Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weight Loss the Buddhist Way: Mindfulness

Obesity Epidemic "Astronomical"

The prognosis for the nation is bad and getting worse as obesity takes its toll on the health of adults and children alike.

By R. Morgan Griffin
WebMD Feature

One of the biggest health stories of the year has been the rise in obesity among both adults and children in the U.S. We've all heard so much about the "obesity epidemic" that it's easy to think the story is being blown out of proportion. After all, people putting on a few pounds may not seem to warrant the proclamation of a national emergency.

The Practical Buddhist Responds

The Buddha lived in a royal palace surrounded by the finest of everything, including limitless food. Later he adopted the life of extreme ascetics who allowed themselves only the bare minimum for survival. At last he found Middle Way of Moderation. The Middle Way respects our bodies and our minds and avoids the excesses of starvation diets or compulsive gorging.

Following the Middle Way means focusing, but not on scales or sizes or the shedding pounds. It means attending to health, treasuring our miraculous  bodies, and treating them with tender care. If we are moderate in diet and in exercise, we will weigh what we should weigh and look as we should look, barring serious illness.

Why is moderation so hard? Some otherwise bright and disciplined people seem unable to attain it. The answer may lie in a combination of circumstance and training. We are surrounded by opportunities to eat without attention, mindfulness, or moderation.  Even now in our economic crisis, most can buy as much fat and starch and salt as they want. We have been taught that food is for comfort and entertainment, not for celebration of sharing. Sitting alone watching a TV romance, your companions a jumbo bag of chips and a sugary soda, you are in a drugged state of no-attention and no-awareness.  It masks pain and delays engagement with life.

A first step toward diet health is attention. Become aware of everything you put in your mouth. What is the consistency, the taste, the texture? How would you describe it to someone unfamiliar with it? Until eating with attention becomes habit, you could write your food (and drink, even water) in a special diary or notebook, along with your impressions and observations about it.  The vast majority of people find that careful and consistent attention to their food and drink will bring better order and moderation in eating and drinking.

A second step, after beginning to be aware of your food and drink, is to notice the triggers to consumption.  Many eat when anxious, for example. With practice you can learn better ways to manage your nervousness and fear, such as brief, focused meditation or even skillful breathing.

Meantime, know that you are here and now, and that whether fat or thin, there is nothing inherently wrong with you.  As you begin to seek the Middle Way and develop your skills in paying attention, the weight is likely to take care of itself.

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