We’ve probably all heard of the Atkins diet, the vegan diet and the low-cal diet; but check out some of these crazy diets that I’ve recently found:
There’s the “charcoal cleanse”, were you actually put charcoal into your beverages.
There’s the ‘clip-your-nose’ diet. You wear a clip on your nose to avoid falling for the smell of, well, anything worth eating.
There’s the ‘master cleanse’ diet where you eat nothing but cayenne pepper, laxatives, a lemon and salt water.
And lest we forget the ‘tissue paper’ diet in which you eat five cotton balls flavored with your favorite juice.
Long-standing visitors to Thailand may have noticed that waistlines are slowly expanding in the Kingdom. Just stop at any local mall and you’ll see Thai kids flocking to Swenson’s, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, KFC and many more fast food outlets, all not exactly know for their healthy food.
In this issue of All About Buddhism, we are going to talk about what Buddha said about food and how you can borrow some Buddhist techniques to slim-down yourself. Around 2,500 years ago, Buddha nearly starved himself to death in search of enlightenment. He would probably have died if not for the kind offering of food from a passer-by.
After enlightenment, Buddha cautioned novice monks that the greed for food would not just go away because they had found religion. We modern readers must remember that food was not usually available on demand in the ancient world, so the desire for food often far-surpassed all else. So, Buddha decided that Monks would only eat from sunrise to mid-day. After that, they simply drink any water, milk, or juice that they liked.
Visitors to Thailand are often treated to the ancient sight of young monks collecting alms every morning. These boys and young men are not usually heavyset. They must eat no later than noon and share their offerings.
Buddhism teaches us that we tend to follow our desires to a fault. It is the failure to control desire that usually leads to overeating. This is even more true today than in Buddha’s day.
Thus, Buddhism teaches it’s followers to only eat as much food as they really need and to avoid most excess, although they can generally eat whatever we like. (As long as animals are treated well and nobody goes hungry.)
Knowing this, here’s how you can apply a pinch of Zen to your own diet. Although not endorsed by western nutritionists, I think you’ll find that “Thai food karma” may take a load off of both your mind and your waist.
We must firstly face a truth that a lot of us don’t want to confront: That barring a few unusual medical conditions, most of us become overweight because we eat too much, too often.
Desperate, it seems we would rather invent these crazy diets rather than confront our passion for eating. The truth is fast food and supermarkets stuffed with convenience foods only came about after WWII. Suddenly, we could have anything, anytime, anywhere. The trouble is, five minutes later, we also can have something else!
While I generally have kept this article rather light-hearted, we should also remember that hunger tends to be much too positive of an experience in rich countries and much too negative of an experience in poor countries. We might be getting a little fatter in Thailand, but the poor are still going hungry somewhere else.
Yet, Buddhism has a device to make all well. As alluded to, Thai Monks usually see only two meals per day. Breakfast is generally at 6am and lunch is usually at noon.
You may be surprised to learn that you can actually live quite well on two meals per day for an entire lifetime. In fact, many of Thailand’s monks are nearly 100 years old. Cutting out food after mid-day slashes calories. Healthy juices or milk can replace that loss.
Some people get hungry right after eating, but a week of ignoring those pangs of hunger will actually wipe them out. They are really just desire calling, not necessity. I drink diet soda when I get those cravings and donate my savings to poor temples.
We can also look to old Siam to lose weight. The traditional Siamese diet was full of lean, nutritious foods like spicy shrimp soup, papaya salad, fried rice, spicy minced pork, as well as fresh fruit.
Yet, fine words do not produce fine foods. The choice to eat socially-responsible food, in the right amount and the right time, gives the gift of good health to both yourself and others. Nose-clips, Ex-lax, cayenne pepper and charcoal colon blasts are not the secret to effective dieting.
The real secret to losing weight is Buddhist ethics: The pleasures of this world are to be shared, not hoarded. If you want to stop feeling hungry every five minutes, then feed someone who is hungry. Once you see the smile on an orphan’s starving face, you’ll never taste hunger again.
A lot of people probably started reading this article by skeptically thinking that I was going to try to talk them into a miserable life of tofu and tea. Not at all. Thai Buddhism actually allows you to have your cake and eat it, too.
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.