Jesus told us to “take and eat” his body and blood, the source for eternal life. Jesus did not say “Take and eat a dozen doughnuts.”
Eating is surviving, which can include a doughnut or two every now and then, but once we pass the point of moderation, it can negatively affect our body.
“When he gives us himself, we become what we receive,” in the Eucharist, said Father Greg Luyet, pastor at St. Edward Church in Little Rock and judicial vicar at the diocese. “Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we need to take care of that temple of the spirit to be able to be a good instrument.”
As Catholics, it is therefore vital that we understand how to acknowledge God along the journey to healthy living.
While it’s holy to be healthy, Father Luyet, 47, is the self-described “everyman” when it comes to weight and fitness struggles.
“I have always been overweight my whole life, even when I was a small child,” Father Luyet said. “In fact, when I was in sixth grade at St. Mary’s in North Little Rock, I weighed 220 pounds,” about what he weighs now. “So it’s always been a struggle.”
Throughout the years, he’s lost weight through programs like Weight Watchers and even yoga but gained it back, because the need for exercise and “actually doing it,” didn’t always collide, he said. But around 2004, he started running and has run four half-marathons and three marathons. He is currently training for the Little Rock Marathon March 6. Father Luyet runs several miles a week, following the marathon training schedule, which can mean 4, 12 or even 18 miles in a day.
Standing at 5 foot 10 and a half, he weighs 223 and is currently working with Dr. Kevin Hiegel, who attends Christ the King Church, at the Little Rock Family Practice Clinic following the Ideal Protein Diet. He said the weigh-ins help keep him accountable, something he needs since he loves to cook and was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.
“If there is a cake, I will eat it. If there is a fried chicken, I will consume it. And it’s the challenge of sometimes saying ‘no,’ but there’s a certain spirituality to that as well,” Father Luyet said. “It’s kind of like going through the cross. You deny yourself something, really minor, so that ultimately a greater thing can happen. All the time it’s really grace. The losing weight is a gift from God.”
While the sin of gluttony can be associated to almost anything that is done without regard to moderation, its easiest comparison is to food.
“At what stage do we stop looking at food as food and begin to see it as an object? Is food something that is healing a pain I have inside myself, for instance. Instead of frankly looking at God for the source of our strength and courage, we can so easily turn to food,” Father Luyet said. “Gluttony is a real struggle for a lot of us. It’s a real sin.”
Father Luyet said he makes it a point to use the time that he exercises or runs to pray or listen to religious audiobooks like Pope Francis’ “The Name of God is Mercy,” which also helps with his Attention Deficit Disorder.
“I’ll listen to religious music, it kind of puts me in that thought process and then sometimes if there’s something frustrating that’s happened or irritating, I’ll go out and just pray,” Father Luyet said. “It’s interesting — the faster I run, the madder I am. It’s kind of like I’m letting that stuff out of my system and it’s not going to control me.”
And after, rather than basking in his fitness achievements, he still gives the glory to God.
“That’s when I go into the chapel and just be quiet because I’m physically relaxed to just be present to the Lord,” Father Luyet said.
Every morning, Elizabeth Jara, a married 40-year-old mom of five, gets up at 4:30 to work out. She also runs 10 to 20 miles a week, a step back from last year, when she averaged 80 to 100 miles a month.
Why does she do it? The answer can be found in the 2001 movie “Legally Blonde” … and in her Catholic faith.
“Reese Witherspoon says, ‘Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t,’” Jara said with a laugh, explaining that happiness is the key takeaway from the quote. “This body was given to me by God and it’s what I use to do his work, to fulfill my calling and what he sees fit and I feel an obligation to take care of it.”
Jara is an AFAA-certified fitness instructor, teaching three cycle classes, a cardio kick-boxing class and a step-sculpting class at LA Fitness locations in Little Rock. However, this former Air Force officer, who attends Christ the King and the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, was not always this dedicated.
“I gained a lot of weight with my first pregnancy, I was over 200 pounds,” standing at just 5 foot 5, Jara said. “It was a big switch from active duty Air Force officer to stay-at-home mom. … Depression or what not, it kind of runs in my family; all it takes is me going to the gym or going for a run that hour that seems worth it for the sake of me and my family.”
Jara recommends starting out 30 to 45 minutes a day, three to four times a week. Once a person is comfortable in the routine, moving it up to five to six days a week for an hour each is ideal, Jara said.
“Don’t do anything you’re not willing to do the rest of your life,” Jara said when choosing what kind of exercise you prefer. “Don’t rely on just one kind of workout.”
Claudia Guillory, 64, a member of Christ the King Church, takes Jara’s step-sculpting class. For the past 15 months, she has committed at least four days a week to working out to help prevent osteoporosis.
“I feel the emotional and spiritual benefits,” Guillory said, adding it reduces stress, allowing her to “cast those cares onto the Lord.”
Jara said the ebb and flow of personal fitness mirrors the same struggles of faith.
“There are dry spells; nothing we’re doing is working, we’re not reaching our goals, we slack off and something will come along in our spiritual life come January,” since it’s a new year, but then we may falter again, Jara said. “But then Lent is coming up, here’s my chance to start again. The same things happe• with physical fitness trends.”
In other denominations, Jara said there are some personal fitness classes held in church gyms, something that could be offered in the Catholic churches with the facilities, especially for “moms and seniors.”
Exercising is important to overall wellness and so is what we consume. In fact, for as much exercising as Jara did in 2015, she said she still gained 15 pounds due to a bad diet.
“I was hungry and giving my body the wrong fuel,” she said.
Amanda Heringer, a registered dietician at St. Bernards Healthcare’s Center for Weight Loss in Jonesboro, said people should start either an exercise or nutrition plan first before tackling both.
“There are real trendy food fads and they almost go too extreme in the beginning while they’re trying to lose weight,” explaining that if someone eats a burger and fries, they throw in the towel. “You just got to start small. If you have three to four small sodas a day, try swapping one out for a bottle of water.”
Moderation is the key and understanding the amount of calories you’re taking in and burning is more important than the extreme of trying to cut out all carbohydrates.
“You can enjoy birthday cake at a birthday party; you do not have to avoid it since you’re on a diet,” Heringer said.
A shopper can stay healthier by browsing the outer perimeters of a grocery store where the lean meat, dairy and fresh produce is kept.
“The inside aisles have the higher fat, higher calorie processed foods. Really read your labels,” she said. “The saturated fat, that’s bad fat for the heart. We want you to limit that in your diet,” as well as sodium and sugars. “Sugar is hard to tell what’s added and what’s natural.”
Heringer said “food has become kind of feared in the last few years,” which has led to the popularity of “pop-up weight-loss clinics” and lose-weight-fast diet plans.
“The gimmicks of losing weight rapidly, that’s not a medically safe way to do it,” Heringer said. “Look at the credentials of the people you’re working with. Registered dieticians are experts in nutrition.”
Heringer, who has bachelor’s degrees in kinesiology and dietetics as well as master’s degree in exercise science, said to look online, ask a doctor or a local hospital for registered dieticians in the area.
“They’re good for the general public,” Heringer said. “They just have really good meal planning ideas just to help.”
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