04/22/2012 10:44 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2012

Weight Loss: What's the Point?

Before you start reading, let me just say this is not some nihilistic blog about how meaningless it all is. I'm not of the we're-all-gonna-die-so-let's-eat-cupcakes mentality. But, really, what's the point of losing weight? Or, more specifically, what's your point?

If you're the average woman in your early 40s, you've probably spent the last 20 years or more counting calories, weighing yourself, following diets and generally obsessing about how you look. I do not for one minute believe the incredible power of the feminine energy was designed for something as small as this.

And this isn't just about women: In a recent study, more than four in five men were anxious about their body image, and 38 percent of men said they would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.[1] That's very telling: Somewhere along the line, we've lost a sense of perspective, to the point where men say they'd die younger to look great in a Speedo.

Now, if your weight is a health issue, if it's shortening your years or hampering your ability to enjoy your life, losing weight is a noble goal. Your body should be healthy, happy and comfortable to live in. But if your weight loss efforts are driven by a desire to look like the 20-year-old model (male or female) on the cover of the newsstand magazine, that's another matter.

Losing weight is not your life's work, and counting calories is not the call of your soul. You surely are destined for something much greater, much bigger, than shedding 20 pounds or tallying calories. What would happen if, instead of worrying about what you had for breakfast, you focused instead on becoming exquisitely comfortable with who you are as a person? Instead of scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, looking for every bump and bulge, you turned your gaze inward?

One of the first books on dieting was penned as early as 1810, by surgeon William Wadd. In the first of many editions of On Corpulence, or Obesity Considered as a Disease, he pointed out our growing "apprehension of corpulence," and set forth recommendations for slimming.[2] It was a modern-world malady; from prehistoric times through the days of early settlers, much of the world's population was obsessed with eating as it applied to survival, and starvation was a more common concern than slimming. Even now, as we measure our waists and condemn our thighs, close to a billion people go hungry every day, and hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.[3][4]

One of my teachers used to ask "How does this serve you?" or "How does this serve the world?" I think that's a useful question to ask about losing weight. How much time, mental energy and passion are you devoting to your dreams and goals, your loftiest vision for yourself? What would happen if all of us took all that energy we devote to counting calories and chasing a number on the bathroom scale, and channeled it toward to developing personal integrity, enhancing our spiritual connections and serving the world?

None of this is to say we can't choose to shed some excess weight. But maybe we can do it with a sense of perspective -- and direct the outcome to something greater.

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[1] Denis Campbell, "Body Image Concerns More Men than Women, Research Finds." The Guardian, 5 Jan. 2012.

[2] Joanna Bourke, "The long history of dieting fads." The Lancet, 2012. 379:9820, 994-995.

[3] Robert Kunzig, "Population 7 Billion." National Geographic, Jan. 2011, online special edition.

[4] World Food Programme, a division of the United Nations