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Even conscious adults who focus on good nutrition have challenges when it comes to food because it can be very confusing. The studies and science around food and diet is sometimes contradictory. And let's face it: People eat for countless reasons, including stress relief, to relieve fatigue, to comfort themselves, to accompany the alcohol they drink, to please others, to be included in family gatherings and social situations, to celebrate their heritage... seldom is it simply for health.
But the truth is what we eat impacts everything: Our health and welfare, how we age, how we think, and how we feel. Food can switch on disease-preventing genes and switch off disease-causing genes.
The good news is that studies show over and over again that you can take control of your health with a plant-based, whole foods diet. Instead of overeating high-calorie, fat-laden, prepared, processed, and unnatural foods, indulge yourself by eating nutrient-rich, calorie-sparse natural foods—vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains.
But how do you make that change? How can you make good healthy choices when surrounded by calorie-dense snacks firing off intense cravings to eat that food? How do we change when the people around us are simply not interested in joining us on our quest? How do we change? This is where Buddhist psychology comes in.
Buddhist psychology offers a guide for navigating this path, and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to receive the benefits of their principles. Enlightened eating is how to change your health by changing what you eat, as well as how to change how you think and act with regard to food. Enlightened eating transforms our relationship with food. We change from the inside out.
Try these tips for Enlightened Eating.
- Plant the seed of the new behavior by thinking specifically about what you want—not what you don’t want. Getting to a new way of eating requires a new way of thinking. Since solutions always begin with thought, problems have to be solved first in our mind. Begin by doing the following:
- Name what you want to change. Perhaps there was a diagnosis of a serious medical problem and the issue is at least partly a result of the way you’ve been eating. Or maybe it’s simply time to improve or preserve your health, and to do that there needs to be a change in diet. Or maybe one might want to contribute to preserving the environment and stop contributing to the abuse of animals through factory farming. Name it.
- Reflect on how you got to this place. What created this problem? Was it due to mindlessly overeating? If you have high cholesterol, is it because you're eating too much animal fat? Did you experience some kind of childhood trauma, or do you sometimes have bouts of depression? Only by knowing the reason behind the problem can you then actively change it.
- Experience the new behavior in your mind before you practice it. Visualize yourself choosing more plant-based foods, and enjoying the tastes and textures of the food. Do this in as much detail as possible. See the colors, hear the crunch or other sounds associated with eating delicious food. Feel the enjoyment and the satisfaction of eating nutritious foods, and the good feelings that come from treating your body well.
- Say positive statements aloud to yourself. This might include, “I see myself eating more healthfully each and every day. I am in the process of choosing foods that are better for me and the environment. I see myself becoming healthier, thinner, and more fit. I love feeling good that I’m making positive choices, and not adding to the suffering of animals.”
- We become what we envision. Focus on the present moment and observe our thoughts and guide our minds. Do our thoughts work against our new way of eating, or do they encourage us in it? Do we tell ourselves we’re happy with our new eating, or tell ourselves we’re deprived? If the latter, we are much less likely to stick with it.
- Create the thoughts that will lead to that next action. Many of us want to change something but don’t know how. To change our eating habits (or any habits for that matter), identify the problem, look for the causes, eliminate them, and live with the solution through our plans, thoughts, actions, and daily awareness.
These tips will allow you to begin to take control of your mind, thus allowing you to begin to take control of your food. Choosing to eat plant-based, whole foods will allow you to enjoy the many benefits of Enlightened Eating.
CASSANDRA OHLSEN, M.D., is a diplomate certified in Internal Medicine. She received her medical degree from Keck School of Medicine of USC, and has been in practice for over twenty years. She has also practiced in Africa and India: In 1984, she worked with Mother Teresa at her Home for Dying Destitutes and her Children’s Home in Calcutta. Dr. Ohlsen also cared for the medically underserved at a Los Angeles clinic, helping to rebuild community health after the Watts riots; in Fresno, California, where she attended to migrant farm workers; and at the Monterey County Health Department, where she took care of indigent adults and children. Enlightened Eating is her first book.