Home Articles Channels Daily Retreat Inspiration Classroom Boutique Community Singles Resources Contact

SoulfulLiving.com :: Personal Growth, Spiritual Growth, Self Help and Self Improvement

Your #1 Online Resource for Personal and Spiritual Growth Since 2000.
Mandala and Chakra Pendants
New Age Gifts and Products, Buddhist and Tibetan Jewelry, Meditation and Yoga Supplies
Mandala Art Prints



Our Sponsors:

The Mandala Collection :: Buddhist and Conscious Living Gifts
Inspirational Gifts

Energy Muse Jewelry
Energy Muse Jewelry

Body of Grace
Eco-Friendly Gifts

Yoga Download
Yoga Download

The Mandala Collection
Give a Gift with Soul

Linda R. Harper, Ph.D.

The Tao of Eating
by Linda R. Harper, Ph.D.

The Masking of the Soul

"The world is ruled by letting things take their course
It cannot be ruled by interfering."
—the Tao Te Ching

Caution: Dieting may be hazardous to your soul. When your energy is harnessed into a diet-compelling lifestyle, it interferes with your ability to fully experience the uniqueness in yourself and your life. It is not a troubled soul that causes eating struggles but it is the WAY OF DIETING that troubles the soul.

The Tao of Eating by Linda R. Harper, Ph.D.

Three Challenges to the Soulful Life

The soulful life presents its own natural challenges that I call the "Three A’s":


Each of these challenges can help us understand how weight-loss-focused eating inhibits the expression of our innermost being.

1. Authenticity

The challenge of authenticity calls us to recognize both the desirable and undesirable aspects of our innermost being and integrate both into our whole person. Lao Tsu tells us,

"It is more important to see the simplicity,
to realize one’s true nature."

To be authentic, the Tao Te Ching asks us to acknowledge our true selves—the uniqueness found in our needs, wants, and vulnerabilities. The Tao Te Ching asks us to search for a sense of purpose in the complexities of our existence and to develop a willingness to find out things about ourselves— even if they contradict the way we live. For example, a person may realize she is frustrating her creativity in a job requiring routine and precision. Being authentic may lead us to discover that our limitations can be gifts. For example, an individual whose learning style required her to work harder to pass a school subject as a child may find that, as an adult, she has the perseverance needed to fulfill her career dreams. When we meet the challenge of authenticity, we embrace our vulnerabilities and accept our "undesirable" traits. We immerse ourselves in uncomfortable feelings, give them room, and see what happens.

When we are dieting, instead of acknowledging our true selves, we battle against our soul’s authenticity. We suppress confusing feelings by believing that changes in our weight will change who we are. While we wait for our bodies to transform, we hold on to a false sense of self by blaming our negative side on body size. When we believe losing weight will remove our "bad" qualities, we never have to face them or integrate them into our true selves. When we deny these realities and miss the chance to understand our whole self, we sacrifice our authenticity.

The WAY OF DIETING interferes with our natural ability to listen to our feelings. I think of a client named Kevin. He was afraid to commit himself to a relationship with a woman he was dating. He decided to wait until he lost weight and got himself in top physical shape before considering a stronger commitment to the relationship. With this decision, Kevin never would get in perfect shape and never would have to own his fear of commitment. Relying on ingrained beliefs about weight-loss-focused eating stunted his personal growth.

Part of our soul’s work is to find the purpose in all of our traits and to integrate them into our complete self. If we do not accept our true nature, how can we expect any one else to know who we are?

2. Acceptance

The second challenge is to accept both the good and the bad things that comprise our lives. This includes differentiating things we can control from what we cannot. The Tao Te Ching asks us to accept things as they are and recognize the role of fate and destiny:

"Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortune as the human condition."

We are asked to experience events that we did not choose, do not want, and sometimes think we cannot handle. A best friend betrays us; our corporation closes; we do not get the job; a relationship does not work out; the basement of our house floods; our parents never praise our success—there are accidents, sicknesses, death, and "acts of God" that occur at any point, shattering our plans and dreams. In our youth, we may think we have "all the time in the world" to reach our dreams. As we get older, we realize we have to let go of some dreams because of the realities and responsibilities of life’s situations. We move on in spite of these adversities—and sometimes, because of them.

The WAY OF DIETING masks our ability to accept these life events. When we are dieting, we can hold on to the false promises of weight loss—"things will be better when I lose five pounds, twenty pounds, fifty pounds"—and put off facing the disenchantment of reality. Diet rules are sometimes able to distract us from the pain of recognizing shattered ideals. We may choose to believe that things will work out if we just tighten up our diet and lose weight. For example, if we find ourselves in a dissatisfying relationship, we can go on a diet. Rather than looking at other courses of action, we choose to believe that our interpersonal problems will resolve themselves when we lose weight. Until those pounds are lost, we do not have to feel the let down of a relationship that just did not work out.

The following true stories show how people rely on diets to avoid dealing with their broken dreams:

Maria went to Hollywood when she was eighteen, planning to get a break into her ideal job—acting. When she did not immediately get discovered as an actress, she decided it was because she needed to lose weight. She came to believe that when she lost enough pounds, she would get her big movie break and become famous. Maria returned to her hometown and seven years later was still trying to lose that weight. She continued to talk about her return to Hollywood . . . after she reached her unrealistic weight-loss goal. Meanwhile, she ignored more productive things she might have been doing to become an actress and was not open to considering other careers she might enjoy.

Martha decided that she needed to make dieting a priority because she believed her boyfriend would love her more if she weighed less. Holding on to the false hope that she had found the ideal relationship was easier than facing and grieving a dying relationship.

Sandy was fourteen when she began to diet obsessively. Her parents were contemplating divorce, and it was too painful for her to accept losing her ideal family. She thought that the family might stay together if she could become thin. Her parents’ inevitable divorce was clearly out of her control; however, excessive dieting allowed her to become distracted from her feelings about the divorce and to hold on to the hope that she could prevent it.

3. Appreciation

The third challenge is to appreciate the complexities of the human experience as we allow life to unfold. The Tao Te Ching offers the following wisdom:

"The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it."

We are asked to recognize that our needs and desires may conflict within ourselves and with the conditions of life. We are asked to consider trying situations that cause inner turmoil or require sacrifice as opportunities to cultivate empathy and inner strength. Painful choices are a chance to uncover possibilities never before considered. When we discover our ability to compromise and improvise, and learn to appreciate situations that have no "good" options, no easy answers, and no quick fixes, we can come to the point where we realize that obstacles have a way of becoming the stepping stones to a dream. For example, an individual may reluctantly accept a job transfer to a city but later find her future partner in that location and fulfill her vision for a family.

The WAY OF DIETING obscures our recognition of a situation’s complexities and prevents us from exploring the unfolding of life’s mysteries. Ingrained diet beliefs simplify the complexities of eating—and living—and narrow the range of our experience. Turning to eating rules rather than soul-searching may help us avoid sacrifice and painful decisions in the short-term, but it delays our personal growth in the long-term.

When we are under the influence of false diet beliefs, we restrict our range of emotional reactions—to ourselves, others, and life’s happenings. We avoid the wide range of emotions that include intense joy and the depth of despair. For example, living soulfully might require us to grieve the fact that others are not as we wish they were, but by dieting we distract ourselves from this disappointment by focusing on our current body size rather than life’s larger picture.

With the WAY OF DIETING, we choose to limit our feelings. We like the feeling of pride when we step on the scale and see a weight loss, and we are familiar with the feeling of disappointment when we see the numbers on the scale rise. Determination to start over on a diet is not new to us, and there are few, if any, surprises left. Dieting allows us to forego the intensity of our natural responses and avoid unknown emotional reactions. This limited range of experience may give us a false sense of control over our emotions, but we have merely lost touch with the depths of our souls.

One of my clients, a ten-year-old girl, was dealing with some difficult issues regarding her relationships with her mother, stepmother, father, siblings, and stepsiblings. One day she came into the session proudly announcing that she was on a diet because she wanted to lose weight. Since to me she was obviously a slender girl, I questioned her about her decision. She replied, "It’s not that I’m fat. It is a healthy thing to do and will help me deal with my problems better." At age ten, she already was using dieting to provide a false sense of control over her problems.

Pam was also a client of mine who tried to use dieting to resolve a situation that required the appreciation of the complexities of soulful living. Pam was a college student who valued her good relationship with her parents and enjoyed pleasing them. From the time she first showed interest in medicine as a small child, Pam’s parents had encouraged her to become a doctor. Pam had never allowed herself to explore other career possibilities, and now she was afraid that if she let herself explore her true interests, she might discover that she did not want to be a doctor. She would then have to decide between disappointing her parents and pursuing a career she did not want.

Pam’s soul tried to send her messages, asking her to look deeply inside herself. She found herself putting off her homework. She overslept on the mornings of her pre-med classes. Nevertheless, she still got A’s in her subjects. She began getting headaches and tried to treat them with aspirin and physiological explanations, again ignoring her soul’s attempts to express itself. Then she found herself eating, overeating, and gaining weight. By concentrating on diet rules telling her to focus on weight loss, she could ignore her soul’s signals. Within a few hours of her predetermined food restrictions, however, she found herself engaging in impulsive and uncontrollable eating binges, characteristic of unnatural eating. She then decided she had a serious eating problem and became further preoccupied with weight loss.

Through dieting, Pam could please her parents, gain more control, and focus her energy on losing weight. Her extra time and energy were spent preparing special meals and snacks, grocery shopping, calorie counting, and exercising. There was no time for questioning her career interests. Pam did not allow her soul to appreciate the struggle of self-exploration.

From the soulful approach, anxiety reflects our inner struggles. When we start to question aspects of our lives that might call for a major change in plans, we experience natural anxiety. Personal growth occurs when we can embrace the anxiety and are willing to see where it may lead us.

Excerpt from The Tao of Eating: Feeding Your Soul Through Everyday Experiences with Food by Linda R. Harper, Ph.D. Copyright © 1998 by Linda R. Harper. Reprinted by permission of Innisfree Press, www.InnisfreePress.com

Give to Your Heart's Content, by Linda R. Harper, Ph.D.

Linda R. Harper, Ph.D.
Linda R. Harper, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and workshop leader who has been in private practice in the Chicago area for over eighteen years. In addition to The Tao of Eating: Feeding Your Soul through Everyday Experiences with Food her newest book, Give to Your Heart's Content... Without Giving Yourself Away has just been released by Innisfree Press.

Dr. Harper has lead workshops at the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP) national symposium, the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) conference, and the Annual Women's Wellness Workshop in Chicago. She has also lectured at academic and medical institutions and public libraries throughout the Chicago area, as well as the American University in Paris. Dr. Harper has conducted numerous radio and television interviews, and feature stories about her first book, The Tao of Eating, have appeared in Fitness, Women's Sports & Fitness, and Natural Health magazines, and in newspapers across the country. Dr. Harper earned her Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from Kent State University.






Daily Soul Retreat at SoulfulLiving.com
Soul Retreat Goodies!

Support SoulfulLiving.com
Show Us Your Love ♥


Energy Muse Jewelry
Energy Muse Jewelry

Wild Divine Meditation Software featuring Deepak Chopra
Meditation Software

Energy Muse - Sacred Yoga Jewelry

Copyright © 1999-2014 Soulful Living®.

Soulful Website Design by The Creative Soul®.