With Thanksgiving approaching, I thought now would be a good time to share my dieting secrets. I call this plan the sensational diet because instead of focusing on the kind of foods you are allowed to eat, it focuses on the kinds of sensations that eating food generates.
You don’t have to be a hedonist to appreciate the importance of sensation in our lives. Physical sensations are what tell us that we are physically alive. If we could not touch, taste, hear, see or smell, we would be hard-pressed to prove, even to ourselves, that we were physically alive.
Less understood, but even more important, spiritual sensations tell us that we are spiritually alive. Without emotional sensations such as joy, sadness, enthusiasm, anger, and wonder, we could lose touch with our inner reality. We would become spiritually dead.
The physical sensations that tell us that we are physically alive and the spiritual sensations that tell us that we are spiritually alive are experienced in similar ways. Physical excitement and spiritual enthusiasm, physical stress and spiritual anxiety, physical hunger and spiritual emptiness – these generate parallel sensations that are difficult to distinguish. This is because our bodies and souls were created to work together. Consequently, we often experience spiritual emptiness as a kind of physical hunger.
All of us, to some degree or another, use the pleasurable physical sensations associated with eating food as a replacement for the spiritual sensations that are lacking in our lives. Chocolate is a lot easier to come by than sincere love and kindness. Though it might not really fool the soul, if the body identifies the sensation as one of comfort, the soul is willing to go along with it. We eat, then, in order to feel spiritually alive and fulfilled.
Any diet that tries to limit the pleasurable sensations we get from eating will be interpreted by the spirit as an attempt to limit our sense of feeling alive, and is doomed to failure. Food keeps us physically alive, but diverse tastes make us feel spiritually alive because they are material reflections of the virtues of beauty, sweetness, balance, audacity and more. If we were willing to live without these sensations, we could lose weight with the “duct tape diet” in which you can eat anything you want, but you have to put a piece of duct tape over your tongue to block out all sensations of taste and texture. Such a diet would obviously fail because we are not willing to give up one of our primary senses just so that we can lose some weight. Likewise, we are instinctively unwilling to give up a source of spiritual comfort in order to receive some long-term physical gain. For a diet to work, it must not try to take away what is currently meeting a spiritual need, but rather, it must find a way to meet that need in some new and healthy way.
In other words, if we come to grips with the fact that food does not really equal love, then we can’t just take away the food. We have to add more love. We cannot create a vacuum and expect that nothing will sweep in to fill it. If we are feeling spiritually empty, we must first, before any change in our eating habits, find ways to fill that spiritual void. Only then can we safely reduce the amount of physical sensations we generate through food without risking self-sabotage. We certainly don’t want to find ourselves trying to replace both food and spiritual joy with drugs, overspending, or risky sexual behavior. We must find the healthy replacement first, then drop the unhealthy habits, not the other way around.
The secret of the Sensational Diet, then, is to generate positive spiritual sensations through the practice of virtues so that you don’t feel compelled to create substitute physical sensations by eating comforting foods.
Sing a song, say a prayer, call a friends, throw a kiss, draw a picture, read a poem, look out the window, learn a new word, compliment a coworker, express gratitude. There are so many good ways to feel that don’t involve your tongue. Find your favorite.
Note: This is the introduction of a book I may or may not ever write. I welcome your comments.