By Kersley Fitzgerald

This morning I had a bag of baked potato chips for a snack. Last night, I reached past the lemon pound cake and the molasses raisin cookies for the bread. Then I skipped the jam, honey, and butter, and slathered roasted squash on my toast.

The indulgences of the highly allergic.

Since I found out I'm allergic to half the stuff I eat, I've been looking at indulgences in a new way. Ice cream is not a joy if I feel horrible after. I'd rather have grapes. Peanut butter looks good, but not if it makes me hurt later. I'll stick with humus.
I said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself." But behold, this also was vanity. Ecclesiastes 2:1
I'm learning how to redefine indulgences. Before, it meant digging into my kid's Halloween candy or making a grilled cheese sandwich. But if something upsets your stomach or makes your throat hurt or gives you a headache, is it really an indulgence?

The first time I figured this out was with donuts. Everybody likes donuts, yeah? But I started really thinking about the whole donut-eating construct. Usually they're a bit stale — the bread is dry. They taste sweet, though, so that's good. But immediately after, the grease coats your mouth, making you feel like you just painted it with Vaseline. It made me reconsider whether the whole donut idea was worth it. I realized it wasn't — unless it's a blueberry cake donut hot off the rack at Krispy Kreme.

I think that's part of indulgences — being able to judge what has the best return for the investment.

We all have to do this to some extent. Whether it's celiac or allergies or lactose intolerance or just trying to maintain a healthy weight. It can be really, really difficult to figure out which indulgence is worth it — the indulgence of eating the cheesecake or the indulgence of not feeling horrible later. Especially when you're not sure you'll really experience the bad. Dev has a lot of diabetes in his family. Does he have the predisposition? Is the concern that he could get diabetes when he's sixty enough to keep him out of the M-n-M's now? *

There's another frame of mind that comes into this when faced with something yummy but dangerous. That's the belief that "I shouldn't have to be controlled by this condition or the discipline it takes to mitigate this condition." As if it's our God-given right to drink Mt. Dew all day long. I think it's usually a rather immature point of view. It's absolutely true that Multiple Sclerosis sucks and it's cruel that it controls so much of your life. But to say, "I don't care, I'm going to have Chinese food even though the MSG will make me flair up and have to stay in bed for a week because I shouldn't have to avoid Chinese food if I don't want to..." This sounds more to me like caving in to the "desires of the flesh" (Romans 13:14) than a critical analysis of the situation.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24
Because eating right can sometimes go beyond the realm of indulgence and into the territory of sin. If you know that eating the wrong foods will make you a burden on others, that's not loving. If you know that eating that one thing will make you unkind toward others or unable to take care of your kids, then it's just selfish. Fortunately, most food choices aren't this severe. Although it may be easier to choose the right thing if they were.

I don't tend to be my friends' watch-dogs in such things, unless it's a serious, anaphylactic allergy. But if they've made a decision to choose the healthy indulgence, I do try to encourage them — as I hope this article will encourage you. Do you know that the steak in front of you will lead to gastro-intestinal distress later? I'm not saying, "Thou shalt not have steak!" I'm just saying to stop and think about it. And to know that there are a lot of people out there fighting the same battle, even if not in the same ways at the same time. I get this a lot when I'm out with MeLissa — I have to get my pizza without cheese, but she has to go to a place with gluten-free crusts.

The great and terrible irony here is that the original definition of indulgence was to exhibit self-control for the future mitigation of a bad consequence. It's the Catholic application. In Catholicism, it's to complete certain acts to reduce the duration of time spent in Purgatory. Linguistic ancestors include fondness, remission, tenderness, kindness.

Real indulgence isn't to give in to what the flesh wants; it's to discipline the flesh so that you don't have to feel the effects of sin. What is the sin, here? In part, it's illness itself, as sickness is a result of the Fall. In part, it's any act we do knowing it will keep us from physically being able to obey God and serve others.

So, what is real indulgence to you? If you want to choose health over bad-but-yummy food, what support do you need? Stop and listen to your body. Tell your partner (again) to stop offering you cookies. Get rid of the cheese sauce and stock up on humus. Find someone else with dietary issues to help you stay accountable. Don't beat yourself up if you slip; just keep going.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
Choose to live your life as if feeling good is the greatest indulgence of all.

* No.

Photo: croquet monsieur and European sipping chocolate; the two reasons I could never live in Paris.
Photo credit: cyclone bill; Some rights reserved

TagsHealth-Wellness Personal-Life

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Published 11-05-13