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The Spirit Diet
A Spiritual Path Toward Weight Loss and a Longer, More Fulfilling Life

Let's face it, millions of us have difficulty with weight. We may have tried a dozen different diets. Atkins. Low Carb, South Beach. These names trip off the tongue. There are even diet programs targeting Christians. The Christian weight loss industry is booming. And I have reviewed and evaluated several of them here.

Still, it's clear there is no magic way to take off those unwanted pounds; there are no miracle workers who can say a prayer over you with the result that the extra weight mysteriously disappears. When it comes to losing weight, there are a few essentials, and most of us understand what they are. First, one needs to know what foods to avoid, and what foods to emphasize in a diet that will lead to permanent weight loss, without depriving the body of any of the life sustaining nutrients. Second, and even more important .. motivation and discipline are required to avoid temptation and sustain both weight loss and well being over the long haul. Obviously, these are harder to come by. Third, exercise. Many of us never get around to it, but ANY diet will be more effective if combined with the activity needed to keep your body in condition. And finally, the loving support of friends and relatives, or members of the faith community that one belongs to. A support group can be extremely helpful. But friends and relatives can also make things worse by putting on too much pressure or making you feel guilty when you don't live up to their expectations.

Given the difficulty of applying the knowledge, finding the motivation and discipline, and pushing forward to lose that extra weight, something more may be needed. An appropriate and effective spiritual practice. Breaking through the obstacles that others put in your path or the traps you set for yourself may involve unleashing inner resources that you didn't even know you had. That's where a spiritual practice can be helpful.

The Spirit Food List

To that end, I offer the following. Rather than dwelling on the food you should NOT be eating ... most of us already know about that ... it is far more useful to focus on the food that is both nutritious and good to eat, while not being loaded with unnecessary calories. I believe that the key here is not to approach weight loss as a matter of sacrificing all those tasty and toxic foods we tend to indulge in. Rather, a more promising approach, it seems to me, is to focus on all of those delicious foods that can and should be part of any plan for a long and healthy life. In this context, the carrot works far better than the stick ... literally.

The successful way to lose weight may in fact be the route that Columbus took in trying to find a route to the "New World" he was looking for. Sailing West to find a shorter route to the East. Since what you really need is a permanent change of those habits of the heart that contribute to your problem, and most diets are not permanent routes to a long and healthy life, let alone that deeper sense of self-worth that all of us desire, I am going to suggest setting out on a new path. Forget about dieting. Think about the quality of the food you are eating, and the qualities of character you'd like to nurture within yourself. They tend to go hand in hand.

It turns out that many of the foods that are recommended by dieticians and experts on nutrition, just happen to be those that are associated in the great spiritual traditions with positive qualities of character. I have explored the world's great religious and spiritual traditions, and find that a strong pattern emerges. People tend to associate various kinds of food with qualities of the spiritual or emotional life. This is not a matter of fad or fashion. Such associations have evolved over centuries and millennia as people experience the affects of the food they eat. What we eat has consequences for the body, of course, but diet also influences the soul. And it does so in specific ways.

Accordingly, I have taken a chart that catalogues the physical benefits derived from eating various sorts of food, and added a column listing the qualities of soul that are associated with these same foods in the world's great spiritual traditions. I've also created a printer friendly version of the chart so you can print it out and keep it with you .... especially on trips to the supermarket or neighborhood deli! I call it the "Spirit Food List."

My suggestion is simple. Think about the good and delicious foods on the list... and the benefits of eating more of them. Count calories if you want. Avoid carbs, fat, fast food and fatty meat to be sure. Try and stick with any reputable diet program, if you prefer. But also include the following spiritual practice. Before heading out to the supermarket, sit down for a few moments with the spirit food list and let your mind focus on the positive qualities associated with some of the foods on it. Try it right now. What do you see?

Apples are right there at the top of the list. Not only do apples provide various physical benefits ... protecting your heart, improving lung capacity ... those would be sufficient reason to include some delicious, juicy, tasty apples on your shopping list. Apples have been associated by millions upon millions of people who have pondered these things with health, peace, even immortality! "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." You've heard that many times; what we tend to forget is that this familiar saying is rooted in the wisdom traditions of the world's great religions, including Christianity. It's a wisdom confirmed by science to be sure, but it reflects the actual experience of real people eating real food. It is the nearly universal consensus of humankind that what is good for the body is also good for the soul. The chemicals in various foods that tend to calm the nerves also tend to soothe the soul.

Looking a bit further down the list, there's the avocado. Not as often found on a typical grocery shopping list, the avocado is equally valuable to the body as the apple. It tends lower cholesterol, while protecting the heart and smoothing the skin. There are strong physical benefits to be derived from avocados, to be sure. But in the world's great wisdom traditions, the avocado is associated with love and beauty. Not just the outer beauty that is skin deep, but the inner qualities of beauty that reflect a strength of soul. Further, a ripe avocado is delicious!

See what's happening here? You are not only going through a mechanical process of building a shopping list ... you are becoming attentive to the qualities of character and the aspects of your spiritual life that you'd like to enhance. You are beginning to associate eating good food with leading a good life. You are letting your imagination, your sense of touch, taste and smell become supports for a more powerful spiritual practice. You are weaving the practice of attending to the needs of the soul into your daily routines. You are bringing mind and body together in a new way to work in concert with each other ... building a stronger foundation for a longer and more fulfilling life. Try it. And let me know how the spirit diet works for you. I'll be adding to The Spirit List over the coming weeks and months, and your feedback will be helpful as I do so.

The Spirit Food List

apples

health, immortality, peace

Protects your heart

prevents constipation

Blocks diarrhea

Improves lung capacity

Cushions joints

apricots

optimism, love

Combats cancer

Controls blood pressure

Saves your eyesight

Shields against Alzheimer's

Slows aging process

artichokes

inner life

Aids digestion

Lowers cholesterol

Protects your heart

Stabilizes blood sugar

Guards against liver disease

avocados

love, beauty

Battles diabetes

Lowers cholesterol

Helps stops strokes

Controls blood pressure

Smoothes skin

bananas

wisdom and inner strength

Protects your heart

Quiets a cough

Strengthens bones

Controls blood pressure

Blocks diarrhea

beans

reconciliation, release from anxiety

Prevents constipation

Helps hemorrhoids

Lowers cholesterol

Combats cancer

Stabilizes blood sugar

beets

love

Controls blood pressure

Combats cancer

Strengthens bones

Protects your heart

Aids weight loss

blueberries

youthfulness, zest, inner security

Combats cancer

Protects your heart

Stabilizes blood sugar

Boosts memory

Prevents constipation

broccoli

foresight

Strengthens bones

Saves eyesight

Combats cancer

Protects your heart

Controls blood pressure

cabbage

happiness and hope

Combats cancer

Prevents constipation

Promotes weight loss

Protects your heart

Helps hemorrhoids

cantaloupe

wholeness, harmony

Saves eyesight

Controls blood pressure

Lowers cholesterol

Combats cancer

Supports immune system

carrots

abundance

Saves eyesight

Protects your heart

Prevents constipation

Combats cancer

Promotes weight loss

cauliflower

spiritual nourishment, purity

Protects against Prostate Cancer

Combats Breast Cancer

Strengthens bones

Banishes bruises

Guards against heart disease

cherries

honesty, truthfulness, insight

Protects your heart

Combats Cancer

Ends insomnia

Slows aging process

Shields against Alzheimer's

chestnuts

success, prosperity

Promotes weight loss

Protects your heart

Lowers cholesterol

Combats Cancer

Controls blood pressure

chili peppers

fidelity, inspiration

Aids digestion

Soothes sore throat

Clears sinuses

Combats Cancer

Boosts immune system

figs

discernment, fulfillment, prosperity

Promotes weight loss

Helps stops strokes

Lowers cholesterol

Combats Cancer

Controls blood pressure

fish

spirituality, energy

Protects your heart

Boosts memory

Protects your heart

Combats Cancer

Supports immune system

flax

prosperity, discernment

Aids digestion

Battles diabetes

Protects your heart

Improves mental health

Boosts immune system

garlic

practicality, protection from danger

Lowers cholesterol

Controls blood pressure

Combats cancer

kills bacteria

Fights fungus

grapefruit

wholeness, harmony

Protects against heart attacks

Promotes Weight loss

Helps stops strokes

Combats Prostate Cancer

Lowers cholesterol

grapes

repentance and renewal

saves eyesight

Conquers kidney stones

Combats cancer

Enhances blood flow

Protects your heart

green tea

courage, inner strength

Combats cancer

Protects your heart

Helps stops strokes

Promotes Weight loss

Kills bacteria

honey

abundance and grace

Heals wounds

Aids digestion

Guards against ulcers

Increases energy

Fights allergies

lemons

release from anger and rage

Combats cancer

Protects your heart

Controls blood pressure

Smoothes skin

Stops scurvy

limes

perseverance

Combats cancer

Protects your heart

Controls blood pressure

Smoothes skin

Stops scurvy

mangoes

fertility, productivity

Combats cancer

Boosts memory

Regulates thyroid

aids digestion

Shields against Alzheimer's

mushrooms

imagination

Controls blood pressure

Lowers cholesterol

Kills bacteria

Combats cancer

Strengthens bones

oats

inner peace

Lowers cholesterol

Combats cancer

Battles diabetes

prevents constipation

Smoothes skin

olive oil

comfort

Protects your heart

Promotes Weight loss

Combats cancer

Battles diabetes

Smoothes skin

onions

introspection

Reduce risk of heart attack

Combats cancer

Kills bacteria

Lowers cholesterol

Fights fungus

oranges

blessing or good fortune

Supports immune systems

Combats cancer

Protects your heart

Straightens respiration

 

peaches

abundant life

prevents constipation

Combats cancer

Helps stops strokes

aids digestion

Helps hemorrhoids

peanuts

truthfulness, curiosity

Protects against heart disease

Promotes Weight loss

Combats Prostate Cancer

Lowers cholesterol

pineapple

hospitality, warmth, charm

Strengthens bones

Relieves colds

Aids digestion

Dissolves warts

Blocks diarrhea

prunes

nimbleness of heart and mind

Slows aging process

prevents constipation

boosts memory

Lowers cholesterol

Protects against heart disease

rice

hope, security

Protects your heart

Battles diabetes

Conquers kidney stones

Combats cancer

Helps stops strokes

strawberries

sensuality, satisfaction in matters of the heart

Combats cancer

Protects your heart

boosts memory

Calms stress

 

sweet potatoes

harmony with loved ones

Saves your eyesight

Lifts mood

Combats cancer

Strengthens bones

 

tomatoes

domestic happiness, harmony

Protects prostate

Combats cancer

Lowers cholesterol

Protects your heart

 

walnuts

intelligence, diligence

Lowers cholesterol

Combats cancer

boosts memory

Lifts mood

Protects against heart disease

water

cleansing of the soul

Promotes Weight loss

Combats cancer

Conquers kidney stones

Smoothes skin

 

watermelon

love or relaxation

Protects prostate

Promotes Weight loss

Lowers cholesterol

Helps stops strokes

Controls blood pressure

wheat germ

abundance

Combats Colon Cancer

prevents constipation

Lowers cholesterol

Helps stops strokes

improves digestion

wheat bran

success

Combats Colon Cancer

prevents constipation

Lowers cholesterol

Helps stops strokes

improves digestion

yogurt

adaptability, flexibility of mind and heart 

Guards against ulcers

Strengthens bones

Lowers cholesterol

Supports immune systems

Aids digestion

Additional articles on health and fitness.

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
  CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.