When And How To Eat
( Originally Published 1921 )
As a practical means of controlling the quantity of food, the number of meals per day is very important.
The conventional custom of three meals a day is purely an arbitrary one. Natural man probably ate when he found food, if for no other reason than to keep the other fellows from getting more than their share. As civilization developed and acquired definite occupations, he adopted the habit of regular meals.
The number of meals per (lay is probably of less importance than the amount of food eaten. A man can over-eat on two meals, but he is far less likely to do so than on the three-meal plan. This fact was absolutely demonstrated by an investigation conducted by the PHYSICAL CULTURE MAGAZINE. A number of individuals and families agreed to experiment upon the three-meal versus the two-meal plan. Nothing was suggested to these voluntary experimenters as to the total quantity of food they should eat, but all were asked to keep a record on their total food purchases for comparison under the two competing plans.
In this investigation it was learned that the adoption of the two-meal a day habit almost invariably resulted in a considerable cutting down in the total quantity of' food eaten. The amount eaten per meal, however, averaged a little more, the reduction of total food on the two-meal plan being , about twenty per cent, whereas had the individual meals remained of the same size it would have been a thirty-three per cent reduction. This twenty per cent reduction of food quantity achieved by the two-meal plan resulted in a general improvement of health and vigor. There were a number of cases of a loss in weight on the part of individuals who had been over-weight. It is probable that the others also lost some weight, but in too small amounts to be noted and reported.
The only experimenters who were not enthusiastic about the two-meal plan were those who were occupied at heavy manual labor. Al-though there may be exceptions in either case, I believe it is a very safe principle to advocate three meals a day for manual laborers and for growing children. For adult brain-workers the two-meal plan is almost invariably an advantage. To say nothing of the physiological benefits, the two-meal habit is worth while as an economy of food and time—most of all as an economy of labor for the housewife.
Where the family contains manual workers or children, three meals should, of course, be served; adult brain-workers in such families could either skip one meal, or if they feel this to be an outrage of the conventional family life, they may compromise by eating lightly at the first two meals of the day.
The general habit of city dwellers of having the heavy meal or "dinner" in the evening seems to be correct. Not only is the food digested bet-ter when one is resting, but both muscular and mental work is better performed when one is not digesting. The American farmer calls his mid-day meal "dinner," and presumably it is the heavy meal of the day. A man who gets up with the sun can certainly work up an appetite by twelve o'clock. None the less, over-eating at the noon meal, followed by immediate return to heavy labor, is not the best plan. The farmer puts in the longest hours of work of any type of worker, and it is unreasonable to expect him to subsist on a grape fruit and shredded wheat breakfast and a salad luncheon. Such a plan would merely mean that he would have to gorge himself at night. For the farm family I would, therefore, advocate moderate breakfasts and noon meals and a slightly heavier evening meal.
The city manual laborer should follow the same general plan with a somewhat greater proportion of his food for the evening meal, for the reason that he has leisure then to digest his food, whereas the farmer's hours are often completely filled with work until bedtime.
The brain worker may omit either breakfast or luncheon altogether, or he may gain the same effect by taking a very light breakfast and a very light luncheon, and in either case not "eating his fill" until after his work for the day is over.
Where digestion is slow and imperfect a hearty evening meal is sometimes unsatisfactory. Especially if you can not sleep or if you wake up during the night or in the morning with a sour or nasty taste in your mouth. Under such circumstances it is better to eat your hearty meal at noon or in the morning, though if a hearty breakfast is eaten, it is usually better to go to bed hungry if your digestion is not over strong.
Here is a simple meal plan that I have recently been following myself and which I have found eminently satisfactory.
I take only one full meal a day. I have no exacting rules or regulations as to the quantity of this meal. It is what is commonly called a "square meal." In other words I eat all I want to, and do not concern myself about restricting the quantity.
The other two meals are very simple indeed. One is composed of one or two oranges; the other of nuts and raisins, which must. be well masticated and eaten slowly, and with which there is little danger of over-eating. When these two simple meals are so restricted there is little danger of over-eating for the day, no matter what the nature of the foods eaten in the full meal.
Whatever the meal plan followed, the idea that absolute regularity is the most important of all eating virtues is an illusion and often a very harmful one. It is far better to eat irregularly than to eat regularly without appetite. When one is particularly over-wrought or over-worked, eating frequently does more harm than good. Strength from food does not come immediately after it is eaten; on the other hand, the process of digestion temporarily subtracts from the vital energy that would otherwise be available for work.
Just as monotonous foods will cloy the appetite so monotonous regularity of meals will do so. It is far better to skip the meal entirely than to eat it if it is not fully enjoyed. Proper appetite or enjoyment of food is essential to proper digestion. Hasty eating is injurious, both because one does not enjoy food so eaten and because of the lack of mastication.
When it does not exist naturally, stimulating the appetite by highly seasoned food is an abomination and an abomination all too frequently practised upon those "enjoying ill health." The subject of fasting as a curative agency I will not take up in this book more than to say that fasting is nature's remedy against over-eating and the consequent accumulation of surplus food and waste elements in the body—and that fasting is the one sure cure for loss of appetite.
The adaptation of the diet to the climate and the season of the year is of considerable importance in maintaining efficiency, health and corn-fort. Over-eating is at all times a fault, but it is particularly so in a warm climate, or in the summer-time.
As pointed out in the last chapter, over-eating increases the temperature of the body. In fact the very act of digesting food creates a measure-able amount of heat; from ten to fifteen per cent of energy of food being utilized in its digestion. In the case of meat protein there is a stimulating effect considerably greater than this figure. Tests made upon a fasting dog showed that the number of calories oxidized by the dog's body depended on the temperature of the room and ranged from about eighty-five calories per hour at a temperature of forty-five degrees, down to fifty-five calories per hour at a temperature of eighty-five degrees. But the dog, after a heavy meal of meat generated as many calories per hour, while digesting it in a hot room, as he did in a cold room—and had to keep cool, dog fashion—by panting. In the case of a man the increase of heat formation in the body from eating a pound of meat is about twenty-five per cent.
In addition to the development of heat in the process of digestion there is a further heat development caused by the excessive oxidation of food element in the overfed body. A man living under a restricted or minimum diet can run a foot race or perform other vigorous exercise with-out getting so "heated up." This is indeed the proper explanation of the greater endurance of light eaters.
Comfort in hot weather, therefore, depends upon the cutting of the diet down to the very minimum needs. The natural diet of the summer should contain a large proportion of fruits and succulent vegetables, whereas fats, meats, sugars and starches should be greatly reduced. In winter these foods may be restored to the diet in somewhat larger amounts, but' this should not be to the exclusion of the leafy vegetables and foods of the milk group which are needed at all times to supply essential vitamines and minerals.
Once a meal has been selected, prepared and set before us, the two most important factors in healthful eating are the enjoyment of the meal and the mastication of the food. These two matters are closely allied, since food is never really enjoyed if it is bolted down without proper mastication.
I have already explained the effect of the appetite and the enjoyment of food upon the secretion of the digestive juices; likewise we learn from similar studies that fear, worry and undue excitement, or extreme fatigue seriously interfere with the process of digestion. Not only do these unhappy emotions check the flow of the digestive juices, but they may stop the muscular movement of the digestive organs. This effect has been remarkably demonstrated with the X-rays. An insoluble substance that is impervious to the X-rays is mixed with the food of a small animal like a cat, whose body is then observed in an X-ray chamber. After such an experimental cat has become used to the chamber, the process of digestion is resumed and the pulsing peristaltic movement of the alimentary tract may be plainly seen. Now, if the cat be frightened by some unearthly noise, immediately all movement of the stomach and the intestinal muscles come to a dead stop.
But to command a person. to enjoy his food will not cause him to do so. Enjoyment of food is a problem one must work out for himself as far as the condition of the mind is concerned. The more strictly dietetic factors in this matter of appetite or food enjoyment are: First, true appetite or hunger, which can only be regained when it has been lost, by either decreasing the amount of food, or increasing the amount of bodily exercise until there is a true physiological need of food. Second, the foods must be so prepared and served that they will be attractive. This question of the attractiveness of food is largely a matter of habit. Those who have been addicted to over-eating and the use of highly seasoned dishes can only regain' the appetite for simple foods by going without all food until genuine hunger is re-established. Any artificial appetite which enables one to enjoy a food beyond the body's true needs is an acquired or harmful appetite, like the appetite for alcohol or tobacco.
The simplification of the diet by reducing the number of foods eaten at one meal, and by the serving of such food in the elementary form with a very simple combination of dishes will do much to revive true food instincts, so that the appetite will again become a natural guide as to both the quality and the quantity of food required.
Thorough mastication is also of great help in the establishing of a true, instinctive appetite: Natural foods have their own flavors, but these flavors are only fully brought out by a thorough mastication and the full tasting of the food.
There is no food which should be swallowed without mastication, or, in the case of liquid foods, the natural insalivation which is accomplished by moving them about in the mouth until they are thoroughly mixed with the saliva and swallowed by instinctive motion rather than by voluntary gulping. This effect may be very readily noted in the case of milk. Milk may be drunk outright, as is water, but such drinking of milk or other liquid food is not correct; it should be sipped slowly and swallowed instinctively.
The more nearly you can approximate the suckling baby in taking your milk the better it will digest. The proper way to "eat" milk is to place the lips to a glass of milk, and make the opening between them so small that you have to make quite an effort to "suck in" the milk.
This pressure forces more saliva into the mouth and gives the milk a flavor that can not be secured when one merely drinks it.
It is quite possible to acquire the habit of masticating foods that have already been milled and cooked until their mastication is a sort of empty performance like boxing with a ghost. This, indeed, was the distinctive feature of Horace Fletcher's eating habits. However, it seems to me that the more sensible procedure is to adopt foods in their more natural forms so that the act of mastication has some resistance to work against. The average foods in man's natural diet were neither as hard and gritty as dry whole grain, nor were they as soft and substanceless as cornstarch pudding. Nut meats and tender leaves and vegetables are about the degrees of firmness to which man's teeth and chewing powers seem to be adapted. Grains to be reduced to like degree of masticability require some softening. Rolled whole grains or firm whole wheat bread are in a form that seems well adapted to man's chewing powers. The same is true of the general run of vegetables. When foods are softened beyond these stages it will re-quire a conscious effort to chew them more than their mechanical condition really requires, if the process of mastication is not to fall below the amount needed to bring out the proper flow of digestive juices and a sufficient slowness of eating.
Of all food substances the danger of lack of mastication is greatest in the case of starchy foods and nut-meats, the former requiring a thorough admixture of saliva for their digestion; for this reason all forms of starchy gruels or porridges are less desirable than firm breads or granular cereals. In the case of nuts, thorough chewing is necessary because the nut meats will not digest well unless they are finely divided. Pulpy fruit juices in which sugar is the main ingredient require the least mastication of any food. Natural sugars are already in a form to be absorbed by the blood and hence require practically no digestion. But even in this case there is no evidence that mastication is of any harm and the better rule is to masticate all food thoroughly.
Mastication is also a very good remedy against over-eating. The act of mastication and the thorough tasting of food result in the full secretion not only of saliva, but, by the sympathetic nerve coordination of the glands, the secretions of the stomach are also influenced. Under these proper conditions the appetite is normally satisfied and the instinctive warning to cease eating is given us when we have eaten enough food to meet the body's true requirements. But when foods are hopelessly mixed up in cookery, over-seasoned and ground and mushed until no chewing is required, and then bolted down, the effect of the whole process is to confuse and destroy all instinctive appetite. As a result, the person eating in this fashion does not know when to quit and often does not quit eating until warned to do so by the painful stretching of the walls of the stomach, or perhaps by the limitations of the girth of his belt.