Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Would 'Abdu'l-Baha Eat?

Right in time for Thanksgiving, that annual ritual of mass consumption, is a fascinating piece in the Daily Mail about Christian inspired dieting:

New diet fads constantly offer hope to the unhappily overweight, before fading away, leaving only disappointed expectations and stubborn flab.

The more extreme the eating plan, the more keenly it's adopted - until its followers realise that measuring portions with a thimble isn't sustainable in the long term.

But there's a new diet trend which claims dizzyingly high success rates, promises painless life-long commitment and allows dieters to eat anything they want.

Faith-based diets take the principles of Christianity and apply them to our overwhelming craving for chocolate, chips and cheese.

Advocates say dieters learn to fill the spiritual hole inside themselves with something more powerful than saturated fats.

The basic principle common to the U.S. programmes Christian Weigh Down and Thin Within ('Helps you grow in faith while shrinking your waistline'), and the British equivalent Fit For Life Forever, is that dieters need to identify the deeper reasons why they over-eat, before they can hope to lose weight and keep it off permanently.

The trend began in America in the Eighties, but it's finally taking hold here, with Christian weight-loss groups springing up, and dramatically increased sales of 'spiritual dieting' books such as What Would Jesus Eat?, Hallelujah Diet and The God Diet. (Read the whole thing here)

While this article strikes me as slightly tongue in cheek, it reminds me of the Baha'i view that religion can be a powerful motivator of change in attitudes, emotions, and behavior:

"Religion, as we are all aware, reaches to the roots of motivation. When it has been faithful to the spirit and example of the transcendent Figures who gave the world its great belief systems, it has awakened in whole populations capacities to love, to forgive, to create, to dare greatly, to overcome prejudice, to sacrifice for the common good and to discipline the impulses of animal instinct." (The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World's Religious Leaders, p. 2)

Research by psychologists such as Robert Emmons, Kenneth Pargament and others support this statement from the Universal House of Justice. Viewing one's body as sacred, for example, has been found to be related to a variety of healthy behaviors among college students. Such research suggests that it makes sense to harness the power of faith to encourage healthier eating habits.

It makes me wonder what a program promoting healthy eating would look like if it was based on Baha'i teaching and practice. What might be the scriptural foundation of such a program? How might the example of 'Abdu'l-Baha be used? What would be the role of prayer, study of the Baha'i Writings or service? And most importantly, what catchy name would be given to this program?

Readers, what do you think?


  1. "It is incumbent upon them who are in authority to exercise moderation in all things."

    (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 215)

    Same could be applied to food...? "Moderation in All Things"

    heh, on a more serious note, I think the wise thing to do is to find out what our individual bodies need, and create a habit of healthy eating and exercise that works with that. Fads do us no good.

    "You see all round you proofs of the inadequacy of material things - how joy, comfort, peace and consolation are not to be found in the transitory things of the world."

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 111)

    When we see food not as an end in itself, but a means of sustaining our physical bodies so that we can continue growing as spiritual beings, the obsession can be removed.

  2. Sholeh, you get the prize for first comment on this question! Interest choices of quotes as well.

  3. Maybe you would like the food target found at foodtarget.com--It has a different approach than the pyramid which is itself affected (in my opinion only) by the lobbiests.

    Also, this is once again a "symptom" of immidiate gratification habits....from the inside out our lives are out of balance. Why do I drink a cup of water standing up? Because I am in a rush. Why do I feel sick after I drink it? Because I drank it too fast....

    I find myself wondering today, in light of the horrendous tortures taking place in humanity, WHY I am thinking of what to do with my next pay check instead of solving the problem of what to do with this amazing freedom I have, not just to be with my family and loved ones, but to advocate for those less fortunate than ourselves....how do I help heal those that are hurting but that I am not around, while at the same time transforming the impulses of hatred that perpetuate such pain in humanity?

    Okay, more than the topic of food, but on a day when our "world" is revolving around food, there are too many who don't have the ability to make this choice in the first place (see statisics on average percent of monthly income across the globe being spent on basic physical sustinence.)

    So my question is, what is it about gratification that is so important that it gets between us and what is important? Is this one of our veils? Is it the seductive quality of not having to think and placing our trust in over processed foods to meet that need inside us for nourishment that is the problem, or is the responsibility with us and our own inadequacy of being able to observe and respond rather than maybe "feel and react" ? Anyways, I am with Sholeh about seeing the things of this world as playing a varity of roles in support of our growth as spiritual beings.

    It would be nice to have workshops on this topic as a teenager, rather than "chastity" ... as yet again, that probably falls into the same category as food in this context :)

    Thanks Philip.

  4. 'Abdu'l-Baha has a LOT to say on this topic! Here are some of my favorite quotes: www.bahailifecoach.com/diet-and-the-foods-we-eat-a-bahai-perspective

  5. The Master said “...look at Me, follow Me, be as I am.” ~Vignettes, p.12
    Do not unloose your tongues save for conveying the Message! ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá, (Star of the West, V, #1)
    Teach the Cause to those who do not know...I enter all meetings, all churches, so that the Cause may be spread. When the “Most Important” work is before our sight, we must let go the “Important” one.The Chosen Highway, p.177

    The Bahai leader never possessed more than one coat, he lived on frugal diet and was ever ready to share what little he possessed with the poor. During the war many hundreds of people in Palestine would have died of starvation had it not been for the noble way in which Abdul Baha cared for them.
    The memory of a life so completely dedicated to the service of humanity will remain an inspiration with many millions of people throughout the world.’ (W. Tudor-Pole.)
    To an American friend He writes: The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting, more especially when it emanates from the tongues of the believers of God. If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting could be shut eternally, and each one of the believers of God unsealed his lips in praise of others, then the teachings of His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh would be spread, the hearts illumined, the spirits glorified, and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity...
    'Abdu'l-Bahá says: Let your life be an emanation of the Kingdom of Christ. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. ...In the religion of Bahá’u’lláh all are servants and maidservants, brothers and sisters. As soon as one feels a little better than, a little superior to, the rest, he is in a dangerous position, and unless he casts away the seed of such an evil thought, he is not a fit instrument for the service of the Kingdom. Dissatisfaction with oneself is a sign of progress. The soul who is satisfied with himself is the manifestation of Satan, and the one who is not contented with himself is the manifestation of the Merciful. If a person has a thousand good qualities he must not look at them; nay, rather he must strive to find out his own defects and imperfections.
    (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, Esslemont, p.83)
    Nothing is too much trouble when one loves, and there is always time. Portals to Freedom, p. 52

    'Abdu'l-Bahá repudiated suggestive plays, gross movies. As Louis Gregory told us, the Master had attended a film in the Holy Land with two little boys of the Household, and disapproving of the picture, had taken the boys by the hand and left. We were also told, by other believers, that Shoghi Effendi attended the Paris opera alone, and what he saw on the stage impelled him to rise and walk out.(Marzieh Gail, Arches of the Years, p. 302)

    When I was in Paris one of the believers brought me a soft cushion and urged me to put it under my head. I became accustomed to it and as there is none in this hotel my neck has pained me all these nights. TO be a slave of custom is the worst habit. I will have none of it! When I was young I often had a brick or a piece of rock as my pillow, and I slept soundly...One must never accustom himself to anything the absence of which may disturb his comfort. (From Ahmad Sohrab’s diary, July 17, 1913 & Star of the West, Vol. VIII, #2)

    No one uses diamond rings in our home and no one wants rubies. That house is free from all these things. ~Vignettes, p.15

    “Remember, whether or not I be on earth, My presence will be with you always.” (GPB 309)