Integrity, discipline, respect: Using kung fu to control your eating

About seven months ago, I began training kung fu with my family.  Our classes are intense and require the students to really pull out our personal best. Periodically our instructor will remind us by shouting out, “Train like a black belt!” when she catches us being sloppy or less than enthusiastic.  Her exclamation inspires me to squat a little lower in my horse stance, amps up my intensity, and focuses me on the intention I have set for my training.  After class one day, it came to me: what would it be like to eat like a black belt?

When I look at the master instructor, head instructor, instructors, and black belts at our school, I think of many things, but three qualities stand out – integrity, discipline, and respect.  I decided to apply all three qualities to the subject of eating.

My definition of integrity is doing the right thing, even if it is uncomfortable, boring, unfamiliar, or painful for me.  A black belt demonstrates her integrity at the table by setting a good example for others, even when she’d rather eat dessert first.  She could accomplish this by using nice manners, serving herself moderate portions, or choosing the healthier food being served.  Maybe she’d rather talk about herself or watch TV at dinner, but she listens instead to others and asks them to share about their day.  Simply by doing these things, she creates an environment that encourages others to connect and participate in the same healthy behaviors.

Webster’s dictionary defines discipline as training that corrects, molds, or perfects one’s abilities or moral character.  A black belt shows his dietary discipline by thinking ahead about what his body needs for nourishment and planning healthy meals to support that.  By planning ahead, he is far more likely to choose nutritious food, which then allows him to enjoy greater physical performance and longevity.  He eats regular meals and cooks primarily at home, avoiding fast food and the temptation to binge.  By practicing these habits, he trains himself to be thoughtful, organized, and more frugal with his food.

When I think of respect, the high regard we show for each other at our school, I imagine the joy in taking that home and showing that high regard for myself, my family, my community, and my planet.  Respectfully consuming our food is a powerful, powerful tool for transforming our eating habits and positively impacting those around us.  When I feel high regard for myself, I don’t feel good about feeding my body junk.  The same is true for my family.  Respectful eating necessitates that I slow down and think not only about what I eat, but also the quality of the food, where it came from, and who else may suffer for my choices.  A black belt choosing to feed herself respectfully might choose to avoid meat one day a week, select food packaged in recyclable materials, or shop at a farmer’s market to support her local economy.

Like kung fu, eating with integrity, discipline, and respect is not easy.  The rewards for doing so, however, far outweigh the comfort of sitting in old, unhealthy behavior. When I want donuts for breakfast, I usually invite integrity to choose by slowing down and thinking about what will support my body and my values throughout the day. With time, the discipline of eating this way makes it feel more natural and sustainable.  Eating with respect allows me to really feel and see the importance of my choices and their potential to transform the planet for the better.  Thus far, I have achieved my blue belt in kung fu, but in my mind, I will wear a black belt when I eat.

Melanie Lane is a family physician who blogs at The Doctor Weighs In.

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