Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Atkins, South Beach – it doesn’t matter. If you follow this one rule of dieting you are guaranteed to succeed:
YOU HAVE TO WANT TO LIVE.
It's that simple.
What is a diet really?
It's a cycle. First we eat as much as we want of whatever we want. Then, after deciding that this lifestyle has accumulated enough inches on our waistline, we stop. We refrain from eating certain foods, and at times we even restrain from eating altogether. After months of painstaking work, we reach our target weight.
What do we do then? We promise ourselves that we will be more careful from now on, but we usually resume eating as much of whatever we want – until we return to square one.
A successful diet is a life-changing strategy. Slimming down from our initial weight to our ideal weight isn’t a gimmicky diet or three months of life without carbs. It’s a process that should take one to two years.
The successful diet doesn’t require us to go radical at any point. We gradually change bit by little bit over time, while we lose a little weight each week. Sometimes we get tired of the constant struggle so we take a short break. We don’t splurge. We simply relax our restrictions to the point where we don’t lose anything, but we also are not putting on any weight. If we “diet” 40 weeks out of the year, and take “breaks” for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other special events while “breaking even” the other 12, we are doing just fine.
If we maintain this pace for a year, we can lose 25-40 pounds and keep it off without exerting ourselves to the point of discomfort. In two years we will likely reach a weight we are happy with. A daily eating plan where we can thin down, maintain our weight and even cheat without returning to our beginning point is no longer a diet. It is a new way of eating. We can forever enjoy everything we love to eat while staying healthy.
If this is so simple then why is there an obesity problem in the Western world? Shouldn’t everyone be slim?
We approach dieting in terms of physical health and personal appearance. Very few of us realize that a diet is spiritual in nature. It starts by realizing that this is one of the best ways to show gratitude to Hashem.
Monitoring what we eat is a spiritual exertion much like policing our eyes, limbs, and speech.
A diet is an ongoing appreciation of our Creator for putting us in this world and giving us the chance to accumulate tremendous wealth with every mitzvah we perform. The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to make the people of Israel meritorious; therefore he gave them Torah and mitzvot in an abundant measure (Ethics of the Fathers). We want to be around for as long as we can to receive this abundance, and save it for later as well! Physical health is the understanding that there is no greater feeling in this world than to be connected to Hashem.
We want to be healthy because a healthy body sleeps less, and it can accomplish more while it’s awake. We are given a limited time with which we inhabit this earth. What we can achieve in this time is less restricted.
There will be tests. There will be times when we feel sad. There will be times when we feel tired. There will be times when the most immediate remedy to our current situation will be a cupcake. Why do just 20% of all dieters succeed in keeping the weight off? Because they are very aware that the long-term satisfaction of being healthy far outweighs the immediate fix of an unplanned bite of chocolate.
Overcoming our appetites occurs once we ask ourselves, Is a quick high worth the two days of mitzvoth I give up 60 years from now? That’s the attitude behind the successful diet.
What are the dieter’s greatest tools?
Gratitude. Spiritual Awareness. Personal Prayer. Emuna. A constant relationship with our Father in Heaven and earth.
The more we connect to Hashem, the greater appreciation we have for every single mitzvah. The Chofetz Chaim was so connected he compares a mitzvah to collecting a diamond, redeemable in the Next World for its full value. The Sages went so far as to compare one hour of spiritual work in this world to eternity in the Next.
As we discover and rediscover the true value in every second G-d gives us, we become even more determined to make sure we have as many of those seconds as possible.
This is what is meant by the proverb, we don’t live to eat, we eat to live!
A diet starts with spiritual resolve. We don’t want to leave this world early because we mishandled the body G-d gave us.
A diet reaches a point of stability when our daily menu and eating habits become enjoyable, healthy, and sustainable for the rest of our lives. It stays there as long as we constantly reinforce the reasons why we want to remain alive.
The endgame of dieting comes in one of two forms. It can be physical, where we aim to look good and return to the point of being able to eat whatever we want. It can be spiritual, where we are healthy and, G-d willing, able to dedicate an even greater enthusiasm to His mitzvot while maintaining this level of performance for as long as humanly possible.
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Dovber Halevi is the author of Sex, Religion, and the Middle East, a book about personal holiness and happiness. He lives in Israel with his wife and three children.