…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.
In 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.
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.