A yogic approach to dieting

There is an article “Fear Factor” in the February 2006 issue of “??Yoga Journal??”:http://www.yogajournal.com about a yogic approach to eating which I think makes a lot of sense and deserves a wide audience. Some individuals have metabolic disorders or other difficult health issues for which appropriate diet and exercise will not help their obesity, but I think the principles apply to them, too.

We are deluged with information about nutrition and food. Information comes from the USDA(United States Department of Agriculture), marketers of specific diets, food companies, doctors, researchers, quacks, vegans, vegetarians, _ad nauseum_. This information is important to consider — watching cholesterol levels, different levels of nutrients, watching the weight, getting enough exercise, and so forth. The recommended levels of different groups, such as the cholesterol levels by the NCEP(National Cholesterol Education Program — I think) are good starting points for learning about ourselves.

However, dieting seems to be one of those issues that cause a lot of people pain. After all, what word do you have left if you leave off the “t”?

Here is the nature of food guidelines and standards: they are established through clinical study and statistics. They’re a good starting place, because they seem to work well for the general population. However, individual differences may be more important that population tendencies. So, it’s even more important to move beyond the starting place.

And this is where yoga, and a yogic attitude comes in, according to the article:

bq. The physical practice deepens your awareness of your body, so you become more conscious foods that bring a consistent sense of well-being — and those that make you feel bad after you eat them. Over time, practitioners often finds themselves in a more comfortable and relaxed relationship with food. The practice could help Vavul resist mixed messages, _learn to trust herself_, and reclaim the pleasure of healthful eating. [emphasis mine]

This statement says a lot, so let me try to break it down.

_Resisting mixed messages_. While science has a great potential for understanding our physical world, it also has the potential to create mass confusion. I believe that are relationship with food is one area where it has gone far to reach this negative potential.

The mixed messages also come from within. Emotional eating, which occurs when we are not hungry but rather trying to cope with depression, anxiety, or other negative emotions, involves an active ignoring of the body’s signals in response to food. Even in normal eating situations, it’s hard to decide when to stop because the body often feels sated 15 minutes to an hour after enough food has been eaten. This, of course, leads to overeating.

Good diet programs and good nutritionists encourage measuring food at least some of the time specifically to counter this problem. This strategy encourages a mindfulness that can also be developed through a yoga practice, and the yoga practice goes beyond that.

For examples, I’ve noticed for myself that in certain instances eating green leafy foods leads to a feeling of greater well-being as well as satiety, as if my body has just received something it needed. At other times, I notice a fogginess or fuzziness in thinking, and a small meal helps tremendously. However, a large amount of sugary foods leaves me feeling apathetic and depressed about an hour later. Likewise, a burger and fries leaves me feeling leaden and slothful.

These are just a couple of observations I could make about myself, and yet they are helping a lot. They are influencing my decisions about what to eat, even if I am unable to eat food that my family prepares. I’m by no means perfect in this regard, but every little bit is helping.

_Trusting yourself_. This, I believe, is the most important message here. Your body has reactions to different foods, and we are able to use intellect to process them. It’s a matter of taking the information you get from outside, the observing your body and determining its reactions to foods, making decisions about foods you want to eat in the future, and trusting yourself with those decisions, including the ability to evaluate and adjust them later.

Sometimes, the findings of science can contradict the findings of self-study. Here I think that self-trust is most important, because “the findings of science” are often results on what tends to happen in populations, and may or may not describe what will happen to any particular individual. While the findings of science should be considered, they should be considered with critical thinking, not as the gospel. After all, the results could change in the next study.

_Reclaim the pleasure of healthful eating._

bq. While yoga and meditation can help you navigate the choppy waters of the American food industry, success won’t happen overnight.

Indeed it won’t. Any quick fix to any health problem will probably have negative consequences, and my not be a fix at all. Over time, we have to learn to derive pleasure out of eating to support our health, not eating to fulfill our addictions.

And if self-study, a diet that supports you, and a good exercise routine don’t support you, there is the possibility that weight problems may derive from other sources, such as a viral infection. Drugs may be appropriate — sometimes. Self-study is always appropriate.

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