Health & NutritionThe Keys to Life

Keeping Healthy – Rule B: Regulating the Amount of Food Intake

Contrary to popular belief, eating large amounts of healthy food is not necessarily a good thing. The truth is, that one of the reasons for death is excessive food consumption – even if it is composed of healthy ingredients.

More Food = More Damage

A.    Excess food creates unnecessary fat storage in the body.

B.     It overloads vital systems in the body, and damages the quality of digestion

The explanation is simple.

The system in the body that’s responsible for the absorption of nutrients was wisely created. It consists of milling and molding tools, conveyor systems, processing chambers as well as pipes for digestion, which all come together in order to transform the food that’s difficult to digest into building materials for the body. There are certain mechanisms that identify the waste contained in food. These systems filter it and expel it from the body.

At first, the food goes through a grinding and crushing process initiated by the teeth, which transform the food from a whole, hard solid to a soft mass. At that moment, the salivary glands secrete fluids, which break down and soften the small pieces, while the tongue kneads everything together, creating a smooth consistency. It then pushes the food towards the opening of the oral “tunnel” situated at the back of the mouth. Then, the muscles in that area push the food back into that opening, and after a series of contractions, the crushed food descends into a sack that is nothing short of a central processing room called the stomach. This laboratory produces various juices. The walls of the stomach strongly move the food, until it is well mixed with hydrochloric acid and other gastric juices. The food travels from the stomach and goes on a long journey through the tube of the small intestine whose length is between seven and eight meters.

The journey begins at the duodenum, where the various digestive juices, corresponding to the food, are secreted, and ends in the colon. As it travels through the small intestine, its walls absorb the nutrients that the body requires, while the waste products continue down to the colon. The waste is stored temporarily until it is excreted.

By the way, God extended a great kindness to man by creating the opening for excretions in the back of the body, while the apertures that sense tasty and aromatic food were created at the front of the head. Another kindness that we must recognize is that the waste products are not just automatically expelled from the body once their journey has been completed, as we might expect. Rather, a special muscular “guard” blocks them from escaping and only opens the gates to the outside after he receives special orders from the brain that takes manners and politeness into consideration. These are just some points to ponder upon reflection of the wisdom behind the human creation – its formation is certainly no coincidence.[1]

In any case, the stomach is a balloon that can shrink or expand depending on the amount of food it contains. However, in order for digestion to function optimally, the stomach must remain soft and flexible. It cannot be overloaded, otherwise, it will not be able to mix its digestive juices into the food properly or function in an ideal way. By the way, it’s important to note the significance of thorough and relaxed chewing, which also allows the stomach and other parts of the digestive system to do their job properly.

Maimonides saw so much harm in overeating that he said the following:[2]

If a person eats small amounts of unhealthy food (such as smoked meat, white flour and other foods listed in the ‘Sefer Hamada’[3] that he refers to as ‘bad foods’. But these foods are still not as bad as the harmful ingredients we have in our time), his damage would be less than eating excessive amounts of healthy foods.

And he adds in the Sefer Hamada:[4]

Excessive eating is like poison to the body. It is the main source of all illness. Most illnesses that afflict man are caused by harmful foods or by filling his belly and overeating – even if he eats healthful foods. This was implied by Solomon in his wisdom:[5] ‘Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from distress’; meaning, ‘guards his mouth’ from eating harmful foods or ‘his tongue’ from speaking [about things] other than his needs.’

What is the appropriate amount of food to eat during a meal? Every person should eat according to the size of his body. The main thing is that he stops eating before he feels full. Here’s the Rambam’s instruction in Sefer Hamada:[6]

One should not eat until his stomach is full. Rather, [he should stop when] he feels like he is three quarters satisfied.

When we stop eating right after the stomach is 75% full, it ensures a healthy digestion, and we gain the most benefit from the food. We will conclude this chapter with a fascinating statement from the Rambam:

Do not believe that eating or drinking more will help fill the body and mind in the same way a sack fills up when things are placed inside it, for it has the opposite effect.

Notes and Sources

[1] The astonishment of the sages in the Talmud should be noted here as well (Brachot 10a), that the area from which they nurse, is also the filthiest area, whereas in humans, the area nursed from is close to the heart, the area of wisdom, therefore, the baby’s eyes are not exposed to a damaging image. The sages say that King David sand and thanked G-d for this in Psalms when he said: “Bless Hashem, o my soul, and do not forget all His benefits” (Psalms 103:2)

[2] Hanhagat Habriut L’HaRambam page 30

[3] Rambam – Hilchot De’ot 4:10

[4] Rambam – Hilchot De’ot 4:15

[5] Mishlei 21:23

[6] Rambam Hilchot De’ot 4:2

Adapted from “The Keys to Life” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen


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