This is a very common question – how much should I eat? Modern medicine gives some specific answers in terms of calories and nutrients. However, Ayurveda has a different approach.
Vedic wisdom says that all answers lie within us. The same goes for this question too. Your body is the best guide to what and how much you should eat.
Ayurveda does not give a definite amount. It respects the fact that everyone is unique in terms of mind and body. Therefore, Ayurveda gives guidelines to decide the appropriate amount of food.
When to eat? – The Hunger Signal
Ideally, your hunger is the best measure of food intake. Ayurveda says that you must not eat without hunger in normal health conditions. Hunger is an indication that the body needs food. Moreover, it is an indication that the body is prepared to digest the food. The latter factor is crucial.
We feel hungry when our blood sugar drops below the normal average. The Hypothalamus, a part of the brain detects this drop in blood sugar. It sends nerve signals to the stomach. The stomach contracts to release the digestive acid. This acid and the contractions give you the burning sensation of hunger and the rumbling sounds.
And it is not only the stomach. The entire body prepares for good digestion. Pancreas, liver, stomach, intestines, all the digestive organs prepare for the digestive process in advance. Therefore, when you feel hungry, your system is ready to digest and absorb.
But what happens when you eat without hunger? The blood sugar levels are already at a normal level. Eating without hunger produces unnecessary, excess sugar. This excess sugar enters the bloodstream and spikes up the sugar levels.
Once in a while, there is no problem with spiked-up blood sugar levels. However, people used to binge eating frequently expose their bodies to such sugar spikes. According to multiple scientific studies, a high sugar concentration in the blood leads to diabetic-like conditions. The body cells may become averse to excess sugar. To protect their internal equilibrium, they may develop a tendency to absorb less sugar.
This aversion to sugar absorption is the initiation to diabetes. So, a seemingly innocent habit like binge eating or stress eating may lead to diabetes eventually. Therefore, eating only when hungry is crucial for health.
It is crucial to follow the hunger signal of the body. If you eat frequently without proper hunger, your digestive system may not digest the food properly and produce more toxins than nutrients. Besides, eating without hunger leads to abnormal sugar spikes and eventually to diabetes.
What if I am not hungry?
The above rule of “eat when hungry” applies to normal healthy people. But there are abnormal health conditions where a person does not feel hungry, for example, anorexia, chronic indigestion, or debilitating disorders like tuberculosis.
In such conditions, a person may not feel hungry, but he needs to eat. Ayurveda recommends the use of digestion-stimulating formulations and food laced with digestive herbs like cumin, black pepper, etc. Ayurveda says that food is the first medicine. Therefore, digestion stimulating food is a much better remedy than medicines.
Natural probiotics or fermented food is great for a person with weak digestion, as the friendly microbes already break down the food particles and make them easier to digest.
Besides, herbal medicines are safer and superior compared to modern digestion stimulants. Artificial digestive stimulants like metoclopramide or digestive enzymes are not safe for long-term use.
In case you have a health condition like anorexia, digestives can help to stimulate natural hunger. They can also help to digest and absorb the food properly.
The Appropriate Amount
There are many ways to decide the appropriate amount of food. And all these ways are applicable in different health conditions. Let us start with the best method applicable for a normal healthy person.
The Palm Cup Measure
In ancient India, the proprietors or business owners practiced the hand measure to pay their servants/employees. The payment was made in the form of raw grains. The employers gave one Anjali (the hand cup made by joining both palms) of raw grain for each shift of work.
According to Ayurveda, all the body parts share a similar proportion. That is why, Ayurveda measures blood, lymph, semen, etc in terms of Anjali. Because the hands share a proportional harmony with other tissues of the body. A person with a large body will naturally have large hands.
Ayurveda believes that one handful or Anjali full of uncooked grains is enough for a laborer. If you have a sedentary job, obviously you should eat a little less than one Anjali full of grains. Listen to your body and it will tell you the exact amount it requires!
All the body organs have proportional sizes. Therefore, the size of the cup formed by joining the palms together correctly reflects the relational size of the stomach and the appropriate amount of food grains for an individual.
The Stomach Measure
Master Charak defined a novel and efficient method to decide the appropriate amount to eat. Imagine that your stomach has three parts. Ideally, you should fill the first part with solid food, the second one-third part with liquids/water, and the third one-third part with air.
This proportion of solid, liquid and gas, ensures ease of the stomach’s churning movement. Flexible stomach movement leads to the better blending of the food, better digestion, and better absorption.
However, if you fill your stomach with too much solid food, the stomach may find it hard and heavy to churn the food. This may lead to improper mixing of the digestive enzymes with the food and hence under-digestion.
On the other hand, if you fill too much liquid in your stomach, it may dilute the digestive enzymes and lead to improper digestion.
Less food intake signifies more amount of air. If you are extremely hungry and eat less than the amount required to balance the stomach acid, the excess acid will burn the stomach lining. Pitta dominant body type has very strong digestive juices. On frequent low food intake, this stomach acid may cause peptic ulcers! In other body types, it may cause anorexia.
We should fill one-third of our stomachs with solid food, the other one-third with fluids, and the last part with air. This proportion of substances ensures easy stomach movements and great digestion.
The stomach rule is a great concept. However, there is a more practical method to start with – the 80% rule. This rule is more about mindful eating. It says that once you feel that 80% of your stomach is full, you must leave the dining table.
Most of us keep eating till we are completely stuffed. This extra food inhibits the stomach’s mixing movement. Weak stomach movements lead to improper mixing of the digestive acids and lead to poor digestion. However, if you are mindful of the 80% rule, you may save yourself from a lot of undigested toxins.
You should stop eating once you feel that your stomach is 80% full. This rule is simple and easy to follow. It helps to ensure proper digestion and great absorption.
The Burp Signal
Before food intake, air fills the entire stomach. When your stomach is approximately 80% full, the food exerts pressure on the air. This pressure leads to air expulsion through the mouth – leading to burping. During a meal, the first burp means that approximately 2/3rd of the stomach is full of solid/liquid food. It is a signal for you to stop eating.
Eating more food after the first burp leads to an over-stuffed stomach and improper digestion. Therefore, you should avoid consuming any solid or liquid food after the first burp.
The first burp during a meal signals an appropriately filled stomach. Therefore, you should stop eating after the first burp.
Deciding the exact amount of food is tricky unless we practice mindful eating and become more sensitive to the body’s requirements. There are many methods to determine the proper amount of food –
Hunger is the crucial deciding factor for food intake. It tells us when to start eating!
The Palm Cup measure helps to decide the appropriate amount of food. However, it does not account for the body type, quality of hunger, or current health requirements. The same goes for the stomach measure.
The 80% rule and the burp signal tell us when to stop eating.
However, our body is a super-dynamic system, functioning in a complex environment. Therefore, regulating the desires and mindful dietary choices lead to better results than strict dietary rules.
I hope that this information brings you good digestion and great health!