Kimberly Garrison chats with Deepak Chopra

Posted: November 14, 2013

CELEBRATED, controversial physician, alternative-medicine advocate and new-age guru Dr. Deepak Chopra says that he has found a solution to achieve not only permanent weight loss but heightened well-being and a newfound lightness of the soul.

He shares his insights in the new book What Are You Hungry For? which he will discuss Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Central Branch of the Free Library, and in a PBS TV special airing at 8 p.m. Dec. 4 on WHYY12.

Chopra, 66, is a study in opposites that attract. The author of more than 70 books on alternative healing, he trained as an internist and endocrinologist. A practitioner of meditation and yoga, he's also a distinguished executive scholar at the Columbia University business school and a senior scientist with the Gallup organization.

He has a foundation dedicated to "creating a critical mass for a peaceful, just, sustainable and healthy world through scientifically and experientially exploring non-dual consciousness as the ground of existence," according to its website.

He also founded the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, at the upscale La Costa Resort & Spa, in Southern California.

Chopra recently partnered with Oprah Winfrey to offer a free, 21-day meditation course that started Monday at He says that more than 700,000 people have signed up so far.

I recently caught up with the busy doctor, who spoke with me by phone from the apartment he shares with his wife, Rita, in Manhattan.

Here are the highlights of our discussion, edited for space.

Q: I was surprised to read in your book that, like many Americans, you realized one day that you'd become overweight. What happened?

A: It was nothing in particular, just careless eating. I was carrying 20 extra pounds.

Q: What else contributed to the weight gain?

A: Not getting enough sleep. Getting enough sleep is very important. A lack of sleep throws off the balance between two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, that are responsible for making you feel hungry and full. Lack of sleep actually causes belly fat.

Q: How did you get back on track?

A: Once I began to think more - awareness eating - I dropped the pounds effortlessly. I asked myself, what am I hungry for? [I] focused more on sleep, and movement. I don't take taxis or elevators or escalators.

Q: What are your favorite exercises?

A: I go to the gym sometimes, and I do yoga.

Q: In your new book, you say that many people use food as a substitute for spiritual and emotional nourishment. How can people overcome that?

A: Recognize when your emotions have erupted. Don't eat when you feel negative emotions, like guilt, shame or anger, which cause whatever you eat to form into a toxic metabolic mix. Eat when you feel love, kindness and joy, which induces self-regulation.

Q: What else?

A: Only eat when you are physically hungry. Do not multitask and eat. Avoid things with labels - frozen, canned, contaminated, unnatural foods full of preservatives and chemicals.

Do eat organic, from the local farmers markets. And eat ethnic meals like Indian, Mexican or Thai, which typically have all colors of the rainbow and the six tastes, which should be [present] at every meal. The typical American french fries and hamburger [meal] is highly processed and dominated by fat, sugar and salt.

Q: About 100 million Americans, mostly women, are on a diet at any given time. The diet industry rakes in about $20 billion annually. What are your thoughts on commercial diets? Do they work?

A: Every season there's a new diet. People try it, get stressed and go back to their old habits. It's really about achieving a balanced life - good food, good drink, movement and lightness.

Q: Yoga has become hugely popular in the U.S. What's your take on that?

A: Yes, the physical aspects of yoga have really exploded in the U.S. But that is just one aspect of yoga. There is yoga of meditation, self-awareness yoga, yoga of love and compassion, yoga of the intellect, karma yoga. . . . Yoga means "union." To unite yourself with the source. It's much bigger than what most people understand it to be.

Q: You talk a lot about the Indian Ayurveda healing tradition in the book. Can you describe this for us in layman's terms?

A: Ayurveda is an ancient healing system. Yoga comes from Ayurveda. In Sanskrit, ayurveda means "science of life." In Ayurveda, you eat a balanced diet by including every taste in each meal: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. You also eat for your body type, or dosha. [Learn about your dosha type by taking the quiz at]

Q: Many Americans want to eat healthier but can't find or afford fresh, organic produce. What advice do you have for families on a tight budget to eat healthier?

A: Healthy options are coming more into vogue. Salads and a lot of good ethnic foods are everywhere.

Q: Many people are curious about meditation these days. Can you demystify the practice?

A: For the average person, sit quietly with your eyes closed and watch your breath for 10 or 15 minutes.

Q: You've taken a lot of criticism for your use of the phrase "quantum physics." How would you describe quantum physics to us ordinary mortals?

A: Quantum physics is a sudden shift in your mental state, which can cause a sudden shift in your biology. If you suddenly lose your retirement fund, your body will increase cortisol and adrenaline levels. When you get good news, your body produces oxytocin and serotonin. "Quantum physics" is just a metaphor.

Q: Millions of Americans are opting for weight-loss surgery, often with less than stellar results. What's your opinion on gastric bypass, gastric banding and similar surgeries, and the cosmetic procedures that frequently follow?

A: In an emergency, [weight-loss surgery] may be justified. If the person is at immediate risk for heart attack or intractable diabetes. But it is often of marginal benefit. It is treating the symptoms and not the root cause.

Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.

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