The Backward Eating Habits of Mainstream America
by Paul Gerst
There is an old adage that most Americans seem to reject with abject authority. This adage is of a very personal nature and arguably, affects all aspects of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Instead of adopting it as a sound life-principle, it has been retired to the “old-sayings” bin. The adage is: “Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner.”
The majority of meaning to be drawn from this expression is that we are supposed to have our largest meal of the day to break our fast and “fill our tanks” for the day ahead. Lunch is the moderate meal that keeps us going. This meal is a bit larger if the physical demands are more intense and smaller on days that are more relaxing. The evening meal should be able to be digested relatively quickly so our bodies may focus their energies on regeneration and repair.
What are the reasons we’ve abandoned such innate wisdom and how has it affected our various states of health? Just as our body, thoughts, emotions, and spirit may affect us, we can affect them. One of the most important ways of affecting our body chemistry is by what, when, how, and how much we eat. Before going further with this part of the story, let me suggest some reasons for our backwards eating habits.
The adage is: “Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner.”
A brief look at the average American’s diet as it relates to the above-mentioned factors, brings us to a diet that often lacks in variety or nutritionally-dense or whole foods. The average American often eats on the run and also eats emotionally, trying to fill a void left by a lack of love, frustration, anger, anxiety, or some other stagnant emotional state. To keep ourselves going, we often over-consume sugar, caffeine and overly-processed grains (breads and sugary cereals). In fact, many Americans call coffee and toast or worse, a sweet roll, their breakfast. When their body is looking for a slow-burning fuel like protein, we give it sugar, which amps the adrenals and starts an addictive process; the adrenals fill us with adrenaline which in turn crashes a few hours later creating a demand for more caffeine, sugar or fast-burning fuel. Over time, other glands in the body are affected (oftentimes the thyroid) and chronic symptoms start appearing.
The ‘when’ of the average eater in our country is all over the map as many Americans participate in shift-work. Having worked 3rd shift for a year of my life, I can say that it was strange to eat breakfast before going home and going to bed, then getting up in the afternoon and eating whatever my confused system craved. Sometimes I couldn’t eat at all when I thought I should be eating. I’d eat my largest meal of the day sometime in the night. I can honestly say that this was one of the least healthy periods of my life and although there are unnamed variables at play, the irregularity of my diet was definitely one of the main contributors.
As I mentioned, the morning meal is often rushed and for those whose work schedule only allows them a half an hour lunch, that meal is eaten quickly as well. This leaves dinner, which may be eaten more slowly (or not, if you ask the parents of kids in after-school programs) but more often than not, is eaten too late. Assuming the average bedtime is around 10:30pm, dinner should be eaten by 7 or 7:30. No food should be consumed later than that except for the occasional light snack (a small amount of easily digestible carbohydrate helps some people sleep…others, it keeps them up).
The issues surrounding our eating improprieties are many, but the main list looks like this: Eating too much too quickly causes stress on the digestive system and incomplete digestion, which in-turn may cause bacterial and yeast overgrowth in the colon. Allergies may follow down the line. Eating too much processed food (nutritionally deficient) may cause an array of symptoms, but lack of energy, an inability of the body to detoxify itself (leading to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue or another functional disorder), skin disorders, glandular issues, and digestive/elimination problems are some of the potential outcomes of poor eating.
There is also the matter of what our body does to help us out that we seem to obstruct. When we sleep, our body diverts its energy to restorative practices. The parasympathetic nervous system takes over and helps send what is needed to remake…well, YOU! If you go to bed with a full belly too often, this process is diminished and over time, the affects on the body are evident with another set of symptoms.
As many of us practitioners become so good at telling our patients what NOT to do, but not so good at supplying an ample TO-DO list, let’s look at some positives that you can implement that very well may turn some of your issues around, assuming they are not so advanced that expert and more invasive measures are needed. First, as the adage says, eat your largest meal of the day after your longest sleep. For the average American, this is breakfast, or the morning meal. This meal should have a great deal of protein (assuming there are no digestive problems present which would prevent the eater from digesting said meal) in it as that sets the pace of the day. You wouldn’t stoke-up the stove to heat the house for the day by throwing a handful of balsa wood in it, as that would burn up in a very short period of time. You would use a hardwood like oak, as that will provide a longer, slower burn. Those who have a hearty breakfast such as eggs, whole grain toast and a piece of natural sausage or a pile of brown rice with eggs on top and some toasted nori strips are much more apt to have consistent energy through the day versus the person who has coffee and a bagel.
There are exceptions to every rule and one exception here is the vacationer who is traveling in warmer climates. They are not expending much energy and it is appropriate (assuming again that there are no pre-existing issues) to indulge in a fresh fruit platter for breakfast. Aside from being a nice change of pace, it is cleansing and every body needs a change of pace, especially when lightening the load for a few days, if not a few weeks.
Try eating mindfully and slowly and listen to your body. Think about what you need, not what is going to stop your emotions or your thoughts from badgering you. Are you eating for pleasure (which is ok from time to time and if done mindfully) or are you eating to fulfill a need: to nourish your body, mind, and spirit? Schedule time for meals around you and your family, and you will be surprised at how things start to change, albeit slowly. The T.V. may not go on so quickly, you might learn more about your kids, your loved-one, or even yourself. Answers may come more readily to you as your mind will not be steeped in the toxicity of a mindless approach to life. There are many principles by which to live one’s life. I suggest you start building that list by Eating like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner.
Paul Gerst L.Ac. C.Ht. CPM is a licensed Acupuncturist of 13 years, a certified Hypnotherapist and certified Professional Mediator. He owns and practices at Infinity Natural Health Services in Rice Lake and Menomonie, Wisconsin. He may be reached for appointments by calling 715-736-1014 for Rice Lake or 715-790-1298 for Menomonie. More information may be obtained by visiting the clinic website: www.infinitynaturalhealthservices.com or for seminar info: www.dragonflyseminars.net.