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?