“Eating once a day is angelic, twice a day human, and three, four or more times is bestial.”
~Le Menagier de Paris, The Parisian Household Book, 1393
“Oru velai sapta yogi (if you eat once you’re a yogi);
Rendu velai sapta bogi (if you eat twice you’re a hedonist);
Moonu velai sapta rogi (if you eat thrice you’re a patient).”
~Traditional Tamil wisdom
“And there are men to be found who take but one meal a day, and yet remain quite healthy. The elder Fowler, the phrenologist, is one of them. Such, too, in past years, were Talleyrand of France, and Mr. Taliaferro of Virginia. It is even stated that some of the old Romans ate but one meal a day. Seneca, though worth an estate of $15,000,000, taught the doctrine, and, as it is said, practised it.”
~William Andrus Alcott, 1859
The Laws of Health:
Or, Sequel to The House I Live In
by William Andrus Alcott
SECTION XI. — EATING TOO FREQUENTLY.
636. The question, how often we should eat, has been much agitated, especially within a few years ; and with various results. In general, however, there is a belief that we eat too often, and that a deduction from the number of our meals might very profitably be made. Many incline to the opinion that two meals a day for healthy adults are quite sufficient. A few go farther still, and teach that nature’s purposes are best answered by only one.
637. This subject, like most others pertaining to a connection with the appetite, has been hitherto approached in a wrong way. For, since nature, perverted as she is, ever tends to excess, the great practical question in all these matters should be, not how much we may gratify ourselves without any evil results, but how little gratification will best accord with our usefulness. Instead of inquiring how near the edge of a precipice we can go without falling from it, we should seek to keep at the greatest practicable distance. The proper question is not, Which is the worst or most dangerous road? but, Which is the best?
638. In the present instance, the true physiological inquiry should be, What is the least number of daily meals which will best answer nature’s purposes? What number will preserve us in the most healthy condition, and at the same time give us the firmest appetite, and, in the aggregate, the most pleasure? The true question is not, How often can we eat and not get sick immediately? And yet, more than this, I say, is very seldom asked.
639. Although it should be our first and highest aim to do what is best and most according to truth in all things which concern our appetites, yet we can never keep pleasure entirely out of sight; nor is it the Divine intention that we should. God has kindly united duty, interest, and pleasure; and what he has joined together should not be sundered.
640. There can be little doubt that, the more frequently we eat, the less, as a general rule, we enjoy. At present, it is customary to eat so often that we seldom, if ever, reach the point of having a good appetite; and what of appetite we have, at first, is soon spoiled. The less frequently we eat, on the contrary, even to the comparatively narrow limits of once a day, the more we enjoy.
641. But observe, if you please, I do not say God has united with our duty the highest possible degrees of immediate pleasure, but only the greatest amount in the end. There is room enough left for self-denial, or what is usually called by that name ; by which I mean, a denial of present pleasure, at least in part, for the sake of pleasure in the distance, which is greater in the aggregate.
642. There are certain physiological considerations which aid us in determining how often we should eat ; or, rather, in deter mining how often we should not eat. We have seen (551) that the process of chymification is forwarded, in no small degree, by a species of muscular motion which has a slight resemblance to the churning process among dairy-women.
643. This churning muscular motion generally continues till the stomach is cleared of its contents; i.e., till all, or nearly all, has passed out at its pyloric orifice. The time required for this varies, in the adult, from two or three to four or five hours. (558.) In children, the process, like those of breathing and circulation, is more rapid.*
644. Now, it is a law with all voluntary or willing muscular parts of the body, that they shall have their seasons of rest. But the heart is muscular, and there are muscles in the walls of the thorax to aid in moving the lungs; and then, as we have seen, the stomach is muscular. None of these, it is true, are voluntary or willing muscles. Their motion takes place with out our having much to do with it, directly.
645. Still, it is true, most undeniably true, that these parts need rest. The muscular parts of the heart and lungs have their intervals of rest, though they are short; and is not this the plainest proof that they need it? The muscular parts of the stomach, in all probability, come under the same necessity. Sometimes they obtain this rest; at others they do not. But I have spoken on this subject before. (120-122.)
646. When we breakfast at six, take a lunch at nine or ten, dine at twelve, take another lunch at three, and eat a heavy supper at six, the stomach probably has no rest during the day, and, in consequence, is so much fatigued at night, that the load which is imposed on it at six is not wholly cast off during the night, and we rise in the morning to go again the same round, and with similar results.
647. Then, again, when we rise at seven, breakfast at eight, take a lunch at eleven, or twelve, as in fashionable life, dine at two, take tea at five, and a heavy lunch of the most heavy of all indigestibles at nine or ten, we come to the hour of rest, as before, with a jaded stomach; and in due preparation for a restless and distempered night.
648. And the reward we have so richly earned is sure to be received. Our sleep is too sound on the one hand, or too much disturbed on the other. The latter result is most frequent. We toss out the night in distressing dreams, and wake the next morning to a bad taste in the mouth, a dryness of the throat, a dull headache and loss of appetite, and an unwillingness to rise, except from the most pressing necessity.
649. Such a course of life, persisted in for weeks, months, or years, will bring about, in most persons, a bad state of things in the alimentary canal, which, in its sympathies or effects, some times extends to other parts of the system. Many a tooth-ache, ear-ache, head-ache, and neuralgic attack, and not a few cold feet and sour stomachs, may be fairly charged to the errors of which I have here spoken.
650. Children, no doubt, should eat much more frequently than adults. True, their stomachs are not so strong, nor their digestive powers, though they are generally more active. But even our children eat too often, in most instances. They are trained to it from the very first. Some of them seem to be almost always eating, from morning to night. Little infants, in most instances, are even nursed or fed in the night. And the penalty is but too well known. Half of them, or nearly half, die under ten years of age; and this is one of the causes.’
561. The healthy adult who eats but three times a day, and this at regular intervals of about six hours, gives his stomach a little time for rest; and may hope to proceed on in the journey of life, at least a short time, without disease. He may indulge this hope, I mean, if other things are as they should be.
652. But three meals a day for an adult, whatever may be his habits or circumstances, — except in the rare case of some peculiar disease, — is the maximum number which is admissible. It is running as much risk as we can with safety. It is going as near the edge of the precipice as we can and not fall from it, instead of taking the highest and safest and best road!
653. They who take but two meals a day, especially during the short days of winter, not only give their digestive powers — their stomachs in particular — more time for rest, but actually enjoy more, and find themselves in better general health. Of this habit we have many eminent living examples. In this case the first meal might be profitably taken at ten o’clock in the forenoon, and the second at four in the afternoon.
654. And there are men to be found who take but one meal a day, and yet remain quite healthy. The elder Fowler, the phrenologist, is one of them. Such, too, in past years, were Talleyrand of France, and Mr. Taliaferro of Virginia. It is even stated that some of the old Romans ate but one meal a day. Seneca, though worth an estate of $15,000,000, taught the doctrine, and, as it is said, practised it.
655. It is even told of, Mr. Taliaferro, that he went still farther. When by any unavoidable circumstance he was unable to dine at his usual hour of the day, he deferred it to the next day. This was to eat only once in two days. But this course I think an error. Once a day is the minimum or smallest needful number of our meals.
656. On this point, however, I wish to be understood. I do not say, positively, that three meals a day are incompatible with the maintenance of tolerable health; nor that one a day is sufficient. But I do say that more than three are injurious ; that two would for most persons be preferable to three; and that one for most people may after all be found adequate to every purpose. Indeed, I am inclined to think it would be so.
657. They who take but one meal a day secure at least one important point, that of having always a good appetite. At least they gain this point provided they do not eat too much at this one meal. Most persons, as we have seen, eat so often that they never know what a good appetite is. They always eat before they are truly hungry, in a physiological sense; and hence know neither the blessing of a good appetite or of true gustatory enjoyment.
658. They remind me of a half-idiot, whom I knew in early life, who was always pressing the question, ” Don’t you wish to know the art of never being dry ? “that is, thirsty. ” Always mind to drink before you are dry,” he added, “and you will never be dry.” We have most of us already made a faithful application of the fool’s rule to our eating. We eat always be fore we are hungry, and hence are never hungry.
[Questions. — Is there not a general belief abroad that we eat too often! Have we arrived, as yet, at a settled opinion on this subject?]
SECTION XII. — EATING BETWEEN MEALS.
659. In the last section I was obliged to encroach a little on the topic assigned to this. I was obliged to allude to the evils of eating too often; and this of course involved the subject of eating between our meals, or, as it is called, of taking lunches or luncheons. But I have not yet said all that the case requires. Eating between our regular meals is a dietetic transgression of no ordinary magnitude.
660. Whether we eat once, twice, thrice, or ten times a day, we should stop with our regular meals, Nothing containing nutriment, whether in a solid or liquid condition, should go down our throats between our meals, except water. To this rule, so far as the healthy are concerned, I know of no exception.
661. May we not eat an apple, it will be asked, or a little fruit, of such kinds as we happen to meet with, or a few nuts? Must we go without all these things, which the kind hand of the great Creator has scattered all along our path — probably not in vain? Would we not be even ungrateful to him, did we do so?
662. No doubt that these things, for the most part, are made to be eaten, either by us or the other animals, or both. But they should be brought to our tables, and, without exception, made a regular part of our meals. Not indeed at the end, after we have eaten enough of something else; nor yet at the beginning, merely to excite an appetite for other food. They should be eaten, as the potato usually is, as a part of our meal.
[Have we not studied the subject in a wrong manner? What is a better way? What should be the true inquiry in prosecuting the study of hygiene? In our inquiries is pleasure to be overlooked, entirely so? Why not? Is our enjoyment in eating in proportion always to the number of our meals? Is he the greatest gainer in point of mere pleasure in eating, who gets the most pleasure immediately?
What are we to infer, in this particular, from the muscular character of the stomach? How may we eat so as to give the stomach and other digestive organs no rest? What are the frequent evidences of abuse during the previous day? What diseases may ensue? Should children eat oftener than adults? What is said, in particular, of the effects of eating three meals a day? What of eating two only? What of eating but one? Are there some eminent examples in both these latter kinds? To what extreme did Mr. Taliaferro go? Who are they that always have a good appetite? What anecdote is related of a certain idiot? What is the application?]
663. It may perhaps be said that our ancestors — puritannical though they were — accustomed themselves not only to lunches in the forenoon and afternoon, but to nuts and cider or apples and cider in the evening, and yet were a healthier people, by far, than their more squeamish descendants; and there will be no want of truth as the basis of the remark.
664. But, remember, that if they were more healthy than we, then we, of course, are less healthy than they. How came we thus? Is it a matter of chance, or hap-hazard? Do these things spring out of the ground? Is there not a cause for every effect? Do we not inherit a deteriorated and deteriorating constitution?
665. Besides, our fathers and grandfathers set out with better constitutions than we, so that, whatever may have been the cause of their better or our inferior stamina, they could most certainly bear up longer under violations of physical law than we, their descendants. It does not then follow, as a necessary inference, that we may eat lunches because they did.
666. May we not take nourishing drinks between our regular meals, such as milk and water, molasses and water, and bread coffee? some will ask. Not a drop. Better, by far, to eat a piece of dry bread; for that will be masticated. But you do not want either. The sediment of nutritious drinks (561) is one of the hardest ordinary things the stomach has to contend with. It is, moreover, a curious fact that a piece of dry bread, well chewed, will often quench thirst better than any liquid, even water. But, I repeat, I do not recommend even that.
667. Anything that contains nutriment must, of course, set the stomach and other digestive organs at work, more or less; even if it is nothing but a strawberry, or a lump of gum or sugar, or some aromatic seeds. I do not say or believe that it takes as long, or tasks the digestive machinery as severely, to work up a lump of sugar or a strawberry into chyle, as a full meal; but I do say that the whole process of digestion, complicated as it is, must be gone through with.
668. Many, who have listened patiently to remarks like these, have at length exclaimed, with some surprise: “But what is the laboring man to do, especially in the long hot days of haying and harvesting, without something to sustain him be tween his meals? You proscribe stimulating drink, and very properly; but what will you propose as a substitute? He, would faint away without something. Or, if he should not faint, there would often be a gnawing at the stomach, which would be insupportable.”
669. It should be distinctly known to everybody, that neither the faintness nor the gnawing here spoken of, indicate any real hunger. They are mere nervous sensations. They indicate, moreover, a diseased condition of the nerves. If any one doubts, let him but make the following experiment. The writer has made it for himself, and that repeatedly.
670. While your fellow-laborers are removing, for the time, their gnawing and faintness by a lunch, just seat yourself at their side, and, instead of adding a new load to the already overloaded and sympathizing stomach, drink slowly a small quantity of pure water, tell a story or hear one, and, if you can, excite a little the risible faculties; and when they return to their labor, join them, as before. Pursue this course a few days, or a few weeks, and see who endures it best, and com plains most of gnawing and faintness.
671. It is no uncommon thing to hear farmers telling how glad they are to be through with their haying and harvesting. But it is they who use lunches, or take other means beyond their regular meals for restoring themselves temporarily at the expense of the future, who complain most. He who eats of plain food twice or three times a day, and drinks nothing but water, endures best the heat and fatigue, and suffers least from gnawing and faintness.
672. Young men in groceries, eating-houses, and inns, as well as clerks in public offices, and in shops and factories, often injure their health very much by a foolish acquired habit of tasting various things which are constantly before them, such as fruits, nuts, confectionery, sugar, dried fish, cordials, etc. Clerks, in addition to all this, sometimes eat wafers.’
673. It is but a few days since I saw a young man about thirty years of age, of giant constitution by inheritance, who was suffering severely in his digestive machinery from the very cause, by his own voluntary confession, of which I am now speaking. And I have before my mind’s eye the painful history of a young man whom I twice cured of dyspepsia from this same cause, but who afterwards went beyond my reach, and fell a victim to it.
674. Perhaps the worst violation of the law which forbids eating between meals, is found in the wretched habit of the young, of eating what are called oyster suppers, at late hours and at improper places. Our cities, and sometimes our large towns, abound with places of resort for those who will not deny their appetites; and it is not surprising that they so often prove, not only a pathway to the grave, but as Solomon says, to hell.
SECTION XIII. — REGULARITY IN EATING.
675. There are to be found, among us, a few strong men and women — the remnant of a by-gone generation, much healthier than our own — who can eat at random, as the savages do, and yet last on, as here and there a savage does, to very advanced years. But these random-shot eaters are, at most, but exceptions to the general rule, which requires regularity.
676. For very few things, I am quite sure, can be more obvious to the most careless observer, than that those individuals who are most regular in regard to eating, other things and circumstances being equal, are the most healthy. And, what is of very great importance, too, any one who will take the trouble may soon satisfy himself that it is these regular men and women whose children inherit the best constitutions.
677. I have, indeed, admitted that we are so far the creatures of habit that we can accustom ourselves to almost any hours for eating, and to one, two, three, or more meals a day, as well as to many other things which are generally regarded as objectionable; and yet not suffer much, immediately. But I have also shown and insisted that this does not prove we are wise in forming these habits. We must look a little way into the future, and have regard to the good of the race, as well as to our own present gratification or happiness.
678. It is often said that since the conditions of civic life require occasional irregularities, it is desirable to accustom our selves to such irregularities, betimes. For, if we do not, it is still insisted, we shall be liable, at times, to such derangement and disturbance in our systems, from unavoidable changes, as might subject us to a long and perhaps severe fit of sickness.
[Questions. — Is eating between our meals a light transgression? Should nothing which contains nutriment be swallowed between meals? May we not eat fruits? Why not, if the fruits are made to be eaten? Our ancestors ate lunches; why may not we? What is said of milk and water, molasses and water, etc., between meals? Must the whole work of digestion be gone through with, when we eat but a single nut, or a strawberry? May not the hard laborer have lunches? What then shall we do, when gnawing and faintness arise? Have these sensations nothing to do with real hunger? What experiment is proposed? To what dangers are young men sometimes exposed in groceries, shops, eating-houses, public offices, etc.? Are they apt to yield to the temptations? What case is related by the author? What still more striking case came under his observation? What is the worst violation of the rule for infrequent eating?]
679. This reasoning, by way of objection to the doctrine of regularity in our habits, is certainly specious. The great difficulty with it is, that it is practically untrue. For few things can be more easily shown than that they whose digestive systems hold out best, are precisely those who are most regular in their habits of eating, drinking, etc.
680. It is indeed true that such persons, when subjected to the supposed necessary irregularities of civic life, above alluded to, may be subjected, at times, to a little temporary disturbance, but it quickly passes away. Does not this prove the general integrity of the digestive function? No condition of the human stomach is more to be dreaded than that unresisting state which permits us to make it a complete scavenger for the time; while the abuse awakens slowly, in some remoter part of the human confederacy, a terrible insurrection, and still more terrible retribution.
681. I knew a physician who, at home and abroad, with others, and especially with himself, passed for a wise man. Yet, unable to resist the temptations incident to the life of a country medical practitioner, he gradually fell into the utmost irregularities about his meals. For his morning meal he had no appetite; at the dinner hour he was among his patients, eating at any hour convenient; or, oftener still, refusing to eat at all.
682. On returning to his family, — often late at evening, — , his faithful wife, who knew his habits and expectations, was accustomed to prepare for him as rich and as abundant a meal as possible, of which he almost always partook in excess. But the penalty of his trangression was fearful. Disease, painful and harassing, early followed; and, though blessed with an “iron constitution ” by birthright, he sunk into the grave at sixty-five.
683. The history of this man is, in substance, that of thousands. I have myself witnessed twenty years of the most in tense anguish, ended by a premature and terrible death, which was the obvious result of physical disobedience. The penalty, it has repeatedly been said, does not always fall directly on the suffering organ or function, but sometimes on a part in sympathy with it.
684. It may, to many, seem strange, but it is nevertheless a fact, that they who are most regular with regard to their habits of eating, — whether as it regards times of eating, quality of the food, or quantity, — are the very persons who suffer least, as a permanent thing, when compelled to occasional changes or interruptions of their accustomed habits. Or, if they suffer, the suffering is but temporary. Their stomachs are stomachs of integrity, and their promptitude in meting out justice, and putting to rights injurious tendencies, is as striking as their integrity.
685. Locke, the philosopher, has somewhere told us that when a child asks for food at any other time than at his regular meals, plain bread should be given him — no pastry, no delicacies, but simply plain bread. If the child is really hungry, he says, plain bread will go down; if not, let him go with out till he is so.
686. But why give him anything at all between his regular meals? These, to be sure, should be somewhat more frequent than our own; but this is not to make concessions to irregularity. Is it not truly marvellous to find the best of men — those who in many things have thought for themselves — still yielding to authority when arrayed against the plainest good sense?
687. It is very unfortunate for human health and happiness that the young should be trained from the very first — and to a most lamentable extent — in the way in which they should not go. They are very tenacious of life, — are made to live, — and yet, presuming on their known tenacity of life, we only make them the greater sufferers on account of it. I have known many a child, swept away by summer and autumnal diseases, who, but for his past irregularities in eating, might very probably have escaped.
688. That to train up a child in the way he should go, in every particular, is exceedingly difficult, every parent, master, or guardian well knows. Forbidden trees, on which hang curses, beset everywhere the path of human life, especially that broader division of it which, alas! so many of us travel. How to have our children escape all pitfalls and dangers, — how, even, to escape them ourselves, — is a question not by any means easy of solution ; but its importance is at* the least equal to its difficulties.
689. I wish the young could fully understand that every time they depart from their accustomed usages, and, during the intervals of their meals (be the latter few or many), venture on a little fruit, a little candy, a little confectionery, etc., they are not only impairing their appetite, and contaminating their blood, but impairing the tone of their digestive system, and deranging the action, more or less, of the whole alimentary canal.
690. Every well-directed effort to invigorate the alimentary canal, and increase the tone of that and the greater internal surface of the lungs, is richly repaid in future hardihood and health; while every neglect, or disregard — everything disloyal to the calls and demands of Nature’s conservator — is repaid in near or remote suffering, and perhaps transmitted to yet unborn generations.
SECTION XIV. — EXCESSIVE ALIMENTATION.
691. Nothing is more common than the remark that the greatest dietetic error is with regard to quantity. It is admitted that we often err, as regards quality; that we eat irregularly; and that we eat too fast. And yet the great practical error, after all, we are told, is, that we eat too much.
692. There is truth in the remark, as the subject must necessarily be viewed by those whose standard of hygiene is still low. And yet, bad as excessive alimentation may be, it is but the natural — I had almost said necessary — result of certain errors lying back of it. If the quality of our food, and the modes of preparing and receiving it, and the moral tendencies of our nature, were such, from the very first, as they ought to be, there would be comparatively little among us of excess.
693. The common doctrine of intelligent men is, that we eat about twice as much as nature’s best purposes require. Philosophers, physiologists, chemists, pathologists, dietiticians, and even many of the unenlightened, all agree in this. Not of course that every individual eats twice as much as he ought; but that, as a people, here in the United States, this is true.
694. Most persons, it would seem, eat just about as much as they can and not suffer from it immediately. The inquiry with most who inquire at all, is not how little is best for them and how much they can save, beyond this measure, for “him who needeth”; but how much they can consume, without loss of health or character as the consequence.
[Questions. — What is said of certain random-eaters among us? Are they whose habits of eating are most regular, usually the most healthy? Must we have regard, in the formation of our habits, to the good of our race? What very specious objection is sometimes made to these views and doctrines? Why is it unsound? Relate the anecdote of a medical man, and tell me what it is designed to prove. Is this man’s history substantially that of thousand ? What has the philosopher Locke said? Wherein is he mistaken? What is there especially unfortunate in an early training? Do all our dietetic errors, especially our irregularities in regard to eating, tend to derange the action and motion of the alimentary canal? What important hints does this afford in the education of the young? What equally important hints does it afford to the self-educated?]
695. In truth, the declaration of eighteen hundred years ago, that all seek their own, not another’s (or others’) good, covers the whole ground. To get good and apply it to the gratification of our own propensities, whatever may become of others, is fallen nature’s great law, As John Foster has well said, this not caring for others is the very essence of human depravity.
696. It is frequently asked how much we should eat; and some are unsatisfied till we put in requisition the scales, and tell them exactly how many pounds or ounces they must take, daily. I have even dined, in the city of Boston, with a man otherwise respectable, who had his scales on the table, and proceeded to weigh out, before me, his dinner.
697. Of course I do not intend to question the propriety or the usefulness of weighing out our food, at least, occasionally. Experiments of weighing food, made by scientific or thinking men, for scientific or practical purposes, might be made — no doubt sometimes are made — quite useful.
698. Thus, in experiments made in Glasgow, in Scotland, on laborers, who, from their increased expenditure during their exercises, are very naturally supposed to require as large a supply of food as any other class of men, it has been found that two pounds of good bread, daily, or six pounds of good potatoes, (which in point of nutriment are deemed about equal to two pounds of bread,) is the largest quantity demanded or required.
699. President Hitchcock, late of Amherst College, and Mr. Graham, have taught that the average quantity of nutriment which the best development and support of the body require, is somewhat less than this. They, too, have made their conclusions from observation and experiment. The former would reduce the British standard quantity about one-fourth; the latter, nearly one-half.
700. Much allowance, in this matter, must be made for early training, as will be seen in the next section. I once had the pleasure of sustaining, at college, a most deserving young man, who could not get along, as he believed, without two pounds of bread, or its equivalent, daily. But he had been trained to excess; and for the time seemed to demand it. However, he exhausted his physical capital in a few years, and died bankrupt!
701. Are there, then, you may be disposed to ask, no specific rules for the individual, about quantity? Must we gather up, from abstract or general principles and from facts, a code for ourselves? Like the new-fledged arithmetician at school, must we make our own rules? Is experience in dietetics every thing, and science nothing?
702. Not quite so fast. I have given you the deductions of science already. It has determined, no less surely than experience, that we eat too much. It has told us what is the maximum quantity required. What the minimum or smallest quantity we really need is, we have not yet inquired. And most persons do not choose to make the inquiry, lest they should have to resist, a little, their propensities.
703. To those who have moral courage enough — in other and better words, enough of Christian philosophy — to dare to make the inquiry, a few rules may be given which will enable them to approximate towards the truth in the case, by seeking an answer to the inquiry: How little can we get along with, and at the same time best discharge all our duties and secure all lawful and proper interests?
704. We have been taught, in time past, to leave off hungry; or, as some express it, with a good appetite. Or, as others still, are wont to say, we have been told never to eat quite enough. The rule is a good one, as far as it goes. I have known a few who partly observed it; and they believe they owe to this partial obedience their health and life.
705. Thus, Grant Thorburn, whose writings, over the signature of Laurie Todd, have interested and delighted many, and who, at the age of ninety, or nearly so, is almost as young in his feelings as ever he was, is accustomed to say to his friends that he never ate enough in his whole life.
706. Early in the year 1852, I called to see a man in Ohio, who was eighty-seven years of age. It was one of the severest days of a most severe winter. He was in the woods, at work, for he was a farmer; but he soon came home. Surprised at his power to labor and endure the cold, I inquired about his habits; and, among other things, asked him about the quantity of his food. His answer included just such a statement as that of Mr. Thorburn.
707. Cases of this kind might be multiplied, not, however, to an indefinite extent; for, most unhappily, the world as yet does not abound with them. I will only add to the list, at present, John “Williams, a Baptist minister of Rhode Island, who died at the age of one hundred years or more, and myself.
708. It is quite possible to err, however, under this rule. A person who bolts his food will eat much more without reaching the point of satiety than one who does not. While, therefore, he who bolts food has not reached the stopping-place, so far as he knows, another who masticates well has reached it with far less food. The former may therefore eat too much and yet leave off hungry.
709. It is a better rule still, to eat no longer than the food appears to refresh us, bodily and mentally. This rule, I grant, is liable to the same difficulties with the preceding, nevertheless, it restricts us more. For even Grant Thorburn, who never eats enough, may possibly sometimes eat so long as to become dull in body or mind as the result. I am not without doubt whether he and my Ohio friend always leave off their meal with feelings of merriment, and with a disposition to dance and sing, like children. Yet such, as I believe, should be the effect of our eating. Its main object, I grant, is to secure nourishment for a future hour; but it has a secondary object, too, which is refreshment and gratification.
710. It is recorded of President Jefferson, that he was accustomed to remark that no man, when he comes to die, ever repents of having eaten so little. This remark would be worth more if it were true that men are apt to repent of eating too much. But the truth is, we seldom exercise any genuine repentance at all when we come to die, unless we have begun the work before. Death-beds are not the very honest places some have supposed. Men generally die as they live.
711. The early travellers among the Japanese tell us that a native of that country, especially of the interior, will work all day long on a mere handful of rice and a little fruit. Yet the Japanese are among the stoutest and strongest men of Asia ; and for size and strength almost resemble the German, the Swiss, and the Yankee. Can it be that they suffer for want of food?
712. We come back, then, from our reasonings and facts to the point whence we started, viz., to the affirmation that we generally eat twice as much as we ought, and that retrenchment is loudly and imperiously demanded. Few err on the other side. Inclination, habit, refined cookery, and the customs of society are all against it.
713. I have admitted that the laborer, as a general rule, requires more food than other men, because his expenditure is greater. Yet it does not thence follow, that he who performs two days’ work in one, and who consequently overworks him self, should eat in the same proportion, that is, twice as much. Generally speaking, if he really overworks, he should eat some what less, since the same causes which have overtasked and crippled his general system must have reduced the energies of his digestive system in the same proportion.