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"When the inner malaise itself is addressed, both the harmful eating patterns and the resultant overweight lose their source and sustenance"
The Body and the Spirit
by Victoria Moran
Like stepchildren in fairy tales, our bodies get blamed for a lot. When we criticize them, we put ourselves down, too. If you've ever said, "I hate my thighs," or "I used to be pretty but now I'm a wreck," or "Look at this fat - I'm really disgusting! ", you've been your own evil stepmother.
"Your weight may be a problem, but it isn't the problem. It's a symptom."
Your weight may be a problem, but it isn't the problem. It's a symptom - usually a symptom of out-of-control eating. You can be rid of the symptom while the real problem flourishes. Getting thin is not a cure. Any size six bulimic can attest to that. Nevertheless, if you deal with the cause of the overweight, your body will reflect a weilness, a balance, and a beauty that go far beyond how you look in a pair of shorts.
INNER MALAISE --- DESTRUCTIVE EATING --- OVERWEIGHT
The little flow chart above should help explain it. We have a continuum here. It starts with what I'm calling inner malaise. That's a catchall term to cover the fear and discontent, stress and impaired self-image, childhood leftovers or anything else that stands between us and our being at peace with ourselves and our world. Inner malaise can lead to a variety of inappropriate or self-destructive behaviors. Destructive eating is the one we're concerned with here. It generally shows up as extra weight.
Traditionally, we've gone after the obvious: the weight. And why not? We can see it. We can even weigh it, for heaven's sake! But when it's gone (via diets, exercise, pills, you name it), the inner malaise can still be active, resulting in further destructive eating. In fact, as long as the inner malaise goes unchecked, even dieting is destructive eating (or destructive noneating). It will eventually lead to gaining back the lost weight, or to some variation on the theme, such as bulimia.
This is not to say that there are no physical reasons for overweight. There are several. Refined sugars and greasy, salty snacks actually cause an addictive reaction in some people and lead to overeating (you'll read more about this in Chapter 6 when we discuss binge foods). Too much fat in the diet can result in too much fat on the body, and lack of exercise can lower the metabolic rate, encouraging fat storage. Dieting is also a factor: "The body cannot distinguish dieting from starvation. . . . We are automatically driven to gorge ourselves in anticipation of recurrent famine." (*)
These physical phenomena have become widely known in recent years. Knowing about them and doing something about them are obviously two very different things. What is it that keeps people from doing what they know would bring them what they want? For a great many people - and only you can decide if you're one of them - inner malaise blocks their attempt to put into practice the good things they already know about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
"As long as the inner malaise goes unchecked, even dieting is destructive eating (or destructive noneating)."
Some people have realized that attacking the weight is a hopeless maneuver and they have proposed alternative plans of action that focus on the middle of the chart, the eating itself. Their strategy is generally behavior modification - techniques such as taking small bites and putting the fork down between them, or forgoing the fork altogether and giving chopsticks a try. The idea is to shut out old habits with new ones, like not eating alone or after seven in the evening. These can be positive practices, but most of the time they fail over the long haul. Why? They fail because our actions ultimately grow out of ourselves. Unless we change, our actions are not likely to change.
On the other hand, when the inner malaise itself is addressed, both the harmful eating patterns and the resultant overweight lose their source and sustenance. Tiny miracles transpire one by one. We take those smaller bites. We aren't hanging on to the fork as if it were a life preserver. Breathing gets easier. Clothes get looser. And although we never asked for this one, life gets better. It has to, because it is being lived in a new and decidedly better way.
HEALING AT THE DESIRE LEVEL
When the healing comes like this, from within, it's healing at the desire level. It's no longer wanting a candy bar and settling for an orange. It's wanting the orange and relishing every bite of it. This does not mean that there will never again be food choices to make. There are healthful and unhealthful food choices just as there are healthful and unhealthful life choices. Only by dealing with the inner malaise, though, are we able to truly make choices about what we eat. Otherwise, the choices are made for us, and we usually regret them.
"It's healing at the desire level. It's no longer wanting a candy bar and settling for an orange.
It's wanting the orange and relishing every bite of it."
When we turn to unhealthful or excessive food (or any other damaging substance or practice) in order to feel better, it's because something is missing in our lives. Although it seems that what we lack is outside ourselves - the right job, the right mate, the right body, the right memories - the emptiness is core-deep. To make satisfying, lasting changes in how we nourish our bodies requires that we learn to get some vital nourishment from within. We do that by connecting with our spiritual selves, by making practical contact with the Divine, whatever we perceive that to be.
Words like "spiritual" and "Divine" (capitalized, no less!) can be loaded with emotional definitions that aren't likely to show up in the dictionary, but which can vividly color our personal interpretations. It may be that you're not a religious person and you've got me pegged as a holy roller. Or perhaps you are religious and you wonder if I'm from some cult that collects money in airports. I'm neither (honest!), but what's important to get you free from the food fix is not what I am but what you are.
If you can get past the binge/diet syndrome by some other means, terrific. I couldn't. I'd stressed my resolve and my willpower until, like overworked peasants, they chose to revolt. That insidious urge to smooth life's rough edges with a nibble that could turn into a nightmare would overtake me just when I was convinced that I had everything under control. My intelligence and good intentions were of no more use than lighting fixtures in a house with no wiring. I needed power and I didn't have it. I needed to tap into a Higher Power, one that would always be there.
"It was such a strange notion. My problem had seemed so physical."
It was such a strange notion. My problem had seemed so physical. I ate quantities of physical food and it showed quantitatively on my physical body, yet paradoxically the answer to my problem was spiritual. It didn't make sense to me at first, and it may not make sense to you until you realize that, as human beings, you and I are like icebergs. What people see, our physical selves, is only the tip of who we are. There's lots more beneath the surface. We're splendid beings with complex emotions and intellects, and underlying our hearts, minds, and bodies is a spiritual essence. It is uniquely ours, yet it connects us to every living thing. It connects us to Life itself.
The part of you that shows, your body, is important because it is a part of you and you are important. You can think of your body as the vehicle by which you journey through this life, as your radio receiver for picking up the signals of the outside world, or as an instrument in an orchestra, allowing you to play your music for the rest of us. A symphony needs French horns and oboes, cellos and violins, tinkling little triangles, and booming bass drums. You might even be a grand piano!
Abusing food can interfere with your ability to appreciate your special physical self. In an all-out binge, it's necessary to, in effect, cut off diplomatic relations between the body and the mind. Since it's a rare person who consciously wants to be miserable, most people who binge separate their conscious (thinking) selves from their sensory (physical) selves by reading working driving or watching television while they eat. They may absentmindedly grab snacks throughout the day or tastes while cooking a meal. Swearing off the distractions that remove you from the present moment may seem like the antidote, but it isn't. If you have the need to binge, you will find a way to shut off your mind - with all its "shoulds" and "oughts" and "know betters" - and go for the food.
"Most people who binge separate their conscious (thinking) selves from their sensory (physical) selves by reading, working, driving or watching television while they eat."
The need to binge is a spiritual hunger. It can only be assuaged with spiritual food. You know how koala bears eat nothing but eucalyptus leaves? The soul is something like that It can only be nourished by Love. (There's that capital again.) You see, all genuine love is good - love from your family, your friends, even your companion animals - but the kind you need for this purpose can't be filtered through anyone else. It has to be from the Source: Love that's within you so you don't have to look for it, that's already yours so you don't have to earn it, that can't stop loving so you needn't worry about losing it.
I think that was the kind Rilke was referring to when he wrote in Letters to a Young Poet, "... believe in a love that is being held for you like an inheritance and trust that in this love there is a strength and a blessing, out beyond which you do not have to step in order to go very far!" (**)
That inheritance is yours. You claim it first by wanting it. Once you do, you'll be eager to put into practice the principles you'll learn in this book. The first are these:
"The need to binge is a spiritual hunger."
- Accept that your food problem is serious, that you can't deal with it on your own.
- Open your mind to the idea that a Higher Power can help
- Allow that Power - call it Love, call it God, call it whatever feels absolutely right to you - to work some wonders in your life.
If you're familiar with the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, adopted by Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Co-dependents Anonymous, and numerous other groups, you'll recognize these three concepts as an interpretation of the first three Steps.
People in the Anonymous programs sometimes abbreviate these Steps as, "I can't, God can, I'll let Him (or Her or It)." However worded, this formula is common to men and women of all ages and cultures who have built, or rebuilt, their lives on a spiritual basis, letting go of old ways that didn't work and inviting in something that does.
A LIFETIME ADVENTURE
Spiritualizing your thoughts and attitudes is an adventure that can last a lifetime. To instigate the process, particularly as it affects your eating, take the following actions today and every day for the next month.
"When you get to a mirror, look yourself in the eye and say, "I love you just the way you are." You don't have to believe it, just do it."
- Each morning before your feet touch the floor, ask your Higher Power to help you eat reasonably that day, and say thank you at night even if your eating didn't seem perfect.
- When you get to a mirror to wash your face or shave, look yourself in the eye and say, "I love you just the way you are." You don't have to believe it, just do it.
- Read over the "Revolutionary Concepts" (below) morning and evening.
- Get some quiet time to yourself every single day - at least ten minutes worth. If you have to take this time in the bathtub to get
privacy, fine. During your quiet minutes, read over the first three of the Twelve Steps (Appendix D) and think about them. Do you
really believe that you're powerless over your addiction or is there
something else you'd like to try? Can you contemplate the possibility that a Higher Power could help? Can you consider making a decision to put that Higher Power in charge of your will and your life?
(Writing your thoughts on this in ajournal isn't required, but it can be helpful.)
- Do not diet. Think instead in terms of not eating for a fix one day at a time. Get three reasonable meals every day and before each one ask your Higher Power to help you eat wisely. If you want to eat between meals, converse with your Higher Power. If you're really hungry, have a piece of fruit.
- Do two nice things for yourself today - one that you think you "should" (make the bed, floss your teeth, swim laps), and one that's just for fun (take a bubble bath, rent a video, call a friend long-distance). Don't be surprised if it's easier to enjoy the work than the play.
- Enlist some support. At the very least, read this book with a friend and then help each other along. You'll do yourself a far greater favor if you hook up with a support group already organized that uses proven principles to help food addicts recover. I recommend Overeaters Anonymous. OA will teach you to incorporate the Twelve Steps into your life while providing an unparalleled support system of people who understand. OA meetings are in every major city and most smaller ones, and there is no charge for membership. (For more information, see the listing for Overeaters Anonymous in Appendix C, "Some Helpful Organizations.")
If you're feeling overwhelmed by all this, relax. You're not in a competition and you don't have to pass a quiz. Many of the ideas you have just read are probably new to you. Give yourself time to let them settie, and feel free to read this chapter more than once before you go further. You're embarking on a transformational journey. That's no small thing. It's certainly understandable if you're feeling some trepidation. There is a lot at stake here. Old patterns of doing things are going to be replaced. They don't want to get fired.
While you're making layoffs, you may also want to consider trading any old images of a punishing, wrathful deity for a Higher Power that loves you no matter what You II need one that isn t just interested in great, cosmic events but one that's interested in you and seeing you out of your food addiction. The image I like is that if God were the sun, each and every one of us would get our own personal beam, keeping us safe and warm. You can use any image that speaks to you. Just get used to being loved unconditionally. Before long, you'll be loving yourself unconditionally, too. (Unconditional, you know, includes thighs.)
And you are not only lovable. You are also, whether you realize it or not, spiritual. Do not think for an instant that because the solution
to food addiction is spiritual, food addicts themselves somehow aren't.
In the midst of a binge, anyone's spirituality is on temporary hold, but your inherent spiritual identity persists. Being overweight, bulimic, or in some other way obsessed with food or with your body does not negate that identity.
All the inner growth you've done up to this point counts, too. Only you and God know how far you've had to come to get here, to the point where you can look honestly at yourself and what you are eating. Give yourself some credit, and resist the urge to compare yourself to anyone else. Many people have never had a serious problem with food. Others have overcome food addictions while you were growing through something else. All that matters now is that you've suffered with this long enough. It's your turn to be free - body and spirit.
PHASE OUT FAT DAYS
Do you ever have fat days? On fat days you feel fat regardless of your size. These days can be precipitated by eating too much, a little too much, or just what you think is too much. They can also be brought on by such seeming irrelevancies as having dirty hair or an argument with someone who's important in your life. Losing weight isn't a fully satisfactory response to fat days since they're so subjective. As an extreme but telling example, think of anorexics. I've visited some in hospitals who were painfully, even frighteningly, emaciated, yet who felt fat. For them, every day was a fat day, although they had literally been in danger of dying from malnutrition.
"Spiritual recovery means more than an end to eating for a fix. It also implies befriending your body."
While anorexia is a psychiatric disorder that requires professional help, seeing the body in a distorted way is so common that it's generally accepted as the way things are. But what if instead of fat days you had poison ivy days, when you itched all over even though there was nothing organically wrong? It would seem like a problem, wouldn't it? Well, fat days are a problem, too, because they're days on which you tend to love yourself less than you deserve. You are lovable every day. You can't force yourself to believe that, but you can allow for the possibility that it's true to enter your world view. Allowing for such possibilities is a spiritual activity because it happens deep within you.
A long time ago a friend said to me, "When I'm 150 pounds going up, I'm the fattest, ugliest person on earth, but when I'm 150 coming down, I'm absolutely beautiful." In the years since she made that statement, my friend has done a lot of inner work to realize that she's beautiful all the time. It so happens that she hasn't had an eating binge in a dozen years, so the whole notion of "going up" and "coming down" only touches her life today as it relates to elevators and airplane trips.
Spiritual recovery means more than an end to eating for a fix. It also implies befriending your body. You don't wait to do that until after you've reached some arbitrary goal weight. You do it today, the first day that you put your food choices in the hands of a loving Higher Power.
The imaging ability of the mind that can be twisted to give you fat days can be uplifted to give you attractive and healthy days. As these days go by, your physical body will catch up with your mental image. Since the body is subject to physical laws, it will take some time for its form to change, but the time it takes for you to be happy and to have an attractive, healthy day is no time at all. Enjoy it.
These revolutionary concepts aren't for taking over embassies, they're the beginners' basics for revolutionizing your relationship with your body and how you feed it. Read them over morning and evening for thirty days, paying particular attention to those with which you may feel uncomfortable. It's possible that those won't apply to you at all, but it's more likely that they're precisely the ones that can mean the most in your recovery.
Ideas you're not sure of can be tried out, like taking a car on a test drive. If, for example, the thought of a spiritual solution to your food problem doesn't seem logical, you can consider it a possibility, a working hypothesis.
- You are acceptable right now, regardless of what you ate yesterday or what the scale has to say about you.
- Abusing food is a sign of internal imbalance, and overcoming it is largely an inside job.
- Food addiction is serious and, like other addictions, progressive. Few genuine addicts have ever recovered without a spiritual basis.
- Your spirituality is personal. You don't have to take on someone else's brand.
- You are a spiritual being living in a physical body. Your body is an integral part of the totality that is you.
- Your body is not an independent entity; it reflects what's going on inside you - emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
- It's okay to feel beautiful right now. If you wait until you're thin to feel beautiful, you may never get there.
- If you don't eat for a fix today, that long string of tomorrows that seems so foreboding will take care of itself.
- Your body is not your enemy. You are in this together. When you do something nice for your body, you're doing something nice for yourself.
- Having a food addiction does not make you a bad person. Both medicine and psychology recognize addiction as an illness, not a moral issue.
- You don't have to be perfect to get well, and it's even all right to be a little bit scared.
"Food addiction is serious and, like other addictions, progressive. Few genuine addicts have ever recovered without a spiritual basis."
from The Love-Powered Diet - When Willpower Is Not Enough, Ch. 2, 1992
*) Neal D. Barnard, M.D., The Power of Your Plate, p. 88. This "restrained eater phenomenon" is detailed by Dr. Barnard in his chapter, "New Strategies for Weight Control." See Appendix A, "Suggested Reading."
**) Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters To A Young Poet, translation by M. D. Herter Norton H~. (NewYork:W.W,. Norton & Co., Inc., rev. ed., 1954), p. 40.
This excerpt comes from Victoria Moran's 1992 book The Love-Powered Diet. It is out of print, although copies of this book and a 1997 revised edition under the title Love Yourself Thin are usually available used through Amazon.com. A newer book by Victoria on this subject is Fit from Within: 101 Simple Secrets to Change Your Body & Your Life (Mc-Graw-Hill, 2003), avaialable wherever books are sold. Victoria has been speaking about her ideas at ANHS conferences.
You can read more about Victoria by visiting her website, http://www.victoriamoran.com
Learn more about the Twelve Steps at Overeaters Anonymous