Over-heard from the backyards of neighbors of my Siddhashram (Center for Realization) in USA was a spirited conversation between a fat dog and a lean dog. Fat dog: I am going to come and get you for calling me fat and ugly. Lean dog: You will not be able to catch up with me as your large belly is almost touching the ground.
Well, this sums up what is happening in affluent countries like the USA. And developing countries like India are steadily becoming more obese. According to a recent study, approximately 1 in 5 Americans died from illnesses related to obesity. Men and women have virtually identical obesity rates in the USA, 35.8% and 35.5% respectively. In India according to the National Family Health Survey of 2007, 12.1% of males and 16% of females are overweight or obese. Five percent of the population in India is morbidly obese. That is an interesting statistic for a poor country. It is noteworthy that relatively poor states like Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi in the USA have the highest obesity rates. In olden days a big, extended, bloated stomach (kudavayar) in Kerala as elsewhere was a sign of prosperity and wealth as only rich people could afford to have plenty of food or over-eat. Interestingly, after Punjab, Kerala has the highest rate of obesity in India. What boggles my mind is the co-existence of highest literacy in Kerala with the highest rate of crime, alcohol consumption, and obesity. What does that say about education? Certainly, enlightenment is not an outcome of the type of education in Kerala. On the contrary, sadly, Kerala education as much of education in the rest of the world achieves the very opposite of enlightenment. I may also note that being lean now is the sign of poise and prosperity as it denotes some kind of self-mastery and self-control.
In my childhood I remember some low-caste persons would collect food that was left over from the banana leaves after a big celebration or wedding party or yearly commemoration of an ancestor (sradha). Not long ago in the feudal days of kings and big land-lords, persons’ wages were their food for the day. It is reported that the world’s great wonder, Taj Mahal, was built by twenty thousand workers who worked for twenty years only for their food as their wages. It was not any different for blacks during the days of slavery in the USA. They were like machines owned by their masters, and produced for their masters. Many obese persons use food to calm themselves or to generate good feelings or to deal with their anxiety and low self-esteem. Two nasty mental disorders (Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia), especially in the US, are associated with eating habits and distorted body images. Currently persons in the US on an average are 20 pounds (about 9 kilograms) heavier than they used to be 10 years ago. The conversation one frequently hears in the US relates to weight and one’s eternal struggle to reduce one’s weight. Lest the reader thinks that I am rambling, meandering, and digressing into my pet peeves of un-godly capitalism and consumerism, I need to make a few comments on food and nutritious eating. Food is the first line of medicine. Since we have ignored or neglected this dictum or mantram, medicine has taken over every aspect of our physical and mental health with its concoctions and formulas, and ever-new drugs and procedures. Some of the progress in medicine is good; a great deal of progress in medicine is mindless, market-driven, and does not improve the quality of life, and leaves us in penury. The current status of medical practice does not deal with our body holistically as one unit but as many parts to be surgically cut and pasted, trimmed and tucked, reduced or augmented, or properly pigmented by ever-increasing specialists. So we need to make a decision that we are going to eat not on the basis of taste but on the basis of nutrition, and what is good for our body. Once we have learned to enjoy good health free of diseases, every nutritious food we eat will have the necessary taste. Then we will not be eating for our anxiety but for necessary health driven by life’s purpose determined by our mind and spirit. Then we will have a healthy lifestyle free of stress, restlessness, spiritual emptiness, and tension headaches. We will not need to staple our stomachs or undergo gastric bye-pass surgeries to diminish our stomach capacity. Instead we will develop good, old-time self-control to stop impulsive and compulsive eating habits. Self-control, unfortunately, is not a politically correct word for an amoral, self-indulgent consumer society, where anything goes. We will not eat what we want; we will eat what we need. I have experimented with it. And it works. To sum it all, we eat what we need for our bodily needs not based on taste. And that itself will be our enjoyment, pleasure, and great taste. Our eyes do not need to be bigger than our stomachs in that we fill our plates with more food that we can eat. It is a sin to waste food in a starving world. So we carefully choose what we need to eat, and eat what we have chosen. Choose to eat less than more, and enjoy the bliss you may have never known!
Swami (Dr) Snehanada Jyoti