Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Diets & Religion

So some who have been around me already know that I've been on a pretty strict diet. It is based on numerous studies showing, time and time again, evidence that a diet with little to no animal products, a high level of green vegetables and legumes, and a limited amounts of whole grains and nuts will lead to a healthier, longer life with less likelihood of cancer or heart disease. For the first six weeks it does not allow for any animal products at all, and allows only foods with little-to-no added fat, sugar or salt.

Now that I've been embracing this diet, what I find interesting is the many correlations I've been finding between diet and religion.

I started thinking about desires, about the things we want regardless of the knowledge that they may be bad for us physically or spiritually. My religion prohibits drinking alcohol and I'm often asked, "Aren't you ever tempted?" (people always emphasize that word when they ask, perhaps because they believe it might be an offensive question), but I can honestly reply that "No, I've never really been tempted to drink alcohol". But over and over I've heard people say "Oh, I don't think I could ever be a Baha'i, because I just don't think I could give up alcohol." or they couldn't give up this, or that, or some other thing. I, personally, never really thought of drinking as an option, I always thought of it as "just something I don't do" and I never really questioned or was tempted to break that particular prohibition. But certainly there are other things within my religion with which I have not been so resolute. There are plenty of my beliefs and Baha'i laws that I have broken, sometimes with thought, sometimes without. When those things come up perhaps my will is not so strong, and my resolve melts between a mixture of beliefs of "what is good for me? What is best for me? What will make me happiest?" My faith is shaken by a confusion of selfish desires. I desire what will make me happiest (usually for the moment) and I question whether following the beliefs and teachings will lead me there now or ever.

So back to the diet, and my love of chocolate and cheese...
Q: Do I truly believe these prohibited foods are good for me?
A: No
Q: Do I still desire them?
A: Yes, but * (I'll get back to you on this one)
Q: Would I rather live a longer, healthier life?
A: Yes
Q: Is momentary pleasure or happiness better than living a longer, healthier life?
A: Hmmmm.....

So back to religion...
Q: The things that are prohibited, are they good for me?
A: No
Q: Do I still desire them?
A: Yes, but *
Q: Would I rather live a deeper, more spiritually healthy life?
A: Yes
Q: Is momentary pleasure or happiness better than living a more spiritually healthy life?
A: Hmmmm.....

When I first looked at this diet I thought it was far too strict for me to be able to manage. I've been vegetarian for years, but have always said "I could never be vegan, I'm far too in love with cheese". But nonetheless I have been feeling more and more uneasy over the past few years as I read about the dairy/veal industry and about the levels of saturated fats and hormones in cheeses. I'm also a big fan of chocolate, of pasta, of sugary desserts, and of quick and easy foods (mmm...Easy Mac!). So as I read this book and recognized that even being vegetarian I'm increasing my risks of developing cancer and heart disease simply because of my high dairy/cheese intake and other poor food choices, I felt my resolve to at least try this diet increase page by page. And the promise that I could eat AS MUCH fruits and vegetables as I wanted and never be hungry and still have the pounds just drop off was very tempting, but I wasn't sure it would overcome my desires for all the foods that I love.

So as I began the diet I yearned for things. I craved cheese. I craved chocolate. I craved caffeine and bread and pasta and butter. But I didn't eat them. I told myself that I just had to stick too it and wait to see the results, or I would never know. The arguments for better health remained in my head.

There is a concept often spoken of in religion which we usually term "attatchment" which is very similar to the idea of addiction. We talk about being overly "attached" to the things of this physical world. They can be things like food or comfort, money, possessions, or our habits and lifestyle. But these attachments are often the things that keep us from being able to develop our spiritual virtues. Greed keeps us from compassion, generosity and selflessness. Our love of our position in life may keep us from humility and loving kindness. Our love of our daily habits and routines may keep us from being able to attend new events and grow in new directions.

Americans in general are addicted to bad foods. We are COMFORTABLE and ATTACHED to the foods, the flavors, the textures, the restaurants, the lifestyle and the time we spend eating. We can't imaging a celebration, a loss, a meeting, a date, or even a death without it relating to food. We are resistant to change. Most of us will deny this attachment and will deny proofs of the unhealthiness of our choices not because of the lack of clear evidence, but because we do not WANT to believe it because it would mean we would have to give up so many things we are so attached to or be forced into admitting that we are deliberately doing harm to ourselves.

In similar manner, we sometimes try to fool ourselves by only choosing to accept beliefs that will suit our lifestyle rather than really looking for the truth and then doing what is truly best for the health and growth of our soul. I saw a good analogy someone posted on MySpace to another person who was stating how hard it was when he became a Baha'i to be around people who were out drinking and partying every weekend without him now:

"That's the problem with planting a seed. In order for that seed to grow, it has to completely shed its old form. The seed has to break apart and cease to exist, in what metaphorically can be a painful transformation of giving up parts of its old existence. But the beauty is that as the seed is watered by God's living waters as you put it, a new plant emerges that is capable of producing such wonderful fruits. It's the same seed/plant essentially, just in a new form that has always potentially been within just waiting for the right stimulus. Be patient, you will at some point start to see the growth within yourself, if you haven't already!"
~Shoshona on Myspace

Now the other thing to take into account is the effect that a diet, or living a life as prescribed by God will have on our body or our soul and in a transformation into a truly different person. Although I hate the expression of being "born again" (because it seems to absolve any previous transgressions and to indicate an instantaneous change) the concept of changing into someone new, and fresh, with new goals and desires is a very real thing that many people go through in their lives by many different means. It may be law school, or army boot camp, or a spiritual awakening, or taking on a new diet and exercise regime, but people do dramatically change their character and change into a person with different goals and desires and outlooks than their previous selves would have had.

Back to our questions earlier:
Q: Do I truly believe they are good for me?
A: No
Q: Do I still desire them?
A: Yes, but *

*Yes, but with knowledge about their effect on my well being and time spent away from them I find I'm less attached.

So the first real realization I notice from this diet is that only AFTER I've changed my behavior can I appreciate the results. You could TELL me that I would look better and feel better and that my desires for these foods would decrease, but I could not foresee the internal changes and not anticipate the feeling I would have afterwards. I did not know the person I would become.

But the second realization is that the results were not my motivator for change, my BELIEF in living a healthier life is what truly motivated the change, and only after a month of dieting can I really appreciate some of the feelings and results of this change and my resolve to stay along the same path has increased as I tread it. The same I think is true of living a life more in accordance with your spiritual beliefs. The results of "living the life" one believes in cannot be quantified and described externally, they generally are something about which only experience speaks most clearly and directly . They also do not generally come as a result of yearning for the, many times unknown or unexpected, end results but rather from the knowledge and belief that the things prescribed are the things that are best for the health of your soul, and as you follow the laws and strive and work towards exemplifying your beliefs it becomes far more clear that this is the right path to be taking.

Oh, and for any who are curiousI've lost 16lbs in one month so far on the diet from "Eat to Live" by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

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Anonymous nb said...

Yea! Good post hermana. Congrats on all the self awareness stuff. I'm ashamed to say I just had some coffee, and already want a Dr. Pepper. An Advil too.
Anyway, keep on rockin',

8:42 AM  

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