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?
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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