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One should always seek to eat at such times and under such conditions that will insure the best results in digestion. Some things enhance digestion while others impede it. The first rule in any truly natural system of feeding should be:
If we do this we eat only to supply the demands of the body. We cannot repeat too often the admonition, do not eat if not hungry.
If this plan were followed the present three meals-a-day plan would end. Also the practice of many of eating between meals and in the evening before retiring would cease. For most people real hunger would call for about one meal a day, with occasionally some small amounts of fruit during the day.
Hunger is the "voice of nature" saying to us that food is required. There is no other true guide as to when to eat. The time of day, the habitual meal time, etc., are not true guides.
Although genuine hunger is a mouth and throat sensation and depends upon an actual physiological need for food, muscular contractions of the stomach accompany hunger and are thought by physiologists, to give rise to the hunger sensation.
Carlson, of the Chicago University, found that in a man who had been fasting two weeks, these gastric "hunger" contractions had not decreased, although there was no desire for food. The same has been observed in animals. Indeed these contractions are seen to increase and yet they do not produce the sensation of hunger. I do not consider these so-called "hunger-contractions" as the cause of hunger. Real hunger is a mouth and throat sensation.
But there is a difference between hunger and what is called appetite. Appetite is a counterfeit hunger, a creature of habit and cultivation, and may be due to any one of a number of things; such as the arrival of the habitual meal time, the sight, taste, or smell of food, condiments and seasonings, or even the thought of food. In some diseased states there is an almost constant and insatiable appetite. None of these things can arouse true hunger; for, this comes only when there is an actual need for food.
One may have an appetite for tobacco, coffee, tea, opium, alcohol, etc., but he can never be hungry for these, since they serve no real physiological need.
Appetite is often accompanied by a gnawing or "all gone" sensation in the stomach, or a general sense of weakness; there may even be mental depression. Such symptoms usually belong to the diseased stomach of a glutton and will pass away if their owner will refrain from eating for a few days. They are temporarily relieved by eating and this leads to the idea that it was food that was needed. But such sensations and feelings do not accompany true hunger. In true hunger one is not aware that he has a stomach for this, like thirst, is a mouth and throat sensation. Real hunger arises spontaneously, that is without the agency of some external factor, and is accompanied by a "watering of the mouth" and usually by a conscious desire for some particular food.
Dr. Gibson says that, "The condition known as appetite, * * * with its source and center in nervous desire, and its motive in self-indulgence, is a mere parasite on life, feeding on its host--the man himself--whose misdirected imagination invites it into his own vital household; while hunger, on the other hand, is the original, constitutional prompter for the cell-world calling for means to supply the true need and necessities of man's physical nature. * * * Appetite does not express our needs, but our wants; not what we really need, but what we think we need. It is imagination running riot, fashioning out of our gluttonous greed an insatiable vampire which grows with our wants, and increases its power until finally it kills us unless we determine to kill it. * * * As long as our attention is absorbed in the pleasures of the table, in the gratification of eating for its own sake, and in the introduction of new combinations to bring about stimulating effects, we are increasing the power of our appetite at the expense of our hunger."
The hungry person is able to eat and relish a crust of dry bread; he who has only an appetite must have his food seasoned and spiced before he can enjoy it. Even a gourmand is able to enjoy a hearty meal if there is sufficient seasoning to whip up his jaded appetite and arouse his palsied taste. He would be far better off if he would await the arrival of hunger before eating.
There is no doubt of the truth of Dr. Geo. S. Weger's thought that "appetite contractions in the stomach are often excited by psychic states, as influenced by the senses." Appetite contractions thus aroused, are of distinct advantage in digesting a meal if they are super-added to pre-existing hunger contractions. We know that these psychic states increase the flow of the digestive juices--make the stomach "water" as well as the mouth--and enhance digestion.
Dr. Claunch says, "the difference between true hunger and false craving may be determined as follows: when hungry and comfortable it is true hunger. When hungry and uncomfortable it is false craving. When a sick person misses a customary meal, he gets weak before he gets hungry. When a healthy person misses a customary meal, he gets hungry before he gets weak."
If we follow the rule to eat only when truly hungry, those people who are "hungry" but weak and uncomfortable would fast until comfort and strength returned. Fasting would become one of the most common practices in our lives, at least, until we learn to live and eat to keep well and thus eliminate the need for fasting.
There are individuals who are always eating and always "hungry." They mistake a morbid irritation of the stomach for hunger. These people have not learned to distinguish between a normal demand for food and a symptom of disease. They mistake the evidences of chronic gastritis or of gastric neurosis for hunger.
Hunger, as previously pointed out, is the insistent demand for food that arises out of physiological need for nourishment. Appetite, on the other hand, is a craving for food which may be the result of several different outside factors operating through the mind and senses. Anything that will arouse an appetite will encourage one to eat, whether or not there exists an actual need for food.
Hunger may be satisfied and appetite still persist, a not unusual thing. Our many course dinners, with everything especially prepared to appeal to the taste and smell, are well designed to keep alive appetite, long after hunger has been appeased. No man is ever hungry when he reaches the dessert, so commonly served after a many course dinner. Few, though filled to repletion and perhaps uncomfortable in the abdomen, ever refuse to eat the dessert. It is especially prepared to appeal to appetite. This style of eating necessarily and inevitably leads to overeating and disease. Too many articles of food at a meal overstimulate and induce overeating.
Hunger and the sense of taste are the only guides as to the quantity and character of food required. If we eat when we are not hungry, and if the delicate sensibilities of taste have been dulled and deadened by gluttonous indulgence and by condiments, spices, alcohol, etc., it ceases to be a reliable guide.
The unperverted instinct of hunger craves most keenly the food that is most needed by the body and the unperverted taste derives the most pleasure and satisfaction out of the food or foods demanded, and will be satisfied when we have consumed sufficient of such food or foods to supply the body's needs. But, if we have been in the habit of crowding the stomach when there is no demand for food, just because it is meal time, or because the doctor ordered it, and we know no other indication that enough food has been consumed, than that the stomach can hold no more, we are headed for disaster. The existence of a natural demand for food indicates that food is required by the body and that the organs of the body are ready to receive and digest it. Eating when there is no time, or as a social duty, or because one has been able to stimulate an appetite, is a wrong to the body. Both the quality and quantity, and the frequency of meals should be regulated by the rules of hygiene rather than by those of etiquette and convenience.
Anorexia is a loss of appetite. There are many conditions in which a temporary loss of desire for food is quite normal. Such, for example, as after great fatigue, from strong emotions, as grief, anger, etc., in acute and, usually, chronic disease, and after eating. Hysteria and certain mental states often give rise to a loss of appetite. No food should be taken so long as there is no desire for food.
Rule 2. Never eat when in pain, mental and physical discomfort, or when feverish.
If eating is followed by bodily discomfort or by gastric and intestinal distress, do not eat until comfort has returned. This rule is universally followed on the plane of instinct.
Pain, fever and inflammation each and all hinder the secretion of the digestive juices, stop the "hunger contractions," destroy the relish for food, divert, the nervous energies away from the digestive organs and impair digestion. If pain is severe or fever is high all desire for food is lacking. If these are not so marked a slight desire may be present, especially in those whose instincts are perverted. Animals in pain instinctively avoid food.
As physical distress acts in the same manner as the psychic states, in inhibiting the flow of digestive juices and in preventing the hunger contractions, we have in this the physiological basis for our rule not to eat when in pain and physical discomfort.
The absence of hunger in fever has been shown to be associated with the absence of hunger contractions. This should indicate the need for fasting. Any food eaten while there is fever will only add to the fever. The fact that a coated tongue, which prevents the normal appreciation of the flavors of food, prevents the establishment of gustatory reflexes and, through these, the secretion of appetite juice, should show the great importance of enjoying our food. The feverish person needs a fast, not a feast.
The less vitality one has, the less variety and the less quantity of food the body can take care of. The practice of stuffing the weak and the sick, to "build them up," is ruinous.
"Psychic secretions" are absent or nearly so in states of mental depression. This, then, is the physiological basis for our rule not to eat when in mental distress.
In the chapter on digestion it was learned that certain mental states enhance digestion while others retard and impair the process. The illustration is an old one, of the person, who sits down to enjoy a hearty meal, after a hard day's work. He is ravenous and enjoys his food. Just as he is about to begin eating some one brings him news of the loss of a loved one through death, or of the loss of a fortune. Instantly all desire for food is gone.
The body needs all its energies to meet this new circumstance, and it requires much energy to digest food. Food eaten under such conditions is not digested. It will ferment and poison the body.
A very interesting experiment once performed upon a cat will be of aid to us here in making this rule clear. The cat was fed a bismuth meal after which his stomach was viewed by means of the X-ray. The stomach was observed to be working nicely. At this point a dog was brought into the room. Instantly, fear "seized hold" of the cat. His muscles became tense and motionless, his hair "stood on end." The stomach was viewed a second time and seen to be as tense and motionless as the voluntary muscles. Digestion was at a standstill. The dog was taken from the room whereupon the cat became calm and settled, with the result that the stomach resumed its work.
"Anger, hatred, envy, grief, fear, doubt, anxiety," says Mrs. Viola Mizzell Kimmell, in her Right Eating a Science and a Fine Art, "are all deadly foes to the digestion of the most hygienic meal ever eaten. Even an ecstasy of delight or love drives hunger away and robs the digestive organs of the blood and energy needed for their work. Leisure, peace, quiet, are the ideal attributes of one during the entire process of digestion, if one eats in order to live a comfortable, efficient, clean life."
Scolding, nagging and quarreling at meals is ruinous to health. In many homes all of the petty disputes and differences of the day are pent up and reserved to be released in a torrent of irritability and nagging at the evening meals.
Every care and mental disturbance should be removed. Worries, fears, envies, jealousies, domestic misunderstandings, with their injured feelings and emotional strains, should be excluded from the dining room.
No unkind word should ever be uttered at the dining table. A harsh look that brings fear or anxiety is out of place at meal time. The gastric secretions are at the mercy of the emotions. "Joy exhilarates digestion; gloom depresses or vitiates it," says Dr. Gibson. Mince pie with cheer will be better digested than an apple with pessimism. A fault-finding, envious, jealous atmosphere at the table has a more ruinous effect upon digestion than most drugs. It is the height of folly to feed mentally distressed or emotionally taxed patients.
Also, don't worry about your food. Don't become a "diet bug." Eat and forget. Keep your mind out of your stomach. It is the most indigestible thing of which I know. If you have eaten something you should not, or if the combination was wrong, it will not help but will make matters worse to worry about it.
Rule 3. Never eat during or immediately before or after work or heavy mental and physical effort.
The ancient Roman proverb, "a full stomach does not like to think," may be expanded by adding, "nor to plough." Leisure time for digestion is important. Dr. Oswald well says: "Every hour you steal from digestion is reclaimed by indigestion."
As a mere matter of habit, the mind will stray to the dining room when the wonted meal-time comes around even if genuine hunger does not return with that hour, but if the hour is permitted to slip by without eating the matter is soon forgotten and the supposed desire for food ceases.
The choice of fixed hours for eating is of much less importance than to never eat till you have leisure to digest. We cannot digest and assimilate our food while the functional energies of our system are engaged in other duties. After a hearty meal animals retire to a quiet hiding place and the "after-dinner laziness," which follows a heavy meal is simply nature's admonition to us to follow their example and rest also. The idea that after-dinner exercise or after-dinner speeches promote digestion is a pernicious fallacy.
Normal digestion requires that almost the entire attention of the system be given to the work. Blood is rushed to the digestive organs in large quantities. There is a dilatation of the blood vessels in these organs to accommodate the extra supply of blood. There must be a coetaneous constriction of the blood vessels in other parts of the body in order to force the blood into the digestive organs and to compensate for their own loss of blood.
The functions of digestion cannot be performed without a large supply of blood and nervous energy. The period of comparative lassitude, which follows a hearty meal, is proof that this supply of blood and energy is at the expense of the rest of the organism.
Man is so constituted that he can do well, only one thing at a time. A hearty meal makes him stupid because all of his available energy is employed in the effort to digest such a load. Eating is a business in itself. It should be divorced from all other mental and physical activity. No meal should ever be eaten until after the body has had sufficient mental and physical rest to gain "physiologic poise" and readiness for digestion.
Dr. Cannon tells us that in extreme fatigue, the rhythmic contractions of the stomach fail to occur either in animals or in man. Being "too tired to eat" is a commonly observed fact and the laboratory has shown that this absence of the sensation of hunger, with, usually, a distaste for food, is co-existent with an absence of the hunger contractions of the stomach. This is the physiological basis for our rule to rest before eating.
In an article on "Gastric Juice and Prevention of Enteric Fever and Cholera," published in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Feb. 1916, Major Reginald F. Austin presented evidence to show that both officers and enlisted men rendered themselves liable to develop dysentery, cholera and enteric fever by eating when they were fatigued and had no appetite. Hearty eating when one is very tired from either mental or physical work is likely to be followed by indigestion, malaise and incapacity for work, due to a deficiency of active gastric juice under these conditions. Rest and especially sleep, is more important, under such circumstances, than food. After relaxation and rest have been had one may eat.
No food should ever be eaten immediately before or after bathing. No food should be eaten until one is fully rested from fatigue or exercise whether mental or physical. No food should be taken during or immediately preceding work, vigorous exercise or study.
Rule 4. Do not drink with Meals.
This is a very important rule and should be adhered to strictly. It has reference to the use of water, tea, coffee, cocoa or other watered drinks while eating. Milk is a food, not a drink.
Animals and so-called primitive peoples do not drink with their meals and there is every reason to consider this instinctive practice to be best.
Laboratory tests have determined that water leaves the stomach in about ten minutes after its ingestion. It carries the diluted, and consequently weakened, digestive juices along with it, thereby interfering seriously with digestion. It is often argued that water drinking at meals stimulates the flow of gastric juice and thereby enhances digestion. The answer to this is (1) It is not the natural way to stimulate the secretion of digestive juices and results sooner or later in an impairment of the secretory power of the glands; and (2) It is of no value to digestion to increase the secretion of digestive fluids, only to have them carried out of the stomach, into the intestine, before they have had time to act upon the food.
Water taken two hours after a meal enters the stomach at a time when the gastric juice is there in abundance and the reactions are proceeding nicely. The water sweeps these on into the intestine and retards digestion. Take your water ten to fifteen minutes before a meal, thirty minutes after fruit meals, two hours after starch meals, and at least four hours after protein meals.
Drinking at meals also leads to the bolting habit. Instead of thoroughly masticating and insalivating his food the one who drinks with his meals soon learns to wash it down half chewed. This practice should be avoided at all costs. Milk is a food and should be slowly sipped and held in the mouth until thoroughly insalivated before swallowing. No other food should be taken in the mouth with the milk. Thoroughly chew, insalivate and taste all food before swallowing. Food that is treated in this way can be swallowed without the aid of a liquid.
Cold drinks, water, lemonade, punch, iced tea, etc., that are often consumed with meals, impair and retard digestion. Cold stops the action of the enzymes which must wait until the temperature of the stomach has been raised to normal before they can resume their action. When the cold drink is first introduced into the stomach this is shocked and chilled. After it is sent out of the stomach and the reaction sets in, there is a feverish state resulting in great thirst. Ice cream acts in these same ways. Eating ice cream is like putting an ice pack to the stomach.
Hot drinks weaken and enervate the stomach. These destroy the tone of the tissues of the stomach and weaken its power to act mechanically upon the food. The weakening of its tissues in this way often helps in producing prolapsus of the stomach.
Extremes of heat and cold interfere with the secretion of the digestive juices. The functional powers of the secretory glands are at their highest when working in a temperature conforming to that of the normal body temperature, or at least, when the temperature does not exceed 100 degrees F.
Water in coffee, tea, cocoa, lemonade, etc., is water still. These drinks also stimulate the appetite and lead to overeating. Aside from this, the first three named each contain powerful poisons that act as excitants. Their habitual use impairs digestion, wrecks the nervous system and injures the kidneys. The coffee and tea user, as a rule, perspires excessively in summer.
A splendid rule for drinking is to drink all the water desired ten to fifteen minutes before meals, thirty minutes after fruit meals, two hours after starch meals and four hours after protein meals.
Rule 5. Thoroughly masticate and insalivate all food.
Food that has been completely broken up by chewing, is readily accessible to the digestive juices but foods that are swallowed in chunks require much longer time for digestion. Much energy may be saved in the digestive process if we but take a little time and chew the food. Besides this, swallowing food without chewing it leads to overeating, hurried eating and all the train of digestive evils that arise from these.
Starches and sugars that are washed down with water or coffee, will be certain to ferment and give rise to acids which will make life miserable for the one who is foolish enough to eat in this manner. When starches and sugars are bolted, fermentation follows, even though there is no fault with the combination. This occurs because the food is not insalivated and there is no provision in the stomach for the digestion of these foods. Proteins do not require as much chewing as starches.
I believe that Nature "intended" man to eat well when he does eat. I do not believe in the "little-food-at-a-meal" practice, or the "little-and-often" practice. Digestion is not wholly a chemical process. It is partly mechanical. The normal healthy stomach is a muscular bag possessed of considerable contractile and expansile power. The experiments of Cannon and others showed that the stomach cannot properly grasp the food, turn it about and mix it with the digestive juices and, then, pass the mass on into the small intestine unless there is a certain minimum of food in it. A certain amount of bulk, not merely in the food itself, but also in the residue remaining after digestion, is essential, not merely to good stomach digestion, but to good intestinal digestion as well.
Concentrated nourishment--foods that leave little residue--, eating "little and often," broths, liquid diets, etc., are not ideal diets and dietary practices. They may be used temporarily in a few diseased states, but even here they are, for the most part, seldom best.