I recently talked about my philosophy of diet and exercise with my friend David Clayton, who hosts the “Way of Beauty” podcast. David led with a story about a friend of his who discovered a sort of New Age spirituality through Yoga, and wondered if there might be a Christian alternative in my practice of natural movement, aka MovNat.
The New Age movement is big in California, and even bigger in the San Francisco, so I’ve always taken slogans like “the body is a temple” with a grain of salt, but this wisdom actually comes from the writings of Saint Paul:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Cor. 6:19)
The body-as-temple idea has been co-opted by foodies in the Bay Area to market their detoxes, hot yoga classes, and acai bowls. While I question these fads, I am also sitting here drinking my detox “Yogi” tea, following my “morning movement flow” (a modified Yoga/stretching a la Ido Portal).
To answer David’s question, though, a Christian health regimen can’t just rip off New Age fads. It must go back to its own ancient roots. After prayer, fasting is the single most important practice — found in all true spiritual traditions — for improving spiritual and physical health.
I’m writing this on Day 1 of the fasting season of Lent, beginning 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. My discipline this year includes giving up caffeine, social media, and meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, which are also fasting days (one meal).
Non-Neurotic Nutrition 101
Aside from fasting, I can summarize my philosophy in a few words. I think artificial “diets” and “exercise” should be replaced by more natural ways of eating and moving.
Here are some longer summaries of how I eat, and why:
- Poor man’s paleo — A local guide to cheap high-quality fats (especially butter), meats, and vegetables.
- The Leap to Fat Burning Mode — Sugar, not fat, makes you fat.
- The Hard Case of Saturated Fat — Why you shouldn’t be afraid of cholesterol or saturated fat, despite the medical establishment’s warnings.
There is probably more variation in what people can eat healthily than I admit in these articles. I’ve verged at times on “orthorexia” — the compulsion to eat healthily and feel contaminated when I eat something that doesn’t fit my protocol. Here again, fasting covers a multitude of sins.
Skipping breakfast most days of the week (and sometimes lunch or even dinner) allows you to be less neurotic about what you eat the rest of the time. P.D. Mangan has the best guide to “intermittent fasting,” and if you can get past the well-oiled body builder pics, it contains a lot of gems.
The conflicting currents of Epicureanism, obsessive calorie counting, and fast-food culture have created a storm wave of health epidemics — from obesity to anorexia, and every anxious weight-watching point in between.
Yet doctors continue to give advice like “move more, eat less.” This is completely meaningless if it doesn’t address the “how”.
A healthy body naturally balances energy intake and energy output. Most processed foods lend themselves to over-eating, while most whole, natural foods do not. Kosher laws are out, and everything is permitted, but not everything is profitable. A spiritual practice helps us to be discerning about what we consume, and to form a clearer picture of how we should be spending our scarce energy, without obsessing about or compartmentalizing food.
Similarly, the most “nutritious” movements are purposeful, productive, and enjoyable. MovNat suggests free movement in nature against the tyranny of the gym, but the next evolution is to movements that advances your mission.
Here are my writings to date on how I move, and why:
- What Moves You? — Get better at the movements you need to become what you are (a human).
- Close Encounters of the Marine Wildlife Kind — My free swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.
- Go to Exhaustion, then Hold Fast — Part 1 — How to get stronger.
- Go to Exhaustion, then Hold Fast — Part 2 — The spiritual/psychological struggle when getting stronger is hard.
- Escape the Prison of Self-Induced Torpor — Cold exposure as ascetic practice to cut through the obsession with comfort.
If you sign up, I’ll send you both a PDF of my new book on a somewhat unrelated topic, The ABCs of the Austrian Business Cycle. This book was the trial balloon for my upcoming project, which will be a synthesis of biblical anthropology, nutrition, and political/economic theory.