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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?!


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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?"


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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?

January 12, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 31

(26) Anonymous, August 25, 2016 12:58 PM

Excellent article and very well written! Thanks for posting!

(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.

Neicee, August 15, 2014 6:18 PM

It's all good

As a small child I hated cereals. My little tummy swelled and hurt every large meal. I finally when grown tried several doctors to find out what was wrong. Finally a little GP suggested I give up grains and carbs. I felt better and she pronounced I had celeic's disease. No biopsy because it was so expensive and I was newly married. I slipped all the time and paid the price for it....over and over again. Lessons to be had there! Finally I went primal/paleo too. So did my daughter, who suffered from childhood. I'm 4'11" and 100 lbs. and she is 5'2" at 92 lbs.. Neither one of us miss not having the breads, cookies, pies, potatoes, rice, corn, pasta. It makes you focus on seasonal fare, the freshest, most awesome available. After about a month your craving for meat quiets down and you crave 3/4 of your plate be veggies. I just had a huge fruit salad for lunch. You do think about every bite you take and where it came from. Why I was born this way I couldn't say. Perhaps it was to make me focus and not become a glutton?

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