Spirituality and Weight Loss

How does one use spirituality to lose weight? Good question. It is simpler than it sounds. You use spirituality to help you establish a new relationship with food that decreases impulsive eating decisions and the shame attached to being overweight. When this new relationship with food is better established you will begin to feel your body’s own hunger and fullness messages and learn to eat the right amounts more easily.

Here is what you should do to begin to establish better eating patterns.

  1. Every day decide what you want to eat for the following 24 hours
  2. Keep a written record of what you eat even if it exceeds what you planned to eat
  3. At the end of the day, review what you ate. Look for feelings of stress, fear or impulse. Complete this review without shame or remorse.
  4. Weight yourself weekly, again without shame or remorse

Number 1-4 are the most essential to start with. Try and implement these all at one time. If you feel like you are able, then add the next two. If you can’t add them immediately then add them when you feel able. The last two steps are:

  1. Do some physical activity three times a week. Try to increase the amount slowly with the goal of some physical activity for 30 minutes three times per week.
  2. Learning something new about healthy eating weekly

Does this sound simple? Good.

There are of course many ways to lose weight. Weight Watchers and other group programs are great. Plans that supply you pre-determined food can also work. The uniqueness of this process is that it focuses on reducing impulsive eating which is at the root cause of obesity. It is not what you eat it is how you decide what you eat.

Most eating in the US is based on impulse and convenience not nutrition and hunger. This process tries to reboot ourselves and increase our resistance to unhealthy eating. Let me show what I mean. Here is a diagram of a typical eating decision.

The above graphic shows the emotions-body-mental cycle that leads to impulsive eating. (The letter in parenthesis indicates which part of the person is affected. The letter M stands for Mental, B stands for Body, E stands for Emotion).

Almost anything can set this cycle into motion. The emotions-body-mental cycle works so quickly that the process is almost instantaneous. Let’s see how this works. Suppose a person has argument with a coworker which starts the following change of events:


  1. Immediate Negative Emotional Reaction—the argument causes feelings of anger and depression which effects the self esteem
  2. Fight or Flight Emotions—the immediate negative emotional reaction causes the person to feel threatened causing a desire for a protective response.
  3. Increased Stress Reaction—the body responds to these emotions by releasing a cascade of hormonal reactions preparing the body for flight or fright
  4. Pleasurable Response to Food—the body has both a genetic and conditioned response to certain foods that quickly reduces stress and increases pleasure. While the specific food varies from person to person, in general, high sugar high fight food tend to reduce stress quickly
  5. Focus on Relief –the mind begins to focus on stress reduction and looks for quick relief from the body and emotional reactions to the event. This decreases the person’s ability to look for long term solutions
  6. Memory of Pleasurable Food—the mind will easily recall previous experiences with pleasurable foods and focus on this memory as the solution to the current stressor. Then a person will impulsively eat something.

Over time this cycle is so in-grained that anything will stimulate the cycle. The mind can anticipate an argument and then the emotions will respond causing the body to have a flight or fright response. The body could feel stress on the way to work increasing stressful emotions and triggering memories of pleasurable foods. This cycle can be so pervasive it will dominate eating.The 6 steps outline above break this cycle and increase a person’s ability to consciously control eating. The first 4 steps are key to this. The illustration below illustrates how each of these steps breaks this cycle.

weight loss spirit

Planning what you will eat during a day, the first step, creates a sense of preparation for a person which acts as a boundary during the day. Stress increases in the face of the unknown. A plan creates something that is known and controlled. Perhaps you have experienced some significant stressful event in your life that was out of your control such as a surgery of a loved one. In such situations people find comfort in being able in control of something no matter how small. People like to know where they should wait during a surgery for example. Control over something decreases stress. Being overweight can feel like you are out of control just like a surgery.   Step 1 returns control over a portion of this problem to the person. Everyone can decide what they think they will eat during the day. It is important to remember that the plan exist as a guide. There will always be times when something unexpected happens. People will also eat something for which they had not planned. This does not mean you should stop planning however because you will, over time, learn how to plan better.

Tracking what you eat, step 2, builds on the sense of control started in step 1. Tracking what you eat only means writing down what you eat, accurately and without feelings of guilt or shame. Tracking forces your consciousness to be aware of what you are eating during the day. In a sense it does not matter what you eat, even if you over eat, as long as you write it down. Wait, you say, if I am trying to lose weight shouldn’t I be concerned about how much I eat? While that is true eating too much is a two-fold problem. Deciding what to eat is different than actually eating something. My contention is that most of the time, overeating is an unconscious process based on impulse. Through tracking we increase consciousness. Tracking without shame increases our consciousness which will eventually decrease your intake.

Reviewing what was going on when we ate, step 3, creates new memories about food. There is good research demonstrating that Twinkies activate the same parts of the brain that are involved in cocaine abuse namely those parts which control breathing and the heartbeat. Just as a drug addict will association drug use with survival, certain foods can become connected to survival instincts. In times of high stress, a person can feel so threatened they will only focus on survival.  If a person feels enough stress they will look for immediate relief and forget the long term consequences. The person develops a knee jerk reflex—stressed, eat Twinkies. Reviewing the day, and doing so without guilt, will create new processes in the person, breaking the stressed, eat Twinkies reflex.

When you first do this step, you will look back on the day and remember the time you over ate. In the past, you may have said, “Dang, why did I eat that?’ This type of thinking only increases stress. During this step, if you encounter a time you over ate; recall any stressful feelings that may have been going on at the time. As you recall these feelings, say to yourself “Eating this way made me feel better for a while but it did not solve my problems long term.” This process creates a new awareness and starts to break down the cycle.

Weekly weights, step 4, gives a broad view of your progress. This process over time will help to lose weight and it is important to measure this. Some folks may want to weigh themselves more frequently or avoid weighing themselves at all. The most important thing to remember is that you should not add to the stress. Don’t get too frustrated if you gain a few pounds one week, keep up with the process.

I recommend you try this for 6 weeks. See what happens. After all, you have nothing to lose but the weight.

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