernatural strength and reminders of His truth rather than this kind of thing, but He does also say “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (I Corinthians 10:5), and planning is part of doing that. In Israel’s battles, sometimes God supernaturally intervened, and sometimes they had to take up their swords and fight in reliance on Him. When God gives me that “sword” with His promise of help and grace, I’m to use it while relying on His grace and strength, not wait for Him to do the battle for me.

I didn’t quite agree with every little application or illustration (the most serious disagreement was when she was asked how to grow close to God and she replied, “By making the choice to deny ourselves something that is permissible but not beneficial. And making this intentional sacrifice for the sole purpose of growing closer to God. After all, Jesus Himself said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’ (Luke 9:23).” I don’t think that’s what I would answer if someone asked me how to draw close to God. I think I would have encouraged being in the Word and praying as well as dealing with any sin in the life and yielding our wills to His. I can see people taking this premise of denying something permissible and running with it beyond anything God intended). But overall I benefited greatly from the book and would highly recommend it to anyone.

This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Made to Crave Bible Study

Made to CraveSome months ago I saw that Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire With God, Not Food by Lisa TerKeurst was free or only a couple of dollars for Kindle apps at the time. I had seen many around the Internet say good things about it, so I bought it, and it lay languishing with all my other Kindle purchases. 🙂 But I saw a note on my friend Kim’s blog that the Proverbs 31 Ministries was hosting a Bible study using Made to Crave beginning this week, so I signed up for it as a way to motivate myself to get into the book.

Several years ago I started a different blog, I Corinthians 10:31, to deal with weight loss issues because I didn’t want that subject to take over here. I decided to post my thoughts or things that stood out to me in each chapter of Made To Crave over there, again, so it doesn’t take up so much space here (we’re doing three chapters this first week; I don’t know if we’ll keep that pace throughout). I will probably post a general review of the book here when I finish it, but if you’re interested in following along with the individual chapters, they’re there under the label Made to Crave study.

I don’t think it’s too late to join in the online Made to Crave study at Proverbs 31 Ministries if anyone is interested – we’re only on the second chapter today. I’m not sure if I will stay with the study there, as there is a little more hoopla than I like, but I know some people go for that. The “extras” – Twitter parties and such – are not required to participate in the study: they’re just there for people who want those extras. But whether I continue with that particular venue or not, I will continue with the book and jotting notes on each chapter at I Corinthians 10:31.

Laudable Linkage

There has been a lot of good reading on the Web this week. Here are some posts and articles that stood out to me:

Worship with our lives, not just while singing on Sunday morning. Good exposition of what worship actually is.

Bible Study: Working With God on Your Goal, HT to my friend Kim,  who, by the way, is doing a 31 Day series on Scripture memory.

It’s Not Just a Guy Thing. Sometimes “the second glance has often already been decided long before the first.”

What If Knowing Your Spiritual Gift Doesn’t Matter? Sometimes we need to just step in to meet a need.

How do you train your children to manage their feelings? I think this is an sometimes an overlooked area of parenting.

When Your Friend Hurts. We need to weep with those who weep, not condemn them for hurting.

You can imagine that the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood would be at odds with  A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but I thought this review was balanced and gracious, at least as far as the concerns I’ve had with the book just in the reviews I’ve read. I have it in my Kindle app to read myself some day.

Teaching Boys to Be Respectful.

The Philanthropists: John D. Rockefeller. Sometimes the rich are vilified just by virtue of being rich, but the Bible does not condemn riches: it does instruct us not to trust in them and how to use them. I found this short biography very interesting.

Put the book down. Much as I love books, some times they do get in the way.

The Ultimate Secret to Effective Writing and Preaching.

A Case For Cessationism. I’ve been enjoying Tim Challies’ live-blogging of the “Strange Fire” Conference John MacArthur is having concerning the charismatic movement.

Weight Loss Bible Study.

Hope you have a great weekend!