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How much to eat?

When you are on a diet, every morsel of food is had with guilt. Looks like there are even cheat days in diet plans that allow the dieter to take an occa­sion­al day or time off and have some cheat foods. But that too comes with a lot of guilt and com­pen­sa­tion. Espe­cial­ly if you in the Yog­ic path, you will need at least 3 hours after food to take up any prac­tice but with the kind of food that we eat, we hard­ly get the nec­es­sary gap.

Hunger Hungry Eating - Free photo on Pixabay

Is there a right quan­ti­ty of food? Is there a good way to mea­sure how much is nec­es­sary and suf­fi­cient. These are ques­tions that run in the mind on any­one look­ing at reduc­ing weight or boost­ing strength or exer­cis­ing. Dif­fer­ent foods sat­is­fy hunger dif­fer­ent­ly. Sweets make us want to eat them more and more but then we feel sati­at­ed after a point. We end up regret­ting hav­ing had those sweets when we catch a cold or feel sleepy (increase in kapha). High fibre diets reduce food intake because they may be hard to eat or take longer time to digest or impact har­mones con­nect­ed to food intake. Even if the 2 dif­fer­ent foods have the same amount of calo­ries, the ingre­di­ents could make you feel sat­is­fied or go for more.

Free photo Unhealthy Fat Food Sugar Diet Cake Pastry Sweet - Max Pixel

For some peo­ple, con­sum­ing the same food dai­ly could also reduce the palata­bil­i­ty of the food. Men­tal­ly, they may start reject­ing the food lead­ing to reduced con­sump­tion. We often yield to temp­ta­tion and end up eat­ing more than what we need. After such a meal, we feel heavy, drowsy and uneasy. Our full focus is on the stom­ach and we can bare­ly read, med­i­tate etc.

Healthy food. Balanced weight-loss-friendly fruit-based di… | Flickr

One prob­lem that Sad­hakas have with reg­u­lar intake of heavy meals is the lack of enough time gap to devote to sad­hana. If one has to spend 3–4 in Yoga sad­hana or Dhyana then one may have to look into the fre­quen­cy and quan­ti­ty of food. Tak­ing breaks for food can be dis­tract­ing and at the same time an emp­ty stom­ach can be a dis­tur­bance too. To find the right bal­ance is always tricky. That is when we need the help of our Shas­tras.

Thirukkur­al 941 says

மிகினும் குறையினும் நோய்செய்யும் நூலோர் வளிமுதலா எண்ணிய மூன்று.

If (food and work are either) exces­sive or defi­cient, the three things enu­mer­at­ed by (med­ical) writ­ers, Vata-Pit­ta-Kapha, will cause (one) dis­ease.

Ash­tan­ga Hrdayam

The Matr­a­sitiya Adhyaya of the Sutra Sthana of Ash­tan­ga Hri­dayam is ded­i­cat­ed to pro­vid­ing insights on the right quan­ti­ty of food to par­take.

मात्राशी सर्वकालं स्यान्मात्रा हि अग्नेः प्रवर्तिका मात्रां द्रव्याण्यपेक्षन्ते गुरुण्यापि लघून्यापि गुरुणामर्धसौहित्यं लघूनां नातितृप्तता मात्राप्रमाणं निर्दिष्टं सुखं यावत् विजीर्यति

The chap­ter starts by say­ing that prop­er quan­ti­ty of food should be had as only that pro­motes prop­er diges­tion. Foods that are easy to digest and hard to digest, both need our atten­tion.

भोजनं हीनमात्रं तु न बलोपचयौजसे सर्वेषां वातरोगाणां हेतुतां प्रपध्यते अतिमात्रं पुनः सर्वानाशु दोषान् प्रकोपयेत्

Con­sum­ing less food leads to loss of strength and ojas (the essence and vital­i­ty) and caus­es all types of vata dis­or­ders (gas­tric and flat­u­lence prob­lems).

What hap­pens when we have excess quan­ti­ty of food?

पीड्यमानो हि वाताद्या युगपत्तेन कोपिताः आमेनान्नेन दुष्टेन तदेवाविश्य कुर्वते विष्टम्भयन्तो अलसकं च्यावयन्तो विसूचिकाम् अधरोत्तरमार्गाभ्यां सहसैवाजितात्मनः

Excess quan­ti­ty of food results in:

a. Sud­den increase in Vata and oth­er doshas

b. pro­duces dis­eases due to undi­gest­ed food and tox­ins (ama)

c. caus­es Alas­ka by block­ing the move­ment of food inside the ali­men­ta­ry tract

d. results in expul­sion of food both downward(diarrhoea) and upward (vom­it­ting)

These con­di­tions are seen in peo­ple who glut­tons and crave for food.


The Ash­tan­ga Hru­daya fur­ther says that the imbal­anced doshas cre­ate fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions includ­ing abdom­i­nal pain, pierc­ing sen­sa­tions in stom­ach, bloat­ing, dull­ness, hal­lu­ci­na­tions, fever, pan­ic, dif­fi­cul­ty in speak­ing etc. Hence the right quan­ti­ty of food is key to good health.

Bha­gavad Gita

Bha­ga­van Shri Krish­na, while speak­ing about Dhyana, says that:


नात्यश्नतस्तु योगोऽस्ति न चैकान्तमनश्नत: | न चाति स्वप्नशीलस्य जाग्रतो नैव चार्जुन || 16||


nātyaśh­natas­tu yogo ’sti na chaikān­tam anaśh­nataḥ na chāti-svap­na-śhīlasya jāgra­to nai­va chār­ju­na


युक्ताहारविहारस्य युक्तचेष्टस्य कर्मसु | युक्तस्वप्नावबोधस्य योगो भवति दु:खहा || 17||


yuk­tāhāra-vihārasya yuk­ta-cheṣhṭasya kar­ma­su yuk­ta-svap­nāv­abod­hasya yogo bha­vati duḥkha-hā

Yoga does not become pos­si­ble for those who eat too much or too lit­tle, those who sleep too much or do not get enough sleep. But those who are mod­er­ate in food, sleep, work and enter­tain­ment become the slay­er of all sor­rows.

The under­stand­ing of “mod­er­a­tion” is key to hap­py and healthy life. When we take up any­thing new we tend to over do and then we end feel­ing tired or bored of it. This works in highs and lows and rarely mod­er­ate. Raga-Devasha too works like that. We either like some­thing or hate it. In these extremes, we lose a sense of the right amount of some­thing. This reminds me of a sto­ry. There was once an old wheel-mak­er work­ing in the palace of a king. When approached by the king’s atten­dants to make the wheel of the king’s char­i­ot, the wheel-mak­er said that he was too old to start the job. The atten­dants asked if he could han­dover the job to his son. The wheel-mak­er was in tears say­ing that he could­n’t teach his son how to make wheels because if the wheels were too rough the char­i­ot would­n’t move and if they were too soft, the char­i­ot would skid. He nev­er could find the best way to teach how to make wheels that were nei­ther rough nor smooth. We are like the wheel-mak­er, always won­der­ing what would be the best amount of food to eat such that it would nei­ther be heavy or nor too light. But a exper­i­men­ta­tion and observ­ing the impact of var­i­ous quan­ti­ties of food on our prac­tices is the best way to learn.

Thirukkur­al

The Thirukkur­al, writ­ten by Thiru­val­lu­var, has very prac­ti­cal insights on food.

அற்றால் அறவறிந்து உண்க அஃதுடம்பு பெற்றான் நெடிதுய்க்கும் ஆறு. (943)

Once the pre­vi­ous meal has digest­ed, con­sum­ing the right quan­ti­ty that is need­ed leads to a long and healthy life.

தீ அளவு அன்றித்தெரியான் பெரிது உண்ணின் நோய் அளவு இன்றிப்படும் ( 947 )

When one feeds one­self beyond the capa­bil­i­ty of his diges­tive fire, dis­eases devel­op.

What can one do?

~ Intake your reg­u­lar quan­ti­ty and observe when your stom­ach feels light (after how many hours). Also observe if you feel sleep after a while. Med­i­tate after 3 hours and see the impact. Do you feel dis­turbed or still? Are any of the nos­trils blocked bad­ly? Do you feel drowsy?

~ Try intak­ing food that is a lit­tle bit less than what you nor­mal­ly eat. See if it affects your prac­tices. Try this for a few days and if this enhances your expe­ri­ence of Dhyana or any oth­er prac­tice, then this may be a good quan­ti­ty

~ Try reduc­ing fur­ther and see if this helps or gives hunger pangs. Does this stom­ach grum­ble while med­i­tat­ing? Then may be you may a lit­tle more food to keep you sta­ble. Pranaya­ma can reduce the need for com­pul­sive eat­ing.

~

~ Poha/Aval is a med­i­ta­tor’s super food. A hand­ful of dry poha can sat­is­fy hunger pangs and yet not over­load the stom­ach.

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