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…man hath perversely continued to serve his lustful appetites, and he would not content himself with simple foods. Rather, he prepared for himself food that was compounded of many ingredients, of substances differing one from the other. With this… his attention was engrossed, and he abandoned the temperance and moderation of a natural way of life. The result was the engendering of diseases both violent and diverse. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 152.

The root cause of many illnesses, Abdu’l-Baha tells us, stems from our own uncontrolled appetites. As a consequence, our culture now suffers from an epidemic of obesity and the “violent and diverse” health complications that come with it.

Obesity is the leading cause of numerous physical and psychological health problems. Obesity increases the risk of fatal conditions and chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, and many types of cancers. These complications reduce life quality and longevity in a profound way. During the past several decades, the prevalence of obesity has markedly increased for all groups in western society regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, or geographic region.

obesity-world-epidemicIn fact, obesity has now become a global epidemic. According to studies spanning the past thirty years, the worldwide rate of obesity has nearly doubled during that period, with the number of overweight and obese people rising from 857 million in 1980 to 2.1 billion in 2013. Obesity has even risen in the developing world, a consequence of emerging economies and urbanization. Many parts of the developing world now face a double burden of disease–while they continue to confront infectious diseases and under-nutrition, they also deal with non-communicable disease risk factors such as overweight and obesity.

More than half of the world’s population–65%–live in places where excess weight and obesity kill more than underweight. That means the world could soon reach a point where more deaths occur as a result of overweight and obesity than underweight.

Science defines obesity as individuals with excess weight and a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30. Obesity is attributed to many factors, influenced by genetics and shaped by behavioral choices. It is also exacerbated by environmental and social factors such as poverty and inadequate community resources for the most vulnerable.

Fundamentally, obesity results from an energy imbalance. This involves taking in too many calories and not getting sufficient physical activity to burn those calories. Increased consumption of high-calorie, energy-dense food; eating a diet high in fat and sugar content; and limited physical activity due to increased sedentary activities all have a significant impact on increasing rates of obesity.

In order to avoid chronic diseases and an early death, obese and overweight individuals must lose weight. The best way to lose weight is to do it gradually and steadily. Healthy weight loss occurs when people make ongoing, long-term changes in lifestyle. To achieve healthy weight, one should control energy intake from total fats; switch fat consumption from trans fatty acids and saturated fat to unsaturated fats; and limit the free sugar and salt intake from all sources. Also, one should consume more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain and nuts.

Studies have shown that both underweight and overweight individuals can be under-nourished. If they don’t eat healthy and nutritious foods, overweight individuals may only get a lot of calories, but not a lot of nutrients. We should seek simple, healthy, choices and get a sufficient amount of nutrition to help us prevent obesity and maintain a healthy weight.

What does all this have to do with the spiritual teachings of the Baha’i Faith? Baha’u’llah advises us all to live our lives with moderation and eat simply:

In all circumstances they should conduct themselves with moderation; if the meal be only one course this is more pleasing in the sight of God; however, according to their means, they should seek to have this single dish be of good quality. – Baha’u’llah, quoted in Dr. J.E. Esselmont’s Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 106.

The Baha’i teachings actually tell us that the right diet can improve everyone’s general health:

At whatever time highly-skilled physicians shall have developed the healing of illnesses by means of foods, and shall make provision for simple foods, and shall prohibit humankind from living as slaves to their lustful appetites, it is certain that the incidence of chronic and diversified illnesses will abate, and the general health of all mankind will be much improved. This is destined to come about. In the same way, in the character, the conduct and the manners of men, universal modifications will be made. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 156.

The next time you sit down to eat, keep this good advice in mind: eat simply and in moderation.

15 Comments

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  • Summer McLane
    Aug 20, 2016
    This post is extremely irresponsible and lacks depth of understanding of our beloved Writings. I'm working on having it removed.
  • Christina Xiong
    Aug 06, 2016
    As someone who is trying to educate herself about the Baha'I faith, I am extremely disappointed in this article. I am obese, and it is not because I am conStanly stuffing my face with junk. I have been vegetarian for 21 years. I also suffer from polycystic ovarian disorder, a hormonal imbalance that makes weight loss extremely difficult.
    To me the principles of unity, acceptance, and diversity include accepting people of different shapes, sizes, abilities, etc.
    I don't believe justifying this sort of body shaming nonsense with religion suits me. Perhaps this is not the faith for me.
    • Sep 17, 2017
      There are some points to consider. This article is a view from one Baha'i and her own understanding. Second, although I didn't enjoy the article it is not condemn anyone for being overweight or underweight, it is talking about moderation. Third, moderation is applied to many other aspects of life and it is something an individual has to develop on their own terms. Fourth, I personally love to eat,actually I really love to eat and lack on moderation and for me this writing are not condemning me but advising me. Fifth you are a vegetarian, something that I have ...always postponed to become, you do have a lot of discipline that I can only dream! I'm sure we all have our own characteristics and that is really the most valuable thing in the Faith
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    • Dharlene Dandy Valeda
      Sep 15, 2017
      This opinion belongs to the author only. As the first commenter said, this article really doesn't belong here. Please don't give up your search based on this bad experience.
  • Apr 18, 2016
    Surely you know that not all obestity comes from lack of moderation, and not all diseases come from obesity? What about oestrogen dominence, psychiatric drugs, poverty? Such basic information.
  • Feb 25, 2015
    I appreciate the good intentions behind this article, but it relies on a few outdated (and harmful) assumptions about the correlation between body size and behaviour and posits "moderation" as the opposite of "obesity". Modern scientific studies have shown this isn't always the case: that people can do all the right things and still be overweight, and one's weight is not necessarily a reliable indicator of lifestyle habits or overall health. Please, let's be careful not to use our faith and beloved Writings as a vehicle for shaming others.
    • Apr 18, 2016
      Or for posting information as "gospel" (absolute) because it sits behind some quotes from the Writings.
  • Jan 25, 2015
    In my case a lot of psychological things are going that can cause me to overeat. I am HSP (High Sensitive Person), I am very much prone to stress and I am living in a society that is increasingly trying to make robots out of people. This society demands a lot of people. We have to be bubbly, outgoing, passionate for our work, attractive esp on the outside, esp when you are a woman, be succesful, always scoring, in short we have to run around like mad. The things I do value like enough time to contemplate and meditate and ...wonder and have conversations with people wherein we both open up our hearts and show our true selves, our essence, not our persona, are not appreciated. Real connectedness is not appreciated. People are increasingly afraid and distrustful of one another. It hangs in the air. I sense it. The degree of alienation in western societies hurts my soul, as does sensing that people are trying to run away as much as they can from their true Selves. There is very little space for true spirituality.
    Another thing that is very much undervalued is that we simply do not get enough nourishment from our food. The vegs and fruit that I can buy now in the shops are modified, tampered with. Very unlike the fruits and vegs I got when I was growing up in the 70s. They also often travel far before they reach the shops where I buy them. Your article is not at all touching on these subjects. There are many many factors why people are obese, and only one of them is a bad diet.
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  • Jan 25, 2015
    I have to add that I used to weigh 400 pounds before bariatric surgery in 2002, and after getting down to 235 post surgery, I went back up to 308. I entered a recovery program and went down to 170 pounds before relapsing back to 285. I am now at 250, and with much more prayers and steadfastness, I am abstaining from feeding of this terrible addiction that has nearly killed me several times.
  • Jan 25, 2015
    There is a side to this issue that is often overlooked, and that is food has become a drug, which is what I read in those quotes from 'Abdu'l-Baha' and Baha'u'llah. Some people reject this notion because the word "addiction" has the connotation of dirty people hanging out on the streets, begging for money (or stealing it), and passing out in alleyways. Here's a definition of addiction that works if you substitute food for drugs, that is, if denial isn't preventing a person from seeing the correlation:
    The use of the term “dependence” can be a source of confusion, ...as health care providers often assume that addiction is synonymous with physical dependence. In fact, addiction implies both physical dependence and some form of loss of control.
    Substance dependence, or addiction, as defined by the DSM-IV, is indicated by the presence of three or more of the criteria listed below in the last 12 months. Note that all but the first two criteria reflect some form of loss of control over the use of or effects of the drug.
    Tolerance: Does the patient tend to need more of the drug (food) over time to get the same effect? (Remember when one donut was enough? Or one small bag of potato chips? Is it like that now?)
    Withdrawal symptoms: Does the patient experience withdrawal symptoms when he or she does not use the drug? (Think of all the diets you've been on. Sure, you lost weight. You might have even felt elated when the numbers started going down. But how did you feel after years of dieting, your weight keeps going up and you have to go on yet another one? Did the goodies your co-workers left in break room call to you? Did you feel miserable and left out watching everyone else enjoy the treats? That's part of withdrawal. Feeling tired and grouchy is another part.)
    Continued use of drug despite harm: Is the patient experiencing physical or psychological harm from the drug? (The physical part is obvious: weight gain. But the psychological part seems subtle, except it isn't to everyone else in your life. Favorite thing to do: Go out to eat. Or find a good recipe to try. Go to the movies with the kids or friends? Can't tell them that the seats are too small and uncomfortable. And they complain about the tubs of popcorn you're constantly eating. Forget about going to the beach or horseback riding. Or you go, but you feel like everyone is staring at you. You'd rather stay home and binge watch your favorite shows on Netflix surrounded by your favorite treats. Besides, Costco has those HUGE bags!)
    Loss of control: Does the patient take the drug in larger amounts, or for longer than planned? (One slice of pizza or one small hamburger used to do it for you. Now it's half a pizza with garlic twists and wings, or a triple cheeseburger with extra large fries and a large milkshake. One or two hours later, you're looking for something else to eat, even though you feel stuffed and miserable.)
    Attempts to cut down: Has the patient made a conscious, but unsuccessful, effort to reduce his or her drug use? (Attempts to cut down is the same as dieting, or cutting your portions in half. How long has that ever worked? Six months? One month? One week? One day? One hour?)
    Salience: Does the patient spend significant time obtaining or thinking about the drug, or recovering from its effects?
    Reduced involvement: Has the patient given up or reduced his or her involvement in social, occupational or recreational activities due to the drug? (I can't wait until my break. I wonder if the food truck has fresh muffins today? Maybe I'll go to Starbucks. Oh no, I don't have enough money on me! Maybe I can make it to the nearest ATM, get a Venti Mocha Frappuccino and a brownie and be back before break is over....)
    Source material: http://knowledgex.camh.net/primary_care/toolkits/addiction_toolkit/fundamentals/Pages/faq_dsmiv_criteria.aspx (The comments in the parantheses are mine.)
    http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Substance%20Use%20Disorder%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
    http://www.foodaddicts.org/am-i-a-food-addict
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  • Jan 24, 2015
    when our natural tendencies are toward overweight..so be it..forgiven and loved! We are not all so blessed with great metabolism, however the priciple of moderation still works for us all, and then we accept whatever follows
  • Jan 24, 2015
    While I appreciate the spirit of this article, and agree that moderation is important when it comes to food, the situation is much more complex than this article lets on.
    We who are obese (Yes, I'm obese) are not all sedentary people who overeat. In fact, many of us exercise on a regular basis, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables but still struggle with our weight. I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I have tried many ways to get down to the "acceptable range" mandated by BMI but have never been able to. I exercised and ...dieted and ate ALL the fruits and veggies but ended up sad, exhausted, injured, hungry and depressed.
    The reasons are many. 1) BMI is an outdated tool that was meant to be used for statistical purposes and not as a ruler by which people should measure their health, yet it is the golden standard used by doctors and the diet industry. 2) over-exercise is as harmful as being sedentary. 3) in restricting what I ate, I developed an eating disorder. The old addage of eat less, exercise more, doesn't work any more. You have to eat to satiety and exercise to your level of joy. (I learned this in eating disorder therapy.) 4) sleep is just as important as what you eat and how much you exercise. 5) It's important to not stress about your weight. When you're told day in and day out that you're OBESE and NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT, you stress all the time. We who are obese are very aware that we're obese, yet everyone is always thinking we need to be made aware that we're harming our bodies by being obese. Well, duh. It's not helpful. It really isn't.
    The "obesity epidemic" is not just a product of a sedentary society, it's a product of a society that hates obesity and is hell-bent on making those of us who are obese feel bad about it (Like we don't already feel bad enough as it is). The best solution I've found so far, is simply to exercise, eat balanced meals and enjoy life by moving my body and being the best person I can be despite the fact that I'm obese. Moderation IS important, and I suggest that we, as a society, be more moderate in our judgement and treatment of people who are obese.
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    • Feb 26, 2015
      Catherine Jones, I completely understand what you're saying. You're telling my story, even after I had gastric bypass surgery I had the same experiences. But I believe that God did an intervention on me. Before I stopped doing my recovery program for the past two years, I got down to 170 and I NEVER exercised. I still don't, and the weight is coming off. I know many people who, like me, have chronic, very painful conditions that make anything but moderate chair exercise excruciating. I know one lady who has a deteriorating spinal condition, and she can't always walk. Sometimes ...she's in so much pain that she has to crawl to her bed. In spite of that, she went from 260 pounds to 127 pounds, and she has been maintaining that weight since 2004. Exercise is great for continuing physical, mental and emotional health, but it isn't the answer to losing excess weight and keeping it off the way I had previously thought it was. Eating three weighed and measured meaIs a day with nothing in between, no flour, no sugar and no excess portions is the only thing that has worked for me. What I have to do is wake up early, pray, read the Writings, ask God for help, pray for my family and the world, and commit what I'm going to eat that day to a sponsor for the sake of personal accountability. And I make phone calls to other food addicts throughout the day to help keep myself on track. As long as I follow the food plan without fail, the weight comes off. I don't have to worry about it. And my goal isn't to be thin. It's to have the life that I've always known I was supposed to have ever since I was a little girl, but the onset of food addiction got in my way. Food became my number one priority when I was only five years old, and I react to it the same way drugs control meth or heroin addict's thoughts, emotions and actions. I walked away from my academic and professional accomplishments and goals because I cared more about soothing that fear, doubt and insecurity with excess food than trusting God to give me what I need to get from breakfast to lunch, then lunch to dinner without having a mental and emotional meltdown. It hasn't been easy, and I've had a lot of relapses. But I'm abstinent today, and God willing, I'll be abstinent tomorrow. Ya' Baha'ul Abha'!
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    • Jan 24, 2015
      Thank you, this is my experience as well as many others. It is so much more complex than it seems. I'm sure this article was not intended to unkind, but every single day souls who have a larger body than is deemed acceptable are told they are lazy, cannot control themselves, unattractive,unlovable, less intelligent and frankly just not up to par with souls who have thinner bodies. Plus we are told that we will all die sooner (ever hear of the nacebo effect it's the opposite of the placebo effect) and the health crisis is our ...fault. I would like to end with a quote of Abdu'l-Baha's cited in the book Rejoice In the Gladness of My Heart - The Life of Tahirih by Janet Ruhe-Schoen on page 215. ""When 'Abdu'l-Baha was an old man, he told a lady at his table who had apologized for her large appetite, "Virtue and excellence consist in true faith in God, not in having a large or small appetite for food...Jinab-i-Tahirih had a good appetite.""
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