A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that almost 65% of Americans are either overweight (an extra 10-30 lbs.) or obese (over 30 lbs.). This extra weight causes 300,000 deaths annually, and it costs Americans approximately $100 billion a year in medical expenses.

It’s easy to blame overeating and junk food for this problem, but many are constantly watching their diet and are still unable to lose weight. We recently discovered why, and in the process, realized a significant correlation between material and spiritual food.

Because we’ve both had major health issues and severe allergies, we’ve been quite careful about what we eat for several years. We’d been exercising regularly, controlling portions and staying clear of what we thought of as junk food, but we both still carried around some extra pounds. Then we accidentally came into contact with a book called Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

Instead of calling Dr. Fuhrman’s plan a diet, we prefer to think of it as a ‘Live It’ because to be successful, you must make drastic changes in your eating habits and stick with it. Most of Dr. Fuhrman’s patients had become extremely ill or grossly overweight before they were willing to make such radical changes, but they’ve had spectacular results, and so have we.

Dr. Fuhrman contends that Americans are overweight and unhealthy for one reason: we’re not getting the nutrients we need from the food we’re eating. He explains that when you eat nutrient poor food, your body will just keep demanding more food until it gets what it needs. Of course if you just keep eating the same things your body will never be satisfied and this vicious cycle will inevitably lead to excess weight and illness.

Dr. Fuhrman claims that it’s the ‘nutrient density’ of food that matters, not the amount you eat. If you eat only the foods with the highest possible ratio of nutrients to calories and stop eating foods with a low ratio of nutrients to calories, your body will be satisfied, you’ll lose weight and your health will improve. Dr. Fuhrman’s plan is extremely simple: give the body its optimal fuel and you’ll get optimal performance. (By the way, our endorsement of Dr. Fuhrman’s plan is freely given; we’re not receiving anything in return.)

But what has this got to do with spiritual food? Peace Pilgrim, a very spicy spiritual master, once said, “I don’t eat junk food and I don’t think junk thoughts.” Like many other masters before her, she believed what we feed our minds is even more important than what we put into the body. Although most Americans have access to an abundance of nutritious food, a huge percentage of food in grocery stores and restaurants is very low on nutrition and high in calories, which leaves us simultaneously overfed and malnourished.

The same is true of spiritual food. The world is overflowing with an infinite and plentiful variety of spiritual food to choose from, but people are both overfed and malnourished. In both cases the problem exists because we reject real nutrition in favor of the tastiness of empty calories. And sadly, a diet of tasty but non-nutritious material or spiritual food often makes us think the nutritious food seem boring and unappealing.

Much of what passes for spirituality today is little more than sensationalism, but the excitement over specific dates, sacred places, secret information, etc., etc. makes the teachings of the sages that have stood the test of time seem dull in comparison.

Unless we recognize the problem and re-educate our physical and spiritual taste buds, we’ll never feel satisfied.

We might be convinced we have a ‘sweet tooth,’ but in reality, we’re starving for nutrition and addicted to a ‘high’ that we get from the combination of fat and sugar. The same is often true on a spiritual level. We may be addicted to new and exciting ‘spiritual highs’ if we find ourselves eager to keep moving from one new spiritual idea, book, teacher or practice to another.

We tell ourselves that we’re on a spiritual path, but we’re actually just ‘snacking’ to satisfy our curiosity. Curiosity can be a beginning, but it can also be a trap that keeps us from maturing. At some point we need to settle down and begin our inner work. That doesn’t mean that teachers, books, ideas or practices have no merit, but instead of using them as a springboard for deep inner work, we’re like the child who hides their vegetables and goes right to the cupcake.

Rumi was alluding to people who toy with spirituality when he said, “These spiritual window-shoppers who idly ask, ‘How much is that?’…they handle a hundred items and put them all down.”

In that case, spirituality becomes a bag of potato chips. We just keep popping in one ‘chip’ after another, hardly cognizant of what we’re doing. We feel full because we’ve collected lots of information, but we’re malnourished because we haven’t let it reach the heart and bring about real change. We may feel that we’re very busy and involved spiritually, but Buddha addressed this problem when he said, “Few are those who reach the other shore; most people just keep running up and down this shore.”

In our society, we want things to be quick and easy, so we’ve learned to eat on the run. We go to the drive-thru, pick up some food while the car is still running, and head right back to the road. Occasionally people do what we’ve come to think of as ‘drive-thru emails.’ They write and ask us to distill the information contained in the 600+ pages of our books in a few words so they can swallow it quickly and keep on moving.

Like diet pills, liposuction and weight loss surgery, they believe there must also be some form of ‘instant enlightenment gratification.’ As Hafiz pointed out, “God is trying to sell you something, but you don’t want to buy. This is what your suffering is: your fantastic haggling … over the price.”

Spiritual awakening, like Dr. Fuhrman’s plan, is very, very simple. However, that doesn’t mean either of them are easy. Both require that we make major changes, and those changes will be difficult or easy depending on how attached we are to the status quo. Most of the people who finally came to Dr. Fuhrman were in a desperate situation. They stuck to his plan because they faced death or a miserable existence if they didn’t.

Our thoughts and intentions have pushed the earth to the brink of disaster and left humanity in tenuous circumstances. Now is the time to act; the cure for our problems has always been right before us. Yes, big changes can be both frightening and disruptive, but the big question is: Do we want to keep playing around with our spiritual food, or dig in? Do we want to keep looking at the menu, or eat the meal?

~ by Lee & Steven Hager in Spiritual Awakening, Nov. 13, 2011.

Junk Food — Material and Spiritual