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Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
11/21/12 1:46 AM
One of the reasons I started meditation was as a possible aid to losing weight. My reasons for continuing go way beyond that now, but I still see it as a nice side effect if it happens. In another thread I asked about this as a side question, but I thought it was worth forking into a thread on it's own. So here we are.

At 5'8" and 300lbs I'm a big guy, in a sideways direction. I've struggled with this all my adult life. I have tried and failed at pretty much every "diet" or other "lifestyle approach" you can think of. My current view is that if my own struggle with overeating is not formally an "addiction" it's doing a really good impersonation of one. In other words, the single largest component of my problem is my mind.

What I'm wondering is, will progress in meditation lead to a greater ability to look on food indifferently -- with equanimity if you will? That's really all I'm asking. I know about mindful eating. I know about eating only before 12 noon. You name it, I know it. Knowing this stuff is not the problem. For me, my craving and attachment to food is quintessential dukkha and I do not believe it is going to be solved by some idea, any more than dukkha is fixed by merely *knowing that* it is caused by greed, aversion, and delusion. I'd be interested in any success stories in this area.

So, from the other thread:

Nikolai:
What causes the overeating? What is the phenomenological process that results in over eating? Are there sensations felt in the body that trigger a mental urge? Or viceversa? or both? Certain thoughts? A certain sublte way of mental holding the food in front of you as 'object'? Does such an 'object' seem to trigger a sensation in the body? Does the sensation trigger thoughts of want? Do such thoughts trigger more sensations? etc etc? What arises to trigger the over eating? This type of discernment leads to seeing cause and effect relationships. and when causes at the deepest level are seen, perhaps at a much deeper level than one realises, then one can also see how their cessation comes about too. No cause, no effect. No overeating.

*All* excellent questions. Some I have some clue to. For example, I know that roughly 20 minutes after eating "enough" food -- i.e. a sensible, non-fattening amount of calories -- my desire to eat any more will often go to zero. I've tested this several times and it's a marked effect. I also know that there are aspects of what is in my food that drives desire. So I can eat enough "whole food" calories such that I should be satiated, but still have intense cravings that get satisfied only by something like milk (presumably because of the maltose).

Something else I've noticed is the "brain switch". On three occasions in my life, something has triggered something in my head and weight loss has become effortless. By that I dont mean it's pain free, but it's as if the pain and the suffering-created-by-pain were disconnected and the latter disappeared. These periods are associated with enthusiastic attendance of gyms, a zealous approach to healthy eating, and an overall spike in energy throughout my life. The periods terminate as mysteriously as they started, roughly 6 to 12 weeks after they begun.

But other than specific insights such as these, I can't say I fully understand the overall "map" of my relationship with food.

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
11/21/12 2:02 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Nick has given excellent advice and I would also suggest discerning along those lines.

Most actually free people that I've heard loose "appetitive lust" for food and they dont tend to eat much.
This happens of it's own accord and it is not something they were trying to do.

I think food is one of the things that is able to satisfy largely unconditionally and its not hard
to get , so there is a tendency to go for it..this tendency can start dropping the moment
one starts enjoying something else(seen those kids totally unconcerned about food when
their mom runs after them to feed them ?)

I used to notice that when I'll be having the calm-abiding of jhanas , then there was
an almost non-existant craving for any kind of food...the key seems to make the brain
happier in other ways so that it is not bothered about food anymore.

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
11/21/12 2:11 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Nick,

Sounds almost as if you were approaching any unwanted mood state or attendent behaviour with the eyes of an addiction scientist. Cause and effect, the chain of causation. The resultant action is different, though. Instead of merely avoiding addiction triggers and insulating against being affected by them - by staying connected to other people who are abstinent, keeping a tight reign on your emotions, avoiding locales that addiction behaviour and trusting in A Higher Power if all else fails - meditators are encouraged to look deeper and really get to the root of the sickness of their behaviour or mood states. No wonder this can cause a Dark Night (or many such events).

I'm not trying to make any point, I guess I've just been tossing these ideas around in my head for some time and just wanted to reflect.

I'd like to go out on a young tree's limb here and parrot the Freudian "aren't all troublesome emotions (anger, aversion, desire) (but also delusion) essentially avatars of one's mortal fear of death?" Love to hear your thoughts on that one!

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
11/21/12 8:07 AM as a reply to Shashank Dixit.
I think you hit the nail on the head. Just focus on all craving and letting go. For some people it may be harder because their hunger pangs take longer to let go of. Eventually as the body gets used to hunger peaking and ceasing then the cravings should be less and less intense over the years.

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
11/21/12 1:51 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
What a horrible time of year to talk about dieting!

I don't really know how much meditation can help with that. Theoretically, if you can bring mindfulness to the hunger sensations and just observe them, you can disidentify with them and not be ruled by them. But I would imagine it would take many, many repetitions of this before it even started to become something like a baseline. You should bring mindfulness to all sensations, since it sucks being ruled by impulses, but I would not expect anything to happen quickly. That should be a fairly longer-term project - like, long-term as compared with getting stream-entry which is relatively easy by comparison with breaking an addiction.

Have you ever heard of Allen Carr? I read his book on quitting smoking years ago. I stopped cold turkey with almost no cravings/withdrawal and have never even thought of going back. This was over six years ago now. He also wrote a book on weight loss. I haven't looked at it, but I imagine it's the same principles.

Also, I know everyone and their sister is going to suggest a diet for you, but I'll just mention that the slow-carb diet is really easy, it's sustainable (i.e., not extreme), and you can continue to eat most of the crap you want while doing it. I went on it about 2 years ago, lost a lot of fat, and it's still basically my baseline diet when I'm not trying to bulk up. Just one more thing to consider...

I would try to avoid anything gung-ho, since that seems to be only a temporary measure for you.

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
11/21/12 2:30 PM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Thanks Fitter

Fitter Stoke:
What a horrible time of year to talk about dieting!

Yeah, my wife and I are on our own this year but we have the same amount of food we normally have. We'll be eating leftovers for a week.

I don't really know how much meditation can help with that. Theoretically, if you can bring mindfulness to the hunger sensations and just observe them, you can disidentify with them and not be ruled by them. But I would imagine it would take many, many repetitions of this before it even started to become something like a baseline. You should bring mindfulness to all sensations, since it sucks being ruled by impulses, but I would not expect anything to happen quickly. That should be a fairly longer-term project - like, long-term as compared with getting stream-entry which is relatively easy by comparison with breaking an addiction.

Fair enough. It's disappointing though. As I mentioned, my reasons for meditating now go much further than weight loss, but it was one of the reasons I got started. Ah well.

Have you ever heard of Allen Carr?

Nope. Will check him out.

I read his book on quitting smoking years ago. I stopped cold turkey with almost no cravings/withdrawal and have never even thought of going back.

But see that's the kind of thing that really intrigues me. I have a friend who relates the same story. He'd tried and failed several times to give up, but he says that one day he just got up and "decided he wasn't a smoker any more", and never smoked again. Like you, almost no cravings or withdrawal. He doesn't know what it was, nor how to re-create it, but it was undoubtedly real. In the weight loss arena, John Gabriel's experience as related in "The Gabriel Method" sounds similar. My own experience of occasional bursts of enthusiasm for weight loss also feels like how you guys sound. It's just that where you, my friend, and Gabriel appear to have had the effect "stick", for me it turns off again after a month or two.

Also, I know everyone and their sister is going to suggest a diet for you, but I'll just mention that the slow-carb diet is really easy, it's sustainable (i.e., not extreme), and you can continue to eat most of the crap you want while doing it. I went on it about 2 years ago, lost a lot of fat, and it's still basically my baseline diet when I'm not trying to bulk up. Just one more thing to consider...

Thanks. Don't know the book, but know Ferris, so I'll take a look.

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
11/21/12 5:37 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:

Fair enough. It's disappointing though. As I mentioned, my reasons for meditating now go much further than weight loss, but it was one of the reasons I got started. Ah well.


Hmm. Yeah.

I would withhold disappointment. There are a lot of experiences one can have doing all This, and they can change a person in a variety of ways. Many of them are subtle, the majority are unexpected, and almost all of them are deep. To paraphrase someone who was probably paraphasing Bill Hamilton: I couldn't tell you exactly why, but it's worth doing.

But see that's the kind of thing that really intrigues me. I have a friend who relates the same story. He'd tried and failed several times to give up, but he says that one day he just got up and "decided he wasn't a smoker any more", and never smoked again. Like you, almost no cravings or withdrawal. He doesn't know what it was, nor how to re-create it, but it was undoubtedly real. In the weight loss arena, John Gabriel's experience as related in "The Gabriel Method" sounds similar. My own experience of occasional bursts of enthusiasm for weight loss also feels like how you guys sound. It's just that where you, my friend, and Gabriel appear to have had the effect "stick", for me it turns off again after a month or two.


In my case, quitting had a definite cause, and it was reproducible: I know four or five other people who quit using the same method.

My own story is amusing, so I'll reproduce it. I smoked about two packs a week, but I was definitely hooked. A friend of mine read the book, quit, and gave it to me. I wasn't interested in quitting, because I was in denial about being hooked, so the book sat on my bookshelf for about six weeks. Then one night I was looking for something to read on the can, so I grabbed the book and accidentally opened it to a middle chapter talking about "social smoking". I was impressed with the humorous way in which Carr unraveled the logic of social smoking. He saw right through my bullshit, but he showed it to me in a way which was really light-hearted, unassuming, and humorous. So I got interested in the book, and two days later, I smoked my last cigarette. I had had no interest in quitting, but Allen Carr got me to stop cold turkey and to be absolutely thrilled about the decision. Even now when I reflect upon the fact that I no longer smoke, it fills me with happiness. The method worked that well.

Looking back on it, the method is very similar to mindfulness. He doesn't try to scare you with medical statistics, and it's not a plan for cutting back. He insists you continue to smoke while reading the book. This part is important. And then as you're smoking, you're reading the book, and what he's saying is really getting you to tune in to the phenomenon of smoking. Not just the physical sensations of it - those are important too - but all the reasons you smoke, all the reasons you think it's enjoyable, all the supposed pleasure you get from it, all the emotional satisfaction, and all the image issues you have tied up with it. He cuts through the web of things we tell ourselves about smoking - mutually exclusive things such as "It calms me down" / "It gives me energy" and "I love my brand" / "I need a fucking cigarette, NOW" - and then has you look directly at the experience of smoking and realize, directly, that it in fact is not enjoyable, never has been, never will be. You desperately want to stop smoking by the middle of the book, but he won't let you. You can't quit until the last chapter. By the time you finish the book, putting out the last cigarette becomes one of the most enjoyable actions you ever take in your life. The effect really is that strong, and it's accomplished with nothing but reasoned argument with a good sense of humor.

Food is a bit different, because obviously you can't stop eating, but I'd be intrigued to know if the method works for overeating. You would probably find the method compatible with some of the methods that go into vipassana, so it might be worth a shot.

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
12/2/12 11:13 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
I'm the new kid on the block and feel hesitant to contribute, but maybe some "beginner's mind" will help? I read this thread and another thread you opened, with a title something like "do real men do only vipassana" where I understand you to say you have been focused on doing mainly insight meditations and not so much with the concentration work. I hope I am getting this right.
The two posts seem to meld for me and brought to mind what I have recently read in the MCTB that stood out to me because of the correlation to my own ignorant experience. From my recent experience of my beginning meditation unexpectedly healing me of several self destructive addictions ( a 25 year pack and a half a day cigarette habit I've tried to shake continuously, a 1 to 2 hundred dollar a week weed smoking habit, drinking had gotten to a gallon of vodka every few days, pills) with almost no effort or planning of mine. This seemed to be relevant to both your posts.

Here is a quote (The emphasis is added by me) from this page of the MCTB in the wiki:
So long as one is very clear about what is concentration practice and what is insight practice, which may not be as easy an understanding to come by as some might think, concentration practice beyond the first jhana can be helpful to the insight practitioner. All of the concentration states stabilize the mind, obviously, and this has four primary benefits. First, just as a movie camera that is shaking wildly will not be likely to produce a clear or intelligible movie, so a mind that won’t stay settled on an object will not clearly perceive the ultimate truth of it. Second, as concentration states cultivate deep clarity and stability on content, they are very useful for promoting deep and healing psychological insights. Put another way, if you want to bring up your stuff, do concentration practices.


I've read in at least one other place in the MTCB that either states or eludes to the same thing, that the concentration work is where these deep healings take place. Also it's is mentioned and I have experienced, people with deep levels of realization but still radically neurotic. My personal take on this would be a focus on the one training while letting the other two, or at least the healing power of the concentration training to be less utilized.

I apologize if I overstep nube boudaries here or if I am so far off base as to just be a nuisance.

-Ken

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
12/3/12 9:18 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
I like the slow-carb diet. It works. Gary Taube's "Why We Get Fat" is a great resource for understanding why calorie counting doesn't work, and how carb/sugar cravings are perpetuated. Good luck!

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
12/3/12 10:03 PM as a reply to Some Guy.
You can pretty much eat as much as you want and still lose weight if you know how to eat right.

I recommend the paleo diet, in any of it's incarnations. It's the optimal diet in terms on nutrition per calorie, so you can eat to the point you feel full and still have weight fly off. I've never known anyone who went on it and didn't see an enormous weight loss.

Easy Paleo Resource with scientific studies and philosophy

Paleo Diet, what you can and can't eat

RE: Meditation and overeating/obesity
Answer
12/4/12 10:07 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
All these diets mentioned so far have a couple things in common: stop eating sugar and white flour. When you do that, your insulin secretion goes way down, sugar cravings decrease, and your body uses energy from fat. That's the quick and dirty version.