1. How Do We Eat?
Food, glorious food!
But is it just about the food? When we are concerned about our eating habits and diet plans, it usually has to do with what we should consume, in which proportions, whether or not our body’s nutritional needs are being met, etc. Whilst this is indeed important to learn, practice, and maintain, we must not allow our eating to become mindless beyond this point. For along with what we should eat there is a whole other dimension of how we should be eating. Let us explore some of the teachings of our Infallible Guides (peace be upon them all) with respect to this, making efforts within ourselves to transform mindless eating into mindful eating.
Time of Eating
If we only ever ate to satisfy hunger, the time of meals and snacks would not be such an issue. The problem arises when we turn to food on a daily basis not just to appease hunger, but for comfort, enjoyment, stress relief, and as a medium to socialize. Yet we must realize that these emotional tendencies need to be controlled and altered, and replaced with a mental attitude that will not only help our body but also our true selves, our nafs (soul).
Imam Ali (A.S) has said, “A person who would like the food to not cause him harm should not eat until his bowels are clear and he feels very hungry. When he begins to eat, he should recite ‘Bismillah’. The food should be chewed, and when there is a little bit of hunger left to be appeased, he should stop eating.”
Indeed Allah says in the Qur’an, “…eat and drink, and be not extravagant” (7:31) and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) has said, “We are a people who do not eat until we feel hungry, and when we eat we do not satiate ourselves (we do not eat excessively).” A very simple narration of the Prophet (PBUH) that we can always keep in mind:
“Eat when you desire and stop while you still desire.” (Bihar al-Anwar)
It is recommended to eat early in the morning, go without food for the whole day, and eat again for the second time after Isha prayers. If this is too difficult, it is a good idea to eat only fruits between breakfast and dinner. According to a reliable tradition, the nephew of Shahab went to Imam Jafar Sadiq (A.S) complaining of stomach ache and the heaviness of bowels. The Imam asked him to eat only twice a day – day and night – for Allah has said the same in the praise of food in Heaven: “For those whose abode is Heaven, they will get their food already prepared both times, morning and evening.” (19:62)
It is highly discouraged to eat in the state of Janabat, yet the rigidity of this is relaxed if one performs Wudhu or washes the hands, gargles, and puts water in the nose, or simply washes the hands and face and gargles. Traditions state if this direction is neglected, one may suffer from the disease of white spots.
Quantity of Food
There are numerous traditions that warn of the consequences of excessive eating and inform us of the benefits of hunger and eating in small quantities. The Prophet (PBUH) has said that a man whose consumption of food is little has a healthy stomach and a pure heart, and a man whose food is plenty has a sickly stomach and a hard heart. (Tanbih al- Khawatir) Further warning us against excessive food, he has said it poisons the heart with hardness, slows the limbs in performing acts of obedience, and blocks the souls from hearing counsel. (Bihar al-Anwar)
Imam Ali said that overeating is the greatest aid to acts of disobedience, and that when the stomach is filled with even permissible food, the heart becomes blind to goodness. (Ghurar al-Hikam)
On the night of Mer’aj (the Prophet’s heavenly ascension), the Prophet asked, “O Allah, what is the outcome of hunger?” He said, “Wisdom, protection of the heart, drawing closer to Me, lasting sorrow, less burden on the people, telling the truth, and lack of concern whether one lives in wealth or poverty.” (Ibid)
Unless otherwise referenced, narrations in this article are taken from Allama Majlisi’s book Tahdhib ul-Islam.