One of the greatest teachers of this method of farming is Masanobu Fukuoka, author of The One-Straw Revolution. In this book Fukuoka describes his discovery of "do nothing" farming, where he creates situations where nature will do the work with the minimum of interference on his part.
So instead of spending hours ploughing the soil or spending money on adding chemical fertilisers to his crops, he simply chucks the rice straw back on the ground after harvesting it and scatters chook poo over it. Occasionally he sows clover to use as a green manure.
And that's pretty much it.
And rather than seeing everything turn into a wilderness and watching helplessly as the prickles take over, Fukuoka actually equals the yield of farms that have had these modern high intervention inputs applied to them, with a fraction of the investment of labour and resources.
The very first thing one should do is to just leave your body - and its weight - alone. Instead of poking, prodding and endlessly seeking a "solution" to making our bodies permanently smaller, we would benefit enormously by simply allowing our bodies to settle at what Dr. Rick Kausman, author of If not dieting, then what?, calls our most natural and comfortable weight.
In natural farming, the more high impact interventions (tilling, digging, fertilising with chemicals) we put into the system, the more that system will come to rely on them. Similarly, the more intervention we put into managing our weight, the more is needed.
High energy interventions such as restrictive diets, high cost superfoods and fat burning supplements (which don't work anyway), and constant monitoring (of calories, portion sizes, macros, body weight) are all things we should stay as far away from as possible if we want to arrive at our most healthy and natural body weight.
Instead of this constant hard (and inevitably, maddeningly fruitless) work, take heed of what Fukuoka calls the "do-nothing" gardening approach. When it comes to maintaining a healthy and natural weight, there is actually nothing to do.
I'll say that again: when it comes to your weight, there is nothing to do. So don't bother trying to change your weight. At the very least it will be a waste of your time and energy. At worst you may develop hormonal imbalances, infertility, depression, and/or a deadly eating disorder.
We can't directly control our weight for an extended period of time, nor should we think it is healthy to do so. There is incontrovertible scientific evidence (Level A, the highest level of evidence possible according to the NHMRC) demonstrating that in the long term, dieting doesn't work.
And by diets I mean counting calories, macros, portion control, strict clean eating, cutting sugar, and all the rest - including the "lifestyle changes" in the guise of diets, or what I call the "I'm not dieting" diets.
On all of these diets, 95% of people initially lose a small amount of weight, but then they put it back on again. And the 5% who keep it off often only do so by engaging in disordered and/or restrictive eating behaviours or over-exercise that result in health problems (including fertility, thyroid and digestive problems).
Ironically, over time, dieting is a risk factor for weight gain, not loss. That's because your body, in it's infinite wisdom, interprets dieting as a famine and does all kinds of homeostatic somersaults to ensure you hold onto fat more tightly and use less energy in order to keep you alive in this perceived famine. Each time you diet, you reinforce the need for your body to hold onto, and actually gain weight.
This reminds me of a quote by Fukuoka:
“If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.”
― Masanobu Fukuoka
Any advocate for the HAES movement knows that directly cultivating healthy behaviours is a far better predictor of health outcomes (physical, mental and emotional) than is trying to control body weight.
So leave your weight alone. Forget diets and restricting and high intensity interventions aimed at reducing or maintaining your weight.
Focus instead on health. And do it with no regard for your body weight whatsoever. How do we do that? Onto number 2...
Letting go of trying to control our weight does not mean neglecting our health, any more than 'natural' farming means giving up on trying to grow healthy produce and abandoning our garden to be taken over by pests and brambles.
In fact, when we park weight in the corner of the room it usually frees us up to focus on health promoting behaviours without the blur that 'weight management' smears all over our vision.
We can still implement healthy behaviours and take responsibility for our wellbeing without policing our weight. Providing "good soil" for our bodies to thrive in is part of responsible self care. What constitutes good soil?
- clean, fresh air and water
- adequate, nutrient dense food, as high quality as we can access and as often as we comfortably can (without being fanatical about it which causes undue stress, which is not healthy)
- adequate rest (e.g. sleep) and relaxation (e.g. restorative yoga, time outdoors etc)
- good social networks and support
- the absence or reduction of things like environmental toxins, pollution, highly toxic relationships, rushing and "doing too much".
Diets are like chemical fertiliser - they seem like a good idea at the time and may bring about short term results, but as each year passes more and more fertiliser - more dieting efforts - are needed. We need to muster up more discipline to stick to the diets despite the hunger and frustration they generate, adhere to more extreme or new versions of the diet (Atkins to keto, anyone?), spend more money on "managing our weight". Which of course is not actually that manageable, at least not consciously.
So forget weight and concentrate on providing fertile conditions for your health to thrive.
This is keeping in mind that health is not a moral obligation, that not everyone can be "healthy" despite their best efforts due to disability, certain illnesses and accidents, or life circumstances e.g. abject poverty and oppression. It's hard to grow healthy food where there is an active earthquake, a Chernobyl type accident has occurred, or WWIII is taking place.
In the same way permaculture gardeners and farmers trust nature to do most of the hard work for them, we can trust our bodies. This is where intuitive eating, a set of practices which help us build body trust and better look after ourselves, comes in.
Listening to our natural hunger and fullness cues, understanding cravings, and responding to these signals in sensitive, compassionate and respectful ways all build body trust and actually promote health. Yes, this means honouring your chocolate craving instead of replacing it with cacao powder sprinkled on rice cakes. That kind of thing only leads to an inevitable binge on more Snickers bars than you actually would have eaten to satisfy to craving in the first place.
If you have any comments (especially if you're a more seasoned permaculture afficionado than I am!) or questions I'd love to hear them - pop them in the comments box below.
Happy tending to your natural garden,