Are You Spiritually Fat?


Early on in my career, I knew a woman who made a particularly good living out of being professionally “beautiful.” She was the quintessential model actress singer. At a dinner party one evening, I couldn’t help but notice how much she was loving her food. She ate with a passion that was unexpected to me. I didn’t even realize it, but I somehow had the assumption that she would be the type who controlled her food, her appetite, and her body weight with absolute rigor and austerity.

I remarked to her husband “does she always eat like that?”

He laughed and said, “no one would believe it, but it’s true. She has a love affair with food, she eats what she wants, and never gains a pound. And except for walking and yoga, she doesn’t exercise. Everyone wants to know her secret.”

To which I replied, “I bet her secret is pretty simple – good genes.” I didn’t notice it, but she was listening in on our conversation, and she quickly corrected me:

“I wasn’t always like this,” she said.

“I had weight issues all my life. My secret isn’t good genes. My secret is that I’m spiritually fat.”

Needless to say, I had no idea what “spiritually fat” meant, but I was a bit captivated by the conversation. So I asked her to explain. And without missing a beat, she said something like this:

“I eat healthy and organic, but not all the time. I love creamy and rich food. I never hold back from tasting what I want and from having what I want. I feel so rich and so wealthy when I eat food that I absolutely love. I feel it all over my body. I indulge myself and I don’t worry and I don’t have regrets about it. As long as I allow myself to be spiritually fat, my body doesn’t gain weight, I feel satisfied and I never overeat.”

That was pretty much the extent of the conversation, and a part of me didn’t take her seriously. But the term “spiritually fat” stayed stuck in my brain for months. It was trying to teach me something.

There was some revelation wanting to emerge from the shadows. Like all good conundrums, I thought about it a lot, and then forgot about it. And of course, in the way life tends to trick us into greater awareness, an unexpected insightful moment found its way into my nutrition-minded brain.

Here’s what happened: I walked into a Japanese restaurant one evening, and greeting customers at the entrance was a spectacular 10-foot tall Buddha, carved in beautiful wood, sitting in a meditative pose, with a huge smile sun-shining across his face. And oh yes, he was FAT.

The Buddha: spiritually fat. Of course! He’s been around all these years, and as far as I can tell, no one seems to mind that he’s a pretty hefty guy … But it got me thinking. Maybe this isn’t okay.

Should we put the Buddha on a diet?

Isn’t he a bad nutritional influence? Granted, the Buddha is considered one of the great teachers of all time, enlightening the world about compassion, peace, acceptance, awareness, nonviolence, and all kinds of great methods to elevate one’s mind and heart. Maybe he’s enlightened about other things, but what about healthy weight?

Well, wouldn’t you know it, like every Japanese restaurant, there’s always something on the menu named after the Buddha, usually a “Buddha Roll.”  But the weird thing is, a Buddha roll always has vegetables inside and it’s far from fattening. Same deal with a Chinese restaurant – you can always find a dish such as “Buddha’s Delight” on the menu, and again it’s always a low-fat vegetarian entrée for dieters. Shouldn’t a Buddha roll have all kinds of cream cheese, drizzled with pretty little orange fatty fish eggs, and fried in oil? Did Buddha really get fat eating a bunch of veggies, seaweed and rice? Perhaps he was doing some serious junk food binges. Or maybe he just had bad genetics.

But could it be possible that he was just fat? No blame, no judgment, no problem. Just your average spiritually healthy and physically vital fat guy.

Do yourself a favor and go Google the term “health at every size.”

What you’ll find is a growing movement and a body of research that is quite clear and unequivocal around the following conclusion: other than intense extremes, humans can be quite healthy at just about any size or weight. One can be overweight and be healthy and long-lived. One can have the “perfect” size, shape, and weight and be unwell or dis-eased. An amazing woman, Dr. Linda Bacon, wrote a brilliant book with this very title – Health at Every Size – that details the compelling and unmistakable research that bears this out. Some of the mind-blowing conclusions that she found in her extensive research of all the research out there on weight includes:

  • On average, “overweight” people live longer than “normal” weight ones
  • No study has ever shown that weight loss prolongs life
  • The politics and business of weight often trumps truth and accuracy in the research
  • Yes there can be problems, but body fat is simply not the kind of killer it is portrayed to be

Perhaps Buddha knew all this. Indeed, historians tell us that at one point Buddha was living the life of an ascetic and was trying to exist on very little. He was able to whittle down his diet to eating one nut and one leaf each day. He was so weak and emaciated that he stumbled into a river and almost drowned. Soon afterwards, he left behind his asceticism and what seems like a spiritual eating disorder, ate some food, gained some weight, and found enlightenment under a tree.

He became spiritually fat.

He found a balance between austerity and abundance. He found a deeper and more jolly place to live from. He realized that eating a leaf and a nut each day might make him skinny enough to be a good runway model, but it wasn’t a path to true beauty.

It’s said that a disciple once asked him, “What is the proper amount of money to give to a beggar?”

The Buddha replied “Two coins. One for food, and one for flowers.”

He knew that a hungry beggar needs more than a meal. Enjoying the beauty of the world and the simple pleasures of existence are as important to our survival as food itself. Gratitude and a sense of abundance, no matter how little we may seem to have, makes us spiritually plump and fulfilled. Perhaps it may even help the body when it comes to how we metabolize our food.

Let’s face it – the Buddha is a bit of a weight loss enigma. He really is a good, wise, timeless, healthy, fat guy. I think he watches over all our silly skinny stuff, and still smiles. I think he knows something. Maybe he knows that being skinny doesn’t guarantee enlightenment, happiness, or inner peace. Maybe he knows that inner peace CAN be had even if one still has 5 more pounds to lose, or 50 more pounds to lose. Maybe he knows that you can still be a popular world famous global icon even if you don’t have the perfect body. Maybe he knows that we’re all lovable no matter what we look like.

We’d love to hear your about your experience with this.
What have been some of your challenges or ah-ha’s around learning to love your body?

Warm regards,
Marc David
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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  • http://Totalbodyhealthsolutions.com Michelle Hastie

    I love when we expect someone to be controlled and extreme and it turns out they are actually completely free. I believe that for someone to truly be spiritually fat it helps to have experienced physical weight first. Once I decided to trade physical weight for spiritual weight I live in complete freedom. Thanks for this incredible article yet again Marc.

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Michelle,
      I love this idea of trading physical weight for spiritual weight.
      Thanks for adding this nugget of wisdom.

      Best,
      Marc

  • http://www.ewellnessgroup.blogspot.com Eddie Ndlovu

    Being skinny is not a sign of being healthy , from our evolutionary past being skinny would have meant we wouldn’t survive the famine, a bit of fat around our body was advantageous to survive famine. Science believes 20 percent of obese people in the world are very healthy, what matters is How you lay down that fat, as long as the right hormonal signals lays down the fat we are very healthy and will survive the famine. Most of the world is spiritually skinny. At eWellness Solutions we are more concerned with measuring the hormones insulin and leptin and if these hormones are within normal ranges it will means you will lay down that fat in the right places, which is a good thing. I don’t mind being spiritually fat so I can survive this spiritual famine my food contains those most important vitamins you mentioned Marc- vitamin L- love, vitamin H- happiness, vitamin S-soul

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Eddie,
      I love it: “Most of the world is spiritually skinny” – well said.
      Thanks for joining in here, and thank you for the work you’re doing to serve and educate others about hormonal health. Very important information.

      Best,
      Marc

  • http://www.holistichealthinnovations.com Mary Gundrum

    Great story, I can personally relate. I battled with weight for most of my childhood and early adult life. It wasn’t until I got comfortable with me and realized by loving myself, life and most of all being spiritually connected that food no longer controlled me. I began to enjoy food for the value, taste, aroma and color. It was no longer something I used for comfort or to hide behind. You can say that I have a true love affair with food now.

    Namaste,
    Mary

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Mary,
      Self-love is by far one of the hardest lessons to learn. Congrats on your journey, and thanks for adding your perspective here.

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Cache

    Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut here….alas. The “Buddha” comes in many shapes and sizes depending on which culture the image is created and for what purpose the depiction is needed. The “rounder” Buddha, often found in a business or restaurant, is depicting an “abundant” prayer for prosperity. (He wants you to buy a bunch of food and help the owners be successful.). In some cultures “Fat” is a symbol of abundance and royalty.
    If in your explanation you are referring to Buddha Shakyamuni, there is little evidence to suggest he was round, actually the opposite is more likely. Although, I have been fortunate enough to sit at the feet of both skinny and overweight Buddhas.
    Also, I would think it is more likely that the Buddha would suggest the second coin for flowers as a means of offering for the beggar, as to help purify the karma of the suffering of poverty.
    Just saying. I am no scholar. I know a few. And who knows what those Buddhas are up to.
    I lose confidence in you as an authority when there is an apparent lack of deeper understanding of the example you have chosen for this explanation.

    I thank you for the following powerful quote gift from your muse.

    “I eat healthy and organic, but not all the time. I love creamy and rich food. I never hold back from tasting what I want and from having what I want. I feel so rich and so wealthy when I eat food that I absolutely love. I feel it all over my body. I indulge myself and I don’t worry and I don’t have regrets about it. As long as I allow myself to be spiritually fat, my body doesn’t gain weight, I feel satisfied and I never overeat.”
    That is enlightened.

    Spiritually fat,
    Cache

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      I’m sorry you have not seen the tongue in cheek approach or the metaphoric perspective I have taken to share what I believe are some helpful and useful points. Yes, Buddha is depicted in all sizes. The article was not meant to split hairs on a historical basis of interpreting whether he was really skinny or fat, or why he suggested 2 coins for a beggar. In the spirit of furthering the action of consciousness today, I am looking to use whatever tools I can to help people wake up to a more enlightened relationship with food and body. Clearly, certain distinctions in this article got in your way, or did not work of you. I think we learn and grow and evolve best when we take what works, and leave behind what doesn’t – in the spirit wisdom and understanding.

      Thank you,
      Marc David

  • http://www.MakeItSoMindset.com/report Lianda Ludwig

    Eating mindfully, being present and enjoying your food is the way nature intended. That way you have time to listen to your body’s inner signals of satiation; and you stop eating when you are full. you don’t feel a need to binge, because you don’t deprive yourself at any time. That’s how to maintain a healthy weight, and a healthy mindset!

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Lianda,
      Bingo! Well put. Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • Celyne

    Are there not many studies that show very slim to skinny people live longer than overweight people? And when you say overweight are you talking about the medical definition of overweight, obese, and morbidly obese? And does not weight loss reduce such health issues as high blood pressure, cholesterol , and in some cases cure diabities? I think your statement that no study has ever shown weight loss to prolong life, is misleading and potentially dangerous.

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      As mentioned in the article, it is best for to dive directly into the research head-on for yourself and make your own conclusions. We suggest you read Health At Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon, go to haescommunity.org and look at the resources there, as well as google “obesity paradox”. It’s very important to go the the actual research. Yes, losing weight can help certain metabolic measurements and conditions when a person indeed has those conditions – not all overweight people have high cholesterol or diabetes. And to your question, no studies show that skinny people live longer. Again, informing yourself via a direct assessment of the research is key here for understanding this fascinating issue.

      Thank you,
      Marc

  • Leidmar Elias

    One of my aha moments on learning how to love my body, besides those when practicing your teachings, was when I looked at my teenager pictures, or tryed to put on some old jeans, that are now way to small, I knew then that I had never seen my body for what it was, I kept trying to be thinner, when I had a rather gorgeous size 10, today I am a 16, and can finally find beauty in me. I think my mind worked around the thought that with the right body, I’d have the “right people” respect and love, my mind went across all that those around me would claim about my looks, so pretty some would say,but I never believed. My 2 sisters were size 6 and they were my mirror, I waned to wear what they did, look like them.
    I also realized something about people in general, we are in constant competition with those around us, and generosity is rare, most compliments I got were from those out of my closest circle, and the ones closer always had a much needed improvement to point out, it’s good to now see that, and not fade away when I most like the way I look, because is just then that I hear how much better I could be looking, or this or that bad aspect of whatever I am or the clothers I got on, it may also be when I get most compliments, but before in my simplicity I would think that saying nice staff about others is too easy and therefor not as honest as saying bad staff. My mistake.

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Leidmar,
      Thank you for sharing your life and journey here with us. I love your take on generosity, it is rare – and we should aim to be more gracious towards one another. The list of potential improvements is a long one, and always growing. I’m glad you learned the great lesson about self-love. Good for you!

      Best,
      Marc

  • http://www.themindfulfoodie.com Lesh | The Mindful Foodie

    Hi Marc, thank you for this post! I love your work and have read both of your books. Your works makes me a better food coach. For that, I am truly grateful. Lesh

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Lesh,
      I’m glad to hear my work helps you help others. Nothing better than that. And I love the name of your website – so creative.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • http://www.hippiehealthcoach.com Jocelyn Brown

    love this! I was first introduced to the health at every size concept just over a year ago, and it took a while for me to fully grasp it and go through some of the research behind it. Unfortunately I sometimes think people misunderstand, and use the concept as an excuse for staying overweight when they have health issues that might improve by losing weight and eating more healthfully. Just like some people who use their ‘paleo diet’ to rationalize their fast food double cheeseburgers. But I get what you are saying here Marc… I gave up wanting to be ‘skinny’ or thin but I do want to be strong and fit. When I don’t eat in balance and when I don’t work out, I judge myself harshly. It’s crazy for me to be so mean to myself, so it makes me more and more committed to eating in balance and working out regularly. I just feel better when I do.

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      I think you have it right Jocelyn when you say: “I gave up wanting to be ‘skinny’ or thin but I do want to be strong and fit.” Being healthy and fit looks different in different kinds of bodies. I would encourage you to continue to do things that make you feel good, while being kinder to yourself. Every moment invites us to listen in to see what’s true for us about our lives, health and body, vs. what we simply believe is true.

      It’s always fascinating to see what comes up.
      I also love the name of your business – hippie health coach!

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Juliana

    So interesting!

    After a 10 days of water fasting I could have some lessons too. I always alternated diet with overeating and feelng guilty or unhappy about both. Now, after the fasting, I learned to enjoy both – eating and not needing to eat and that’s how I got balance. The body knows it all, eat when hungry, whatever your body asks for, and stop when no longer hungry….it is that simple and yet we come long way to learn….

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Juliana,
      I’m glad you found the article of interest.
      It’s amazing how it all comes back to body wisdom.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Liat

    Hi Marc,

    Just wondering about the source of your Buddha quote. I can’t seem to find this “two coins” story anywhere else. Could you perhaps point me in the right direction?

    Thanks very much,
    Liat

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Liat,
      It’s from the Jakata Tales, Vol. 1 – I believe it’s in the story of “The Mouse Merchant”.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • http://www.alisonbremner.com Alison Bremner

    Marc, this was very enlightening, thank you for sharing. I think that many of us are so controlled over what we put in our body that the whole time we’re eating, we’re not even enjoying it, whether it’s “fatty” food or healthy food. I think we need to take a step back from time to time and evaluate our eating practices and what food really means to us. It’s well known that our mindset affects our metabolism, so being under stressful conditions while we’re eating all the time – no matter what we’re putting into our bodies – is extremely unhealthy and quite toxic. I definitely have different eating practices than the lady you’re describing in this post, but that’s just a matter of preference. Thanks again!

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Alison,
      Bingo! I often say that what we serve up in our mind to chew on is often much more toxic than what’s on the plate.

      Thanks for joining in here,
      Marc

  • http://www.IntuitiveBody.com Lisa Claudia Briggs

    Hi Marc..I loved the story partly b/c you showed how we are often suspicious of people who look well and enjoy eating.. for women in particular, all sorts of assumptions (and projections) may be made about how somebody can “get away with” eating what they love and not be penalized with a body that doesn’t jive with societal standards. We often have no idea how to reconcile the idea of loving food, living sensually, being deeply connected to our bodies through intuitive guidance and wisdom and being able to escape body-hate or anxiety.

    I wish there were more role models sprinkled among us who showed girls and women how to love themselves while they were loving real food to end the misery that was never meant to go with eating.
    It’s a loss of innocence of sorts..
    I know I’m skipping the Buddha part- but loving who we are, loving our bodies, being embodied and guided by the intuitive divine knowing in us…will always fill us up, will always help us shine our light more brightly .. And people can spot that in an instant.
    Always appreciate your writings and perspective..
    Many blessings..
    Lisa

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Lisa,
      Yes – we can be so suspicious! But perhaps, you’re the beginning of a generation of role models we need so badly! Thank you for sharing all these lovely insights, so much wisdom here.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • Elana

    Marc! There are so many gems of truth, wisdom, and compassion here, I’m just going to say THANK YOU. Sincerely, I am so glad you have opened up this space for all of us to learn how to appreciate ourselves in the skin we’re in, and hopefully release ourselves from the tyranny of our distorted thoughts about food and our bodies.

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Your sincerity can be felt through your kinds words.
      Thank you for joining in, Elana.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Nelly

    After cleansing myself on both physical and emotional levels, getting consistently the right amount of exercise and having a sufficient sleep each night, my body became so incredibly balanced, that I noticed how little food we humans really need daily.

    I totally agree with one of the comments here, that we must listen to our bodies, we may not need to eat our 3 square meals a day, (it’s seems to me like a lot of food!), we may even go the whole day only drinking and not eating at all…depends on our body’s need to eat or rest from it.

    We are so obsessed with food and regular meals eating, that we forget about how fast we wear our bodies down and age by constantly tasking our bodies with never-ending digestion, and I am not even talking about eating all the wrong kinds of foods, not intended by nature for human consumption.

    Slim is healthy and a visually appealing sight, it’s so ugly to carry extra weight in the form of fat and cellulite, and I think, that deep inside everyone agrees with this, only lazy and ignorant always find excuses.

    • http://www.livinglaurels.com Alana

      Nelly,
      You seem to be quite convinced that thin, pretty and cellulite-free is the only way to be appealing and worthy of approval. Love, health, and spirituality thrive beyond those very limiting parameters. Our bodies and food are meant to be pleasurable sources of nourishment, and we all have our own unique requirements that need to be met in order for us to live as vibrantly as possible.
      Warm regards,
      Alana

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Thanks for your comments. Glad you’re a fan of body wisdom.

      And an offering for you about weight and body fat: In my experience, I’ve noticed there’s a huge range of what people truly find attractive and appealing when it comes to weight and body type. It varies from culture to culture, and person to person. I have also noticed that what women think men like, and what men actually do like – are often 2 different things. I’ve also seen over the years that there’s plenty of people who want to lose extra weight who can’t – and that laziness and ignorance has nothing to do with their weight. And even still, there are plenty of people who one might call overweight who are happy, healthy, and anything but lazy. Just some food for thought…

      Best,
      Marc

      • http://www.IntuitiveBody.com Lisa Claudia Briggs

        Just have to nod my head to this piece here…What I have noticed about what people …men/women.. all of us typically find attractive is more energetic than physical. It’s often how somebody holds themselves, the way they welcome others into their space, their ability to love and respect themselves and wear the world loosely and invite others to do the same. Vanity doesn’t typically attract the majority. Most of us are attracted to life force energy..And when we are able to hold that and express the best of ourselves.. everything changes (and often the weight will go). I wish I had known all of this when I was younger.. wish I could have taught this better earlier in my career.. grateful to be able to stand behind it now.

        Thanks Marc.. and good luck with the amazing conference.. what a lineup..

        Love and blessings.. Lisa

        • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

          Lisa –

          Great perspective here – again, thanks for sharing.
          I think what you’re touching on here – about the nature of “energetic attraction” is such an inspiring truth. We always look back with greater wisdom – but the good news is: it’s never to late to begin.

          Best,
          Marc David

    • Sistajean

      I have enough self-criticism, lazy and ignorant do not inspire confidence or give insight so I avoid these judgmental attitudes. Food is more than quantity or even caloric quality, and the idea of need or truth are likewise debatable. When I was much younger, I strove for maximum self-control and physical perfection, but deep inside I came to know this was impossible. By the time I had reached a few of my apparent goals I had become a boring, self-obsessed, shallow snob.

  • http://www.roadtolivingwhole.com Marian

    Hi Marc,

    Thank you so much for this article. I shared it on my facebook page. This reminds me so much of my journey and you explained it in such a beautiful way. Thank you.

    Marian

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Marian,
      So glad I can be a part of your journey…
      And thank you for spreading the word around!

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • meerkat

    Isn’t Buddhist food vegan? Why do you have to belittle vegetarian food as “for dieters”?

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      I was not looking to belittle anyone here at all. Sometimes, my style is tongue-in-cheek mixed in with some irony, off beat humor, and self deprecation.

      I am sorry you misinterpreted my intent…

      Marc

  • https://heartlandrevival.squarespace.com Amber Branson

    This made my heart smile. I too have always struggled with weight, but know that I am blessed in my life. Perhaps I should concentrate on that area instead….

About The Author
Marc David
Founder

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet.

His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul.

He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.