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?