The Dharma of dieting

Many many people in the world, especially the U.S., suffer from being overweight. Once they get really fat, they give up on even trying because they feel like it would take too much to ever be able to get back to normal. Since they can’t get back to normal, they figure there is no point in trying. Those who do try, they then really struggle to diet. If they do manage to diet, afterwards they quickly gain all of their weight back. While dieting, they will go through manic phases where they starve themselves to lose, but while they are doing this they just repress their attachment to food, then sometimes they just crack and have a binge where once they start eating a little bit they can’t stop themselves from eating a ton of food all at once. After they do this, they then feel guilty about it and like a failure. They lose their confidence and some then intentionally vomit it all up so that they don’t gain the weight. But then they think that they can eat without consequence, and so they are more likely to binge knowing in the back of their mind they can vomit it back up again. In this way, real severe eating disorders can develop. Another problem faced is the mind can play tricks on people regarding their weight. When they are fat, because they gained the weight slowly over a long period of time they don’t realize that they are fat. They don’t see it so don’t really know or think they have that big of a problem. Once they realize that they have a problem, then all they can see is that they are fat even after they have lost a ton of weight. They just focus on even minor areas of fat and exaggerate them. What makes all of these matters worse is how in society, basically the only thing that counts is how you look, so people become obsessed with their appearance and what others think as the basis of their feeling of self-worth.

I have gone through much of the above (not so much the eating disorders or the concern about what society thinks, but most everything else). At the end of the day, it is really very simple: I got fat because I was not willing to accept the pain of being hungry. As soon as you can mentally accept that pain, you can then choose to eat less and to eat better foods. Losing weight is as simple as consuming less calories than you expend. You can accept this pain if you have good reasons for doing so.

My reasons are as follows: First, I don’t want to die as a result of what I have eaten. Most cancers are traced back to poor diet. Heart disease is the number one killer in America, and this is primarily a function of how people eat. I apparently have low good cholestoral and high triglycerides as a matter of genetics, which means I am particularly susceptible to heart disease, so I need to be even more careful about these things than the average person. How stupid it would be to lose one’s precious human life prematurely just to eat a Big Mac!

Second, I can accept the pain as purification for all of the negative karma I have created with respect to food. When I was a hungry ghost, and also as a human being, I created tremendous negative karma with respect to food. I killed, stole, lied, etc., all in the name of securing food. I committed all of these negative actions because I could not accept the pain of being hungry and the ignorance of not knowing or undertanding the consequences of my decisions. When I experience the pain of hunger, I can accept this pain with regret as purification for my negative karma with respect to food. It is very similar to precepts days. In fact, those on diets can take precepts each day and diet in the context of that. I have not done this, but it is a good idea to do so.

Third, if related to like a drug, food can be a drug. The mind of overeating is very similar to any other addiction. The problem does not come from the side of the object (the food), though it does to a certain extent with junk food, but rather from the side of the mind. It is deluded tendencis which cause somebody to become addicted to food and to struggle to eat less and better. As long as deluded tendencies exist within my mind that I cannot control, I will remain trapped in samsara. So overcoming these deluded tendencies is an important part of training my mind and escaping from samsara. If I can overcome them with respect to food, then I will be able to overcome them more easily with respect to my other attachments. Seen in this way, food is like candy of the devil, tricking you into remaining emmeshed in samsara.

Fourth, so many people in this world, especially America, struggle with this. So if I can learn how to overcome these particular delusions then I will be able to help many other people who suffer from this. So it is part of my bodhichitta training – I need to put effort into gaining the realizations that others need so that I can help them. The more expereince I gain overcoming any one delusion, the more easily I will be able to overcome all other delusions because the nature of the delusion is the same, what changes is the object of the delusion.

Once again, from these three reasons, it is obvious that the lamrim is the opponent to all delusions. The stronger I can make the lamrim within my mind, the more easily I can overcome any and all delusions.

When I was younger, I was skinny like a stick but I ate like a cow. My metabolism then changed, and I started slowly getting fatter. When I got to the US, I ballooned, because the food is so bad for you here and bad food is so abundant. I got up to 190 pounds. But in the last 3.5 months of 2010, I lost almost 35 pounds using the above reasoning. At the end of the day, dieting is largely a question of mind.

I have succeeded in eating less and a little bit better, but I have not yet succeeded in eating in a healthy way. Once I reach my target weight, and I only have a few more pounds to go, I will then turn to starting to eating foods which are more healthy. Likewise, I also need to get physically in shape. Not for vanity reasons, but because I need to keep this body healthy if it is going to live a long time. I will need all of the time I can get to practice Dharma while I have this precious opportunity to do so and I have the wish to do so. If I cannot control my own mind with respect to my own health, how will I have any credibility with others about encouraging them to control their own minds?

Your turn:  What are some delusions you have faced while dieting, and how have you overcome them?

4 thoughts on “The Dharma of dieting

  1. Thanks KR i really like what you say about eating in a healthy way,agreed in the reasons you have to avoid that delusion. these primary reasons seem to me very true and also direct. I think throughout my life I have fallen into some excesses with respect to my feed and on the other hand I have had many good months devoted to choose to eat in a more healthfully way. What you expose today gives me a very good key to for the last, end all these ups and downs of my mind. thank you very much and I hope that you also make it.
    the words that impact me the most were:
    ” I got fat because I was not willing to accept the pain of being hungry. “

  2. Cher Enseignant Kadam Ryan,
    J’ai quelque chose de la plus haute importance à te confier. Sachant que tu est très sollicité, vu le caractère confidentiel de mon message, je te supplie d’en prendre connaissasnce sur ton Email privé. Merci d’avance et que tout soit auspicieux pour toi
    Ton étudiant de toujours Max

  3. Attachment to food is very difficult. It seems like a reliable source of happiness and is readily available thanks to our merit. We can’t abandon eating food as we need it to survive. Most of my poor choices about what to eat and portion size arise from not wanting to think about cause and effect. I know it’s not good for me but I’m going to do it anyway.

    This is a good opportunity to apply the five forces, starting with a strong motivation to overcome my attachment to food and my lack of conviction that poor diet has consequences. Then I need to make a firm decision ‘from now on I will be mindful of what I eat knowing that eating has consequences’. When I wake in the morning and from time to time during the day I need to renew my determination, remembering the benefits of countering my attachment and ignorance. Since I am so familiar with attachment to food and not wanting to believe that poor eating has consequences, I will slip. I am not inherently overweight or driven by attachment. Thru practicing Dharma I have seen gradual reduction in my anger. I know the five forces will be effective but I need to have realistic expectations. It takes time to become more familiar with a realistic view of food so that it affects my eating. The third force is white seed in which I offer the first portion of what I eat to the Buddhas. This increases mindfulness and is an opportunity to see that my view determines the qualities of the food. I can see our food as a delightful offering to the Buddhas and enjoy it. Perhaps I can even eat without reading and other distractions, truly enjoying my food. I can dedicate my daily purification practices to overcoming my self-cherishing and ignorance of cause and effect with respect to my food. I need to make repeated requests to the Buddhas to grant me their blessings so that I may gain control over my use of food. Finally I must dedicate my efforts.

  4. This is what i am studying for my biology exam! Thanks.
    When one educates themself in what is in food it is relatively enjoyable part of Dharma practice.

    Main points i will make: Risk, Carbohydrates, Lipoproteins

    If you are genetically leaning towards CHD, understand all of the risks not just diet. Exercise is key for you by: lowering blood pressure, decreasing risk of thrombosis and atheromas forming in your arteries plus it keeps wight off and stress off the heart. Plus, stress in the body is released.

    Good Cholesterol (High density lipoproteins) are really important for everyone. Low density ones are bad and can clog arteries over time, they make them tough and inflexible. Cholesterol is important for the body in plasma membranes and fats are of different types such as saturated polyunsaturated etc. get to know what is in food, very rewarding process.

    Watch the sugar! Really important. Sugar in milk, Carbs are full of sugar, easy to lose weight when you balance things out. Only 1 spoon of sugar per day is plenty according to experts.

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