NOTE: Here in North America, many of the monasteries do not actually follow this sort of healthy eating lifestyle which is expected by the Patristic texts and orthodox canons. Of course, they observe the basic principles of fasting, i.e. eating the allowed foods on the proper days, and observing the traditional monastic Monday fast, and all the other canonical fast periods mandated by the Church. However, on a fast day, a monastic can be loaded up with fasting chocolate cake, non-dairy ice cream, non-dairy rice pudding, oiless custards, etc. Many of the monasteries have a supply of non-dairy cheese and veggie meat products, for special days and only for the monks. Many times, these products have to be eaten in secret, outside of trapeza, and behind closed doors because “the lay people don’t understand; they scandalize so easily.”
The secrecy of eating desserts daily can also create complications for monastics later when they see their doctors or have check-ups, etc. Many times, the monasteries utilize Orthodox Christians for their family doctors, who frequently also end up being or becoming pilgrims of the monastery. It is not uncommon for monastics to be instructed by their Geronda/Gerondissa to hide some of their dietary indulgences on sweets—high carbs and sugars—when questioned by the [Orthodox] doctor so as not to scandalize him/her. Thus, through blind obedience, the monastic hides elements of their lifestyle which could be helpful, in some cases crucial [hypoglycemia, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.] thereby obstructing the doctor’s capability of making accurate diagnoses. It is not uncommon for a doctor to be confused about how it is possible for certain tests to show results which are inconsistent with such a “healthy diet.”
Is the Greek MONK diet the key to staying slim and youthful? Mirrors eating habits of the devout Orthodox priests of Mount Athos who live 10 YEARS longer than average (Katy Winter)
- The monasteries of Athos are among the world’s healthiest communities
- Monks live very long lives, largely free of cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s
- Also live an average of 10 years longer than the average Greek
- Their Mediterranean diet and fast days also promote weight loss
- New book ‘The Mount Athos Diet’ outlines the no-calorie-counting regime
While it doesn’t require you to spend your days in reflective prayer, the latest diet regime to hit the spotlight does recommend that followers mirror the eating habits of the Greek Orthodox monks of Mount Athos.
The religious men eat a Mediterranean diet made up almost exclusively of unprocessed, fresh, low-fat foods, and also engage in days of fasting where they drastically reduce their calorie intake to clear their minds.
The monks are obviously doing something right as they have been found to live an astonishing 10 years longer than the average Greek person and also tend to be slim and youthful.
Outlined in a new book, The Mount Athos Diet by Richard Storey, Sue Todd and Lottie Storey, the plan aims to eliminate the concept of ‘dieting’ and instead splits the week into three types of day; three moderation days, three fasting days and one feasting, which can be moved around each week to adapt to lifestyle.
During the three fasting days you cut out all dairy, fish, meat, alcohol, eggs and oil, sticking to small portions of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans.
The moderation days allow you a healthy, fresh, low-fat, Mediterranean diet.
Dairy, olive oil, fish, chicken and eggs can all be included, although sugar, processed foods and red meat are still off the menu.
Alcohol is even allowed on these three days – though only red wine in moderation (2 units a day) is allowed.
The feast day is, as it sounds, a free-for-all, where anything from red meat to cake, mojitos and chocolate is allowed – though the diet does recommend a modicum of restraint in terms of portion size.
The three days can be placed in any order to make your life easier.
The book explains: ‘Studies have shown that the monasteries of Athos are among the world’s healthiest communities. The monks live very long lives, largely free of cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Their way of eating also carries with it an enticing by-product: natural weight loss.
‘The monks don’t count calories, nor do they suffer any of the deprivation commonly associated with the ‘fad’ diets of the Western world. Theirs is not really a ‘diet’, more a way of life.
‘They eat good food and drink good wine, and by following age-old principles of using wholesome ingredients, eating in moderation and exercising regularly, they are among the fittest and healthiest people on earth.
‘Each monastery is largely self-sufficient and very little produce is bought in from the mainland. The monasteries are surrounded by kitchen gardens, orchards, vineyards, beehives and olive groves, and everything produced is organic and seasonal; much time-consuming effort is required to nurture crops and maintain the maximum possible output from the land.
‘Monastery meals are an extension of the daily religious observance, occurring twice a day – morning and evening.
‘Meals are consumed in silence, as the monks listen to the daily readings from the scriptures (with occasional interruptions from the Abbot).’
Richard Storey, one of the authors of The Mount Athos Diet, who has visited the monks every year for 15 years, spoke to MailOnline about how he came to the conclusion that their eating regime would be beneficial for everyone.
‘The monks are deemed to be amongst the healthiest group of people in the world, with very low cancer rates and almost no Alzheimer’s and after years of living among them I recognised their diet had a large part to play in this,’ Storey told MailOnline.
‘I always came back feeling fitter, healthier and having lost weight, but I never felt like I had been deprived.
‘We recruit numerous people to test out the monk’s diet to see if it was applicable in a normal Western life. I lost 22lb everybody lost weight
‘A key thing we found was that the lack of calorie counting was a large relief.
‘We also found that somewhere along the way, usually at the three or four week mark, you realise that, without any pressure being placed on exactly calories, you are eating differently and what you crave on the feast day changes.
‘Most people no longer even want the highly-processed, high-sugar foods they did at the beginning.’