Secret # 1: Always Eat Dessert

In the convent, we always had dessert at noon time dinner and at evening supper.  On Sunday we had hot dogs and homemade sweet rolls for breakfast.  We had an apple orchard on the convent grounds and the smell of homemade apple pie wafted up through the floor boards from the bakery in the basement to the main floor where we were doing duties like cleaning toilets and high dusting.  The apple pie was served with a slice of cheddar cheese on top and was totally yummy.  At night the dessert was something lighter as our main meal was at noon, perhaps a bowl of canned peaches or a small slice of sheet cake.  (I preferred the cake to the canned fruit of course.)  And the Sunday sweet rolls baking filled the whole convent with a potpourri of cinnamon.

Why always eat dessert?  We didn’t have seconds in the convent.  There were ten girls to a table in the refectory and two platters filled with 5 servings each were placed on each table.  The dessert completed the meal and filled me up.  I always wanted seconds and if what was served, one of the girls didn’t like I got to have a second serving, like baked eggs on Friday mornings.  Most of the time there was no such luck.  But the dessert satisfied me.  How many times do you want a second serving of chicken and dumplings after eating a piece of chocolate cake?  That dessert provided inadvertent portion control.  I have used desert as a way to eat less all my life.  (sub sandwich example)

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Secret #2: It’s Okay To Be a Couch Potato

(Author with 2 of her brothers, 1966)

Did we go to the gym in the convent?  No.  Just the thought of having a gym in a convent makes me laugh.  I don’t think the vow of poverty would allow for tread mills and bicep curl machines.  However, the convent was built on lots of land.  Instead of doing meditation kneeling in the chapel many of us did it by going for a walk down the pine walk.  (I have to admit that I sometimes did my meditation by heading for a vacant classroom, putting my head down on a desk and sleeping.)  Also we enjoyed recreation after dinner.  (Sometimes I missed that one too because I was still busy doing dishes in priests’ kitchen which was my main duty.) Recreation was often playing ball outside or bowling down at the barn and other physical activities.  Some things were fun; others not so much.  I wasn’t too crazy about our postulant mistress, Sister St. Etienne’s hiking trips.  St. Etienne was a real mountain goat leading us up and down the hills through the brambles and the bushes in black wool serge outfits on humid mid-western 85 degree days.  There was also plenty of time to sit and read and darn socks; in other words plenty of couch potato time.

The lesson here is that it’s ok to be a couch potato a lot of the time, or sit and work at a desk all day like I do now, as long as one still finds time to do something fun and physical.  I really dislike exercise.  You wouldn’t catch me dead with a gym membership!  However, I just signed up for a clogging class.  I love to dance.  I show up once a week for the clogging class. I never practice in-between classes as we’re supposed to do but I don’t worry about that.  In spite of St. Etienne’s Mountain Goat hikes, I love to walk.  I joined a group to walk to raise money for the heart association in 2001 and have been doing it ever since.  I love the coaches, have made lots of friends, and God forbid, get in a little exercise.  I’m doing what I love and I keep moving so that when I’m sitting around I don’t feel guilty.

Secret #3: After Me You Come First

“I don’t have time to eat right and exercise” is a false statement.  Sister Mary John Thomas said once in freshman year when I told her I hadn’t had time to do the homework: we always have time to do the things we really want to do.

In the convent, we were doing the things we wanted to do because we chose to be there.  Those who didn’t want to be there simply went home.  There were no bars on the doors.  The convent routine of life provided time for personal growth and education as well as prayer, duties and helping others.  Every once in a while I go to the Holy Spirit Retreat house and take the course in “Centering Prayer.”  Keeping centered is about taking care of oneself.  Taking care of oneself includes keeping in shape not just spiritually but mentally and physically.  Many people think the convent is only about prayer and penance and maybe even punishment.  The convent is about becoming whole with oneself and enjoying the peace which that brings all in the eyes of God.

Find the time to attend the craft class, listen to one of “The Great Courses”  or go on an archaeological dig in Egypt and you will have the power and energy to lose that weight and keep it off!


About the Author of The Convent Diet

Mary Lou Reid

Mary Lou Reid entered the convent 50 years ago. While there she lost 50 pounds and has kept the weight off for 50 years.

After leaving the convent Mary Lou headed to New York where she worked in the arts and media business. She attended NYU business school and then relocated to Los Angeles where she completed her education in finance. Mary Lou has worked as a Certified Financial Planner for the past 30 years. She has given many seminars, written articles and has appeared as a financial expert on TV.

Losing weight and keeping it off is often the #1 New Year’s Resolution and Mary Lou wants to help people keep that resolution for a lifetime.