It’s holiday time and I couldn’t pick a better season to write this post that has been mulling around my mind for about two months. I’m glad I’m writing it today because of the timing of the year and I hope it brings encouragement and FREEDOM to your health, eating, and relationship with food… especially if you are like me at all and have struggled with eating in the past.
The Fattened Calf Mentality.
This is a term my brother said to me once and though I don’t recall how many years ago he and I discussed “the fattened calf way of eating” I can honestly say through the years it is the best mindset I’ve adopted when it comes to food. More on The Fattened Calf mentality in a second, but first a little history of my personal, messed up turned healthy, relationship with food.
I had struggled with what works for my body since middle school and though I eat healthy compared to many people around me, I’m sure I look like a pig compared to many others. Therefore, after finally finding a food lifestyle I am comfortable with in my late twenties, I realize how personal diet is and…
1) I don’t really care what other people eat and…
2) I don’t really care what other people think about what I eat…
After all even Jesus was accused of being a gluttonous, drunk (more on that momentarily).
Through the years, I’ve listened to and watched foodies, men and women in the fitness world, doctors who wrote books, food bloggers, and have done my own reading and research. I have accepted and rejected lots of information on food either by trial and error… actually consuming food, or by comparing and contrasting information without even picking up a fork.
My current diet works for me and that’s what counts. I love to share it with people, but it doesn’t even have a name, so therefore instead of telling you what to eat (though there are non-negotiables like you must eat multiple fruits and veggies daily to be healthy), the best takeaway after losing 20 lbs in 10 months and maintaining this new weight for about two years, is what I’ve adopted and call The Fattened Calf Mentality. With it, I feel good about myself almost every day with the eating part of the healthy lifestyle I try to maintain. Workouts are the other side of the same “Healthy Lifestyle Coin,” but are not what this post is about.
Food is very personal. Tastes, preferences, age, baseline health, cultures, family background, lifestyle, habits, education around eating, and so many other things play a role what you and I put into our bodies every day to keep them running—we hope at their optimum level. No two people eat exactly the same thing all the time, unless you’re pregnant and consider what you eat as the same as the baby within you. The Fattened Calf Mentality has less to do with what you are eating and more to do with how you are eating and therefore can apply to everyone. This is also why I won’t go into the specifics of what I eat on a day-to-day basis.
So, what is The Fattened Calf Mentality?
The Fattened Calf mentality comes from looking at the Bible and what Jesus, and everyone else, ate as a Jew living in the first century. I cannot talk about much of anything in my life without tying in the Bible. I cannot escape the value of a biblical worldview/perspective/ drawing from the history of the Bible and applying it to my life. So, if I’m being honest as I write this, I stole the concept directly from God and as I choose to believe, His Son, Jesus.
As I struggled to figure out how to get food to work for me years ago, I questioned how did Jesus “do food”? He was sinless so binging and purging, starvation, and gluttony weren’t things He sinned doing– like I seemed to struggle with daily. But did He starve himself as you and I might define starving or eat gluttonously in comparison to others? Maybe, yes, and I’m pretty sure there He was accused of BOTH things, plus being a drunk while on earth (Matthew 11:19).
In my dive into “the perfect diet,” I learned that Jesus consumed a Mediterranean diet, which from research AND personal experience is one of the best diets out there. You can Google what a Mediterranean diet is, but another key thing I learned is that as a Jew, one thing Jesus wouldn’t have eaten is pork. A number of cultures don’t eat port the way say, Americans do with their hams and bacon. If you do eat pork and it doesn’t cause any bloat, headaches, swelling, or anything else and you like it, great! Keep eating it. Again, this is NOT a how to on what to eat or not to eat. Just an important discovery of what I found and works for me ESPECIALLY AROUND THE HOLIDAYS. Additionally, Jesus also had his 12 disciples around him through most of the accounts we have, many of whom were fishermen. Jesus himself performed a miracle by feeding 5,000 people out of just 2 fish and 3 loaves of bread (Matthew 14:13-21). I truly love fish and seafood and don’t feel the need to cut that out of my diet as I slowly implement a more plant-based diet. Maybe someday, but not right now!
What is most interesting about the Bible when it talks about food is how much FEASTING there is all throughout the entire book. The old testament drips with talk of feasts and parties that God planned into the year to give people a break and let them… simply party. And from what I understand those parties lasted weeks sometimes. Gorging on food and drinks during seasonal planned events was a lifestyle. These times of feasting remind me very much of the holiday season we are currently in.
It’s interesting because as much as feasting was a part of the picture, so was fasting. It’s just that we don’t hear about the fasting as much. It’s not really talked about. There are only a few verses in the new testament about fasting. But we know it happened. And for me personally, breakthrough occurred when I married these two concepts of feasting and fasting together and coming up with The Fattened Calf Mentality.
There is a time to fast. There is a time to withhold from eating. There is a time to give up. There is a time to be okay with being hungry. I think we have been lied to, through marketing, about needing to eat 3 times a day + snacks. When I embraced the idea of being hungry, that it’s actually really healthy for my body to be hungry, I felt better doing that act of letting my digestive system rest and refrain from eating. The health benefits of fasting are quite good for you. Just Google all the positive things that intermittent fasting can do for your body. Even a 24 or 36 hour fast to just rest your body and give it a break from all the digesting and breaking down it’s constantly doing from the generally heavy foods we dump into our systems, is cleansing and healing and has many health benefits. I choose to embrace hunger at times, to me it feels better than being stuffed.
But let’s not forget the feasting. If you shock your body with too much food every once in a while, this can actually jump start your metabolism to kick it up a notch and burn more. Also, food produces dopamine and serotonin—naturally produced chemicals in your brain that simply make you feel “happy!” This is science. But beyond the science, feasting and parties are historically and culturally important around the world. Why does so much of our world revolve around food? Feasting is important and over doing it with food is actually… okay, I think. I used to beat myself up when I ate too much, but not anymore. I appreciate knowing that God blessed me with too much food to enjoy. Gosh, what’s better than a good meal with awesome people?
And for me, though refrain from many foods and am slowly walking into a more plant-based diet, I can’t forget The Fattened Calf.
One story Jesus tells his followers is of the “prodigal son” who leaves his family trying to make it on his own. Definitely paraphrasing here, but the son ran out of money, spending it on women and booze, and was too embarrassed after going broke to return home. He got a job at a pig farm, and because he was starving would eat the pig slop he fed the pigs because he had nothing else. Eventually he realized that the servants that took care of his Dad’s property were taken better care of than his current situation. He decided to go home and see if his Dad would hire him to work his property after so many months away.
The Dad who loved his son waited months for his return. And that particular day, seeing his son a long way off coming up to the property, ran for him. He hugged his dirty, smelly son, and the moment called for a party. He ordered the fattened calf to be killed. Though I don’t fully understand the historical and cultural meaning behind the fattened calf, I’ve heard it was a big deal. (The story comes from Luke 15.)
I’ve learned that there are times and seasons each year to go crazy and eat big, binging and having a good time. There are times to kill the fattened calf and enjoy it. Then, there are other times to fast, embrace being hungry, and refrain from eating the same way as the kings of the world through history. (Seriously only kings though time ate the way our first world nations eat and it’s crazy the surplus of food we consume.)
There is so much more I could say on The Fattened Calf Mentality that I’ve adopted when considering food consumption in my life, but I will end it there for now.
Diet and food are complex. But by simplifying it to the one phrase has helped me grow in leaps and bounds by having a healthier relationship with food. I know I can enjoy food to its fullest, like now, during this holiday season, while making fasting as much a part of my life, if not more, at other times. After unpacking my research and history, I’m hoping this post brings freedom to those who are controlling, strict, and limited with eating as I used to be– and shed light on how we can enjoy food, and drinking even (without actually becoming gluttonous-drunks).
My encouragement is this: be cognizant of what you eat, you only have one body and need to take care of it. But be sure to recognize, embrace, and celebrate those fattened calf moments in life and consume food that you normally wouldn’t– like meat, wine, and an extra dessert– without guilt.