By Steven E. Hodes, M.D.
Physician to Meta-Physcian
The news is replete with statistics demonstrating the ‘epidemic’ of obesity in our nation. Our obsession with this topic reflects various aspects of our own attitude towards mind/body/spirit. Clearly obesity does represent an enormous risk to one’s health and in this regard it reflects upon not only the individual involved but the financial burden to our health care system. Diabetes, heart disease, stroke are undisputed complications of this condition. Apparently there is new data to implicate obesity as a potent risk for cancer as well. Obese individuals suffer from sudden death as a consequence of cardiac arrhythmias and pulmonary embolism at a rate that far exceeds the general population.
Of course the obesity problem cannot be removed from our culture’s obsession with the perfection of the human form. Media, TV, film, magazines, the internet bombard us constantly with the plastic surgical fix for physical beauty [which assumes a status of ‘unhealthy’ when it becomes obsessional]. The proliferation of gastric bypass procedudres, known as bariatric surgery is astounding as well. What is disturbing is the extent to which we view ourselves as primarily physical beings [ie bodies ] without the mental and spiritual aspects considered as well. Despite our private conversations regarding the ‘beauty’ of someone’s personality or soul it is extremely difficult not to get caught up with society’s obsession with faces and bodies.
Now I am not so naive as to dismiss the power of physical beauty. Personally speaking I am as fascinated by the esthetics of a beautiful individual as anyone. One must be aware, however, at how culturally based this notion can be. One can observe how powerfully the media can influence, both consciously and subconciously one’s attitude regarding art or fashion. The same clearly applies to our attitudes about physical beauty. I am quite sure that contemporaries of the 17th century Dutch artist Peter Paul Reubens, who delighted in painting full- figured women, would find contemporary female obsession with being extremely thin to be both unappealng and rather amusing.
Physical beauty need not be dismissed by the spiritually enlightened. Many spiritual traditions acknowledge any form of beauty as a gift from God and there is a Hebrew prayer that can be said upon viewing such an individual. It is the failure to see past the outer veneer of face and form, it is the obsession with the physical at the expense of all else that is so damaging to our sense of being.
Healing is the process by which we attempt to become whole. I have discussed in the blog on the Myth of Healing why this is not totally possible. Still, I applaud the process itself. It may reflect our very purpose for being here in the first place. The challenge of obesity should be seen within this context of the healing process. There may be a multitude number of reasons why someone becomes obese: genetics and metabolic processes certainly cannot be discounted. Yet far and away the cause is excessive caloric intake.
This is not the forum in which to discuss the various diets and dietary fads that exist. Those that ‘work’ for any period of time, however, are based upon behavior modification. Essentially weight gain and loss is astonishingly simple: if calories consumed exceed calories expended there is weight gain. If reduced below caloric expenditure there is weight loss. There are many ways to achieve this state of being. Exercise is clearly beneficial but far and away it is the consumption of calories that is the perpetrator of obesity.
Clearly there are many who are benefiting from bariatric surgery and I do not intend to demean any one individual who is incapable of losing weight by any other means. But in effect, it accomplishes through mechanical means that which the individual cannot or will not do by an act of free will: reduce caloric intake. What has disturbed me greatly, however, is the attitude and comments that I have personally witnessed which actually encourage further caloric intake in order to ‘qualify’ for gastric bypass surgery. Although this is clearly a distortion of rational thought, it does occur.
Now I am by no means an advocate of an ascetic life style. I do not believe it is beneficial on any level of mind/body/spirit to deprive ourselves totally of the pleasures of physical existence. Kabbalistic writings describe man as God’s ‘taste buds in the world’ and, therefore, to deny physical pleasures is to deny God’s access to his own creation.
Obsessive compulsion in any form: from eating, to exercise to any other addictive behaviors are ultimately contrary to healing. The Asian notion of Yin and Yang reflect a balanced approach to existence. The Buddha discovered this 2500 years ago after he abandoned the lifestyle of the extreme ascetic and advocated the ‘middle way’ to Enlightenment.
Our bodies, our sensory pleasures are gifts from Spirit. Still, by having the option to choose our behavior we are challenged to opt for a healthy approach to all aspects of it. To band our stomachs or by-pass them surgically is to regard ourselves as primarily a machine. Alter the anatomy and resolve the problem. The healing approach is to see ourselves as complete only when our minds and emotions as well as our spiritual legacy is taken into account.
Perhaps obesity, like other perceived misfortunes or difficulties in our lives are obstacles for which our souls contracted prior to this incarnation. Our goal, therefore, is not to bemoan our fates or to slip into the role of the victim. This is the road to despiar and probably more ‘comfort’ eating. Neither should we feel overwhelmed by this or any other task. We have the gift of seeing each moment as an opportunity for a new beginning.
In stead, transform our consciousness and observe the healing process unfold. The phrase self-awareness precedes self-repair is well applied to the problem of obesity.
© Steven E. Hodes, MD., 2006
Steven E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist with over 25 years private practice based in Edison and Old Bridge New Jersey. He also has a degree in Religious Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his Blog, Physician to Meta-Physician at www.meta-md.com.