Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Buddha And Mindful Eating

In affluent societies, obesity has become a major health problem and the weight-loss industry is a multi-billion dollar one. Treatments for obesity include the administering of appetite suppressants, psychotherapy, dietary counselling and even surgical procedures. But the most effective treatments remain simple and inexpensive ones – exercise and modification of dietary habits whereby caloric intake is typically reduced. Nonetheless, these are treatments many people have difficulty applying.
            Once King Pasenadi went to the Buddha bloated and breathing in a laboured manner as a result of having eaten yet another enormous meal. Seeing this, the Buddha said: ‘When a person is mindful and thus knows moderation in eating, his ailments diminish, he ages gently and he protects his life.’ The king got the hint and asked his nephew to repeat these words to him whenever he was taking his meals. As a result, the king gradually reduced his food intake, lost weight and regained his slim figure (S.I,81-2).
            In affluent societies, few people eat to ease hunger as they eat so much and so often that they rarely actually feel hungry. Food is widely and easily available so we eat on impulse, out of boredom, in response to advertising, for fun, to experience supposedly new or unusual flavours or just ‘to tempt the taste buds’ as some advertisements put it. At the time the food is actually consumed, we are often distracted, eating mechanically and hardly noticing what we are doing. As a result, many of us worry about our weight when we are not eating while hardly noticing it when we are actually eating. This can lead to being over-weight or obese.
            The value of the Buddha’s advice to King Pasenadi – to eat with mindfulness (sati) – is only beginning to be recognised by dieticians and weight-loss experts. Eating mindfully helps turn a habituated behaviour into a conscious one, where the possibility of choice is increased. It allows us to pause for a moment, think about and be aware of what we are about to do and why, and often this is enough to bring about a change in behaviour.
            Mindfulness can also allow us to see the urge to eat as it arises and then just watch it with detachment rather than giving in to it. The regular practice of mindfulness of breathing will make it more likely that we will remember to be mindful before and while eating. Something else that can be helpful is to occasionally practise what can be called ‘eating meditation’ – eating alone and without haste, focused fully on what we are doing, being aware of the taste of each mouthful, chewing it fully, swallowing it completely before taking the next mouthful, etc. When supplemented with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet, mindful eating is a natural, gentle and effective way to maintain a healthy body weight.
            It is significant that the Buddha chose to motivate King Pasenadi with a positive instead of a negative message. Rather than regale him with an account of the problems caused by obesity, he listed the benefits of losing weight – a reduction of bodily ailments (tanu tassa bhavanti vedanā), a slowing of the ageing process (saṇikaṁ jīrati) and a general enhancement of life (āyu pālayaṁ) – all benefits of a healthy weight and diet confirmed by modern medicine. The Buddha knew positive reinforcement is often more effective in motivating people


alimin said...

Marvellous Bhante. Thank you for the Dhamma. This will certainly help me too. As the years of my age increase, it will be wise to remember this mindful eating advice.

Ken and Visakha said...

Happy Thanksgiving (worse than ironic as attacks continue at Standing Rock where Native Americans stand against corporate profit and polluting oil)

Thank you as always for the useful (and for us), timely teaching! We are so privileged and careless and ... greedy.

On the other hand something like 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth. The vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished. Among distressed populations, the numbers are of course much higher and the prospects dire.

The Buddha taught that when hunger occupies the mind, there is no place for Dhamma. He himself tried severe austerities and found them about as useful as a path over a dunghill.

Hunger is the greatest disease.

In the Dhamma,
Visakha and Ken

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ken & Visakha, thanks for the comments. You might know this passage from the Buddhist epic, the Maṇimegala: ‘Hunger ruins good birth and destroys all nobility; it destroys the love of learned men for their learning, even though previously, they thought it the most valuable thing in life. Hunger takes away all shame and degrades the beauty of the features; it makes men stand with their wives at the door of others. This is the nature of hunger, the source of evil craving, and those who relieve it cannot be praised too highly. Food given to those who already have enough is generosity wasted, but food given to relieve hunger is real generosity. Those who do this will prosper in this world, for in giving food, they give life.’

Steve P said...

I just read 'To Eat or Not to Eat Meat' which I hope I am right in saying you wrote ? https://issuu.com/anandajotibhikkhu/docs/to-eat-or-not-to-eat-meat

I appreciated and enjoyed the logic throughout the book but found your criticism of vegetarians true but only applicable to vegetarians at the shallow end and not applicable to those in the deep end of vegan thinking. The social justice issues around animals for the committed vegan is part a movement towards inner and outer peace at it's best - based on empathy and nonviolence.

As a vegetarian for over 40 years and a vegan for about 5 years can I direct you to some vegan writers who have been very helpful to me.
You may well know these names by now as the book was published in 2011.
Please excuse me if I am telling you what you already know.

Will Tuttle's book The World Peace Diet is a favourite: It is available free here from Will's site - http://worldpeacediet.org/download2.htm

The book Animals Matter by Marc Bekoff is worth a read http://marcbekoff.com/

Any books by Tom Regan for me are worth reading http://animalsvoice.com/regan/

A most beautiful book is Judy Carman's Peace To All Beings http://www.peacetoallbeings.com/

and finally the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard's recently released book - A Plea for the Animals


I hope my post does not come across like the vegetarian finger wagging you mentioned in your book !
Be well,
Steve Palmer

Abindra Raj Dangol said...

Thanks for the post, really if we practice mindfulness then most of the diseases will be cured, i believe and Buddhism has a great impact, if we practice we surely gets benefits.

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