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What really needs losing?

There are some things that diets just can't do.

From the December 11, 2000 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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Commercials are continually advertising weight-loss products. But the ongoing demand for new ones suggests that they may not be all that effective.

I once heard of a test for insanity that suggested to me why so many approaches to losing weight aren't always successful. People were placed in a sealed room with a faucet running. A mop and bucket were in a corner. If the subjects calmly shut off the faucet, they were considered sane. If they mopped up water to keep from drowning, they were judged insane.

In this case, what needed fixing was not an excess of water but an open faucet. When it comes to weight loss, the problem is commonly identified as an excess of flesh. But maybe that's only the symptom. Maybe the problem is really the flood of thoughts we have about our food and our bodies.

While I was growing up, I always felt a little overweight—not very attractive, and not as athletic as my peers. I also felt unable to moderate my eating habits and often over-indulged.

As I developed as a woman and an athlete, however, it became important to me to be slim and fit. I met with varying degrees of success by restricting my diet. But this brought on a preoccupation with eating and body image. Even when I did lose a fair amount of weight, my concern for what I ate and what I looked like was obsessive, weighing down my thoughts and activities more than excess pounds ever did. Whatever freedom I did find was fleeting, and I always ended up regaining the pounds and having to start over.

A few weeks before the national championships for skiing one year, my coach insisted that I lose weight in order to ski my best. As I started to think more deeply about his order, I realized that what really weighed me down, on the ski trail and everywhere else, was my obsession with food and body image. Although excessive eating and being overweight obviously came along with those obsessions, they were only symptoms of a problem—not the root of the trouble. This helped me begin to understand that it was not really my body that was weighing me down; it was the way I was thinking about my body.

I was thinking of myself as inherently overweight, irresistibly attracted to food, and unable to moderate my eating habits effectively. A passage from Science and Health started me thinking in new ways: "To divest thought of false trusts and material evidences in order that the spiritual facts of being may appear,—this is the great attainment by means of which we shall sweep away the false and give place to the true. Thus we may establish in truth the temple, or body, 'whose builder and maker is God'" (p. 428).

Seeing God as my "builder and maker" would bring a freedom and strength to my skiing and other activities that attention to diet and body image never could. I made a conscious commitment to stop obsessing about losing pounds. Instead I focused on losing the mistaken view of myself as material and physical, instead of spiritual, built and made by God.

By acknowledging God as the sole power of the universe, I realized that matter was incapable of interfering with His action and expression. I kept trying to see myself as the complete, whole likeness of God. It was Love, the divine Principle of being, that was in control of my thoughts and actions. I didn't have to will myself to be disciplined; I just had to recognize that God alone, not food, was the governing force in my life.

Eating became much less the focus of my attention.

Spiritual identity includes having balance, temperance, wisdom, and satisfaction. Therefore I could not be tricked into thinking that I had some natural desire to pig out or continually crave food. How ridiculous it was to think that a little piece of chocolate, an extra helping at dinner, or a special snack had the ability to make me happier and more satisfied. Or to think that an inert, nonintelligent lump of matter could have power to draw me to it against my better judgment, or to give me something that God could not provide.

I'd often felt before, that dieting required denial. But refusing to accept a view of myself as helpless, material—going on a kind of "spiritual diet"—did not deny me anything good. Rather, it helped me find more of it in my life.

Eating became much less the focus of my attention. I didn't count calories or avoid eating certain foods. Very naturally, I began to eat more moderate amounts of food. I was able to focus more attention on my identity as the reflection of God.

My skiing improved—I had my best race of the season so far. And not just that, my whole life improved. I felt like I was really myself again. Anxieties, frustrations, impatience, apathy, and stubbornness dropped away considerably. A friend I hadn't seen in a month remarked on how beautiful I looked and asked what I'd done. Although I'd lost a few pounds at that point, I felt it was really the clearer understanding of myself as made and governed by God that had made the difference.

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