Room for Dessert, Pastor?

Pies. Cakes. Potlucks. Picnics. How can the minister even consider staying healthy?

I've never been one of those health nuts who sprinkles fiber on my cereal or straps a 3-quart water bottle to my hip. But three years ago, my husband, Bill, and I faced up to a crisis in our health that had started with six words: "Pastor, don't you want some dessert?"

We had been in ministry for 12 years when we had our revelation, and no one had ever challenged us as did the ladies of Covington Presbyterian Church in Louisiana, where we served at the time. Any time the congregation gathered, these women would show up with pecan pies, double-fudge brownies, cherry tarts — you name it.

Besides those church gatherings, we had made McDonald's and Sonic Burger our daily hangouts. And every Friday night meant pepperoni stuffed-crust pizza and a couple of sugary Cokes. The result? Bill and I couldn't even get our jeans zipped comfortably.

Move Over, Oprah!

It didn't take long to see we were wearing those calories, but a few months passed before we realized the other effects — we felt awful. In the years before the light came on, we'd had more bouts with the flu and colds than we could count, and we were always tired. To compound our problem, we hadn't exercised for months. All those things threw us into a slump.

So after waking up exhausted one Monday morning, we decided to make a change. Bill couldn't give his all to the ministry if he continued on his path. I, a full-time free-lance writer, was tired of falling asleep at my keyboard during daylight hours.

Well, we're three years into our change now, and even a fiber-sprinkling health freak would give us kudos for the modifications we've made. What we've done may give you some ideas.

We put health on our agenda.

For years, Bill and I had used our busyness as an excuse to eat poorly and not exercise. But we realized that a person has time only for things he or she makes time for. When one of us is lying on a stretcher after a heart attack at age 45, will we say, "But we didn't have time to exercise"?

We cut the fat.

It didn't take a diet expert to tell us that the 26 fat grams and 500 calories in McDonald's Big Macs were killing us. Now, instead of heading for fast food, we cook low-fat food — grilled chicken, steamed broccoli, vegetable pizza — at home.

When we eat out, we choose such foods as Wendy's plain baked potato or a bowl of water-based soup. (In case we're tempted to cheat, we carry our Fat Counter book with us, which tells us how many fat grams are in most fast foods. Purchase one at your book or grocery store).

We eat more fruits and vegetables.

A hefty dose (six per day recommended by the Food and Drug Administration) of foods such as raw carrots, bananas, tomatoes and oranges provides enzymes to boost our bodies' immune systems. Even a glass of fresh apple juice counts as a fruit.

We choose smart snacks.

We substitute energy bars for Snickers and air-popped popcorn (sorry, no butter, just a sprinkle of fat-free parmesan) for Twinkies. It's amazing what you'll eat (and even enjoy) when nothing else is available in the cupboards.

We exercise.

I speed walk at least three times a week, and Bill jogs at the end of a long day at the church office. Who would've ever thought that exercising when you're pooped could actually give you energy? (See "Work It Out for Yourself" below.)

Just Say Maybe

Not sure how to say no to Mrs. Oldenwald's home-made apple-raisin pie? Just say maybe. (Husbands: Don't try these tricks at home):

  • "My wife would just love this recipe. Can I wrap up the rest to take home for her to taste?"
  • "Yes, I'll have some pie, but I'll catch the ice cream on the next round."
  • "That dessert was simply wonderful. Can I have the rest to go? I'll finish it at my office tomorrow."
  • "That meal was so delicious that I can handle only a small slice of pie."
  • We drink more water.

    No, I'm still not a water junkie who lugs around containers with me. But we have managed to down the FDA-recommended eight glassed of water per day, which initially sent us to the restroom every five minutes, but now cleans out our insides regularly. For a boost of Vitamin C, we squeeze fresh lemon, lime or orange in our water.

    We get picky.

    It can seem impossible to eat healthy when a spread of fattening foods at potlucks and picnics lies before you. But instead of trying everything in huge portions, we major on the "best of the worst" — the lowest-fat foods available. Also, we make our contribution to the potluck a fresh fruit salad or some other low-fat item.

    Then to avoid hurting members' feelings, we take at least a "taste" of everything else. It's okay to give in in such cases every now and then — just do it in moderation.

    Same Song, Second Verse?

    None of these ideas is earth-shattering: We heard them all from our fourth-grade teachers, who told us to eat three healthy meals a day and to exercise. But what happened when we put these tips to the test? You'd be amazed.

    Now, Bill's energy boost has made him a less grouchy husband and a more attentive counselor. I can make it through a full day without feeling as if I'll collapse to the couch in exhaustion. We've managed to stay out of the doctor's office. Neither of us was obese, but we each shed some pounds.

    Maybe it'll take lightning to get some of you moving, but what took me over the edge was being tired of being sick and tired.

    Bill and I can't be the kind of servants God wants us to be unless we take care of ourselves. He has given us our bodies for a time, and he wants us to care for them.

    Work It Out for Yourself

    No time to exercise? Combine your family and church time into your workout time:

    • Bring your health club home.
      You can talk to your mate and kids, watch the news and even prepare a sermon — all while on a treadmill or stationery bike.
    • Walk or jog with your mate every day.
      That will give you time away from your whirlwind pace and a chance to connect with him or her.
    • Take the steps.
      Next time you visit the hospital, climb those eight flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. The extra work will strengthen your muscles and burn calories.
    • Play hide-and-seek with your tots.
      Or shoot hoops with your teens. They'll love it, and it'll keep you on your toes.
    • Make exercise an appointment.
      Whenever you decide to work out, write it on your calendar and treat it as you would any important meeting.
    • Include exercise in church activities.
      Start a church basketball or volleyball program. That will encourage both fitness and fellowship every week.
    • Take the children skating or biking.
      Make it a family tradition to do some such activity every week.

Taken from Pastor's Family magazine, April/May 1997.
Article copyright © 1997, Andrea Stephens.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Andrea Stephens lives in Bakersfield, Calif. She and her husband, Bill, serve with First Presbyterian Church of Bakersfield,
where he is senior pastor.