Civilization has brought with it a train of evils unknown in the natural life. There is no need, for instance, to tell a wild animal what to eat; his life is planned for him in advance. His food is supplied by Nature and not superabundantly, so he is compelled to eat it in a manner to secure the greatest amount of vital vigor therefrom. Hunger controls his eating, and therefore he always enjoys his food. If we were to eliminate many of the mechanical processes involved in the preparation of our foods, there would be little or no necessity for instruction in eating, for, if we ate our food in a natural state, we would be compelled to masticate it, and this is the fundamental requirement of healthy digestion.
Just here let me point out the importance of appetite. A food cannot possibly be of benefit unless it is thoroughly enjoyed. It must taste good. The more delicious a food tastes the more quickly and advantageously it will digest. The idea is frequently advanced that dieting must necessarily be unpleasant, for many think that a "diet" must consist of food that cannot possibly be eaten with enjoyment. This is a great mistake. Diet of this character would indeed bring about harmful results in nearly every instance. The diet which will be of the most value is that which you can enjoy, confining your selection, of course, to wholesome articles of food. I cannot emphasize too strongly the extreme necessity for the enjoyment of your meals. Do not under any circumstance ignore the demands of your taste in selecting your diet.
Your food must be thoroughly masticated as well as thoroughly enjoyed. This chewing should continue until the food becomes a liquid and actually passes down your throat involuntarily. Food should never be swallowed hastily. Swallowing should be an unconscious process associated with enjoyment; with a view to prolonging the pleasure of eating, each mouthful should be retained in the mouth until it is swallowed before you realize it. Thorough mastication is absolutely necessary to the attainment of the very important requirements connected with the complete enjoyment of foods.
Now note the effect of prolonged enjoyment of food upon the digestive processes. When one is masticating an appetizing meal the digestive system is being prepared for the reception of this meal. The various glands of the stomach that perform such important work in digestion begin to pour their juices into the stomach; consequently when the food reaches this organ everything is ready for its reception. To begin with, as a result of thorough mastication and the action of the saliva, the food is already partly digested, and the stomach is ready to continue the process. The work is easy and satisfactory under such circumstances, and digestion continues unconsciously. You do not realize that you have a stomach. How often one hears a healthy man say that he has no conscious knowledge of the possession of such an organ! In other words, he has never had a pain or other unpleasant symptom located in its region. It is said on the other hand that the dyspeptic is so continuously and unpleasantly aware of the existence of this organ that he often thinks he is "all stomach."
Remember also the importance of a suitable mental attitude at meal-time. Your mind should be occupied almost entirely with the pleasure of the meal itself. You should not he seriously diverted in any way. If for instance you are reading a newspaper or carrying on an engrossing conversation you are directly interfering with the digestive processes; for, as I have already said, a thorough enjoyment of the food is necessary to arouse to their greatest activity the glands which furnish the digestive juices. Therefore, when meal-time comes around, devote yourself to the one single purpose of getting as much enjoyment as possible out of your food.
If you are desirous of catching a train, do not make the mistake of bolting a meal. Eat when you arrive at your destination, or eat on the train, when you can have the leisure to enjoy your food. Remember that, with eating as with work, it is not how much but how well. If your time is limited it is better to eat only a small amount, and eat it properly, than to attempt to eat a large meal hurriedly.
Especially do not eat when you are angry or worried; do not allow anything to distract you at meal-time. If anything comes up that seriously mars your ability to enjoy your food it is far better to delay your meal or wait until the next meal, or until you can eat in accordance with these requirements.
There can be no objection to light conversation, which requires no special amount of mental energy or concentration; in other words, any deviation can be recommended which does not seriously interfere with the enjoyment of your meal. Music, for instance, if it is of a gentle, soothing character, or entertainment of any kind that is relaxing, is a helpful form of recreation. The "cabaret," if not carried to an extreme, is therefore a natural, well-founded institution. Congenial company is also naturally advantageous in helping one to enjoy his meals.
There has been much controversy as to whether or not one should drink during a meal. I have at all times condemned the usual habit of drinking at meal-time for the purpose of washing down food that is eaten hastily. For instance, it is not at all unusual with many people to take three or four mouthfuls of food, hastily swallow them, and then find a certain amount of liquid essential to avoid choking. I cannot too emphatically condemn a habit of this sort. I do, however, recommend the use of liquids during a meal when they are necessary to satisfy thirst. Furthermore, it is of considerable importance to take some liquid during a meal if one is not in the habit of drinking freely of water between meals, since a certain amount of liquid is necessary to carry on the digestive process. When there is any digestive difficulty or when there is merely a weak digestion, hot water can be used to great advantage fifteen minutes or a half-hour before the meal. Taking hot water in this manner cleanses the stomach and adds materially to the digestive capacity by stimulating the glands of the stomach. The quantity of water taken in this way may range from half a pint to a quart, depending upon one's physical condition. The amount of liquid taken during a meal must also be regulated by one's needs. For instance, if you are poorly nourished and apparently need more weight properly to round out your body, then an additional amount of liquid will often be of advantage, provided you do not take so much as actually to interfere with digestion. Where increased bodily tissue is needed, therefore, in virtually every instance the free use of water during the meal will be of decided value; though one should always keep in mind the necessity of drinking these liquids warm or even hot if taking any quantity.
The use of a large amount of cold water at meal-time is likely to be detrimental. There is a wide-spread custom of drinking ice-water during the meal. This is one of the most pernicious of all dietetic errors, since chilling of the stomach invariably retards digestion and favors dyspepsia. Even water that is very cold, though not iced, is not desirable, unless used in very small amounts. Also the use of ice- water or extremely cold water between meals is inadvisable, since because of its low temperature one cannot comfortably drink enough of it to satisfy completely his bodily requirements. Water that is only moderately cold or cool can be used liberally, and is always to be preferred in the case of overheating through violent exercise. It is usually advisable to drink water at the temperature that is most pleasant to you, though large quantities of cold water should always be avoided. And, as I have said, at meal-time, especially, if much water or other liquids are used they should be either warm or hot.
Without question, the greatest of all dietetic errors is to eat without appetite. It is nothing less than a crime against the stomach, and yet this practice is one of the most common of all those which contribute to the prevalence of dyspepsia in civilized communities. No animal, the human race excepted, would attempt to eat without the relish that absolutely depends upon the possession of a keen appetite. Many thousands of people attempt to eat their meals regularly without regard to the demands of hunger merely because it is "meal-time." Eating in such cases has only the excuse of habit, although frequently it is regarded as a duty. Eating should never be regarded as a duty, nor should it be allowed to become a habit, for when not pleasurable it is not beneficial.
One will often, hear the remark that one must "eat to keep up his strength." While this advice is fundamentally sound in a large sense under normal conditions and when a true appetite is present, yet there never was a greater delusion when it is applied to forced eating when the appetite is lacking. Eating under such conditions does not keep up one's strength, but on the contrary actually impairs it by burdening the digestive system with food that cannot be properly assimilated. It is not what you eat but what you assimilate that keeps you strong, and digestion depends upon appetite and the enjoyment associated therewith. The question of enjoyment is really a question of appetite, and if you are not hungry and cannot relish the food keenly when meal-time comes it is certainly best to wait until the next meal or until you are hungry. Every wild animal has sense enough to follow its natural inclination in this respect, but thousands of human beings go to the table because it is dinner-time, and force themselves to eat food that they do not desire simply because of the stupid delusion that continual and frequent eating is necessary for strength.
The discussion of appetite brings up the question of the number of meals that is proper for each day. The prevailing system of three meals per day is a custom surviving from a time in which early rising and hard physical labor throughout a long day was the rule, especially in connection with out-of-door work. This does not mean, however, that three meals is always the best plan for civilized life in sedentary occupations. There are some wild races that eat only two meals per day, and there have been instances of hunters and even whole populations following the one-meal-per-day plan. Naturally at the present time the occupation and the requirements of the individual would have much to do with the question. If one does hard work, has an appetite for three meals per day, and seems to thrive on that plan, it is the preferable one. If, however, you are a sedentary worker, and especially if you do not have an appetite for three meals per day and cannot thoroughly enjoy them, the two-meal-per-day plan would be much better. The two-meal- per-day plan has often proven beneficial even when associated with the strenuous physical training required for athletic competition in racing, wrestling, boxing, Marathon running and other vigorous sports. It is entirely a question of appetite. If you have no appetite for breakfast then follow the two-meal-per-day plan. I will say, however, that in many cases one can enjoy and profit by a breakfast of fruit.
The question of how to eat is closely related to the question of how many meals one should take. Overeating is a very prevalent failing. There is no question that large numbers eat themselves, as it were, into a condition of stupor. Their energies are required for the disposal of the excessive quantity of food ingested, and they have no energy left for mental work or for physical activity. They are, so to speak, "food drunk." I am personally satisfied that the best cure for overeating is food in less frequent meals and the practice of masticating the food thoroughly in the manner that I have suggested. In a case of this kind the two-meal-per-day plan is also to be recommended. Actual experience shows that those inclined to overeat do not eat any more at one meal when eating two meals than when eating three meals-they may possibly eat less, because of the more normal condition of the stomach. Another good plan to pursue is the use of uncooked foods, or at least the adoption of a diet consisting in part of uncooked foods. It is entirely possible to eat too little of nourishing food, just as it is to eat too much. But one who lives a natural and active life, especially if out-of-doors a fair part of the time, is not likely to lack a good appetite nor to eat less than the required amount. Good general health always brings with it a normal appetite.
Overeating, however, is no doubt in many cases due very largely to the inadequate character of the foods consumed. I am satisfied that if all our foods were eaten in their natural condition and if they perfectly supplied the needs of the body there would be no tendency toward overeating. The great trouble is that conventional methods of food preparation have such a destructive effect upon the nutritive value of the foods in common use that a healthy body often craves large quantities of diverse foods in order to get a sufficiency of certain elements which are lacking. The use of white bread is a case in point, for, as stated in another chapter, the best part of the wheat has been eliminated in the process of milling. Furthermore, to a large extent the mineral salts are removed from our vegetables in the process of boiling; that is to say, when the water in which they were boiled is thrown away. The polishing of rice, the use of white flour in manufacturing macaroni, the refining of our sugar, and many other processes, are directly responsible for the almost universal habit of overeating. Certain elements are taken out of the food, the body craves these elements, and in trying to secure adequate nourishment, one eats an excessive amount of the refined defective foods.