The Sugar Sacrifice: Who Will Win?

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A while back, the associate pastor at our church announced that he would be taking three months off to go to Mexico.

Now, before you sigh with envy and work to painstakingly squelch your urge to covet, Father isn’t off to bask in the luxury of carefree relaxation in Cabo. On the contrary, he is probably working harder than he ever has, seminary studies included. You see, our beloved priest is currently facing his own personal struggle with food head on by participating in a health management boot camp of sorts.

The bulletin announcement about his impending absence, written by Father himself, explained that, during a recent medical check-up, the doctor was coming up with all sorts of excuses for some pretty significant health concerns. In his attempts to be kind and “sensitive” to Father’s feelings, the M.D. failed to address the proverbial elephant in the room, which was that his patient’s dangerous weight was the likely cause for – or, at the very least, exacerbating – his various ailments.

After reading the message, I was so proud of our priest: proud of him for confronting his demons; proud of him for being courageous enough to share his struggles with us; proud of him for knowing that these struggles, once overcome, would help him to better attend to his vocation.

I also felt a teensy bit convicted by his forthrightness, to be honest. Okay. I felt a huge, wheelbarrow-sized conviction that smacked me in the middle of my forehead. You see, God has been talking to me about my own health for some time now. While pregnant with and nursing my children over the past several years, I had slowly but surely given myself permission to not monitor my food intake. “Oh, I’m eating for two,” I’d say, rationalizing the extra helping of dessert or bread or whatever. I wasn’t really thinking of the baby’s – or my own – real needs. I was thinking of my stomach – of how good it felt in the moment to eat three or more scoops of ice cream or some other less-than-healthful food substance on a regular basis.

Only, it wasn’t really feeling good anymore.  Small allowances and minor indulgences quickly became regular habits, and these habits became cravings – especially for sweets. I’d overeat, then hate myself for doing it, then eat to make myself feel better, only to start the cycle all over again. Being a “food zombie” wasn’t bringing me any lasting happiness, and it definitely wasn’t glorifying God. I truly had become a sugar junkie – an addict – someone who would impatiently wait for my next cookie, scoop of ice cream, or candy bar to get a sugar “fix.”

Not too long ago, I had a medical scare and two procedures that forced me to miss about a month of my “regular” life. Mercifully, I was able to recognize these incidences as a gift from God – a clear sign to change my unhealthy ways. I needed a better diet and more exercise. And so, I tried for a while to “do better” (perhaps a month or two), but inevitably, I slipped back to my old bad habits and probably caused my guardian angel to give himself an open-palmed slap to the forehead while rolling his eyes to China. I felt like, no matter what I tried, I just could not make any lasting adjustments of my own free will. As St. Paul lamented to the Romans, I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do – I was doing what I hate!

Thankfully, I saw Father’s commitment to changing his life as an opportunity for transformation in my own. I reasoned that, if our priest could make some heroically virtuous adjustments regarding his health, then so could I. To my husband’s overwhelming delight (he’s been on my case for years), I decided to (gasp!) give up sugar as a sign of solidarity with and support for our priest. I needed my sacrifice to mean something, and I adopted Father’s struggle as my own personal cause for solidarity.

“Great timing,” an acquaintance sneered, when I mentioned my plans. “Do you understand you’ll be going through several holidays and other festive occasions? This will mean no cake, pie, ice cream, or other sugary desserts!” She looked at me like I was crazy. She laughed as she added, “Let me remember you the way you were,” implying that there was no way I’d be happy (or any fun to be around) without chocolate. Grrr. If there’s one thing God knows about my stubborn self, it’s that I’m about 500% more likely to do something if someone tells me I can’t. I steeled my resolve, dug in my heels, and ripped off the proverbial sugar Band-Aid that very day.

So, practically, speaking, what does my sacrifice look like? “No sugar” means just that: no dessert, no sugary snacks, no soda, no sugary coffee drinks (ACK!), no added sugar in anything, etc. Every time I think of sugar, desire sugar, am around or in close proximity of sugar, I pray for Father’s success in his endeavor to win back his health. I also pray that with each small “no,” I tell myself, God will help me detach from a relationship with food that, truly, had become disordered. I pray that my sacrifice will lead to virtue – namely, prudence and self-control – for both Father and me.

And, how’s it going so far? Well, it’s been 36 days – over a month’s time – since I began this journey. I wish I could attest that saying “no” to sugar has become easier. It honestly hasn’t – yet. I wish I could also say that I have lost 20 pounds – I have not. I wish I could tell you when Father will get back so I can have sugar again (truth). I CAN say, however, that I think I have more energy now to chase my kids around, which is a huge blessing. And I think my complexion might have improved. I’ll take it. But, more importantly, I genuinely know that, with God’s help and by His grace, I am empowered to use my small sacrifices to help another. And I truly have faith that I CAN overcome anything through Christ who strengthens me – even sugar. Pass the carrots.

A version of this article originally appeared on about six years ago. The author believes it is time to exercise this sort of sacrificial solidarity yet again. 

Heather Anderson Renshaw

Heather Anderson Renshaw

Heather Renshaw is a wife, Mama to five young children, and on-fire revert to the Faith. She is a speaker & event organizer (Catholic Women Rejoice, Called to Love, retreats), Producer/Co-host for The Visitation Project on Mater Dei Radio, blogs at Real Catholic Mom and Blessed is She, and contributed to All Things Girl: Truth For Teens. Heather loves good music, iced coffee, the Gulf Coast, and when others do laundry. Heather's hope is that all may experience the healing power of Jesus's Divine Mercy so they can rejoice and be free.

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9 thoughts on “The Sugar Sacrifice: Who Will Win?”

  1. Avatar

    Hi Heather….

    I, too, have just started to tackle my sugar additction as of about 1 month ago. It is not easy but I can say I absolutely no longer have any cravings for sweets or carbs. I’m eating a ketogenic diet, heavily centered on the animal kingdom. Absolutely no sweets, carbs or sugar of any kind. I’ve finally been able to pass up the desserts at work and be around folks eating all kinds of things that I would formerly find delicious. Now, I view sugar truly as poison to my system and I’m glad to be rid of it! I’ve been able to loose a little over 13 lbs in one month. I’m not saying my way is for everyone but if you would like more info, the following links are great places to start.
    I would be happy to talk to you about my journey. Prayers for your good health!

    1. Avatar

      Drusilla – there really *are* many diet choices out there; it can be a bit overwhelming! I’m kind of an “everything in moderation” sort of person, but usually “moderation” with sugar isn’t doable for me – it’s either all or nothing. Your comment about protein rings true; I’ll have to up my intake! Thank you so much for your comment; I wish you good health! Pax Christi. -H

  2. Avatar

    What @jennrothwell:disqus said. Also, cravings for sugar are often a signal that more protein is needed.

    I had to give up sugar and many carbs due to persistent GI issues. My diet is more primal than paleo or ketogenic since I need a small amount of carbs to be able to sleep but coconut oil helps reduce that need. But there are many diet choices out there.

    Giving up sugar is a great first step and very difficult if one is used to added sugar in products. God bless you as you work to be a better steward of your body and remain in solidarity with your pastor.

    Drusilla Barron

  3. Avatar

    Good for you! Don’t give up now. Since getting married and getting out of the army I have found myself trending towards a less healthy diet and lifestyle and putting on weight. A month ago I started restricting myself to eating dessert only on sundays, birthdays and holy days and it turns out to be harder than I expected it to be,but it is something well worth offering up.

  4. Avatar

    Wow, Jenn – those are some great results! Congratulations! I will definitely check out the sites you mentioned and follow up to if I have any questions. Thanks for the support; Lord knows I need all the help I can get!! Pax Christi. -H

  5. Avatar

    I don’t like sugar. Seriously. I really don’t like cookies and cake. Which is weird because my wife is an avid baker.
    But beer and chips, now you’re talking.
    1 maybe 2 beers a day, handful of chips.

  6. Avatar
    douglas kraeger

    God bless you for sharing this (again). My wife is on a similar diet (?) and has lost many pounds. I believe your remark about earning graces for another is so good. I wish every Priest and Bishop who has gained so much weight over the years would say from the pulpit that they were going to lose weight, not so much for their physical health, rather for the spiritual help of their parishioners, to help them see and be encouraged to voluntarily forego the goods they have a right to, and enjoy, to forego them as a voluntary sacrifice, in union with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for all sinners. Think how such a statement from the priest could help many spouses who have slowly become addicted (slaves) to their good wants and are therefore no longer in control, but are slaves of their wants and are therefore teaching their children by their bad example.

  7. Avatar

    For me, the struggle is snacking between meals. You are a great inspiration for me to”fast” betwee meals for multiple intentions.

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