A Guide to Health/Part 1/Chapter 6

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A Guide to Health  (1921) 
Mohandas K. Gandhi, translated by A. Rama Iyer
How much and how many times should we eat?
S. Ganesan pages 55-59

Chapter VI

HOW MUCH AND HOW MANY TIMES SHOULD WE EAT?

There is a great divergence of opinion among doctors as to the quantity of food that we should take. One doctor holds that we should eat to the utmost of our capacity, and he has calculated the quantities of different kinds of food that we can take. Another holds the view that the food of labourers should differ in quantity as well as in quality from that of persons engaged in mental work, while a third doctor contends that the prince and the peasant should eat exactly the same quantity of food. This much, however, will be generally admitted, that the weak cannot eat just as much as the strong. In the same way, a woman eats less than a man, and children and old men eat less than young men. One writer goes so far as to say that, if only we would masticate our food thoroughly well, so that every particle of it is mixed with the saliva, then we should not have to eat more than five or ten tolas of food. This he says on the basis of numberless experiments, and his book has been sold in thousands. All this shows that it is futile to think of prescribing the quantity of food for men.

Most doctors admit that 99% of human beings eat more than is needed. Indeed, this is a fact of everyday experience, and does not require to be proclaimed by any doctor. There is no fear at all of men ruining their health by eating too little; and the great need is for a reduction in the quantity of food that we generally take.

As said above, it is of the utmost importance to masticate the food thoroughly well. By so doing, we shall be able to extract the maximum of nutriment from the minimum of food. Experinced persons point out that the fæces of a man whose food is wholesome, and who does not eat too much, will be small in quantity, quite solid and smooth, dark in colour, and free from all foul smell. The man who does not have such fæces should understand that he has eaten too much of unwholesome food, and has failed to masticate it well. Also, if a man does not get sleep at night, or if his sleep be troubled by dreams, and if his tongue be dirty in the morning, he should know that he has been guilty of excessive eating. And if he has to get up several times at night to make water, it means that he has taken too much liquid food at night. By these and other tests, every man can arrive at the exact quantity of food that is needed for him. Many men suffer from foul breath, which shows that their food has not been well digested. In many cases, again, too much eating gives rise to pimples on the face, and in the nose; and many people suffer from wind in the stomach. The root of all these troubles is, to put it plainly, that we have converted our stomach into a latrine, and we carry this latrine about with us. When we consider the matter in a sober light, we cannot help feeling an unmixed contempt for ourselves. If we want to avoid the sin of over-eating, we should take a vow never to have anything to do with feasts of all kinds. Of course, we should feed those who come to us as guests, but only so as not to violate the laws of health. Do we ever think of inviting our friends to clean their teeth with us, or to take a glass of water? Is not eating as strictly a matter of health as these things? Why, then, should we make so much fuss about it? We have become such gluttons by habit that our tongues are ever craving for abnormal sensations. Hence we think it a sacred duty to cram our guests with rich food, and we cherish the hope that they will do likewise for us, when their turn comes! If, an hour after eating, we ask a clean-bodied friend to smell our mouth, and if he should tell us his exact feelings we should have to hide our heads in utter shame! But some people are so shameless that they take purgatives soon after eating, that they might be able to eat still more or they even vomit out what they have eaten in order to sit down again to the feast at once! Since even the best of us are more or less guilty of over-eating, our wise forefathers have prescribed frequent fasts as a religious duty. Indeed, merely from the point of view of health, it will be highly beneficial to fast at least once a fortnight. Many pious Hindus take only one meal a day during the rainy season. This is a practice based upon the soundest hygienic principles. For, when the air is damp and the sky cloudy, the digestive organs are weaker than usual, and hence there should be a reduction in the quantity of food.

And now we will consider how many meals we may take in the day. Numberless people in India are content with only two meals. Those who do hard labour take three meals, but a system of four meals has arisen after the invention of English medicines! Of late, several societies have been formed in England and in America in order to exhort the people to take only two meals a day. They say that we should not take a breakfast early in the morning, since our sleep itself serves the purpose of the breakfast. As soon as we get up in the morning we should prepare to work rather than to eat. We should take our meal only after working for three hours. Those who hold these views take only two meals a day, and do not even take tea in the interval. An experienced doctor by name Deway has written an excellent book on Fasting, in which he has shown the benefits of dispensing with the breakfast. I can also say from my experience that there is absolutely no need to eat more than twice, for a man who has passed the period of youth, and whose body has attained its fullest growth.