Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Healthy Habits: Buddha's Diet

I recently had a chance to interview Tara Cottrell, author of Buddha's Diet, about the book and this enlightened way of eating.

Tell us about Buddha when he was Siddhartha, the pampered prince…
Siddhartha lived a life of luxury, wanting for nothing. He grew up in a palace, protected and indulged. But even thousands of years ago, money did not buy happiness and Siddhartha believed there was more to life than what the palace walls contained. His journey to becoming "the enlightened one" began with this realization and subsequent journey.

What is the “middle way”?
The middle way is just what it sounds like, a middle point between extremes.  Buddha tried all sorts of extremes, as many of us have, but found them to be unfulfilling and not useful to his mind or body. In the dieting world, extremes are often touted as quick fixes - juice cleanses, gluten-free fads, those "eat this one tropical berry" ads.  But extremes don't work.  Think about a time you tried a cleanse or a fast or cutting out sugar.  It worked for a while but then it didn't. Buddha actually tried extreme fasting and nearly died.  For Buddha, he wasn't trying to drop post-holiday pounds, he was hoping to reach some kind of spiritual enlightenment. Buddha realized that the only way to do this was to practice the middle way.  When he applied this to eating, he found it brought him health benefits and cleared his mind. That's where Buddha's Diet comes in.  Buddha's Diet takes intermittent fasting, something Buddha followed and taught his followers, and applies it to today's modern world.  By practicing a preset period of eating and fasting each day, we can harness the power of the middle way to help lose weight and keep it off.

Why do you both think that so many people struggle with weightloss?
Most "diets" are designed to be temporary.  When we want to lose weight, we often want to do it quickly, and so we seek out diets that make lofty promises.  We "go on" diets, knowing full well we will "go off" those diets pretty soon. And so weight loss becomes temporary.  Compounding this is simply life.  It's hard to make restrictive diets work with today's hectic schedules. Harder still to give up entire categories of things we love. Yes, we may be able to give up bread for a few weeks, but for many of us, cutting out certain foods is very difficult and often not sustainable. Buddha's Diet focuses on the "when" of eating, not the "what," which for many people is much easier to control.

What are Buddha’s guidelines and how can we apply it to food?
Buddha's monks didn't eat after noon.  Buddha claimed this offered maximum health.  He told his monks, "Because I avoid eating in the evening, I am in good health, light, energetic and live comfortably." In today's world, unless you're also a monk, you probably have kids to raise and jobs to do. So we have modified Buddha's schedule a bit based on scientific research. Most of us eat haphazardly, maybe grabbing something as we head out the door in the morning or as we prepare food for others. Maybe we slam down a latte on our way to something.  In the evening, once dinner is done, we usually are not done eating. We might absentmindedly snack while watching TV or have a glass of wine after the kids are in bed. These are all extra calories. Worse, what we know from the latest research is that this "round the clock eating" messes significantly with our metabolisms.  Turns out our bodies need a rest from food.  Just as we go to sleep at night and take a rest from activity, so too does our body need a break from food.  But it doesn't get it if you are eating haphazardly. So on Buddha's Diet, we start with an eating window of 12 hours, then moving from 12 gradually down to 9. These steps are deliberate and gradual and come with them guidelines and insights for implementing them in your life.  

What made you come up with the concept of Buddha’s diet?
My co-author Dan had been working at a food company, Hampton Creek, where some of his colleagues were trying intermittent fasting, after reading a new study from the Salk Institute. Dan, being a Zen priest and data scientist, thought it was interesting that the data seemed to support what Buddha was teaching thousands of years ago about food. He tried the diet, I noticed he'd lost weight, and asked about it.  And it just went from there.

Can optimal health be achieved by following this book?
Optimal health is achieved through many ways. Obviously components like exercise and the mind-body connection are important components. We focus primarily on the when of eating. Buddha's Diet provides a very simple approach to dieting and wellness, something that can be carried with you for life. 

Will readers get a healthy mind along with a healthy body by following these concepts?
In addition to the steps outlined in the book, Buddha's Diet explores how we use food for all kinds of reasons, many of them not hunger related. We use food to comfort and console, to de-stress and distract.  Unfortunately this has gotten us into a heap of trouble.  Add to that the availability of cheap food and it's easy to see why so many struggle with their weight. We look at how this happens and how to make mental switches to not only make this new pattern of eating work for you, but to reverse those negative habits around food.

Tara Cottrell studied creative writing and her fiction has appeared on NPR, Missouri Review, Palo Alto Weekly, The Indiana Review, and Zoetrope All Story Extra. She works for Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in digital content, and consults for a fitness startup in Silicon Valley. Contrell is a mom of three and continues to give her time in a variety to non-profits, including acting as a court appointed advocate for children in the foster system in San Mateo County.
Buddha’s Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind is available in print, e-book, and audiobook formats on Amazon and at all major bookstores.
For more information please visit www.buddhasdiet.com, Facebook or Twitter.

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