Thursday, August 3, 2006

Shangri-La, Karma and eating your vegetables

My friend Jim was recently telling me, not without enthusiasm, about the Shangri- La Diet. The premise is that our weight is regulated by a system that has a set point. The objective is to change that set point. How? By eating food that has little or no flavor but still has calories. The recommendation is “to consume 100-400 calories of sugar water and/or flavorless edible oil daily, and to consume it before or well after meal”.

My reaction?

I was twitching. I waited as patiently as possible for the question I was longing for. Finally, it came.

“What do you think?”

I think that if any bit of this diet results in the dieter consuming less calories and exercising more, it will work. If not, it won’t.

Let me save you time and money:

Calorie intake - calorie expenditure = your weight.

Are there any exceptions to this rule? Sure. Your metabolism, regulated by your thyroid, plays a role. Water retention. Whatever. If you want a “diet” that works, you need to change your lifestyle.

What else? Have breakfast. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Less processed sugar. Eliminate hydrogenated oils and corn syrup. And, please. Portion control. A “venti latte” has 400 calories.

Should I be more receptive, more open to the possibility that there might be a diet book out there that works? Sorry.

Jim, a really good listener, quickly understands that, despite my best efforts, this is not going to be a back and forth. I am on the edge of my seat, my fist clenched against my mouth, shaking my head before he can finish walking me through the logic of the author who wrote it.

As I research more about it, I find a review that urges readers to be more open. “When our paradigms are challenged, we all too often respond with our own familiar dogma”. Huh?

I am left with a peculiar urge to lay it all out on the table, move on to other unrelated but frequently asked questions that result in people suggesting I “consider other possibilities.” I assure you that I do. Inevitably, though, I draw a conclusion. Just like you.

I don’t believe in ghosts or the paranormal. I don’t believe time travel is or will ever be possible. I don’t believe there is life on other planets – at least not right now. I believe the universe is infinite, and time is infinite, so the possibility of two societies coinciding in this inconceivable vastness is less than slim.

Do I believe that things happen for a reason? No. Well, do I believe things happen for a reason we have no visibility into? No. I believe things happen for no reason. Things happen because they happen. I occasionally marvel at the irony or the wicked sense of humor of a higher order, but most often, I suspect it’s random.

Do I believe in destiny? No. I don’t believe things are pre-intended, pre-planned, or pre-written. There is no master plan. I believe that those of us who are more fortunate create our own destinies. Those who are less fortunate are trapped in their own. The difference is dumb luck.

(I relish Ambrose Bierce’s definition of destiny: “A tyrant’s authority for crime, and a fool’s excuse for failure.”)

Do I believe in karma? I want to. It would certainly explain a lot. But I don’t believe in heaven, hell, or life after death. Death is it. This life is it. I do believe in instant karma, though. You pay for things right here.

Do I believe we are our body and our soul? I don’t believe those two elements can be separated. I have read true stories about men who, like each of us, have a distinct personality and who suffer an injury to the brain and become someone different. A scientist questions the existence of what we call “soul” – meaning, we are the result of our neurons and the electric impulses between them, if a blow to the head can completely change the very essence of who we are.

Which, of course, begs the next question.

Do I believe in God?

The honest answer is that I don’t know. Sometimes, when I do, I think he’s too busy to bother with us.

Saying “I believe” or “I don’t believe” rather than “I am certain” defines me as agnostic, rather than an atheist. I do stay up thinking about it, which proves I’m not categorical.

(One of my mother’s favorite jokes: what does a dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac do? She stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.)

I do believe for certain in the power of the human brain. I believe in the self-fulfilling prophecy theory. In my book, you are what you believe. You get what you feel in your heart that you deserve – not what you want, no matter how badly.

I also believe you should do everything in your power to do what’s right. Just in case I’m wrong about the Karma thing.

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