Introduction to the Happy Eating Approach

There are thousands of books about diet and healthy eating on the market and they all promise health and weight loss. The most astonishing and also confusing fact is that many of these books are totally contradictory. One approach urges the reader to cut out fat, the other says exactly the opposite – eat lots of fat but cut out the carbohydrates. Other forms of diet dictate that we should or shouldn’t eat dairy and meat with the same force of argument; that we should or shouldn’t have three or six meals a day and that raw food is either wonderfully good for us or will lie half-digested and rotting in our intestines and will make us ill over time.

If we combined all these diets into one single food plan virtually everything would be forbidden. This confusing situation begs the question – just how is it possible that all these experts have come up with such a mess?  Even though you will always find a number of people who swear by the most extreme diets, you will also always find many other people who say the exact opposite and claim that the same diet didn’t help them at all. Obviously, there must be a factor that different diets work for different people.

But just how do we know which diet will work for ourselves without having to go through many fruitless and frustrating ways of eating? This is an important question because every seasoned dieter knows that it becomes harder and harder to lose weight the more diets you try. Instead, the likelihood of putting on more weight increases with every attempt to deprive ourselves of the food and satisfaction we so deeply need. So, it really would be fantastic to find the one eating plan that works for us as quickly as possible.

This books aims at giving you this special eating plan that is tailor-made for your needs, your body type, your food preferences and most of all that will bring you real happiness and satisfaction in all areas around eating.

Instead of giving you yet another book full of food groups, fat grams and detailed recipes I will offer you something completely different. I would like to explain to you the Tibetan Buddhist teachings that I use to help my clients achieve happiness in every area of their lives and apply these teachings to all the issues around eating, weight loss and body image. I have worked in this way for over 20 years with clients in groups and one-to-one. The results have been very positive because virtually everybody lost weight and what is even more important, people became genuinely happy and relaxed with their personal way of eating and body image even if they still had a lot of weight to lose.

I would like to say right from the start that I will not promote a vegetarian or vegan diet in this book. Even though I myself have been a vegetarian for many years, in Tibetan Buddhism people have always eaten meat and being a vegetarian is not a prerequisite to being a Buddhist. In this book the emphasis will be on helping every individual reader to eat exactly what they would like to eat rather than giving them yet another set of overly rigid rules that will be too hard to stick to.

 

The Buddhist perspective on diet and weight loss

In my work as a Buddhist therapist and teacher I have helped numerous clients to become happier in every area of their life with great success. I have found that Buddhist principles are also invaluable in helping my clients to lose weight and develop a more satisfying and healthier way of eating. These Buddhist principles are:

Relaxation (around the topic of diet and eating, instead of trying hard to stick to a diet)

Trust (in your body’s in-built drive to stay healthy and slim)

Mindfulness (in every aspect of your food intake and in measuring your weight and size)

Real enjoyment (while you are buying, preparing and eating your food)

Honouring the body-mind connection (when choosing your food and eating)

Love and compassion (for ourselves around all topics of food intake and body image)

The power of visualisation (through focusing and imagining our desired weight loss goal)

Walking the middle path (between impulsive eating and keeping to dietary rules)

 

Relaxation

In Buddhist meditation we learn to relax our body and mind and access a state of deep tranquillity. This form of mental and physical relaxation is vital to recharge ourselves, gain insights about our mind and subsequently be more successful in everything we do. In the happy eating approach we use the same principle to relax deeply about all topics around body image, food choices and eating. Instead of trying hard to stick to a diet we are simply relaxing into the happy eating approach. Tackling the topic of weight loss from this relaxed angle will make it far more likely that we succeed.

If we want to lose weight and stay slim we need to accept one important truth – it is impossible to wear the tight corset of a rigid diet for the rest of our life. It just takes too much effort to suppress our cravings, deprive our needs and ignore our desires. For the average human being with the average amount of willpower, it is impossible to maintain any strict self-depriving diet discipline for any length of time. It simply can’t be done because we will run out of energy sooner or later. Some people run out of energy after a month while others run out after a year. But all diets are bound to fail if it takes effort and self-sacrifice to stick to them.

The only way to lose weight permanently is by following a way of eating that makes us more and more satisfied and relaxed. This is the promise of the happy eating approach described in this book.

 

Trust

One of the most basic principles of Buddhism is trust in the inner goodness that is deep within all of us, even if we have many (more superficial) faults. When we transfer this principle to the area of weight loss we can learn to develop trust that our body has an in-built drive to stay slim and healthy and that it will therefore always give out the right signals to achieve this aim.

The happy eating approach will show you how you can let your own body be the ultimate diet guru and let it make all the decisions about when, what and how much to eat. You will therefore need very little willpower to follow and remain on your own tailor-made eating plan and even more importantly, eating in this way will feel extremely pleasurable and good. That is why it is called the happy eating approach!

Now I can almost hear the collective outcry from my readers saying that they will never be able to trust their bodies because it was exactly its misleading signals and desires that made them fat in the first place. Not so! The happy eating approach allows you to eat exactly the kinds and amounts of food that will make you feel most satisfied, slim and healthy by listening to the genuine needs of your body. Simply put, you will learn how to eat in a way that makes you feel totally good. And I really mean that. I will not try to entice you with a low-fat tofu burger on a cress bed with the false promise that it will give you pleasure even though you don’t like it. The way of eating that I will explain to you will show you the art of deeply enjoying every aspect of eating – from going shopping and choosing the tastiest food, to preparing it with love and eating it with great relish. You will only eat tasty food in the amount that makes you feel completely and deeply satisfied. Throughout this book I will show you in numerous ways that you really can trust your body to find its own way to its perfect weight.

 

Mindfulness

One of the most important attitudes that Buddhist students learn is to be very aware of what is going on in their own mind. This mindfulness is indispensible to root out the reasons that have led to our suffering. Learning to be more mindful is also indispensible in the happy eating approach too in order to eliminate the reasons that led to overeating and a negative body image.

In the happy eating approach you will learn to listen to your body and recognise how to feel good about what you want to eat, how to feel good before you start to eat, how to feel good during eating and how to feel good after you have eaten. By following these signals very carefully you will make your body into your ultimate diet guru. This means that for a while you will have to forget most of what you have learnt about diets and nutrition so far and eat exactly in the way your body tells you. For many people who have tried and failed at diets, the thought of listening to their own body may feel scary but I can reassure you that this approach may positively surprise you.

You will also learn to become much more mindful around measuring your weight and size (be it with a scale or by using some other device) because many people become overweight simply through avoiding being mindful about their size and weight.

Finally, I will show you how to become aware of any possible deep-seated psychological need to stay overweight. Strange as this may sound, it is a widespread dynamic that is often at play when people find it ‘impossible’ to lose weight. There is an unconscious part of them that feels that being overweight actually has a hidden advantage, which they do not want to lose. Once this unconscious dynamic has been brought into the light of awareness it will lose its power and you can finally allow yourself to gain the figure of your dreams.

 

Enjoyment

In Tibetan Buddhism there is a lot of emphasis on learning to genuinely enjoy yourself and allow yourself to feel pleasure. In fact, it is said that learning to feel this pleasure is the fastest way to reach enlightenment. Obviously, this is not a book about enlightenment but I found that the principle of actual and genuine enjoyment is beneficial in others areas of our life, as well. It is the very inability to feel pleasure that creates so many problems for people in the Western world. Even though it sounds counter-intuitive, I have found in myself, as well as in the members of my happy eating groups that genuine enjoyment of food is a key factor that helps us to lose weight. Why is this so?

Strange as this may seem, it is the very lack of enjoyment that makes people overeat because they are trying to get this illusive enjoyment through eating more and more while actually feeling increasingly guilty and bloated. Therefore, in the happy eating approach you will find very few diet guidelines other than encouraging you to enjoy your food more fully – and it is this very pleasure that will stop you from making poor food choices and overeating. Once you learn to be fully mindful in this process, it will become easier and easier to actually enjoy yourself while you eat and therefore you will need to eat less and find it easier to make healthier food choices.

In comparison to the joys of the happy eating approach, eating in a way that makes you fat feels like suffering. Many overweight people eat with guilt, feel bloated afterwards and loathe themselves and their appearance. All this will be a thing of the past once you embark on the happy eating approach literally from day one. Instead, you will be eating with relish, feeling satisfied and energetic afterwards, your health and weight will improve and your self-loathing will turn into self-love.

Feeling enjoyment while eating does not mean eating junk food because we cannot actually feel pleasure while putting something in our mouth that we know will make us sick. The ‘pleasure’ of eating junk food is only possible if we do not pay attention and eat in a mindless way. However, the good news is that we do not have to give up the consistency and taste of junk food that makes it so irresistible. We do this through learning how to replace our favourite junk food with equally tasty wholesome foods. The good news is that from the very beginning you will have exactly as many sweet foods, fats and carbohydrates as you desire – just the healthy variants of these foods, instead of their toxic counterparts. Interestingly, doing this will add even more to your enjoyment because it will give you an additional pleasure when you know that what you are eating is not only really delicious but also really good for you.

On many popular diets you have to go through an induction phase where you starve yourself and you are promised that you can eat your favourite food again once you have mastered this stage. Unfortunately, many people never make it past the induction phase because it never produces the promised weight loss and they find themselves stuck on a terrible starvation regime. By comparison, in the happy eating approach you will only make changes in your diet when you feel confident that you can stick to them effortlessly until the end of your life.

 

Honouring the body-mind connection

In Buddhism we are taught that all our emotions have an effect on our physical wellbeing and health and that the state of our physical body has an effect on our mind. This body-mind connection is now widely accepted by most people in the Western world but when it comes to diet it seems that most diet gurus have never heard of it.

Virtually all existing diets tell us what to eat, which amounts to eat and often when to eat, too. This is all very well and most people would lose weight on these regimes if only they were able to stick to the guidelines. Unfortunately, they can’t because there is one factor that almost all of these diets ignore – people have feelings and a healthy diet needs to cater to our emotions as much as it caters to our physical body.

Simply put, we can’t treat our body like we treat our car. When it comes to the car it is easy to decide to put petrol or diesel into it, to top up the oil and liquid for the windscreen wipers regularly and then stick to these ‘healthy’ decisions. It is a different ball game altogether when it comes to the ‘engine’ that is our body. We might think that sweet or fatty food is superfluous but our emotions may strongly demand the sweet or fatty taste in order to feel satisfied. And as I have explained before, anyone who thinks they can override these needs for the rest of their life is simply fooling themselves.

Everyone has strong emotional needs for certain types of foods and tastes and there are many healthy ways of bringing these different foods into your diet. And, as I mentioned before, I am not talking about artificial sweeteners or low-fat cheese. In the happy eating approach outlined in this book you will eat nothing but real and satisfying food.

We are beings with a psyche as well as a body and both these parts of ourselves are completely interwoven. We are psycho-physical beings and nowhere in life can we afford to ignore one part of ourselves at the expense of the other. For example, when we look for a new job we normally ask ourselves whether we can do a particular kind of work physically as well as whether it will bring satisfaction emotionally. Whether we plan for a baby, want to build a house or simply plan to go for a holiday, we always ask ourselves exactly the same questions. So why do we think that when it comes to our diet we can override our emotions and rigidly subdue our body? Probably, because nobody has told us yet that this is unsustainable.

In order to lose weight permanently we need to cater to our emotional needs around food as much as we cater to the needs of our body. This is why the way of eating outlined in this book will make you feel emotionally satisfied and physically slim and healthy – all at the same time.

 

Love and compassion

Buddhist teachings tell us that we can only make positive changes in our life if we can be compassionate with how we are right now with all our flaws and weaknesses. Therefore, the happy eating approach is based on love and compassion for ourselves.

It is exactly this compassion for ourselves that will enable us to return to the happy eating approach once we have fallen off the wagon. And virtually everybody will falter at the beginning of any new approach to food and eating because this is only natural. Learning to eat in a better way can very much be compared to learning a new skill like playing an instrument. It is totally normal to make mistakes in the beginning and it takes a compassionate and kind teacher to encourage the student to keep playing. While adopting the happy eating approach, we need to give this kind compassion to ourselves and in this way we will become successful even if we lose track of this approach many times.

 

The power of visualisation

In Tibetan Buddhism visualisation techniques are central because they are used to achieve anything we desire, including enlightenment. Our mind and its ability to imagine is very powerful and without the right inner images it will be hard to achieve anything at all. Simply put, if we cannot imagine reaching our goals then it will be nearly impossible to manifest them. I know that this is true because I have seen this principle at work during the last 25 years of using visualisation techniques myself and teaching them to numerous clients. It can be uncanny to witness how seemingly unachievable dreams can be manifested once we use this amazing power of our mind.

In Tibetan Buddhism these techniques are used solely to achieve enlightenment but we should also use them everywhere else in our life because we do not live in a vacuum. Whether we want to reach lofty spiritual ideals or not, it is very important to take care of our body and try to achieve optimal health and an ideal weight. In this book I will show how this goal can be aided through the Buddhist technique of visualisation.

 

Walking the middle path

Buddhism is famous for its teaching of the so-called middle path, which means finding a working compromise or harmonisation of two seemingly contradictory extremes, e.g. between relaxation and strictness, love and power, striving and letting go. When it comes to diet we need also to find a middle ground between strict dietary rules and impulsive eating. If we are too strict we will fail on any diet and if we are too loose we will not reach our weight loss goal.

The happy eating approach is all about the reconciliation of this seeming contradiction. However, we are not aiming for a lukewarm middle ground where we are a bit strict and a bit relaxed. Doing this would bring about lukewarm results. Walking the middle path in the Buddhist sense of the word means being totally relaxed while totally keeping to the rules at the same time. If this sounds impossible to you, you are not alone. I will show you throughout this book how this seeming contradiction can be resolved. You will learn to feel totally relaxed with your eating while finding a comfortable support with the few rules of the happy eating approach.

 

The happy eating approach mimics how happy, slim people eat naturally

If you put the advice of the happy eating approach into practice you will arrive at a way of eating that your body-mind was designed for naturally. It is as natural as going to sleep when you are tired and waking up refreshed the next morning. This is not just theory but you can collect your own proof of this claim by talking to the naturally slim people you know. But note that it is only those slim people whose way of natural eating has not been distorted by the advice of the diet gurus. You will find that they all stick to the major principles of this book, often without being aware of them.

When you ask naturally slim people for what reason they eat, they look at you with astonishment and say ‘because I’m hungry, of course’. If you ask them what they eat they say, ‘Well, I try to eat healthily but basically I eat what I feel like eating’. And if you ask them when and why they stop eating they say, ‘because I am full, of course’. The happy eating approach will introduce you to this amazing open secret that has made and kept millions of naturally slim people slender for life.

The happy eating approach describes the way of nourishing ourselves that slim people do naturally without calling it a diet.

You don’t have anything to lose if you give your own inner body wisdom a chance to come more to the foreground instead of jumping from one extreme ‘expert-designed’ diet to the next. I honestly believe that the happy eating approach is the only way of eating that will make people slim and healthy in the long-term. This is not because I have invented a very clever system but because the happy eating approach helps you to eat in harmony with your original body design. Moreover, to my knowledge it is the only system that gives you full satisfaction emotionally as well as healing and nourishing your physical body. This is why it is very easy to keep to until the end of your life.

The happy eating approach is not a diet as such but a way of eating that people can adopt for life without any deprivation or other problem. You will lose weight slowly but continuously and at some point you will find yourself at a weight that you find acceptable and your doctor will not call overweight. However, the emotional suffering from being overweight and having issues around food will stop long before that. This happens because the happy eating approach will help you to make peace with your needs for tasty food and your body image rather than living in an internal war-zone of self-loathing and eating with guilt. Marcy’s comment is quite typical for many of my clients:

I feel in control. This is the solution to my weight problem forever and ever. I eat when I’m hungry and what I want – apart from sugar. I get the sweet taste from agave nectar so I don’t miss anything. I still have a lot of weight to lose but all my suffering has gone. Even at this high weight I feel happy.

 

Why it is impossible to fail on the happy eating approach

And here comes some more fantastic news: It is actually impossible to fail in this way of eating because it is not some sort of limited diet but a wholly positive approach that noone will want to give up simply because it feels genuinely good. By comparison, it is common knowledge that 95% of people on ordinary diets fail after some time. This sad fact is part of the confusing reality of the diet jungle. But why is this so?

Basically, people fail on their diets because they are dissatisfying and frustrating in one way or another. Some diets only allow foods that taste bland and boring, other diets deprive us of whole food groups and all too often they simply leave us hungry. No matter what diet we follow, we always find the same scenario: in the beginning we are enthusiastic and put in a lot of effort but after a while we bitterly resent the fact that all the slim people around us are eating with gusto exactly the kind of food we crave but can’t have anymore. And sooner or later this bitterness and these cravings will win. They always do – or if we look at the statistics, they win in 95% of all cases.

There is one interesting exception to this rule – and that is trying to lose weight with the help of a slimming club. These clubs seem to have a higher success rate compared with dieting where people struggle on their own. The reason for this can easily be explained: The support of others who are in a similar situation gives people more energy and stamina to stick for longer to the regimes that most slimming clubs prescribe. But if the same people were asked to eat the same limited amounts of foods without the support of the group, most of them would probably give up within a very short period of time. So slimming clubs do work to some extent – but only as long as people keep visiting them and accept that starvation and group pressure is the price they have to pay to stay slim. I personally have talked to several rather large ladies who confessed to me that they had been running a slimming club for several years but had gained a large amount of weight as soon as they gave up their job.

By comparison, when embarking on the happy eating approach you will learn to relax more around food, you will learn to enjoy everything around food more deeply and you will learn to love yourself more, no matter how overweight you may still be. Through mindfulness you will learn to come back to these positive states of mind if you happen to fall off the wagon. Can you see that it is impossible to ‘fail’ on this approach? You can’t fail because nobody would want to give up something that feels so good.

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