Book review: “Buddha’s Diet”
Tara Cottrell and Dan Zigmond wrote this book titled, “Buddha’s diet: the ancient art of losing weight without losing your mind”. The title might suggest it’s a book on diet, or even may be cookbook, but this book is about a compact manual on lifestyle change with Buddhist meditation and mindfulness. If you are interested about applying the principles of Buddhism and mindfulness to change your life (there are hardly any book available and the ones that are available and speaks about applying insight practices in every day life are quite dense), then this is your book. “Losing your mind” is the key here: they weaved mindfulness and Buddhist practices into a lifestyle. Read Dan Zigmond’s Medium Post on this book
The book starts with the idea that you can control your body weight if you can restrict your eating time to specific time limit. They advise that you start eating for only 12 hours a day to start with and adjust your breakfast and dinner hours accordingly. The last meal or food of the day must be fnished within 12 hours of the first food. Cottrell and Zigmond argue that it does not matter so much as to what you eat as much as when you eat and this was The Buddha’s teaching that it does not matter what you eat but it matters when you eat. They claim that this fits in with animal experiments and limited human studies as well that “diets” may not work; but if the time boundary of when you eat your food is adjusted, this yields better results for weight control.
They recommend that you start with a 12-hour window for your food intake. So if you start your day and have your first food at 6 AM, you set that your final meal of the day will be no later than 6 PM. Stick to this plan for two weeks and allow only one day of exception. Then after two weeks, if you can stick to this plan, reduce the food intake window to 11 and then, given you can maintain this for two weeks with no more than one day per week of “cheat day’, bring it down to 10 hours, and then finally to nine hours. Each time, you will allow yourself one day per week of “cheating” and continue this for two week till you move to the next stage. If you find this is going well then continue the nine hour eating window for the rest of your life ideally. If you find that you have lost far too much weight, then you can increase the time to a stage up but you are still allowed the regimen. They do not recommend that you avoid any particular food as you will realise soon if you do this practice that is useful to focus on eating protein, fibres, fat and less carbohydrates or at least complex carbohydrates. They also allow for exceptions — if you have a medical condition for which you should eat at all hours, then you should and this programme of losing weight is not for you.
Associated with eating behaviour, Cottrell and Zigmond recommend that you should practice a middle way — the Buddha’s way to do things. Do what is practical and meaningful for your life. So, do exercise if that helps or works for you and if you cannot exercise in a gym, no worries, find what exercise is meaningful for you. Weight yourself every day and note the weight. That way you can calibrate how you are doing. If you find yourself that you have to eat at odd hours because your job demands it, then just adjust the eating window or adjust your “cheating days”. They allow for alcohol consumption (remember that, The Buddha prohibits alcohol consumption (or consumption of any intoxicants). The five prohibitions are “do not kill”, “do not steal”, “do not lie”, “do not engage in sexual misconduct”, and “do not consume intoxicating drinks/drugs/“stuff” “). Then there are sections on mindfulness exercises, and get arounds if you find yourself occassionally missing the lessons.
The style of the book is easy and I’d say one of the best readable works on Buddhist philosophy, written in a light, lucid style; I admired the fluency and general light hearted note of the book.
The book has instructions on how to gradually drill down to a nine-hour eating schedule, but it does not provide you with more detailed guidance about food groups and or food items. It also does not include any recipe so, do not expect to get recipe recommendations. The book has recommendations on how to do mindfulness meditation from Stephen Batchelor’s work, and these instructions are workable instructions. You will find similar instructions in other books that have dealt with zen/theravada meditations.
The reason I liked the book is it has “diet” as a talking point and quite pithy and practical. But then, it does not limit you to diet and opens you up to other aspects of your life that you can change too. I found appealing their light hearted banters and snippets (see some below) and the light style of writing.
“The pudgy statues you see smiling at you at Chinese restaurants and yoga studios aren’t actually Buddha — or not the Buddha anyway, not the one who lived in ancient India and meditated a lot and ultimately began teaching what we now call Buddhism”
“The one strict gastronomic rule the Buddha prescribed was that monks should avoid what he called “untimely eating.” Specifically, they should eat only between dawn and noon.2 Afternoon and evening eating was strictly prohibited. The Buddha didn’t care too much what monks ate, but he cared a lot when they ate it.
This may sound like an odd and nitpicky restriction, but Buddha clearly meant it seriously.”
“nice thing about the 9-hour window is that there’s a little more room for error.”
(Speaking of balance scales), ““Although simple balance scales have been around just about forever, they were primarily for commercial trade. As someone who started life as a prince and ended it as a monk, Buddha may not have personally bought or sold anything his whole life”
“The essential thing is to listen to your body. As you spend more time on Buddha’s Diet, you’ll naturally gravitate to healthy meals based on protein, fat, and high-fiber grains that don’t leave you constantly craving your next food fix.”
“Buddha knew even then what a night of top-shelf margaritas could lead to. And yes, he mentioned “exposing oneself.” These spring break traditions are older than you think”
“In Buddhist temples today, water is often offered as a symbol of purity, clarity, and calmness. Offer some to your body on a regular basis.
Black coffee and plain tea (black or green) have few to no calories, so you can drink these any time.”
(This is a good point. Although you will stop your food intake after 12/11/10/9 hours, you can drink water or tea or coffee; the authors recommend tea).