Why are monks that eat only one meal a day overweight?

This question is not intend to turn this discussion ugly or throw out accusations but comes from a genuine curiosity as a layperson. Do monks become overweight due to a general lack of exercise or do they over-eat on that single meal time to carry them through the day? And how do monks avoid gastritis when they only eat once a day?

And in general when monks eat once a day do they set out keeping in mind a certain amount of food they must eat to get through the day?

Hi. I would say:

  • aging - when men get into their 40s and 50s, weight builds easily
  • lack of vigorous exercise - only exercise is walking and doing occasionally heavy work. Heavy work may build/maintain some muscle but won’t burn fat
  • poor quality food - too much white rice, cakes, sweets.
  • sugary drinks
1 Like

I was at a kathina day a few years ago and laypeople were bringing in a lot of packs of biscuits to offer the monks and one of the senior monks made a point during his dhamma talk that it is important for laypeople to be mindful of what they offer to the monks and to ‘look after the monks’ by offering nutritious food and helping them avoid craving for such items.

Its easy to want to ‘treat’ the monastics as we would, perhaps, treat ourselves- with cakes and other sugary items. I suppose its another way making offerings helps us on our paths as lay folk.

Im sure there is a problem in some thai monasteries (and possibly others) with monks having to many sugary fizzy drinks in the afternoon causing health complications in some.

*the link is a few years old so it may no longer be the same situation

3 Likes

Very good question to ask indeed.

This question needs to be asked to each monk. But please proceed carefully, not every monk is open minded.

Some might get angry at you when you ask why they are fat. But at least you know, maybe he/she is not a true monk/ascetic :slight_smile:

But a good monk will be motivated with your question, they could retrain the body again. They might provide a reasonable answer without any anger :slight_smile:

If someone is blaming the food being offered as the culpit. Then, what is the use of training the body and training the 5 senses restraint. :slight_smile:

Otherwise, you might want to observe how the monk behave in daily activities such as:

  1. Do they maintain to train the body?
  2. Do they truly eat one a day?
  3. Do they add any supplement such as extra sugary drink at night? etc.
    Unless you are there to observe, one can only speculate. :slight_smile:

As Buddha said food is used only to sustain the body, not to be used as an indulgence of the senses. This is part of contentment (See DN 2 and many more)

“And how, great king, is the bhikkhu content?

Herein, great king, a bhikkhu is content with robes to protect his body and almsfood to sustain his belly; wherever he goes he sets out taking only (his requisites) along with him.

Just as a bird, wherever it goes, flies with its wings as its only burden, in the same way a bhikkhu is content with robes to protect his body and almsfood to sustain his belly; wherever he goes he sets out taking only (his requisites) along with him.

In this way, great king, the bhikkhu is content.

1 Like

A Sri Lankan monk - the abbot of a small temple in California - told me that the lay community wants to offer rich foods and delicacies without realizing that this then makes up the bulk of the monks diet.
As others have noted here, the main culprit is probably sugary drinks and desserts and I think also the steady increase in highly processed foods that make up our diets.

5 Likes

This question should never be asked to any monk. Or any person, for that matter. Who doesn’t know that “Why are you fat?” is not something you ask anyone ever. Unless, maybe, you are their doctor. Sheesh.

13 Likes

Everyone’s metabolism is different, but the prevailing understanding in the medical community is that a good diet should minimize sugar and simple carbohydrates of the kind found in sweets, pastries, confections, and desserts. As has been noted, the food donations made to monks in any number of countries in recent years has been trending towards packaged foods including those of an unhealthy sort. I read an article not too long ago about how in Thailand, many people who donate food to monks increasingly lead busy lives, so instead of preparing healthy home-cooked meals they are donating packaged food with high levels of unhealthy carbohydrates to monks on their daily alms rounds.

3 Likes

I can’t find the article now, but someone wrote a very amusing article about having Ajahn Geoff over for breakfast. He wasn’t sure what to prepare, so he prepared a feast, with lots of different foods and plenty of it. Ajahn Geoff ate like a sumo wrestler, eating everything and everything prepared. It doesn’t matter if you eat one meal a day if you pack in the calories in that one meal.

I don’t know.

I’m not a nun or a monk. I don’t play one on T.V…

I do have a metabolism built to survive food scarce ice ages. :slight_smile:

I’ve kept a food log for years.

It is a bit like keeping a check book. You have no idea how much you are spending until your write it down.

Often on the weekends I will only eat two meals a day. Having looked at my numbers many times, it is very easy to make up the calories from that missing meal just by eating something extra that is calorie rich at each meal.

I don’t know if all nuns and monks only eat 1 meal a day. I’ve stayed at a monastery that had breakfast and lunch – both done by noon.

2 Likes

BTW, I only eat one meal a day. I’ve been only eating one meal since March. In that time, I lost over 50 pounds but I could easily maintain without loss (and actually gain) if I increased my caloric count in my one meal. I actually enjoy only eating one meal a day, and once you get in the swing of things you don’t really feel hungry.

1 Like

I think the answer might be “yes” to both. When I was a temp samanera in Thailand, one definitely loaded up on calories (sticky rice, some veg, a lot of super-pet curries) knowing you wouldn’t see food (other than black instant coffee at night to quell hunger) until the next day. Exercise was mainly sweeping in the wat. I’ve always thought that with modern dietary science in mind, more attention should be paid to dana of lean proteins and more vegetables for the monastics.

At Abhayagiri, with LP Pasanno in charge ( he built like Rocky Marciano and just as fit) the kitchen was vegetarian intense, and the lay supporters really focused on healthy dana. He also allowed for yoga or cardio in the kutis, and the work routine during the day was varied and physical. Here in Thailand, some of the wats have heavy carb-intense food dana, and some of the monks sit about most of the day in the heat on their mobile phones. I see a lot of the novices in the afternoons pounding sugary drinks, setting the stage for poor health in later life.

4 Likes

See … someone might just has a big attachment to the body and become angry.

Hence the question is not for everyone especially one who is still has a big attachment to the body as their.

Btw, did you know Buddha said the future danger of Sangha in AN 5.79?

“Monks, these five future dangers, unarisen at present, will arise in the future. Be alert to them and, being alert, work to get rid of them. Which five?

“There will be, in the course of the future, monks undeveloped in body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment.

They—being undeveloped in body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment—will give full ordination to others and will not be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment.

These too will then be undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment. They—being undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment—will give full ordination to still others and will not be able to discipline them in heightened virtue, heightened mind, heightened discernment. These too will then be undeveloped in body… virtue… mind… discernment.

Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline; from corrupt discipline, corrupt Dhamma.

“This, monks, is the first future danger, unarisen at present, that will arise in the future. Be alert to it and, being alert, work to get rid of it. …

Development of the body is important to achieve superhuman knowledge and vision as Buddha mentioned in many Sutta.

First impression is also important for outsider to gain confidence in True dhamma. Just think what will people say when they see a monk who is fat. But the teaching say otherwise. That is just a contradiction in true dhamma.

Btw, one who has achieved and maintained sati/samadhi in practice. There is no need to even eat once a day. One can dwell in 2nd jhana to feed on rapture like ābhassarā Deva as below Sutta mentioned on SN 4.18.

Let us live so very happily,
we who have nothing.
We shall feed on rapture (piti),
like the gods of streaming radiance.

Is it your opinion that the sutta phrase “developed in body” (bhāvitakāya) has to do with this sort of thing?

If so, have you any evidence in support of it?

4 Likes

I question the question. :wink: They are not overweight, they are exactly the correct weight for their size and shape. They don’t overeat, they eat exactly the right amount to maintain that size and shape :wink:

Seriously though. The term ‘overweight’ is just a cultural thing. We might dress it up as a medical thing, but medicine sits in a cultural setting too. We have tools like BMI, but these are just rough guides to a person’s overall health and the ‘normal range’ varies between populations. If you’re an athlete then you are not expected to be in the normal range anyway. General health depends on so many other factors.

So I think that maybe it’s important to look back at the form of the question and see if there is something judgemental inherent in its construction maybe?

4 Likes

Lol, if this is the development of body that you have understood from Sutta. Then, we might have a big problem. :slight_smile:

Those body builders haven’t even free from birth, oldage, and death. How can they know the way of developed in body taught by the Buddha. I would say impossible. :slight_smile:

Since you ask, Please refer to MN 36. But there are many more.

… “But do they subsist on so little, Aggivessana?”

“No, Master Gotama, sometimes they consume excellent hard food, eat excellent soft food, taste excellent delicacies, drink excellent drinks. Thereby they again regain their strength, fortify themselves, and become fat.

What they earlier abandoned, Aggivessana, they later gather together again. That is how there is increase and decrease of this body.

And how, Aggivessana, is one developed in body and developed in mind?

Here, Aggivessana, pleasant feeling arises in a well-taught noble disciple.

Touched by that pleasant feeling, he does not lust after pleasure or continue to lust after pleasure. That pleasant feeling of his ceases. With the cessation of the pleasant feeling, painful feeling arises.

Touched by that painful feeling, he does not sorrow, grieve, and lament, he does not weep beating his breast and become distraught.

When that pleasant feeling has arisen in him, it does not invade his mind and remain because body is developed. And when that painful feeling has arisen in him, it does not invade his mind and remain because mind is developed.

Anyone in whom, in this double manner, arisen pleasant feeling does not invade his mind and remain because body is developed, and arisen painful feeling does not invade his mind and remain because mind is developed, is thus developed in body and developed in mind. …”

For a lay people, how can one has a developed in body? By hearing true dhamma, then take up five precepts and maintain the precepts for 24/7. These are one way to develop in body, although it is not complete yet.

For complete path, please refer to N8FP and/or Sutta that thought step by step process in development of body and mind such as DN 2, DN 10.

Only an arahant has fully developed the body and mind. One who has adhisila, adhicitta, and adhipanna. Others nobles still work in progress depends on their knowledge.

While common folks are totally undeveloped in term of body and mind.

True to a certain extent I think. Tonga has one of the heaviest populations in the world - which is cultural. But they also have one of the highest rates of diabetes - which we could argue is also cultural but it is largely preventable and I think most people given the opportunity might choose to not have it.

Certainly there have always been heavy people as well as skinny ones and not everyone who is heavy is unhealthy. But the rate of increase in weight as well as related health problems is well documented and happening around the world.

What about looking at this in terms of skillful vs unskillful? I certainly wouldn’t blame the monk. There has been this huge shift in our diets towards highly processed foods accompanied by little knowledge as to their long term effect on us.

1 Like

It isn’t at all my understanding. It is, however, what some people have taken the term to mean. Since you introduced it in a thread concerned with eating and health, I was wondering if you were one of them. Thanks for the clarification.

Regarding development in body, as someone who has done olympic weightlifting for 30 years, sitting straight without support for several hours is much harder.

Core strength is a lot harder to develop than external strength, you can find body builders who can bench press 200 pounds but can’t do 20 pull ups, they can’t even lift their own body weight. The gymnasts who do 50-100 pull ups on rings have serious core strength, as rings are 100x harder than bars. I can do 20 pulls ups on a bar but maybe 5 pull ups on a ring.

Even more “core” than lifting your own body weight is your spine. It’s extremely difficult to sit with keeping your spine perfectly straight without back support for several hours, let alone 10-20 minutes. So I believe anyone who can do that has extremely strong core strength. There’s a sutta where the Buddha tells people to look at a meditator who is able to sit still and straight, and then he says that the meditator has good anapanasati, probably because their mind is so gladdened and tranquil it doesn’t notice the pain of the body sitting like that.

If one dwells with restraint over the eye faculty, the mind is not soiled among forms cognizable by the eye. If the mind is not soiled, gladness is born. When one is gladdened, rapture is born. When the mind is uplifted by rapture, the body becomes tranquil. One tranquil in body experiences happiness. The mind of one who is happy becomes concentrated. When the mind is concentrated, phenomena become manifest. Because phenomena become manifest, one is reckoned as ‘one who dwells diligently.’

A mind with piti causes the body to have passadhi (tranquility), I take this to mean that pain is not felt, as per AN 8.30 where the Buddha tells Anuruddha that when you’re in jhana sitting on the hard ground will feel like sitting on a lofty couch.

As for diet, I believe the monks that are overweight aren’t actually eating only one meal a day, maybe two meals or they’re sneaking in some sugary drinks in the evening. I know people who went from morbidly obese to very thin just from eating all their junk food in one shot instead of 3 times a day, like Blake Horton who was obese and now fit but still eats the worst junk food. If you eat once in 24 hours then you can eat anything, even the worst junk, and you will still lose weight. The thing is, that drinking anything later on that isn’t water will interrupt the fast and cause your metabolism to change modes so to speak, so you can only drink water, not even coffee, during the fasting period.

The problem with food addiction isn’t the quality of food you’re eating, it’s the necessity of eating something all the time to escape boredom or bad feelings, this is why morbidly obese people are usually snacking on something every 10 minutes. They need to stop associating putting something in their mouth with comfort.

I stayed at Wat Metta for a couple months earlier this year and Ajahn Geoff’s feast that was mentioned above was pretty much par for the course for all the monks and lay guests every single day. There was a ton of variety in terms of macronutrients, meat, grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables, healthy options as well as sweets. It was basically a huge banquet that would be shared between about 20-30 people every day. Everybody took as much as they wanted, often quite a lot, but that was the only meal we would have and there were 0 fat people at the monastery. Most were quite thin and there was definitely nobody there I would have described as even close to overweight, including the more elderly monks and lay people.

Beyond the basic limitation of the human stomach only having a finite capacity, if you’re only eating a single meal a day its nearly metabolically/hormonally impossible to get fat no matter how much you eat during that meal. Having only that single burst of insulin in the morning followed by what is effectively a 24 hour fast pretty much just obliterates insulin resistance in the long term. And that lifestyle removes a lot of the time you would otherwise use on food preparation and eating, leaving a lot more time for meditation! It’s great; I still prefer to eat only once a day when it’s practical to do so outside the monastery.

As for the OPs questions on gastrisis and calibrating how much food you need to eat for the day, it’s kind of just something you get used to. Your digestive patterns do have to adjust but eventually everything kind of just evens out and, beyond intellectually recognizing how much volume of food is generally appropriate for a single day, your body eventually modifies its appetite and calibrates it to that single meal and will be able to just know when its had enough.

4 Likes

And the logic works in reverse. My primary care provider says I am underweight for my height and age. Her advice? Eat four meals a day instead of three.