Buddha once said, “eating meat has countless offences” and is the “root of great suffering.” [Lankavatara Sutra] Buddha also taught moderation and to abstain from taking life. Today, one of the most popular of diets, both for weight-loss and health purposes, is a meat-free one that is very reminiscent of a monastic Buddhist diet.
With more than two-thirds of Americans qualifying as either overweight or obese, it is no wonder that nearly 45 million individuals embark on a weight-loss diet every year. Buddhists have always believed that what you consume has a direct effect on the body. If you want to shed a few extra pounds while also climbing the spiritual ladder, adhering to a traditional Buddhist diet can be a positive choice to make — with some cautions.
[Note: Please see your health consultants and professionals before considering a change in diet. For example, a switch to a Vegetarian diet must be well-researched and planned to avoid overloading on dangerous sugars and carbs, especially for someone with diabetes.]
By Sally Keys
Why do Buddhists follow a meat-free diet?
While a number of Buddhists are vegetarian, it is important to know that not all follow a meat-free diet. Those who do, however, primarily do so because, according to Buddhist doctrine, all sentient beings are capable of attaining enlightenment. Buddha said in the Lankavatara Sutra:
“Mahamati, a meat eater can make the living beings who see him so frightened, thus we know that meat eating makes one the big enemy of all living beings. Therefore, Bodhisattvas should cultivate mercy and compassion, in order to gather in and teach all living beings, they should not eat those living beings. Meat is not the food for sage and wise people.”
For this reason, the use of meat, fish, poultry and insects is prohibited in the preparation of traditional Mahayana Buddhist meals. In Buddhism, following a vegetarian diet is therefore both a logical and natural consequence of being morally against taking another life.
How is a vegetarian diet conducive to weight loss?
Your lifestyle, including what you eat and your activity levels, has a great influence on your weight. A number of studies have proved that both men and women lose weight when they convert to a plant-based diet instead of one filled with red meat and other sources of animal protein. Animal protein is typically very high in saturated fat, which contains a lot of calories. When you cut animal protein from your diet, you eliminate these calories, which make it a lot easier to lose weight. Apart from being conducive to weight loss, a vegetarian diet can also improve blood glucose control, increase insulin sensitivity, and give the overall metabolism a healthy boost.
Buddhist dietary practices that can help you lose weight
Apart from following a vegetarian diet filled with plenty of fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, noodles, soups, broths, lentils, beans and green tea, there are a number of food-related habits that will help with weight-loss.
Many monastic Buddhists engage in Intermittent Fasting (IF) with the last meal of the day being eaten at 6 pm, and breakfast the next day between 8 and 9 am. IF has long been proven to help you lose weight by reducing your appetite and giving your metabolism a welcome boost. If you feel hungry in between your meals, snack on a few pieces of fruit and a cup of green tea, and keep your intake of any sugary foods very low. [Intermittent Fasting should be supervised by your health care provider if you have any health conditions.]
[Bear in mind carbs! One risk of a vegetarian diet is to overindulge in grains, which are high in carbs and sugars. Again check with your medical professionals.]
Following a Mahayana Buddhist-inspired diet will not only help you lose weight, but assist you on the path to enlightenment as well — helping you lead a compassionate, meritorious life. As long as your vegetarian diet is balanced and you adhere to other principles of healthy living, you can only benefit from eating as the ancient monks did.
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