The noted journalist and author of several best-selling books on food in contemporary America, Michael Pollan, sums up his ideal food philosophy in three simple rules:
Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.
Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. When I first ran across this little conceptual gem, I was struck not only by how simple it was, how it summed up a whole philosophy in seven short words, but also how old it was: In the yoga tradition, this same insight has been taught for thousands of years.
In Tantra Yoga in particular, one of Shiva’s “Seven Secrets of Success” is to eat nutritious vegetarian food, but not too much. According to yogic wisdom, this teaching, attributed to the great King of Yoga, was passed down orally from as far back as prehistoric times.
Both the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic traditions teach us that eating too much food is one of the main causes of disease. Why? Because regularly taking in too much food compromises the digestive system, which in turn reduces vitality, increases body weight and weakens the immune system.
In our fast-food culture, though, we not only eat too much, we eat too much of the wrong kinds of foods.
Eating too much junk food, in fact, can actually kill you. This was the lesson we learned from Morgan Spurlock’s popular documentary film Supersize Me!, in which he went on a 30-day diet of nothing but McDonald’s food. (If you haven’t seen the film, check out this seven-minute excerpt.)
The results? His cholesterol skyrocketed, he gained 24 pounds, he had frequent headaches and mood swings, he felt chronically depressed and exhausted, and he learned he had caused major damage to his heart, liver and blood. His doctor said he would soon die if he didn’t stop.
Of course, few of us eat fast food three times a day, as Spurlock did, but most of us do eat too much of the wrong food on a regular basis—a habit that invariably leads to disease.
What are the wrong types of food?
There is now overwhelming scientific evidence that too much sugar, meat and dairy products are a main cause of heart disease, cancer and diabetes—the leading causes of death in the Western world today.
This awareness has led to a proliferation of diets promising a slimmer, healthier (and sexier) body. But do they work? It turns out that most people on any weight-loss diet end up reverting to their old habits after about six months or so.
According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, bestselling author of Eat to Live, the main reason most weight-loss diets fail is that they don’t give us enough micronutrients and antioxidants. When we’re starved for these essential nutrients and immune system boosters, which are plentiful in plants, we end up feeling artificially hungry. And that’s what makes us fall back on those addiction-forming ingredients that are so plentiful in fast and processed foods: fats, salt and sugar.
Science has confirmed that consuming fat, salt and sugar together actually rewires the brain and creates dependency and addiction. It’s a scary fact: The same part of the brain that lights up in a cocaine addict lights up in a sugar addict as well.
On top of that, too much sugar actually turns into fat. So it’s no surprise that people on low-fat diets who continue to eat sugar seem to never lose weight, even if they watch calories and exercise regularly.
So what’s the solution?
Both modern science and ancient sources all point us to the same thing: Instead of any special diet, what we need in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight—and a slimmer body—is a simple diet of fresh whole foods. Mostly plants. And not too much.
Over the past few years, as director at Prama Wellness Center, I have seen such a change in diet and lifestyle—coupled with yoga and meditation—working wonders in so many people. Without the use of medicines.
To show what is possible, let me share the remarkable story of John, who suffered from fibromyalgia, obesity, tiredness and high blood pressure. Here is John in his own words four months into his lifestyle change:
“Before seeing you, I got to a point where I felt like all of the significant achievements of my life were in the past. My future was going to be just struggling through the days until I could retire. Getting though the work week left me so exhausted that I spent most of the weekends in bed.
But I have been doing well since the retreat. I weighed in at 179.6 pounds this morning, a hair shy of 39 pounds down.
The eye doctor dilated my eyes and after a thorough exam and imaging, the doctor told me he saw no signs of inflammation or anything else of note in my right eye. This was huge.
Since the retreat I have taken no pain medication at all. While I have had a few minor twinges of pain elsewhere, I have had no pain at all in my hands. Prior to the retreat I was experiencing a chronic low level of pain in my hands. This is wonderful.
I have been doing the yoga workouts twice a week. My energy levels have been so high that I have been doing at least three 75 minute sessions of interval cardio each week.
My blood pressure was getting low (around 100/70), so I stopped my blood pressure medication 10 days ago. I have been very careful about monitoring my blood pressure every day. So far the highest reading has been 118/74.
The analytical part of my brain almost cannot believe that it has all been this simple. I keep waiting for the pain and fatigue to return. But now I am beginning to accept that this relief is truly permanent. I feel like I have received the gift of a second life.”
Not only did John lose weight, he received the gift of a second life: a life free of pain, plus lots of energy and less stress. All that because he downsized by eating a diet high on refined carbs, fats and sugar. All that because he went on a yoga detox retreat and fasted on fresh juices for a week.
Then he went home with what he had learned and replaced his old diet with whole foods, mostly plants—and perhaps most importantly: not too much!
Author: Ramesh Bjonnes
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Jerry Huddleston/Flickr
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