“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)
The diet industry is huge in America. Television channels are filled with infomercials on the weekends and early morning hours that are dedicated to weight loss and exercise. These companies collectively make millions of dollars catering to those who want to lose weight.
Most of us wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds, irrespective of whether we are actually overweight or not. In America, there is no shortage of food. The technological revolution has brought about a huge paradigm shift in the general workforce. As recently as one hundred years ago, around forty percent of the workforce was involved in farming, whereas today it’s less than ten percent. At the same time, food production has rapidly increased due to the use of advanced machinery. Productivity has increased since the cost to produce food has decreased while the output from such production has increased. The U.S. government even goes so far as to pay farmers to not grow food in hopes of stabilizing prices. They want farmers to be profitable, which will allow the majority of food to be produced domestically rather than being imported.
With this overabundance of food has come the rise in fast food restaurants and supermarkets. The question nowadays isn’t how will one eat, but what kind of food does one feel like eating. Since so many of us eat out at restaurants, the food we eat is usually high in fat. A restaurant is a business, so their goal is to attract as many customers as possible. For this reason, their food is generally high in fat since fat that tends to make food taste better. Since fast food, food that is very high in fat, is so easily accessible, naturally there is an obesity problem in the country. Not just obesity, but most people in general feel like they could stand to lose a few pounds. For this reason all the various diets and exercise regimens have sprung up.
A few of the more popular diets are the South Beach, Low Carb, and Low Fat diets. Whichever diet a person chooses, they are all almost guaranteed to work. The reason for this is that any diet requires regulating one’s food intake. If we regulate our eating habits, it makes senses that we will lose weight, for the initial cause of our being overweight was our irregular eating. Some of these diet programs just provide guidelines as to what a person should eat and at what times. Other programs, such as the Nutrisystem Diet, go so far as to actually send food to customers. This way dieting won’t be an involved process; a person can just eat whatever is provided to them. Though all these diet programs work, people generally don’t stay on them for any extended period of time. “Oh I need to lose weight before the summer season so I will look good when I go to the beach… I need to lose at least ten pounds before this wedding so I can fit into my dress…I’m going on vacation in a few weeks and I know I will gain weight while on it, so I need to go on a diet now as a way of preparing.” These are some of the thoughts of people wanting to diet.
The root of the problem with dieting lies in the fact that it is temporary. As we can see from the example of successful dieters, weight control involves controlling habits. This is also the injunction of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. God has laid down a system whereby one is advised to not eat too much or too little. Actually the entire Vedic system revolves around routine and habit. One is advised to rise early in the morning, just around the time of sun-up, and to take a bath. Afterwards, they should worship the Lord’s deity and chant His name, either in the form of the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, or the gayatri-mantra for those who have been initiated by a spiritual master. For food, one is advised to eat prasadam, sanctified food that has first been offered to the Lord.
Prasadam is actually the key ingredient in weight control and in maintaining a healthy diet. We all require food to maintain our bodies, but most of us go outside the boundaries of necessity and actually use food as a form of sense gratification. This is the root cause of our irregular eating habits. If one can control the desires to satisfy the tongue and the stomach, then he or she will be successful in regulating their weight and health. Vedic injunctions prescribe that one should prepare and offer food for Lord Krishna, or God, instead of just for themselves. Preparing food for ourselves is generally better than eating out at restaurants because we at least get to control the ingredients. Not only that, but if we make the food ourselves, then we are less likely to overindulge in it. It’s a lot easier to over-eat when someone else has worked hard to make the food than it is to eat something that we put our own time and effort into preparing. More than just offering the food to the Lord’s deity and then eating it ourselves, prasadam should be distributed to others. Those in the grihastha ashrama, married family life, are required to be charitable. Before taking a meal, one should first offer it to any guests, children, or elderly family members. The householder is then allowed to eat whatever remains. This is another way of maintaining one’s weight. If we prepare food for Krishna and for other devotees, then it will be harder for us to overindulge.
Becoming overweight is actually very easy to prevent. One just needs to follow the regulative principles of devotional service to Krishna, and all other problems are taken care of. Most diets recommend that one eat at least four small meals a day, spread out in regular intervals. This way, the body doesn’t go into what is called “fat storage mode” but rather stays in “fat burning mode”. The Vedic concept is similar, except that it enjoins that one not only eat regularly, but rather one should do every necessary activity regularly. Chant, read, hear, offer prayers, etc., all these things should be done on regular intervals. Following these guidelines, one will always be happy and thus be able to control all urges for material sense gratification. The first step is to become a devotee of the Lord by chanting the maha-mantra daily at least sixteen rounds on a japa-mala, while strictly adhering to the four regulative principles of abstinence from meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Then one can take the next step and begin preparing and offering all their food to Lord Krishna, which is the highest form of sacrifice.