For the past few months I’ve been skipping dinner most Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was inspired to do this by the monastic practice of not eating after noon. Unlike the traditional monastic practice, I have two meals early in the day, breakfast and lunch, instead of just one.I have only a glass of juice at dinner time and a cup of tea before meditation at night. I find the glass of juice is needed to keep my brain fully functioning and it doesn’t engage the digestive system the way solid foods or dairy products do. I also drink a good amount of water throughout the day, which eases the feeling of hunger and keeps me hydrated.
I first tried this during a solo meditation retreat a couple of years ago. The first few weeks of doing this at home felt a little extreme and it felt wrong to not have a dinner. I was noticeably hungry and sometimes would get agitated about it. However, after a while I was used to it. Now it doesn’t bother me at all.
The benefits are twofold. First, though I’m not fat and get plenty of exercise as an avid runner, I could stand to lose a few pounds, and an overall reduction in calories is a good thing for me. It would be for most people in developed countries. Many of us have had a full day’s worth of calories by lunchtime. But this isn’t why I do it. In this sense it is a renunciation practice for me. The opportunity to repeatedly note and let go of the urge to eat is good practice for dealing with all kinds of empty desires that arise.
The second and more important reason I continue with this practice is that it has a noticeable effect on mindfulness and body. My meditation in the evenings when I haven’t eaten is noticeably calmer, deeper and more rewarding than on days when I’ve had dinner. I sleep much better on these nights, and wake up early and refreshed. And the next morning the fact that my body’s digestive system has slowed or stopped after a good break is apparent. I feel physically calm and rested, and my morning meditation, before breakfast, is especially nice.
The jury is out on whether skipping dinner is good or bad for your health. There’s plenty out on the Internet about this. While it’s good for your health to reduce caloric intake (there’s a pile of evidence that shows it can substantially increase lifespan) there’s just as much saying that skipping meals creates an unhealthy metabolic pattern. My sense is that the body adjusts quickly to changes and this was certainly my experience. It felt wrong at first, but then felt right once I’d adjusted to it. And, I figure 2,500 years of monks not eating dinner and living to ripe old age has to stand for something.
I’d be interested to hear about other practicing meditators who do this or have tried it.