It has become a truism to say that the great majority of people in comfortable circumstances eat too much. Scientific inquiry some time ago elicited the fact that the amount of food which had previously been considered essential to health had been very much over-estimated. Professor Chittenden in America demonstrated that vigorous health could be maintained on restricted diet even in those cases where severe muscular work was required. He found by experiment that soldiers, athletes, and students would work better and improve in health by a reduction of food, particularly of proteid food. As a result of these experiments and the publicity given to them by the Press, and owing to the systematic teaching of medical people that simple diet is one of the royal roads to health, the general public is becoming much more sensible upon the subject of dietetics.
Indeed, one result of the reaction against overindulgence in food has been the development of a huge army of food faddists, devout disciples of vegetarianism or of meat and barley water cures, according to their temperament and inclination. Whilst exponents of food faddism may seem to be ridiculous to a heedless world, if the faddist achieves healthy digestion he is wise in remaining faithful to his theories.
The apparent anomalies of diet fads can be explained by the old truth that "one man's meat is another man's poison."
Vegetarianism may be the best thing for Jones; Smith may obtain health and happiness by devotion to lean meat and water. The diet that suits the digestion of a Russian would ruin the health of an Italian or a Japanese. It is not the quality or quantity of food we eat that gives vitality, but what we digest and absorb into our blood.
One golden rule in dietetics is moderation. By moderate eating we are more likely to escape dyspepsia, sick headaches, and bilious attacks. By controlling our appetites and trying to understand the physiology of digestion, by realising the folly of eating more than we need, we shall escape the ills that are so apt to come into middle life in the shape of rheumatism, gout, and obesity.
Nerves and irritability of temper are too often the result of errors of diet, and one secret of happiness and placidity of temper is sensible dietetics. Imperfect digestion is far more often than we know the reason of vague unhappiness and a sense of failure and incapacity to do good work. Unfortunately, the majority of people take no heed of Nature's early warnings that their digestion is out of gear. They wait until that group of symptoms which they call " dyspepsia "compels them to realise that something is wrong. Then they begin to dose themselves for headache, biliousness, or pain after eating.
With what result? They may soothe their symptoms for the time being, but in the end they are conquered by their stomachs, and have to seek medical advice.
There is always a cause for indigestion, biliousness, sick headache, and the other ills which follow in the train of "dyspepsia." Perfect digestion is a painless, physiological process, the details of which can be studied by reading the article on "Home Nursing," on page 360.
In a state of health, digestion is unconscious and painless. When, however, anyone has systematically over-eaten, rushed through meals, taken food at all sorts of odd times, or eaten
Medical indigestible materials, the stomach and digestion become "disordered" The gastric juice is not perfectly healthy. It may contain too much or too little hydrochloric acid. It may be deficient in pepsin, which is the natural ferment. The digestion is consequently interfered with. The food may act as an irritant to the smooth lining membrane of the stomach, which becomes inflamed.
It can easily be imagined that digestion is now probably painful - that is, the patient suffers from "dyspepsia," or difficult digestion. She may begin to dose herself with stomach mixtures containing hydrochloric acid or pepsin, which do very little good, unless the cause of the indigestion is first removed. It is only by studying the process of digestion that one can really understand how healthy digestion depends upon the proper choice of food, the arrangement of meals, and thorough mastication.
If you suffer from pain after eating, from headache, and other evidences of a weak stomach, say to yourself, "Why?" There must be some reason, and you should discover that reason immediately. First, do you eat more than your digestive apparatus is capable of digesting? Many people who suffer from the ill-effects of imperfect digestion declare they "have always had a good appetite." But a good appetite may be a danger. It tempts one to eat too much, to swallow more food, perhaps, than the stomach can digest.
Again, even if digestion in the stomach is quite satisfactory, the blood may not be able to utilise the large amount of nourishment provided for it. When the blood contains an excess of proteid matter there is a strain upon the organs which have to get rid of this superabundance of nourishment the body does not require.
It is a fact that people with weak stomachs and poor appetites often reach a hearty old age, the reason being that they are compelled to eat sparsely and so escape the ills of an overloaded blood. The student of sensible dietetics realises the danger of too many courses. From a physiological point of view the best dinner consists of one or two dishes. One of the wisest writers has said, "Beware of those foods which tempt you to eat when you are not hungry, and that tempt you to drink when you are not thirsty."
The risk with an elaborate meal of many courses is that you eat more food than you could possibly consume if only one course, or, at the most two, had been provided.
Let us consider a few useful precepts which might be associated with the gospel of sensible dietetics.
Be chary of yielding to the temptations of the table.
Eat rather less than what the appetite desires.
Go in for modified vegetarianism in the sense of increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables.
Remember that you will digest your food better if you chew it thoroughly, eating it quietly, without worrying or giving way to depressing emotions. It has been demonstrated by X-ray photographs that anger or worry will cause the stomach to drop more than an inch, from losing muscular tone. Music and cheerful conversation, on the contrary, elevate the stomach by increasing its tone and vitality.
Never eat when you are tired, physically or mentally, until you have had ten minutes' absolute rest of mind and body.
Do not imagine that you can ever have a perfect digestion unless your teeth are in good order and free from decay. The care of the teeth is so closely related to health that the subject will be considered in detail in a later article.
Do not eat when you are not hungry, and remember the advice of "Let good digestion wait on appetite and health on both."
If, however, you are having only three simple meals a day the difficulty will be, not to find an appetite, but to satisfy it and at the same time follow your programme of moderation.
If these rules are faithfully adhered to, "digestion" will very soon cease to trouble you, or even interest you, because it will be normal, therefore unconscious.