Attending to Our Bodies

Two Guidelines for Attaining a Healthy Body Weight

In his book Meditating to Attain a Healthy Body Weight, author Lawrence Leshan offers up two guidelines for attaining—and, I would add, maintaining—a healthy body weight. While the first of these two guidelines focuses on what—or, more precisely, what not—to eat, the second of these guidelines focuses on how to eat.

While opinions vary on that which constitutes a healthy diet, most of us can agree on the types of “foods” that are unhealthy, i.e., those with no nutritive value (they don’t call it “junk food” for nothing); as such, the first of Leshan’s guidelines is: “always, always, eat with respect, with respect for your body. Because if you respect your body, you are never likely to regard it as a garbage can.”

Leshan goes on to assert that “the more important part of that perspective is that you avoid the biggest trap of all, which is to tell yourself, ‘don’t eat that.’ Once you get caught in that trap, you are losing. It is like telling yourself, ‘don’t have an itch on your nose.’ Do you feel it? Or, ‘try to think about not swallowing.’ Free people don’t like to be told ‘don’t.’ When God said to Adam and Eve, ‘don’t eat the apple,’ that was the end of Paradise. This is a basic observation about the human condition. Why not use this knowledge if you want to devise a strategy that can work? You can use it this way: turn it around and you have a corollary, which is that a far more effective way to change behavior is to do it on the basis of something you are for. So if you approach it this way, you will respect and protect your body. In the course of protecting your body from overeating, you can radically change your behavior, but you feel it as ‘yes, I respect my body,’ instead of ‘don’t eat that.’”

Per Leshan, the second guideline, which focuses on how to eat, “is going to surprise you. Learn to eat like a gourmet. Why a gourmet? Because a gourmet pays full attention to every swallow. Every swallow is a total encounter with food. He is aware of the touch, the taste, the smell, the temperature, the texture of the food, and with such total involvement that it is incredible how much fulfillment and enjoyment he gets out of each swallow. In fact, this whole process not only helps you to radically change your eating behavior, but it brings joy back to eating again. The gourmet does not make the mistake of saying, ‘oh I swallowed that food, but I don’t remember what it tastes like; I had better take another bite.’ The reason a gourmet does not make that mistake is because each swallow is such a total involvement that the memory of it stays with him. He doesn’t have to keep getting reinforcements of new food because he knows fully what the experience was. The stereotype that gourmets are overweight is just not true. Most of the great gourmets of the world are either of normal weight or are underweight.”

So, as you go about your day, think about that marvelous piece of machinery you’re inhabiting, and all that it has allowed, and continues to allow, you to do. Aside from attaining and maintaining a healthy body weight, following Leshan’s two guidelines will improve your health and sense of well-being, increase your vitality, and enhance your productivity. Moreover, by consuming a healthy diet in a healthy manner, you’ll be letting yourself know that you’re someone who’s worth taking care of. And if you’re someone who’s worth taking care of, doesn’t eating a healthy diet in a healthy manner just make sense?

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