What you think about food

A Christian Science perspective: Food may not have the power over us that it seems to have.

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When is a vanilla milkshake not just a vanilla milkshake?

When it’s part of an experiment to determine whether the thoughts we think about food – whether we think it’s good for us or bad for us – actually have an effect on the experience we have with that food.

In the milkshake experiment, Alia Crum, a clinical psychologist, created a giant vanilla shake, then divided it into two batches – with startlingly different labels. One telegraphed indulgence, the other low-calorie.

The result? Those who believed they were drinking the ultra-high-calorie shake had a physiological response similar to the response that would be produced if they actually had consumed a high-calorie shake. And although Ms. Crum wants to do more research, she says she would posit that the effects of food are certainly connected to mind-set (see NPR, “Mind Over Milkshake: How Your Thoughts Fool Your Stomach,” April 14).

But what if the effects of food were entirely thought-based? That’s a thought-shift to be sure, although it’s one backed up by the Bible.

In one notable example, pottage, tainted by poisonous gourds, threatened the life of the sons of the prophets (see II Kings 4:38-41). But when they cried out in fear, Elisha, who understood the total power of God, proved the poison harmless. The men, and their meal, were saved.

In another example, Jesus fasted for 40 days with no apparent physical effects – no weakness, illness, or loss of function (see Luke 4:1-14). In fact, when Jesus returned from his fast, the Bible says he returned “in the power of the Spirit” – strengthened, not spent.

Of course, we can’t know how these two men prayed, but my own prayers about various food issues have shown me that one spiritual fact, which enables each of us to gain dominion over food, is that God is Love itself. Divine Love is our constant gardener, and we are Love’s plantings: sustained by Love’s nourishment, growing strong under its watchful attentions, turned naturally toward Love's life-giving light.

Understanding this isn’t just practical; it’s essential. Feeling a conviction that it’s divine Love that governs and sustains our lives removes the effects of other so-called powers. Food included.

I saw this in a small way when I was traveling for a writing assignment and realized that the project might make it impossible for me to eat lunch. A little thing, really, but something that caused me some concern. In the past, when I hadn’t been able to eat, I’d suffered from aggressive headaches.

I asked myself the question: Did food govern this situation, or did my thoughts about it? I was certain that God had not created a law that doomed me to pain if I couldn’t eat in a certain time frame. And I loved the assurance in this hymn by the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, which says: “Fed by Thy love divine we live,/ For Love alone is Life” (“Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 30).

Fed by God’s love. By His nourishing, sustaining, life-giving thoughts. I felt that sustenance tangibly as I prayed the night before. And the day of the project, even though I wasn’t able to eat for almost 10 hours, I felt energized, supported, and satisfied. That was also the end of those food-related headaches.

My experience is a small one, and I’m certainly not claiming to have risen permanently above the need to eat. I have, however, come to see more clearly that all the so-called laws surrounding food and its consumption have only the power we think they do. That is to say, no power – which we see in practical, healing ways as we come to understand Love’s, Spirit’s, omnipotence, and our completely spiritual nature as Love’s offspring.

The possibilities associated with this understanding are expansive. The problems of obesity, food-borne illnesses, even hunger, seem less daunting with all-powerful God – pure, nourishing divine Love – at the center of thought.

“The fact is,” wrote Mrs. Eddy, “food does not affect the absolute Life of man, and this becomes self-evident, when we learn that God is our Life” (Science and Health, p. 388).

That’s a promise that can transform our lives, and our world, in profound ways – far beyond the effects of one vanilla milkshake.

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