Someone gave me a book on meditating and weight management and asked me what I thought of it as a Buddhist. The book is called Meditating to Attain a Healthy Bodyweight by Dr. Lawrence LaShan.
Although written 15 years ago, I think it’s still current in terms of how many psychotherapists are trying to find ways to “use” meditation to deal with the pscyho-physical aspects of bodyweight, diet, and eating problems.
I put “use” in quotation marks, because if you come at mediation from the standpoint of Buddhism, or many other spiritual traditions, you know that meditation isn’t something you “use.” Rather, it’s a skillful means that is an integral part of a moral and spiritual path or way of total liberation.
While borrowing directly from various meditation traditions, such as Buddhism, this books definitely approaches mediation from a secular, medical standpoint. Which is to say that the meditation taught in this book comes from the standpoint of psychotherapy, medical insight into the mind-body connection, and what the author calls “psychic healing.”
Some readers may find much Dr. LaShan’s whole approach too “new age.” Some psychologists and doctors might still raise eyebrows at the very idea of “psychic healing.” (I would refer these skeptics to the ground-breaking work and books of mind-body pioneers like Herbert Benson and Larry Dossey.) And as I mentioned, many Buddhist teachers would strongly object to using meditation piecemeal and apart from a complete system of spiritual practice.
Some of these criticisms have validity, but I think the book is better and more useful than these objections, both in content and intent. Dr. LaShan has clearly devoted his life to alleviating the suffering of others. And he writes from his experience and practice as a psychotherapist who has investigated and actually tested and proven the power of the human mind to heal the body.
Someone already doing traditional forms of concentration, meditation, and visualization will probably find many of the techniques taught in the book familiar. What is skillful about this Meditating to Attain A Healthy Bodyweight is how some of these traditional techniques have been very specifically adapted to helping those with eating, food, and bodyweight issues.
After reading the book, my conclusion is that it has a lot to offer someone seeking a fresh approach to weight and eating problems. Anyone who has bodyweight problems, who have struggled with diets and dieting, and who finds his or her eating bound up with powerful conscious and unconscious emotions can find a lot of help in this book. Dr. LaShan’s real-life examples of patients whose lives and bodies have been transformed using these techniques are moving, instructive, and inspiring.
This book isn’t how I’d introduce someone to mediation as a practice and as an integral way of life. But I do think it might be very helpful to those not ready to take on a whole system of spiritual practice or who are wary of “Eastern mysticism.” People need to see that Western medicine has begun to realize how powerful consciousness and emotions are in healing, as the whole new field of psychoneuroimmunology shows.
Those who already have a mediation practice might well gain new insights into how loving-kindness and mediation practice can be focused in a very skillful, practical way on very specific human problems, such as eating and gaining a sense of ease about our bodies.
Personally, I found a number of practical meditations in the book very helpful in terms of learning how to love my body and how to gain a greater sense of freedom and peace about eating and food. You’ll need to pick and choose what works for you and what doesn’t, but that’s the case with all meditation practices, right? As always, the issue is what’s skillful and what isn’t, what leads to and end of stress and suffering, and what doesn’t. Meditating to Attain A Healthy Bodyweight offers those overwhelmed by their bodies and by cravings a skillful, compassionate way to healing.