When author and Zen priest Dan Zigmond mentions that he has written a book about the Buddha’s diet, he is often met with disbelief.“A common reaction was that Buddha must have had a terrible diet, because he looked so overweight in all of the statues that everyone sees of him,” said Zigmond, who along with Tara Cottrell co-authored the new book Buddha’s Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind. “If you go into Chinese restaurants and lots of places in the West, there are statues that show this overweight figure. But it’s a Western misunderstanding. In countries where that image comes from—mostly China and Japan—people understand that the Buddha is someone else entirely.”Zigmond, who is also a Tricycle contributing editor, and Cottrell make it a point to bring up the Buddha’s slim appearance in their book because they discovered that almost all of his beliefs about food and dieting have held up to scientific inquiry.

“I’ve always been interested in food; I like to cook, and I’m a vegetarian,” Zigmond said. In 2014, Zigmond, who is the Director of Analytics at Facebook, briefly left the tech world to work for a startup devoted to nutrition and health. “I was surrounded by people who had made food and health their whole career. One colleague shared with me a study that looked at mice that had been restricted to eating only during certain hours each day. [Eating this way] had provided some protection against all of the unhealthy consequences of a bad diet.”

Reading the study was a revelation to Zigmond—and made him recall his time living in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand more than 20 years earlier when he was volunteering at a nearby refugee camp. “The monks had similar rules about when they could eat,” Zigmond said. “Like a lot of people, I was not very happy with my diet or my state of health, so I decided to give it a try. And I really loved this way of eating.”

At the monastery, Zigmond learned that the Buddha had only one steadfast rule about eating in his teachings. 

“It is kind of a strange rule,” Zigmond admitted. “The monks basically ate whatever they wanted, which was whatever the local people gave them on their begging rounds, but only within certain hours.” Traditionally, monks eat only between dawn and noon and fast for the rest of the day.

That approach to eating was consistent with the Buddha’s other philosophies. “It was a Middle Way, so that on the one hand, his followers wouldn’t be too focused on food, and on the other hand, it would allow them to sustain themselves and nurture their bodies.”


The Buddha Diet | Tricycle