May 9, 2011

Lovin’ the Wrong Foods: WWGD? (What Would Gurumayi Do?) by Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD

It’s time to stop the madness with weight and food. Women especially aspire to thinness and this leads to distorted relationship to eating. We seek peace with food, yet we’re going about it all wrong. We starve ourselves on a new diet each Monday, and then binge by the weekend. Eighty percent of American women are on a diet, and you can bet that millions are planning their next diet, the latest program to drop pounds effortlessly. Yet 98% of diets fail. We progress to surgery – lapbands or liposuction. We inject hormones like junkies such as hCG, human Chorionic Gonadotropin, a hormone of pregnancy. Madness.

Who gets it right? Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the Siddha Yoga guru popularized by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love. Gurumayi gets me to reframe the role of food in my life, and to observe how food could best serve me and others.

For many, reframe starts with identifying your default pattern. Your reach for chocolate, sugar, coffee, the latest haute cupcake, fine wine. Your attachment to a particular weight. Your attachment to certain restaurants and certain brands of food.

“I only drink Vanille Sencha from Mariage Freres!” protested one patient recently, when I asked about caffeine intake and her lousy sleep.

Perhaps you romanticize food. I used to. Well, I still do much of the time, but I rarely act on it. I wake up thinking about where I want to go for lunch with a friend, or which new restaurant I want to check out with my husband for date night. I peruse menus and get caught up; I get attached to certain outcomes. I plan what I’ll eat. I plan the emotion that I want to accompany the food: madly in love, delightedly connected via dialogue with a great friend, surprised and inspired by new heights of culinary artfulness.

For many, delight in food may devolve into compulsion. Do you compulsively eat certain foods, or drink Vanille Sencha, or compulsively weigh yourself each morning?

Gurumayi has this to say about discipline around food, in her book, Yoga of Discipline.

The sense of taste holds everyone in its thrall. For the sake of the tongue, there is no telling what a person will do. Everything that lives must eat. But this very process of eating can take you to heaven or hell. Eating can make you ignorant or it can help you realize the Truth. Depending on what food you eat, you will have a mind filled with agitation or with tranquility. The food you eat determines what you feel, what you think, and what you do. Understanding the value and the nature of food itself is just as important as the process of eating. Discipline in eating must be practiced with every bite.

Women and Food. Women and Weight. It’s BIG. I agree with Geneen Roth that it’s about something bigger than the lesser topics at hand of food and eating – it’s about divinity. Your hunger for food might be hunger for something larger, such as God, or a Higher Power, or Flow. Call it whatever you’d like. Food and weight just might be a vehicle to our Divine Self, Authentic or True Self — our sense of integrity, aliveness and connected wholeness. True Self is your path to a right-sized body, not stronger will power. Well, more specifically True Self and a right-sized False Self, which develops from how you’ve complied to external rules, such as how your body is supposed to look, how much you are expected to eat, the social codes of eating, food and body image.

Winnecott believed that every person is a hybrid of True and False Self, and your False Self hangs out somewhere along a continuum from healthy to pathological. In other words, your division of True and False Self may be at the root of your difficulty with food, if you have one.

I like to use this construct of True and False Self to excavate information about what food would best serve you. We want to use your divine intelligence to discern what to eat, and “eat with restraint and reverence,” according to Baba Muktananda, the predecessor of Gurumayi. He adds: “As you take medicine in a measured dose, take food in a measured, frugal quantitiy.”

Put another way, hunger for food has the potential to be alchemical, a yearning for something bigger than the parameters of your current reach. A hunger for Truth. What is your truth as it relates to food? We all respond differently to this question. After years of intestinal issues, I’m coming to the rather unwelcome conclusion that my truth may be this: a vegan diet would serve me better. It would help me transit time. It may provide my mind with greater tranquility. I’ve already kicked sugar, gluten and alcohol. Perhaps meat and animal-products are next?

Is it crazy hard for you to give up the goods —  the sugar, the coffee, the expensive wine? WWGD?

If restraint is a challenge, you must work on it, says Gurumayi. You must transcend the desire for food that is bad for you.

Easy for Gurumayi, perhaps. If that sounds like an impossible goal, consider one of the 12-step programs for food such as Food Addicts or Overeaters Anonymous. To paraphrase 12-step, addiction to bad food, or to excessive quantity, is a medical problem with a spiritual solution.

Please share your truth, in the comments section. And stop the madness with compulsive eating and weighing. Start your recovery today.

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Sara Gottfried, MD  |  Contribution: 1,600