Leadership lessons from Confucius: maintaining a healthy diet

healthy diet

He didn’t eat too much finely-milled rice and finely-cut meat. If the food was rotten or rancid, if the fish wasn’t fresh, and if the meat was spoiled, he didn’t eat it. If the food was off-color, he didn’t eat it. If it smelled bad, he didn’t eat it. If it was undercooked, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t served at the proper time, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t butchered properly, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t served in its proper sauce, he didn’t eat it. Even if there was plenty of meat, he didn’t eat more meat than rice. As for liquor, however, there was no limit as long as he remained sober. He didn’t consume liquor or meat bought from the market. He was never without ginger when he ate, but used it only in moderation. (1) (2) (3) 

As with most things in life, moderation is the key to a healthy diet. Even if you can afford the finest gourmet foods and drinks that the world has to offer, that doesn’t mean that you should eat them all the time. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing.

Eating at regular times is another key element of a healthy diet. Snacking between meals not only makes it difficult to control your weight but also impacts digestion. The best approach to maintaining a healthy diet is to limit yourself to a maximum of three modest meals a day and eat nothing in between.


This article features a translation of Chapter 8 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

(1) As with most of the chapters in Book 10 of the Analects, it’s not clear whether this passage refers to Confucius in particular or the habits of a gentleman in general. What is remarkable here is the close attention paid to making sure that the food is fresh and properly prepared. It reads almost like a series of best practices or health and safety guidelines that could be just as easily applied today. Although food hygiene standards have improved significantly over the past hundred years, there is still plenty of room for improvement even in the most developed countries.

(2) The phrase “If it wasn’t butchered properly” (割不/gē bùzhèng) probably means that the instructions for the slaughter of animals of that were featured in popular ritual manuals were not followed.

(3) Although the character 酒/jiǔ is often translated as “wine”, the term “liquor” is more appropriate in this passage because it refers to spirits produced using grains such as sorghum or millet.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan.

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