What do I mean by "the external way we've come to view our bodies"? Well, you see, the modern world pulls our attention outward and away from what's happening in our bodies in ways that would also have been unimaginable to our ancestors. Throughout almost all of human history, people needed to engage with their environment in skillful ways just to survive and do normal daily activities. If you wanted to eat, you had to hunt, gather, and prepare food; if you wanted shoes or clothes, you had to gather materials and make them; if you wanted to hear music, you or someone you know had to be able to both make and play an instrument. Just think of how attentive you have to be while walking on a thoroughly unpaved surface and you’ll get a small glimpse of how different daily life was for our ancestors. Up until the very recent past, pretty much anything you might have wanted to do required skillful and attentive interaction with your environment. Indeed, throughout the vast majority of human history people had very little furniture and what they did have was unlikely to be very soft or luxurious; lacking the ultra-cushioned form-fitting furniture (which, like all the wondrous conveniences of the modern world, we take entirely for granted) our ancestors had to pay attention to their bodies even when they were just trying to get some rest!
Furthermore, in societies of the past there weren’t mirrors everywhere you looked. If you're familiar with the Greek myth of Narcissus, you’ll know that he had to go to a river to see and be captured by his reflection. The ubiquity of mirrors and other reflective surfaces – like the superabundance of every imaginable kind of food and the machines that do our work for us – is a completely new phenomenon, one that would astound our ancestors. Because mirrors and other reflective surfaces are now everywhere, (nowadays, you’d have to go to a river to *escape* your reflection!) we’ve become obsessed with how we look, externalizing even our own selves. Technological convenience alienates us from what it feels like to be in our own bodies, and the ubiquity of mirrors completely severs whatever small internal connection remains, so that we relate to our very selves as objects seen at a distance.
But contrary to what the modern world teaches you, being overweight is not bad because of how it looks. It’s rather, quite the other way around; it looks bad because that’s a sign that it actually is bad. Carrying excess fat makes everything more difficult; it tires you out, makes it harder to move and breathe, and increases the downward force of gravity on your muscular-skeletal system, creating imbalances and bodily damage. But our relationship to our own bodies has become so externalized that, rather than feeling the negative effects of having too much bodily fat, our only knowledge that it’s bad comes from the fact that it looks bad. Someone who is overweight looks in the mirror and experiences their extra weight visually; they then form the intellectual idea that eating less will make the body they see in the mirror look better and try to force themselves to do so. But, given the easy availability of food in our culture, this is all too externalized and too intellectualized to be effective; it’s as if you’re trying to make someone else lose weight!
Imagine that there were burning hot surfaces everywhere, but that you lost the ability to feel being burned, so that the only way you knew that you had touched a hot surface was by visually seeing a burn mark appear on your skin. In such circumstances, very few of us would have any chance at all of not being totally covered in burns because our attempt to not get burned would be externalized and intellectualized in the very same way that our attempts to lose weight have actually become. But if you learn to experience your own body as something you feel rather than as an external object seen in a mirror – if you learn to feel the ways in which over-eating and excess weight are really bad for you -- eating too much comes to simply not feel right, and rather than having to force yourself to avoid the constant temptation of food the modern world bequeaths us, eating moderately and healthily becomes as natural as not putting your hand on a hot stove.