Why Fuss So Much About What I Eat?

I KNOW a woman who insisted that it was impossible for her to eat

strawberries because they did not agree with her. A friend told her

that that was simply a habit of her mind. Once, at a time when her

stomach was tired or not in good condition for some other reason,

strawberries had not agreed with her, and from that time she had

taken it for granted that she could not eat strawberries. When she

was convinced by her friend that her belief that strawberries did

not agree with her was merely in her own idea, and not actually

true, she boldly ate a plate of strawberries. That night she woke

with indigestion, and the next morning she said "You see, I told you

they would not agree with me."

But her friend answered: "Why, of course you could not expect them

to agree right away, could you? Now try eating them again to-day."

This little lady was intelligent enough to want the strawberries to

agree with her and to be willing to do her part to adjust herself to

them, so she tried again and ate them the next day; and now she can

eat them every day right through the strawberry season and is all

the better for it.

This is the fact that we want to understand thoroughly and to look

out for. If we are impressed with the idea that any one food does

not agree with us, whenever we think of that food we contract, and

especially our stomachs contract. Now if our stomachs contract when

a food that we believe to disagree with us is merely mentioned, of

course they would contract all the more when we ate it. Naturally

our digestive organs would be handicapped by the contraction which

came from our attitude of mind and, of course, the food would appear

not to agree with us.

Take, for instance, people who are born with peculiar prenatal

impressions about their food. A woman whom I have in mind could not

take milk nor cream nor butter nor anything with milk or cream or

butter in it. She seemed really proud of her milk-and-cream

antipathy. She would air it upon all occasions, when she could do so

without being positively discourteous, and often she came very near

the edge of discourtesy. I never saw her even appear to make an

effort to overcome it, and it is perfectly true that a prenatal

impression like that can be overcome as entirely, as can a

personally acquired impression, although it may take a longer time

and a more persistent effort.

This anti-milk-and-cream lady was at work every day over-emphasizing

her milk-and-cream contractions; whereas if she had put the same

force into dropping the milk-and-cream contraction she would have

been using her will to great advantage, and would have helped

herself in many other ways as well as in gaining the ability to take

normally a very healthful food. We cannot hold one contraction

without having its influence draw us into many others. We cannot

give our attention to dropping one contraction without having the

influence of that one effort expand us in many other ways. Watch

people when they refuse food that is passed them at table; you can

see whether they refuse and at the same time contract against the

food, or whether they refuse with no contraction at all. I have seen

an expression of mild loathing on some women's faces when food was

passed which "did not agree with them," but they were quite

unconscious that their expressions had betrayed them.

Now, it is another fact that the contraction of the stomach at one

form of food will interfere with the good digestion of another form.

When cauliflower has been passed to us and we contract against it

how can we expect our stomachs to recover from that contraction in

time to digest perfectly the next vegetable which is passed and

which we may like very much? It may be said that we expand to the

vegetable we like, and that immediately counteracts the former

contraction to the vegetable which we do not like. That is true only

to a certain extent, for the tendency to cauliflower contraction is

there in the back of our brains influencing our stomachs all the

time, until we have actually used our wills consciously to drop it.

Edwin Booth used to be troubled very much with indigestion; he

suffered keenly from it. One day he went to dine with some intimate

friends, and before the dinner began his hostess said with a very

smiling face: "Now, Mr. Booth, I have been especially careful with

this dinner not to have one thing that you cannot digest."

The host echoed her with a hearty "Yes, Mr. Booth, everything that

will come to the table is good for your digestion."

The words made a very happy impression on Mr. Booth. First there was

the kind, sympathetic friendliness of his hosts; and then the strong

suggestion they had given him that their food would agree with him.

Then there was very happy and interesting talk during the whole time

that they were at table and afterward. Mr.. Booth ate a hearty

dinner and, true to the words of his host and hostess, not one

single thing disagreed with him. And yet at that dinner, although

care had been taken to have it wholesome, there were served things

that under other conditions would have disagreed.

While we should aim always to eat wholesome food, it is really not

so much the food which makes the trouble as the attitude we take

toward it and the way we test it.

All the contractions which are made by our fussing about food

interfere with our circulation; the interference with our

circulation makes us liable to take cold, and it is safe to say that

more than half the colds that women have are caused principally by

wrong eating. Somewhat akin to grandmother's looking for her

spectacles when all the time they are pushed to the top of her head

is the way women fuss about their eating and then wonder why it is

that they cannot seem to stand drafts.

There is no doubt but that our food should be thoroughly masticated

before it goes into our stomachs. There is no doubt but that the

first process of digestion should be in our mouths. The relish which

we get for our food by masticating it properly is greater and also

helps toward digesting it truly. All this cannot be over-emphasized

if it is taken in the right way. But there is an extreme which

perhaps has not been thought of and for which happily I have an

example that will illustrate what I want to prove. I know a woman

who was, so to speak, daft on the subject of health. She attended to

all points of health with such minute detail that she seemed to have

lost all idea of why we should be healthy. One of her ways of

over-emphasizing the road to health was a very careful mastication

of her food. She chewed and chewed and chewed and chewed, and the

result was that she so strained her stomach with her chewing that

she brought on severe indigestion, simply as a result of an

overactive effort toward digestion. This was certainly a case of

"vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself, and falls on the other."

And it was not unique.

The over-emphasis of "What shall I eat? How much shall I eat? How

often shall I eat? When shall I eat? How shall I eat?"--all extreme

attention to these questions is just as liable to bring chronic

indigestion as a reckless neglect of them altogether is liable to

upset a good, strong stomach and keep it upset. The woman who chewed

herself into indigestion fussed herself into it, too, by constantly

talking about what was not healthful to eat. Her breakfast, which

she took alone, was for a time the dryest-looking meal I ever saw.

It was enough to take away any one's healthy relish just to look at

it, if he was not forewarned.

Now our relish is one of our most blessed gifts. When we relish our

food our stomachs can digest it wholesomely. When we do not our

stomachs will not produce the secretions necessary to the most

wholesome digestion. Constant fussing about our food takes away our

relish. A gluttonous dwelling upon our food takes away our relish.

Relish is a delicate gift, and as we respect it truly, as we do not

degrade it to selfish ends nor kill it with selfish fastidiousness,

it grows upon us and is in its place like any other fine perception,

and is as greatly useful to the health of our bodies as our keener

and deeper perceptions are useful to the health of our minds.

Then there is the question of being sure that our stomachs are well

rested before we give them any work to do, and being sure that we

are quiet enough after eating to give our stomachs the best

opportunity to begin their work. Here again one extreme is just as

harmful as the other. I knew a woman who had what might be called

the fixed idea of health, who always used to sit bolt upright in a

high-backed chair for half an hour after dinner, and refuse to speak

or to be spoken to in order that "digestion might start in

properly." If I had been her stomach I should have said: "Madam,

when you have got through giving me your especial attention I will

begin my work--which, by the way, is not your work but mine!" And,

virtually, that is what her stomach did say. Sitting bolt upright

and consciously waiting for your food to begin digestion is an

over-attention to what is none of your business, which contracts

your brain, contracts your stomach and stops its work.

Our business is only to fulfill the conditions rightly. The French

workmen do that when they sit quietly after a meal talking of their

various interests. Any one can fulfill the conditions properly by

keeping a little quiet, having some pleasant chat, reading a bright

story or taking life easy in any quiet way for half an hour. Or, if

work must begin directly after eating, begin it quietly. But this

feeling that it is our business to attend to the working functions

of our stomachs is officious and harmful. We must fulfill the

conditions and then forget our stomachs. If our stomachs remind us

of themselves by some misbehavior we must seek for the cause and

remedy it, but we should not on any account feel that the cause is

necessarily in the food we have eaten. It may be, and probably often

is, entirely back of that. A quick, sharp resistance to something

that is said will often cause indigestion. In that case we must stop

resisting and not blame the food. A dog was once made to swallow a

little bullet with his food and then an X-ray was thrown on to his

stomach in order that the process of digestion might be watched by

means of the bullet. When the dog was made angry the bullet stopped,

which meant that the digestion stopped; when the dog was

over-excited in any way digestion stopped. When he was calmed down

it went on again.

There are many reasons why we should learn to meet life without

useless resistance, and the health of our stomachs is not the least.

It would surprise most people if they could know how much

unnecessary strain they put on their stomachs by eating too much. A

nervous invalid had a very large appetite. She was helped twice,

sometimes three times, to meat and vegetables at dinner. She thought

that what she deemed her very healthy appetite was a great blessing

to her, and often remarked upon it, as also upon her idea that so

much good, nourishing food must be helping to make her well. And yet

she wondered why she did not gain faster.

Now the truth of the matter was that this invalid had a nervous

appetite. Not only did she not need one third of the food she ate,

but indeed the other two thirds was doing her positive harm. The tax

which she put upon her stomach to digest so much food drained her

nerves every day, and of course robbed her brain, so that she ate

and ate and wept and wept with nervous depression. When it was

suggested to her by a friend who understood nerves that she would

get better very much faster if she would eat very much less she made

a rule to take only one helping of anything, no matter how much she

might feel that she wanted another. Very soon she began to gain

enough to see for herself that she had been keeping herself ill with

overeating, and it was not many days before she did not want a

second helping.

Nervous appetites are not uncommon even among women who consider

themselves pretty well. Probably there are not five in a hundred

among all the well-fed men and women in this country who would not

be more healthy if they ate less.

Then there are food notions to be looked out for and out of which

any one can relax by giving a little intelligent attention to the


"I do not like eggs. I am tired of them." "Dear, dear me! I ate so

much ice cream that it made me ill, and it has made me ill to think

of it ever since."

Relax, drop the contraction, pretend you had never tasted ice cream

before, and try to eat a little--not for the sake of the ice cream,

but for the sake of getting that knot out of your stomach.

"But," you will say, "can every one eat everything?"

"Yes," the answer is, "everything that is really good, wholesome

food is all right for anybody to eat."

But you say: "Won't you allow for difference of tastes?"

And the answer to that is: "Of course we can like some foods more

than others, but there is a radical difference between unprejudiced

preferences and prejudiced dislikes."

Our stomachs are all right if we will but fulfill their most simple

conditions and then leave them alone. If we treat them right they

will tell us what is good for them and what is not good for them,

and if we will only pay attention, obey them as a matter of course

without comment and then forget them, there need be no more fuss

about food and very much less nervous irritability.

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