The Buddha Diet

Can Buddhism health you lose weight? I’m doing a little self experiment at the moment, and the answer seems to be yes, yes, yes! More details below.

It sounds like a joke, right? Everyone knows that the Buddha was rotund fellow. Nope! In fact the Buddha was lean and healthy. The chubby guy you see at Chinese restaurants is actually Bùdài, the so-called Laughing Buddha. He is a mythical “future Buddha,” not the Buddha that lived 2500 years ago in India. Our Buddha was concerned about health in addition to enlightenment, and he had a lot to say on the matter. For example, here he talks about eating mindfully. Here he talks about minimizing suffering with what we choose to eat. And here he talks about the benefits of rice porridge!

Normally I restrict this blog to the suttas, but I just can’t resist sharing a little personal experience. In graduate school, I started putting on weight. By the time I finished school I was a depressing 50 pounds overweight. It seemed like every few months I was investing in pants with larger and larger waistlines.

In 2010 I decided enough was enough and cleaned up my eating. I focused on fresh, unprocessed food. I ate more mindfully. I got more exercise. I lost 30 pounds and felt a lot better. I bought new clothes. I halved my number of chins. I went to the public pool senza intense shame.

But there I stopped. If you are doing the math, that’s still 20 pounds over an ideal weight. Not bad, but not great. Four years later I began to think I needed to do something more. Clean just wasn’t cutting it. But what? Raw? Soylent? Ray Peat? Fasting?

Then I read a study that jogged my mind about a sutta. This study showed that people eating twice a day lost more weight than people eating throughout the day. This was true even when they ate the same amount of calories. As you may know, Buddhist monks only eat before noon. They are allowed to eat 2 meals, but the Buddha actually recommends one. You may think that the reasons are spiritual: say, fasting as an ascetic practice. But this is not it at all. The Buddha does not recommend austerities. I used to think it was just to give the laity a break. They might get sick of monks and nuns begging morning, noon, and night. But the actual reason is health! This is what the Buddha said about the matter in the Kitagiri Sutta (MN 70):

Monks! Do not eat in the evening. I never eat in the evening, and I am in excellent health. I rarely get sick. I’m not overweight. Indeed, I’m strong and comfortable. You too should avoid eating in the evening. Then you too can be healthy, light, strong, and comfortable.

One of the monks, Udayin objected (Latukikopama Sutta, MN 66).

I was so depressed when you said we shouldn’t eat in the evening. I thought, “Supper is the best meal of the day. And now I have to give it up!”

Eventually, though, he came around, and decided eating in the morning only was best. He had once been known as a fat monk but restraint improved his health.

So, I decided I would give it a try. There were plenty of reasons to think this wouldn’t work. Some monks and nuns are quite thin, but others are quite chubby. Plus, I have actually refrained from eating after noon many times before, usually while on retreat. I never lost any weight at all. My last retreat, when I left seclusion, I was talking to someone on a work retreat at the same center. He mentioned that it was easier to not eat after noon on a meditation retreat than a work retreat. Of course! Working all day builds up a hunger. Sitting all day does not. But in normal life this wouldn’t be the case.

My initial n=1 results have been encouraging. I’ve been steadily losing .5 pounds a day for two weeks. I really haven’t been hungry. Yesterday I drank tea and chatted with my kids while they chowed down on burgers, fries, and a shake (celebration after the last day of school). It’s much easier just having the rule “Don’t Eat After Lunch” than it is to follow a rule like “Eat Modestly Several Times a Day”. Much easier. The body adjusts pretty quickly to the new way of things.

Of course, it might be a mirage. Two weeks isn’t very long. But at the moment I’m enjoying the discovery that even the Buddha’s practical advice was amazingly wise! I promise to report back soon with updates. And if you give it a try yourself, I’d love to hear how it goes!

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6 thoughts on “The Buddha Diet

    1. The verdict is that it is difficult to eat this way with a family. While I don’t doubt the health benefits, I wasn’t able to continue with this way of eating without too much family friction. So I give it an incomplete, at least for me.

  1. Hi I am a buddhism person
    Even never thought about how great concept diet of Buddha as it is

    Now i am festinately figuring out what the best diet scientifically
    It seems closer and closer what Buddha had mentioned incredibly

    Impressive discovery to me

    respect!

  2. Hey there.. I just found your blog today. I was actually searching for the possible negative result of not eating after lunch as I haven’t had dinner for almost a month now. The thing is it has been great for me. I lost 2 kilograms (which, for me, is actually impressive enough) by limiting my diet to breakfast and lunch only. I began doing this after I went to the meditation camp a month ago and I could only eat two times a day. It was absolutely wonderful ’cause I have had trouble with my digesting system for a long time. I just found out that it should have been caused by my excessive food I usually eat during dinners. Now I don’t have any problem with my digesting system anymore. I’m in an absolute good shape and everyone notices the change. A few of them even told me that I looked brighter and in a very good shape. I’m now being regarded as the role model for my father. The good thing is that by limiting my diet to only two times a day, I sleep much faster (around 10-11 p.m.), wake up much sooner (5-6 a.m.) and work much better during daytime.

    Do you know if doing like this will cause any problem in the future? It’s just so good I want to continue doing this for a long time but I just kinda doubt a bit if skipping dinner everyday will potentially ruin your health in the long run.

    1. Congratulations on your success! Anything we can do to improve health is a good and useful thing. There have been monks not eating after lunch for thousands of years with no ill health effects. Indeed, monks and nuns are generally healthy and long lived. A couple of years ago I took at walk with Bhante G. He is 90 years old and hasn’t eaten after noon since he was a child. He is extremely health, lean, and in great shape.

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