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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On Dieting and Religion

Okay, people. All I've got for today is a metaphor, and as it only struck me yesterday at the end of my run, and may have been runner's brain induced, it might be a little half-baked.

So apparently all diets--the ones that only let you eat only fruits and veggies; the ones that let you eat as much animal fat as you want, but ne'er a banana; the ones involving only cookies, etc.--work. No matter how crazy a diet might be, if you follow it, you lose weight (at least temporarily). The theory is that being on a diet makes the dieter think about what he or she is eating, and the dieting mindset and adherence to the rules, whatever they may be, actually result in weight loss. (Even if you're ordering your latte with half and half because you're on Atkins.)

It struck me yesterday that the religions of the world have a similar thing going. Following the tenets of any of them would, ideally, make one a better person--kinder, more generous, more thoughtful, less selfish. Instructions on lifestyle, it seems, don't really vary all that much. Some groups prohibit dancing or alcohol; other groups include those things in their rituals. Most of them seem to advise temperance and worship of an entity higher than oneself. None of them has as a fundamental tenet "Go out and kill infidels," or "Deny rights to your neighbors." Right? The focus is on one's relationship with God and others.

But instead of letting others choose which diets they prefer--no matter how crazy they sound--imagine if certain dieters felt compelled to impose their own diets on others, even violently!

Do I think it's completely insane to replace the milk in your latte with half and half because you're trying to lose weight? Yes. I do. That's crazy. I worry for you and your arteries. But scientists tell me you will actually lose weight on the Atkins diet. Given my genes and general level of Crazy, I will never have to try this, but I'm not going to stop you, because, after all, it's your body. I'm a vegetarian, and I'll extol the virtues of that diet to anyone who will listen, but I also won't place myself between you and your cheeseburger.

Funny, though, how when it comes to religion, leaving each to his own is somehow completely unacceptable. "That's what happens when eternal salvation is on the line," a friend responded recently. Thus, adherents to one diet get to mandate, say, the removal of all salads, or the institution of melted cheddar on everything. They may even instigate wars, not just against those who don't diet, but against fellow dieters who are simply on another plan.

And. Well. That's wrong. Right?


Ern said...

OMG, that's BRILLIANT. What a great comparison. I was nodding along the whole time. I'll totally use this metaphor in future conversations too.

David said...

I enjoy these posts on hot button issues like politics and religion.

"Remember, Jesus would rather constantly shame gays than let orphans have a family." - Steven Colbert

I Hope So said...

seconding the comments above. you are BRILLIANT.

love this.

Teri said...

I just got back from a run and here's my "runner's brain" thoughts about the diet/religion metaphor. Is it a question of motive? Some diet to get control of weight. Some follow religious tenets to get control of their lives (or others lives). So is it a question of control?

nmrboy said...

one of the things i learned at the alpha course is that evangelism is a criterion for entering heaven, according to the bible. mind you, every person i've spoken to who was on a crazy diet really felt the need to explain to me why it was great and why i should try it too...


CëRïSë said...

Thanks, guys; you're kind.

Teri, I think the question of control definitely comes in, which is why I think certain religions resonate so well with certain personalities.

And Neil, I had to Google the Alpha Course, and would like to hear more about your experience. The evangelism aspect of the metaphor is also interesting. I suppose the difference would be that diets don't require it (though you're absolutely right about it happening anyway!); I'd be interested in how many religions do.

Curly Sue said...

I liked it too. The same thought occurred to me, nmrboy. That's the scariest part about the real nutjobs. That they don't care how many people they have to insult or hurt. As long as they're doing their job to get "the word" out.