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Ekev(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

How to Lose Weight Without Dieting

"Wisdom is to the soul, as food is to the body."

--  Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra

The next time you sit down to eat a nice salad, give a little thought to the poor cows. Day in, day out, all they eat is plain old grass.

Imagine a grass diet 365 days a year. Some days it's wet, some days it's dry. No dressing, no salt, just grass. After a while, all that grass can really get to you.

How do cows deal with it?!

* * *

MAN IS NOT AN ANIMAL

Most of the world's animals get along perfectly fine on a simple and consistent diet.

But not man.

Human beings need variety. From a purely physiological standpoint, we can live on bread and water alone. So then what is behind our pursuit of fine dining, ice cream, bakeries, pastrami sandwiches and other culinary delights?

Other creatures seem to show no ill effects or displeasure from their dietary simplicity! So why is only man unable to "live by bread alone?"

* * *

THE NEEDS OF MAN

Human beings, unlike animals, need "meaning" in life. The Kabbalists explain this as one of the parallels between the material and spiritual worlds: This drives us to want more than just bread. Even though it is a poor substitute for real fulfillment and meaning, food is often the focus of our quest for meaning.

But man's drive for meaning is not found in a salami. Unfortunately, we are sometimes so badly focused that we will look to fulfill it in the most unlikely and sometimes counter-productive places.

This week's Parsha contains one of the Torah's most famous lines: "Man cannot live by bread alone" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Although these words are quoted frequently, the continuation of the verse is equally important: "...but by all that proceeds from the mouth of God."

What the verse is telling us is that since man cannot live on bread alone, he will either fill that extra space with real meaning - a relationship with His Creator, or he will look for substitutes to that meaning, such as food.

In our day, restaurants are raised to the level of shrines; recipes are sacrosanct secrets; chefs are the high priests.

Seeking the perfect sushi may make your cat's day, but it will do nothing more than "warm" your stomach.

* * *

THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING

Notice that the more meaningful a day you're having, the less your desire for food. We have all experienced days full of excitement and fulfillment when our desire to eat just seemed to disappear. Sometimes we may have even skipped entire meals!

When life is fulfilling, then we look less to food for satisfaction. We have something other than bread to be nourished by.

On the other hand, we've all had depressing days where we desired to eat ad naseum.

Realize what this means: If you use food as a stimulant, it's because life itself isn't very stimulating.

Unfortunately, your craving for meaning cannot be fulfilled as easily as it is to order a hamburger. McDonald's has trained the Western mind to think that a "hunger need" can be filled instantly. But spiritual needs require much more time to fulfill than the three minutes it takes to order a burger and fries.

There is an easy way to gauge your spiritual level: If you need food to elevate your mood, you maybe failing to fulfill your spiritual needs.

As much as you may try, you won't be satisfied by any amount of chocolate cake. Dieting will not make you happier any more than pigging out will make you more fulfilled. The problems nagging at your life will neither be solved by a "Jane Fonda Workout" nor in a dress two sizes smaller.

* * *

THE OPPORTUNITY

Next time you find yourself looking to cookies to pick you up, hesitate a little. Try to define what it is you really want to achieve. Using cookies to obtain real meaning and fulfillment will only lead you further away from that place you truly desire.

By leading with your mind and not your stomach, by thinking about what is truly bothering you and what you are truly looking for, you can avoid the quick and empty "fix" that food offers, and instead find the meaning for which you so long.

Looking to food for life's satisfaction is an indication you are already on the wrong track. But that desire is really a sign that you are in need for more meaning. Your desire for a Hershey bar is a red traffic signal: STOP! You are on the wrong track!

Don't give chocolate cake to a hungry soul.

* * *

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: Do you spend as much time fulfilling your spiritual needs as you do your bodily needs?

Question 2: Anorexics don't realize they need to eat. Similarly, we often don't realize our soul is starving. When was the last time your soul felt satisfied?

Published: January 12, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 29

(25) Elizabeth, July 23, 2013 12:35 PM

Grateful for your insight

I found your article very helpful. I have read some of the rebuttals from people who needed more than spiritual and emotional help. May G-d bless them. I, however, needed just what you said. Thank you very much for taking the time to write it.

Clarisa, July 25, 2013 2:57 PM

I agree

I agree with you 100%. As I have been without a steady job for months. I haven't been praying as much as I used to. I have been eating everything in sight.... basically this article brought me back to reality instantly (especially the part about the cookies) Awesome article...great comment!

(24) Rachel, August 10, 2012 6:55 PM

Physical problems need physical solutions as well as spiritual solutions.

Rabbi Barrs. I enjoyed the article and found parts of it very helpful. My mother always use to say all hungers are spiritual hungers and I agree with that because I don't really see a strong divide between the physical and the mental. However, I have several times tried to loose weight by trying to be more mindful and more spiritual and It has never worked. I have recently been diagnosed with several allergies and went on Paleo diet and gave up grains, legumes and most dairy. I have lost over 50 pounds and am the least hungry I have ever been. I do constantly need to improve in spiritual matters but I wish someone had suggested giving up wheat years ago. When you want be more charitable the solution is to give more charity not to think more charitable thoughts. Physical problems need physical solutions as well as spiritual solutions.

(23) BB, August 22, 2011 7:41 PM

Lovely article and very well presented

This article was used as the study passage at our last service, and went down universally well (though nobody was in the mood for accepting it as food for the soul in place of kiddush!). While it's unfortunate that it may be unhelpful to some people, I think it has to be borne in mind that this site cannot offer specialist advice in difficult medical fields. This should be sought elsewhere. In a similar manner the site and it's wonderful writings can be good for the heart, but cannot offer the full extent of the help needed by someone requiring a heart bypass operation. Rather the writings on this site must necessarily be directed at those of us, in our society perhaps the majority, who do not seek specialist medical advice but who are maybe just a little bit subconsciously greedy and in need of being reminded as much in a kind and light-hearted brotherly way.

(22) Rabbi Baars, August 6, 2010 2:02 AM

Dear Anonymous

Please accept my sincere apologies. You are so right, living with any sort of battle, whether that be food or any other addiction is no laughing matter. You are doing a fantastic effort - keep it up and I wish you much health and success. Sincerely, Rabbi Baars

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