I recently spent a week at Dhanakosa, a Buddhist retreat center in the Scottish highlands, where we shared three meals a day with the community. As a nutrition coach, I took special note of the eating patterns that I found helpful to continue after the retreat:
1. Eat Vegetarian Foods
Following the Buddhist precept of non-violence to all creatures, our meals were all vegetarian. We didn’t have any meat, dairy or eggs. We did have lots of lentils, beans, soups, salads, and vegetable dishes. It’s chilly in Scotland in October, so our food was hearty and warming.
2. Follow a Daily Schedule
We followed a set routine each day: breakfast at 8:45, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 6pm.
Having a predictable daily schedule allowed us to plan our day and regulate the appetite. Dinner was early, and there was a long stretch of fasting from the evening meal until breakfast the next day, but my body quickly adjusted to the rhythm.
3. No Snacking
A cook was preparing our meals, and we didn’t have access to the kitchen between meals. There were bowls of fresh fruit set out for a snack, and there was also plenty of tea available at all times. Other than that--no snacking at all.
4. No Sneaking
Along the same lines, since all of our meals were shared together and there was no vending machine or secret stash of chocolate, everything we ate was visible to others. I see so many clients who sneak food (after the kids go to bed, for example), and I feel it’s healthy to eat in the presence of others.
5. Save Dessert for a Special Occasion
During the entire week, we had rice pudding twice after dinner, and homemade oat bars after we did cleaning chores on the last day of the retreat. Sugar and sweets were very limited.
Dessert was not a daily occurrence, it was a special occasion. I didn’t even miss dessert – my palette adjusted and I appreciated my meals more and found that the taste of fruits and vegetables became more vibrant.
6. Enjoy Home Cooked Meals
Every single meal was home cooked, including fresh-baked bread, soups and casseroles. As a result, there was not too much salt, no preservatives, and the flavors were fresh.
I always encourage clients to slowly increase their number of home-cooked meals, because it’s so much easier to eat healthy if you have more control over how your food is prepared. Start with breakfast, and work your way up from there.
7. Eat after Meditation
In our schedule at the monastery, we meditated before breakfast, lunch and dinner. This meant that we were in a calm, relaxed state before meals--a good thing, because eating when you’re calm aids digestion.
Most of us are not meditating three times a day outside of a retreat atmosphere, but it’s still good to take a few deep breaths, have a moment of gratitude for your meal, and eat in an unhurried and calm state.
8. Eat in Silence
We always ate without the distraction of radio, television, or newspapers. And we also took several of our meals in complete silence.
I especially loved having silence during breakfast, because the morning is a more reflective time and it was nice to start the day quietly, without chatter. If you’ve never shared a meal in silence, you should try this, it’s a powerful practice.
9. Have Porridge for Breakfast
Every day we had the same breakfast, which was porridge with toppings (cinnamon, pumpkin seeds, raisins, muesli). Lunch and dinner varied.
This caught my attention because I often encourage busy clients to systemize their meals. I tell them to find one thing they like for breakfast, and then stick with it. It makes your busy mornings flow more smoothly and allows your body to get into rhythm.
10. Help with the Meals
Even though there was a cook in charge of the meals, we each had daily chores and had to help with either preparing or cleaning up from the meals.
This helped us all to be involved in the meal, and I know it helped me to feel more grateful for all of the effort that went into feeding the group.
If these ideas resonate with you, I encourage you to take one or two to start with an incorporate them into your daily life. Please share which you find most helpful!