Once Again, Buddhist Practice Meets Modern Science Well

" A new review provides the latest evidence to suggest we should front-load our calories early in the day."
Some of us observe the practice of eating all food before midday. This is not always an easy practice to adapt to in the west, but a new article suggests that it is the best aproach to maintaining health and a leaner body mass.

Our results suggest that in relatively healthy adults, eating less frequently, no snacking, consuming breakfast, and eating the largest meal in the morning may be effective methods for preventing long-term weight gain. Eating breakfast and lunch 5-6 h apart and making the overnight fast last 18-19 h may be a useful practical strategy.
© 2017 American Society for Nutrition.

In my first year on 8 precepts, I struggled a bit with eating only before midday. Now, it’s an easy practice, but I am unsure if I have a particularly leaner body mass than I might otherwise. One key seems to be contolling the amount of food and calories that one eats before midday; there are times when in “front-loading,” I may overload, which contributes to some sluggishness and perhaps overconsumption of calories. Still, it’s good to see that a practice from the monastic training also resonates with good health; just one more example as to how this path of practice resonates both with the health of the mind, and the body.

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You know, I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately and was going to make a post on caloric-restriction/fasting and it’s relation to middle way. The monastic’s practice or higher precept practice is actually a form of what we would call today “intermittent fasting”, in dietary terms.

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I’ve been doing 8 precepts for about 4 years now, not eating after noon, only water. I find it very easy. It was hard 10 or 20 years ago, when health was not as good as it is now. I would get hungry in the evening or even as early as the afternoon, feel low blood sugar, etc. Lots of meditation cures just about any health problem, you need to sleep less, eat less, and you feel more energetic and sharp. It’s very strange at first to find your memory improving, mind getting sharper, more clear as you’re getting older. This is the power of brahmacariya, lots of meditation, eating healthy diet, regular exercise.

Now I find eating breakfast and lunch to be too much. Off and on I’ve experimented with eating just once a day, but my health is not yet robust enough to sustain that more than 1 to 2 weeks straight. I suspect that may change over time.

If you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you can eat as much as you want, never feel deprived or that you’re forcing yourself to do some painful austerity to maintain weight. For example, I can eat all the fruit that I want, all the avocado and coconut, various nuts that I want, brown rice, whole grain bread, lightly stir fried or steamed veggies, 2 eggs, some yogurt, some tempeh, I will not experience any hunger at all anytime of the day.

If I don’t eat enough fruit, then I may get a sugar craving later and maybe occasionally experience in the evening lethargy from low blood sugar. If I don’t get enough protein, it will be hard for mind to stay sharp, or to use muscles to exercise. If I don’t get enough (healthy) fat, may feel some hunger late in the evening, just from not getting enough calories and whatever other nutrients are in healthy fat. By eating only healthy whole foods not derived, no fruit juice for example, no soft drinks, no cookies, cake, pastries, I can literally eat as much as I want and never gain any weight, and not feel deprived mentally or nutritionally. If I eat junky foods like white rice, instant noodles, white bread, cookies, then it’s possible for me to gradually gain weight, and feel undernourished despite gaining weight, and still feel hunger in the evening.

I never go out to eat if I can help it. Food from restaurants are designed to stimulate your taste buds and make you thirsty, not optimize your health. All the high salt, MSG, and other garbage in there messes you up, makes you thirsty all day and still leaves you feeling kind of hungry and nutritionally deprived.

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Very Interesting experienece.

I can’t source (*) this right now but this is a <> fact based on the effects of fasting.

Back in the hunter gather times fasting meant you had no food. No food means that you are in need for food before long - or else you wan’t be able to maintain your health and sustain life.

Hence your bodily functions are sharped and more acute to ensure you are not missing out on a good opportunity to break fast.

The opposite is quite easy to observe as well: once you have eaten the body turns to digestion (which now becomes the primary focus - internal), the urgency to ensure the body can sustain itself disappears and you thus you chill (and take a nap).

And even if you don’t want your body will tell you to relax - hence too much food can bring sloth and torpor about…

(*) but at least I recall hearing the explanation from a skipper that won a solo around the world race - when he was asked if being hungry most of the time had a ill effect on his body.

[Edit: may be it wasn’t a round the world race but more likely a short transatlantic race or record breaking - at which time being on the deck 60~75% of the time is much more important than having a decent meal or sleep]

Also I have asked Muslim friends about the fast during ramadan, and appart from the restriction on water they mostly reported that fasting unleashes energy and that they had to exercise more during this fasting period.

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It’s very strange at first to find your memory improving, mind getting sharper, more clear as you’re getting older.

Sukha mentioned some interesting results of fasting,

my comment however is referring to long term effects from not just 8 precept fasting, but primarily the high volume of meditation, in conjunction with eating healthy foods, exercising body and mind.

One of the ways I exercise my mind is following the oral tradition, which accords with another scientific discovery that doing crossword puzzles, playing games that stimulate the mind reduces the potential of alzheimers disease in old age.

Every morning at 5:30am I chant for 30 min in pali, from memory, at fluent speed. I’m aware of the meaning of every single word as I chant it (sometimes just a phrase), and passages such as 31 body parts I’m also spatially locating the body part, mentally touching that body part, as I name each part. When I chant the 4 brahma vihara, as I recite each word, I’m also doing the meditation itself, radiating the energy of metta in front of me, to the right, behind, then the left, up, down, everywhere. When I chant the 16 APS (anapana), I quickly do each step (just a split second) as I’m chanting at full speed. This type of chanting improves memory, ability to think, ability to coordinate mental and physical activity. That’s one of the reasons why my memory is better than than when I was young and hated memorizing things and preferred to just look things up in a book as needed.

I’m spelling out the detail of how I chant so you can see the samadhi that is involved, and the range of cognitive function being exercised. Much better mental exercise than doing cross word puzzles thinking about useless worldly trivia! There’s a good reason the oral tradition in EBT lasted 500 years even when printed word technology was known. Good for samādhi, good for mental health.

If one wants to do high quality samma samadhi jhāna, make sure everything you do, chanting, washing dishes, you only think the thoughts you want to think and you don’t think the thoughts you don’t want to think, and consciously relax every part of the anatomical body. So relaxed that you would collapse like a rag doll if you used any less energy to maintain your posture. You do this all the time, every day, you definitely will see improvement week by week, day by day. If you only practice samādhi when you do a formal sit, your time will mostly be spent fighting the cummulative habit of what your mind was doing the rest of the day, which for most people is scattered in confusion led around by defilements.

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Thanks for sharing your daily practice @Frankk, much appreciated.

The only things preventing me from keeping the 8 precepts right now is no food after lunch. I tried but cannot resist the impulse to eat (even sort of binge-eat sometimes…! never happened to me before) when I come back home from work.

My approach for now is to try bringing to my mind all the negative aspects of eating just before and during eating (cost time and money, post-meal sluggishness, fatter legs = more difficult to sit cross-legged; impact on the world etc…)… but the impulse is still there and too strong for now.

You are mentioning meditation as one of the reason you managed to do it, do you have any other advice regarding this by any chance?

Hello @Yasoja,

I personally can’t think about not eating past midday right now, but I don’t think the goal is impossible to reach (with enough patience).

In the mean time, I am keeping to 3 meals a day with eating hours between 0700-0900, 1200-1400 and 1900-2100. In between I can drink (soy milk, rarely coffee, lots of water) and if I am feeling that I won’t be able to wait the evening time I will authorize myself a fruit or two.

It works well and I learnt again (at age 41) what it was to feel hungry On the health side it seems to have gotten me to my “optimal” weight (72kg down from 78 a year ago - right in the middle of the “normal weigth” range for BMI) albeit I could not afford to go much lower without causing my spouse useless worries…

Anyhow, what I’m trying to get out is that your chances of success are greater if you follow a gradual path rather than switch off altogether after 12. You need to create new habits by gradually shifting from your current behaviour and desired behaviour.

I hope this works for you.

Are you especially interested in food, I mean, do you really enjoy it?

If this is the case, then I could try tuning down on the food “quality” or variety. Again not going from chef meals to bread and banana, but finding a path there.

I was talking with a friend not long ago who loves his food, and I said to him that because I rarely compare the present with the past (at least for food) then it allows me to accept whatever comes and experience what people could call “blend” meals (bread and banana) or eating the same food for a few days without any issues.

With metta,

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I believe a sutta talks about the importance for food to be tasty and of quality.
We need to feel enough attraction to the food we are going to eat so we are going to digest it well and the body will benefit from it.

My practice is, when in self-retreat, 8 precepts; it’s easy to follow as I rip the benefits of having only to prepare and clean after for a breakfast and a lunch and being free for the rest of the day and evening to study and meditate.
In “normal” life, three meals with the evening one very light and even lighter if having reviewed the amount of food I ate during the day I consider it requires less as I believe that what counts is the volume of food one eats per day.
Of course all meals are high quality food, mainly fruits and vegies.

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Hello @alaber,

Right, I agree food has to be tasty and of quality.

But how do you define tasty? How do you define quality?

With this latest it’s probably easier to agree: quality means the food contains the necessary nutriment with as little as possible toxic element. And the mix of food (the diet) must contains the various nutriment (macro-nutriment, vitamins, minreals etc) our body need.

More precisely we could somehow rely on the Wikipedia definition, but that wouldn’t apply to the Buddha’s time (it’s far too technical):

Now how do we handle the “tasty” part?

Going back to my bread and banana example, a banana can be very tasty. However if you have a flavor rich diet and are accustomed to it then a banana may not appear tasty enough on its own. Hence sometimes people cut it in pieces, top it up with chocolat and sometimes add a scoop of icecream with it.

What I was trying to say is probably more along the line that food should not be tasteless (to the eater), but for someone intent on reducing his/her cravings (and as such suffering) it is possible to change course from the everyday view (culture) of what a quality and tasty meals are to something that is good enough for the body and mind, per the Buddha dhamma (extract from MN2, emphasis mine ^_^):

This reminded me of time spent at Abhayagiri, and Ajahn Pasanno chanting the meal blessing, in his uniquely calming and mindful voice:

Wisely reflecting…I use alms-food. not for fun, not for pleasure, not for fattening, not for beautification, but only for the maintenance and nourishment of this body, for keeping it healthy, for helping with the holy life. Thinking thus, I will allay hunger without overeating, so that I may continue to live blamelessly and at ease.

Thanks for your thoughts on this sukha.

I used to like food a lot, but not anymore I prefer to go for simple plant-based food. It’s not the taste that I crave so much, it’s more the act of eating itself., particularity when feeling down or stressed (so often when coming back from work).

I don’t remember reading this sutta. Do you remember which one it is?

Exactly. Taste is so suggestive and linked to desires… I prefer to go for simple natural food, with just enough of diversity. But actually I’ve got the feeling that my mind state is much more important for my body that the food I eat. This would explain all these people that live very old and in good health despite very bad eating habits!

One explanation I have is that eating is the easiest way right now to get pleasures (having removed most other forms of pleasure-inducing activities). So until I get a reliable access to spiritual pleasures… food will remain attractive and therefore difficult to moderate. Conclusion: I need to spend more time on the cushion! :sweat_smile:

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There’s a sutta on the attitude one could cultivate towards the requisite of food at SN12.63:

“And how, bhikkhus, should the nutriment edible food be seen? Suppose a couple, husband and wife, had taken limited provisions and were travelling through a desert. They have with them their only son, dear and beloved. Then, in the middle of the desert, their limited provisions would be used up and exhausted, while the rest of the desert remains to be crossed. The husband and wife would think: ‘Our limited provisions have been used up and exhausted, while the rest of this desert remains to be crossed. Let us kill our only son, dear and beloved, and prepare dried and spiced meat. By eating our son’s flesh we can cross the rest of this desert. Let not all three of us perish!’

“What do you think, bhikkhus? Would they eat that food for amusement or for enjoyment
or for the sake of physical beauty and attractiveness?”

“Wouldn’t they eat that food only for the sake of crossing the desert?”

Personally, the way I see it is that this is a fairly advanced practice, and it’s ok to have a bit of enjoyment in your meals until one is significantly further along the path.

Similarly, regarding chanting practice there’s another sutta (can’t find it now) about how one shouldn’t sing the recollections, etc. Here, I think chanting is a very powerful practice especially if one puts in the effort to imbue it with meaning, cultivating faith and joy. Maybe attachment to the beauty of chanting can hold you back if you’re significantly far along the path, just as attachment to the enjoyment of food might, but until that time — I think there is much more important work to do.

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I guess that is why there is a sutta recommending to chant with a monotone voice, not like singing a beautiful song. The first time I read this very short sutta in the AN, I was like: “Gosh, Buddha really thought about everything that could go wrong after his death!”.

This is interesting, could you provide the sutta?

Others have made some excellent suggestions. When I was working like a regular worldling, 5 days 40 hours per week kind of deal, my nutritional needs were different than that of a full time layperson yogi.

I find that it’s easier to just not eat after noon, rather than try to moderate the amount I eat each meal. Similar to how its easier to quit smoking entirely than try to gradually cut down little by little. Because food, like tobacco can be really addictive and once you start up the machinery to eat, it’s hard to stop it when food pīti-sukha kicks in.

I tried various gradual ways to reduce eating, but I found the most effective way for me was to eat two meals a day, and eat as much as I need to not feel nutritionally deprived. Perhaps eating breakfast, and eating a late lunch at 2pm or 3pm would be sufficient to curb nutritional hunger.

And people with various health issues may need to eat 3 or more times per day, so it really depends on the person.

There are many great benefits of not eating dinner. Usually people eat dinner, then they feel an excess of excitement and energy and want to expend it with sex, going out and indulging in the 5 cords of sense pleasure, whatever kind of akusala one can imagine.

If you can find some kusala hobby that you enjoy, and form it into a habit/routine, instead of eating dinner, then once its a habit it will be easy.

Sorry, I just mean the one you referred to about chanting in monotone, from the AN?

Ah ok, thanks, I misunderstood your first post, my bad.