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Deities and Diets

Q: What do diets and religions have in common?

A: There are many of each.

That may not seem like a very insightful answer, even if it is true. But there’s some subtlety here. When you have a very large number of things, be they ideas, principles, theories, programs, whatevers some truths emerge.

The first is that the claims made are invariably mutually contradictory. Diets that tell you to cut back on carbs don’t jibe with ones that tell you to cut back on fats. Ones that tell you to eat more veggies don’t sit well with others that emphasize proteins. Religions that are monotheistic run up uncomfortably against those with many gods. Those that preach gender and racial equality sit squirmingly alongside those that diminish women or demonize other ethnic or racial groups.

The second truth is that none of them are right, none are true in any fundamental way, none are the path to either slimness or salvation and none are the guaranteed road to eternal anything.

It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? When you have a very large number of proposed answers to questions or solutions to problems that are mutually contradictory or interactively incoherent you can be pretty sure that they’re all wrong. It’s just wildly unlikely that exactly one of them got it while all the others missed it. So where is truth?

Well, let’s answer this one for religion first. The truth, and any sensible worldly soul who has given this question even a smidgen of thought knows this, is that one’s own religion is just as wrong and misguided as all the others. To assume, as most do, that you just managed to stumble onto The Truth while all the other poor benighted bastards cling to falseness, is little more than an exercise in hubris. It is also one of the primary reasons for so much bloodletting over the years. No, it’s far better to just acknowledge that whatever your theological convictions may be, they are merely beliefs, articles of faith that you cling to independent of any knowable truth.

Once you see this you are faced with the only workable course of action. Instead of seeing your religion as some embodiment of all-seeing God(s) who conveniently plucked your little band out for his/her/their special blessing, you should view it as a vehicle for living a good life. Embrace the empathic elements that most religions have; listen to its moral threads; use its code of ethics to live a better, more fulfilling life. You don’t have to have Yahweh by the short and curlies to recognize that virtually all the founders of the world’s great religions, from the Buddha to Moses, Jesus and Mohammad and to the multiple deities of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples of the North Pacific Coastal regions, preached peace, forgiveness and decency.

We can all find truth by being wrong.

Diets have a fascinating parallel. All are wrong. None of them have the key to the underlying psychophysiology that underlies weight loss, weight control and weight maintenance. They’re just like religions. If you believe they work and follow their guidelines you have a chance of getting to where you want your body to be but for reasons other than those announced by the diet gurus. If there were a diet that actually worked it would have quickly displaced all the others. If there were one weight loss (and weight maintenance) program that was effective, by now everyone who wanted to lose weight would have gone on it.

The reason that the scores (hundreds?) of faddish diets fail is because they are focused on quick gains and not on life-style changes. All of them will produce weight loss but, because none of them give you the opportunity to allow your underlying physiology to adjust, the weight is almost always (over 90% of the time) put back on and most of the time more goes back than came off in the first place. 

What works? Well, it’s like with religion. Embrace what you wish but focus on and follow underlying principles. First, you have to reduce caloric intake. Second, you have to exercise. Third, you have to lose weight slowly and allow your metabolism to adjust.

Eight months ago I felt heavy, too heavy. I hit 213 and didn’t like it – or what “it” looked like. I set a goal to lose between two and three pounds a month. I did not change my “diet” in any way. No low-carb or high-protein or high or low anything. No Atkins, no South Beach or Mediterranean, Jenny Craig, Ornish or Dash. I just reduced portion size, ate more slowly, chewed more thoroughly, worked on savoring flavors and textures and allowed each meal to last longer. I reduced snacks to a minimum and treated a handful of pretzels the same way I dealt with a pork chop. Nibble and savor.

I work out regularly but I did that before. My joke is that the weight gain before was because muscle is heavier than fat – fooled myself for a time but truth came barreling in as it is wont to do.

Do I ever feel hungry? Yes. But I’ve learned to embrace it, savor it. There’s something satisfying in viewing this feeling as an existential moment to be contemplated dispassionately – hunger as the color red, the sound of a frog croaking on a distant pond, hunger as just another piece of the larger puzzle of life.

That’s it. No “diet” in the usual sense but a true “diet” in the real meaning of the word which is, “what an individual usually eats and drinks.” Eight months later my weight is 183. I enjoy eating more now. Meals are moments to savor. I think I’m stable here. We’ll see what happens in the months and years to come. I’ll let you know.

Oh, yes of course, I almost forgot: I view religion the same way. Embrace the deeper message. Live the empathic life but bond with none. Hate and suffering are shed like unwanted pounds. Deities and diets are illusions – but, if you’re careful, they mark a road worth walking.

Reader Comments (2)

Though-provoking comparison between diets and religions. Something Ive never contemplated before. Well done.

October 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNolan Dalla

I have Crohn's Disease, have since I was quite young. It's hard, surgeries, meds, blah. But because I have an illness in my digestive system, boy o boy have I gotten preached at about food! You are right, people put as much of their identity into what they are or aren't eating that their beliefs regarding food choices is akin to religion. Thanks for putting into words what I've only thought about. I try to approach things from a "middle path" mentality, and that goes for religion and ideology as much as for food. Some parts MAY be right and some parts may be wrong. If any one belief led to complete peace of the soul or one diet led to complete health everyone would be worshiping at the same table of food to the same god. My best wishes to you, and thank you for the wonderfully written and thoughtful essay!

November 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

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