Digestion and Overeating

It's interesting (and sometimes comical) to look back and see what people were saying about diets and weight loss in previous generations. As one example, R.L Alsaker was the popular authority on food and health about a hundred years ago. Here's an excerpt from his book;

In all my reading it has not been my good fortune to find a diet table
for healthy people, giving moderate quantities of food. Diet lists seem
scientific, so they appeal to the mind that has not learned to think of
the subject from the correct point of view. Quantitative diet tables are
worthless, for one person may need more than another. Some are short and
some are tall. Some are naturally slender and others of stocky build.
There is as much difference in people's food needs as there is in their
appearance. To try to fit the same quantity and even kind of food to all
is as senseless as it would be to dress all in garments of identical
size and cut.

If we eat in moderation it does not make much difference what we eat,
provided our diet contains either raw fruits or raw vegetables enough to
furnish the various mineral salts and the food is fairly well prepared.
There are combinations that are not ideal, but they do very little harm
if there is no overeating. People who are moderate in their eating
generally relish simple foods. Unfortunately, there is but little
moderation in eating. From childhood on the suggestion that it is
necessary to eat liberally is ever before us. Medical men, grandparents,
parents and neighbors think and talk alike. If the parents believe in
moderation, the neighbors kindly give lunches to the children. It is
really difficult to raise children right, especially in towns and

After such training we learn to believe in overeating and we pass the
belief on to the next generation, as it has in the past been handed down
from generation to generation. Finally we die, many of us martyrs to
overconsumption of food. Ask any healer of intelligence who has thrown
off the blinders put on at college and who has allowed himself to think
without fear, and he will tell you that at least nine-tenths of our ills
come from improper eating habits. It is not difficult to make up menus
of compatible foods. No one knows how much another should eat, and he
who prepares quantitative diet tables for the multitude must fail.

However, every individual of ordinary intelligence can quickly learn his
own food requirements and the key thereto is given by nature. It is not
well to think of one's self much or often. It is not well to be
introspective, but everyone should get acquainted with himself, learning
to know himself well enough to treat himself with due consideration. We
are taught kindness to others. We need to be taught kindness to
ourselves. The average person ought to be able to learn his normal food
requirements within three or four months, and a shorter time will often

The following observations will prove helpful to the careful reader:

Food should have a pleasant taste while it is being eaten, but should
not taste afterwards. If it does it is a sign of indigestion following
overeating, or else it indicates improper combinations or very poor
cooking. Perhaps food was taken when there was no desire for it, which
is always a mistake. Perhaps too many foods were combined in the meal.
Or it may be that there was not enough mouth preparation. It is
generally due to overeating. Cabbage, onions, cucumbers and various
other foods which often repeat, will not do so when properly prepared
and eaten in moderation, if other conditions are right.

Eructation of gas and gas in the bowels are indications of overeating.
More food is taken than can be digested. A part of it ferments and gas
is a product of fermentation. A very small amount of gas in the
alimentary tract is natural, but when there is belching or rumbling of
gas in the intestines it is a sign of indigestion, which may be so mild
that the individual is not aware of it, or it may be so bad that he can
think of little else. When there is formation of much gas it is always
necessary to reduce the food intake, and to give special attention to
the mastication of all starch-containing aliments. Also, if starches and
sour fruits have been combined habitually, this combination should be
given up. Starch digests in an alkaline medium, and if it is taken with
much acid by those whose digestive powers are weak, the result is
fermentation instead of digestion.

People should never eat enough to experience a feeling of languor. They
should quit eating before they feel full. If there is a desire to sleep
after meals, too much food has been ingested. When drowsiness possesses
us after meals we have eaten so much that the digestive organs require
so much blood that there is not enough left for the brain. This is a
hint that if we have work or study that requires exceptional clearness
of mind, we should eat very moderately or not at all immediately before.
The digestive organs appropriate the needed amount of blood and the
brain refuses to do its best when deprived of its normal supply of
oxygen and nourishment.

Serpents, some beasts of prey and savages devour such large quantities
of food at times that they go into a stupor. There is no excuse for our
patterning after them now that a supply of food is easily obtained at
all times.

A bad taste in the mouth is usually a sign of overeating. It comes from
the decomposition following a too liberal food intake. If water has a
bad taste in the morning or at any other time, it indicates overeating.
It may be due to a filthy mouth or the use of alcohol.

Heartburn is also due to overeating, and so is hiccough; both come from
fermentation of food in the alimentary tract.

A heavily coated tongue in the morning indicates excessive food intake.
If the tongue is what is known as a dirty gray color it shows that the
owner has been overeating for years. The normal mucous membrane is clean
and pink. The mucous membrane of the mouth, stomach and the first part
of the bowels should not be compelled to act as an organ of excretion,
for the normal function is secretory and absorptive. However, when so
much food is eaten that the skin, lungs, kidneys and lower bowel can not
throw off all the waste and excess, the mucous membrane in the upper
part of the alimentary tract must assist. The result is a coated tongue,
but the tongue is in no worse condition than the mucous membrane of the
stomach. A coated tongue indicates overcrowded nutrition and is nature's
request to reduce the food intake. How much? Enough to clean the tongue.
If the coating is chronic it may take several months before the tongue
becomes clean.

A muddy skin, perhaps pimply, is another sign of overeating. It shows
that the food intake is so great that the body tries to eliminate too
many of the solids through the skin, which becomes irritated from this
cause and the too acid state of the system and then there is
inflammation. Many forms of eczema and a great many other skin diseases
are caused by stomach disorders and an overcrowded nutrition. There is a
limit to the skin's excretory ability, and when this is exceeded skin
diseases ensue. Some of the so-called incurable skin diseases get well
in a short time on a proper diet without any local treatment.

Dull eyes and a greenish tinge of the whites of the eyes point toward
digestive disturbances due to an oversupply of food. The green color
comes from bile thrown into the blood when the liver is overworked. The
liver is never overtaxed unless the consumption of food is excessive.

Another very common sign of too generous feeding is catarrh, and it does
not matter where the catarrh is located. It is true that there are other
causes of catarrh, in fact, anything that irritates the mucous membrane
any length of time will cause it, but an overcrowded nutrition causes
the ordinary cases. It is the same old story: The mucous membrane is
forced to take on the function of eliminating superfluous matter, which
has been taken into the system in the form of food. Many people dedicate
their lives to the act of turning a superabundance of food into waste,
and as a result they overwork their bodies so that they are never well
physically and seldom efficient mentally.

Many people, especially women, say that if they miss a meal or get it
later than usual, they suffer from headache. This indicates that the
feeding is wrong, generally too generous and often too stimulating. A
normal person can miss a dozen meals without a sign of a headache.

To repeat: No one can tell how much another should eat, but everyone can
learn for himself what the proper amount of food is. Enough is given
above to help solve the problem. The interpretations presented are not
the popular ones, but they are true for they give good results when
acted upon.

If bad results follow a meal there has been overeating, either at the
last meal or previously. Undermasticating usually accompanies overeating
and causes further trouble. Those who masticate thoroughly are generally
quite moderate in their food intake.

Many say that they eat so much because they enjoy their food so. He who
eats too rapidly or in excess does not know what true enjoyment of food
is. Excessive eating causes food poisoning, and food poisoning blunts
all the special senses. To have normal smell, taste, hearing and vision
one must be clean through and through, and those who are surfeited with
food are not clean internally.

The average individual does not know the natural taste of most foods. He
seasons them so highly that the normal taste is hidden or destroyed.
Those who wish to know the exquisite flavor of such common foods as
onions, carrots, cabbage, apples and oranges must eat them without
seasoning or dressing for a while. To get real enjoyment from food it is
necessary to eat slowly and in moderation.

I know both from personal experience and from the experience of others
that seasoning is not necessary. Instead of giving the foods better
flavor, they taste inferior. A little salt will harm no one, but the
constant use of much seasoning leads to irritation of the digestive
organs and to overeating. Salt taken in excess also helps to bring on
premature aging. It is splendid for pickling and preserving, but health
and life in abundance are the only preservatives needed for the body.
Refined sugar should be classed among the condiments. People who live
normally lose the desire for it. Grapefruit, for instance, tastes better
when eaten plain than when sugar is added.

People who sleep seven or eight hours and wake up feeling unrefreshed
are suffering from the ingestion of too much food. A food poisoned
individual can not be properly rested. To get sweet sleep and feel
restored it is necessary to have clean blood and a sweet alimentary

Much has been said about overeating. Once in a while a person will
habitually undereat, but such cases are exceedingly rare. To undereat is
foolish. At all times we must use good sense. It is a subject upon which
no fixed rules can be promulgated. Be guided by the feelings, for
perfect health is impossible to those who lack balance.

Those who think they need scientific direction may take one of the
orthodox diet tables. If it contains alcoholics, remove them from the
list. Then partake of about one-third of the starch recommended, and
about one-third of the protein. Use more fresh fruit and fresh
vegetables than listed. Instead of eating bread made from white flour,
use whole wheat bread. Do not try to eat everything given on the
scientific diet list each day. For instance, rice, potatoes and bread
are given in many of these tables. Select one of these starches one day,
another the next day, etc. If one-third of the amount recommended is too
much, and it sometimes is, reduce still further.

Please bear in mind that the orthodox way, the so-called scientific way,
has been tried over a long period of time and it has given very poor
results. Moderation has always given good results and always will.

Exerpts from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Maintaining Health, by R. L. Alsaker