It is really a difficult question to answer. The quantity of food that we take varies based on mood, what we had eaten on previous meal, what is the nature of present meal, whether the previously taken food is completely digested or not etc. Though there are uncertain factors, there are a few general rules that help to answer – how much food to eat per day.
Table of Contents
Based on hunger
The rule of natural urges of Ayurveda states that – you should eat only when you are completely hungry. You should eat till the hunger is satiated. When you are hungry, it indicates that the digestive enzymes are completely produced to optimum extent. Hence the food that you take will be digested well.
You should eat till the hunger is satiated. While taking food, if you stop feeling hungry, that indicates that the food that you have taken matches with your digestion strength. Hence, it is time to stop eating. If we eat, beyond hunger, then there is extra pressure on digestive enzymes and some part of food may get left undigested. This is the leading cause of indigestion and altered metabolism. This is how ‘Ama’ develops, as per Ayurveda.
Read – Importance Of Diet (Pathya) For Specific Diseases
Sometimes we get fooled by our mind, of hunger, because we like the food on the table very much. In those tough circumstances, we have to be strong enough to listen to our stomach, carefully, ignoring our mind.
Just before the hunger is totally satiated
This is what we hear from our parents and grand parents. We should get up from the bed when there is little sleep still left in our eyes, we should stop eating when there is little hunger still left in our tummies. This argument also has some weight. This practice will always make sure never to over-eat. This practice also gives good control over our mind and sense organs.
Time for the food to get digested
The quantity of food should be such that it gets digested before we take food next time. So, if you are taking only two meals per day, then relatively the quantity of food can be more, so that it keeps you energized throughout the day, till the second meal is taken at night.
If you are accustomed to 4 – 5 meals per day, (which is recommended in diabetics, certain type of gastritis patients etc), the quantity of food should be smaller.
It sounds more like defining the upper limit of food quantity. But it also defines the lower limit as well. Meaning – the food quantity should be not so high that when the next meal time arrives, you are still not hungry and it should not be too low that before next meal time, you already start feeling hungry.
Based on Guru Laghu
Ayurveda classifies foods into two main categories.
Guru – heavy, those foods that impart heaviness to the body, those, after taking which, you feel heavy, those which take longer time to get digested.
Example: wheat, Fresh wine, black gram, cow pea, lablab bean, mutton, Fish, ash gourd, dates, Jamun fruit, onion, garlic, cow milk, buffalo milk, jaggery, honey, sesame, dairy products, sweet products, fried foods, etc.
Laghu – light, those foods that impart lightness to the body, those, after taking which, you feel light, those which take shorter time to get digested. They are pretty easily digested.
Example: old rice, Green gram, goat milk, camel milk, Chick pea, lentils, grass pea, lemon, old wine, Moringa (drum stick), pomegranate, cumin seeds, hot water, coconut water, butter milk etc.
Foods that are heavy, should be had less in quantity. – About half to one third of stomach.
Foods that are light, can be had more than those with heavy, up to one third of stomach.
How to decide if one third of stomach is filled up or not? – It is left to your own observation. It is that point of time while you take food, that you no more feel comfortable.
Time of the day
Usual rule is to have good amount of breakfast, moderate amount of lunch and less amount of dinner. Makes sense, because, you will require more calories in the morning, moderate in the afternoon and lesser at night.
So, these are some of the criteria that are explained in Ayurvedic text books. Though most of these are subjective, I hope that with experience and self observation, you can decide on yourself about the right quantity of food.
Overeating, Diarrhea, IBS, Anxiety
Can overeating cause anxiety, diarrhea or IBS?
Dr JV Hebbar
Yes. If you have the habit of visiting the wash room 4 – 5 times a day, having an urge to defecate soon after eating, abdominal pain, heaviness, bloating etc. symptoms, consider checking the quantity of your meals. The number one health rule of Ayurveda is to maintain a good Agni – digestive fire.
The number 1 requirement to maintain a good Agni is to eat only when you feel completely hungry.
So, if you have the habit of eating 3 – 4 times a day, you have to really check for your hunger and only then eat. Most of my clients start feeling lightness of stomach and mind and start having regular bowel habits – just once or twice a day, just with this one tip.
If you have doubts about your over-eating habit, my first recommendation is to eat only thrice a day, for a start. Do not eat anything in between. Even consuming coffee / tea etc. do it very close to a meal. No snacking, no munching in between. Of course, you can drink water during other times, as much as you want, based on your thirst.
Whenever you feel hungry, wait for half an hour to check if the hunger is real. Have your meals only after double-checking the hunger.
When you start feeling comfortable, you can start slowly cutting down the amount of food that you take at night or in the breakfast. You can keep the lunch heavy. This will further sharpen the digestion strength and absorption of nutrients.
Anxiety and Pitta Dosha:
Another possible cause of IBS is anxiety. Some people feel increased Pitta Dosha with anxiety and as a result, their digestive fire also increases. So, they start eating more. This anxiety induced hunger is attributed to a stress-hormone called cortisol. With increased hunger, they eat more, leading to diarrhea or IBS like symptoms, which further increases their anxiety and the cycle continues.
With overeating, kapha Dosha increases. This leads to a dull mind and dull body. You will not be mentally alert. This again increases anxiety and digestive fire, and the cycle continues. Having only 2 or 3 meals a day helps to fight the anxiety also.
With food restriction, the body naturally feels a sense of emergency and it helps to keep the mind more alert and active.
Advice: Cut down on what you eat, try to eat only twice or thrice a day and hopefully there will be health and mind improvements.
Read: Why Did I Skip My Lunch Today, Though I Am Not On Fast?
Relationship of quantity of food with the digestive fire (capacity)
By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Master Charaka advocates consuming food in right quantity. He further tells that the quantity of the food is dependent on the strength of one’s digestive fire.
The digestive fire / capacity of each and every individual are different and so is the quantity of food. Both these i.e. digestive capacity and quantity of food vary in the same individual at different points of time. Therefore these two are variable components.
Since the digestive capacity of an individual varies from time to time, the quantity of food too varies from time to time.
Eating too much is harmful for the digestive system, so is eating less – We eat only in accordance to our hunger especially if we are conscious eaters. Most people eat without considering the hunger factor. They are not conscious about their food. These people binge eat and are susceptible to develop wide array of digestive, systemic and metabolic disorders. This is because the foods consumed with animal instinct will imbalance the digestive fire. This is also true in those people who are too conscious to eat food and indiscriminately cut off portions of their food. Figure consciousness is one of the main factors on the backdrop. These people too damage their digestive fire since they do not provide the necessary quantity of food needed for the body.
While explaining the causes of indigestion, a reference from Madhava Nidana tells –
Meaning – ‘A person who doesn’t have self control will eat like an animal not considering the quantity or type of food. Such a person suffers from indigestion which forms the foundation for wide array of diseases’.
This happens because large quantity of food would imbalance the fire.
What is an ideal quantity of food? – For a given individual the ideal quantity of food is that quantity which gets easily digested without causing any trouble. Therefore one should be judicious about the quantity of whatever form of food he or she consumes – chewable, foods which can be swallowed, foods which can be licked and foods which can be drunk.
One should be aware and conscious about
- what quantity suits them,
- what quantity gets digested easily,
- which form or which type of food troubles them and comes into the way of easy digestion
- when to stop eating
One should be conscious but not always be worried about the quantity of food. This will create stress of eating food.
Ideal quantity of food is that which has the below mentioned characteristics –
- will keep the digestive fire in a state of balance and doesn’t disturb it
- gets digested within proper time i.e. before taking the next meals
- doesn’t cause discomfort, heaviness or pain in the belly
- doesn’t cause pressure on the chest, lungs and heart
- doesn’t cause pain in the flanks
- keeps the mind and senses comfortable
- doesn’t cause discomfort in breathing, speaking or carrying out any body movements like sitting, standing, running, walking etc
- doesn’t disturb or cause imbalance of doshas and tissues
- enhances strength, endurance, color and immunity in a good way
The quantity of food depends on the strength of digestive fire
- When the digestive fire is of severe strength, one would take large quantity of food because there is severe hunger
- When the digestive fire is of moderate strength, one would take moderate quantity of food because there is moderate hunger
- When the digestive fire is of less / feeble strength, one would take less quantity of food because there is less hunger
The quantity of food also varies in different seasons. This is because the digestive fire is severe in Hemanta season i.e. early winter while it is less in Varsha season i.e. monsoon. Therefore the person eats more food in early winter season and less in monsoon season.
Similarly the quantity of food also varies in accordance to age. This is because the digestive fire is severe in youngsters and teenagers while it is less in old aged people. Therefore the youngster eats large / good quantity of food while the old aged person eats less quantity of food.
Thus, depending on the strength of digestive fire, the quantity of intake of food will vary in the same person.
Ideal quantity of food – definition
Ideal quantity of a given food for a given person is that which gets easily digested in proper time without causing hindrance in the constitution / personality and normal functioning of different parts of the body.
This definition is different for different kinds of food in the same person. This means to tell that the ideal quantity of a particular food is different from the ideal quantity of another food in a same person. The digestive fire responds and digests different foods in different types.
Example, in a person having moderate digestive fire, 200 grams of food x may get easily digested without causing any discomfort, in proper time. On the other hand, another food y in the same quantity may take long time to get digested, may produce mild to moderate discomfort or pain and hamper few functions in the body. So food y should either be used less often or avoided or used in lesser quantity. One may observe that food y when taken in 100 grams quantity may get easily digested in the same time as food x gets digested when taken in 200 grams quantity.
Will all benefits of food be bestowed just by taking food in ideal quantity?
In order to tap all the benefits of food it is not enough that one takes food in ideal quantity. In fact the 8 factors / components pertaining to food intake i.e. ahara vidhi vishesha ayatana should be considered for getting optimum benefits of food. Ideal quantity is one among these 8 factors.
Light and heavy foods – their relationship with the quantity
Immaterial of the food being light to digest or heavy to digest, it depends on the quantity. This means to tell that both light and heavy foods need to be consumed in right quantities. Both kinds of foods can trouble us to the core if they are not taken in right quantity.
Examples of light to digest foods are –
- Paddy grown in 60 days
- Green grams
- Meat of black buck, common quail, grey partridge / jungle bush quail, ena and shambara deer (Indian sambar), rabbit, wapiti etc
Examples of heavy to digest foods are –
- Products prepared from flour
- Sugarcane juice
- Edibles prepared with milk
- Black grams
- Meat of animals and birds living in marshy lands
- Meat of aquatic animals
Master Charaka tells the quantity of food is more important than the food being light or heavy. This means to tell that the quantity of food should be decided even before its lightness or heaviness is considered. This is because when heavy foods are taken in small quantity, they produce lightness in the body. Similarly when light foods are taken in large quantities, they produce heaviness in the body. Therefore foods, light or heavy, only when taken in proper quantity will be conducive for healthy people or diseased people.
Relationship of light and heavy foods with digestive fire
Light foods – are predominant in qualities of air and fire elements. Therefore owing to its natural qualities light foods kindle the digestive fire. Even if they are consumed in large quantities (full stomach), they cause less disturbances like indigestion for short period of time.
Heavy foods – are predominant in qualities of earth and water elements. By nature these foods do not kindle the digestive fire because their properties are antagonistic to the fire. When these foods are consumed in large quantities they cause severe disturbances. But in those who are regularly indulged in exercises and have good digestive fire, heavy foods taken to satiety too cause less disturbances.
Therefore the quantity of food should be decided only after considering the strength of one’s digestive fire.
The quantity of food that we take depends on the strength of the digestive fire and one’s capacity to digest the food. The quantity of food we consume also depends on the type of food we take and their quality i.e. light or heavy foods. The heavy to digest foods are indicated to be taken in three forth or half of one’s capacity. The light to digest foods too should not be taken to maximum capacity or till the point of saturation. If these rules are not followed both light and heavy foods can hamper one’s digestive fire.
Dosha Relationship With Quantity Of Food
‘Too much is too bad’. This is a famous proverb that we all have heard many times. It is so true. This statement is applicable to everything in life in its true meaning. Haven’t we seen people die of excessive happiness?
But this statement is most applicable to food concept. Here, along with ‘too much is too bad’ we can also add up ‘too less is too bad’ in relation to food.
Read – Can Fruits Be Consumed With Meals? Ayurveda Explains
Less consumption of food and doshas
Food is nutrition and support for life. When we take less food, digestive fire does not get adequate fuel. Less nutritional juices are formed. Tissues are denied proper nutrition. Cells become hyperactive and cell fire becomes more due to want of nutrition. There are tissue burnouts because in absence of adequate nutrition, cells need to burn out to release energy for maintenance of day to day activities.
Read – Eating Etiquette: Healthy Eating Rules
As a consequence of tissue destruction lot of vacant space is created which nourishes air and ether elements in the body. This facilitates increase of vata which is also made up of air and ether elements.
Increased vata further causes destruction of tissues. Vata also kindles fire which is outrageous. Stomach and tissue fires become hyperactive and destroy whole body. Air, in form of vata and digestive fire in form of pitta located in body form a lethal combination.
Digestive fire digests food. In absence of food it digests doshas. In absence of doshas it digests tissues. In absence of tissues it digests prana i.e. life element and takes away life. Therefore it is extremely important to take food when one feels hungry.
Less food is not totally avoiding food. Fasting is a misunderstood concept. People indiscriminately fast for various reasons. One of strong reasons is to keep fit and healthy, to have zero size, to look slim and trim. This is not fasting, this is meaningless starvation. This leads to vata vitiation which makes way to many vata disorders.
Read – Vata Disorders (Vatavyadhi): Definition, Causes, Symptoms
Taking less food also causes diseases of insufficient nutrition. They are called apatarpanotta rogas.
Apatarpana = less nutrition
Rogas = diseases
Examples of diseases due to nutritional deficiency –
- Emaciation of body
- Reduced digestion, strength, complexion, muscles, semen etc
- Chest pain
- Pain in heart region, calf, thigh, low back, bones and joints
- Upward movement of vata
- Many vata disorders
Excessive consumption of food and doshas
Excessive consumption of food is also not good for health. It also imbalances digestive fire and doshas and causes many metabolic disorders.
Guess putting a big heap of fuel on small quantity of fire. Does it ignite fire and make it intense? No, in fact fuel puts off fire. Similar mechanism takes place in our stomach. When we take large quantity of food, food puts off and weakens digestive fire, because it is out of capacity for that fire to digest large quantities of food.
When large quantity of food is partially digested by weakened fire, lot of undigested food is left over in stomach. This is expelled with difficulty and forms source for many disorders. Over a period of time if one gets accustomed to take large quantities of food, it continuously weakens digestive fire. This leads to indigestion and anorexia. These are root causes for many systemic disorders.
On other hand, due to weak digestion of food in stomach by weakened fire, intermediate products of digestion are formed in form of immature nutritional juices. This is called ama. It is a metabolic toxin.
Intestines are not programmed to absorb such unprocessed products of food. When they are absorbed in intestines, they reach heart and put into circulation. Owing to their sticky nature ama tends to stick to walls of cells and channels and produce multiple blocks. This hampers nutrition to tissues leading to tissue damage.
Weak digestive fire will impact on tissue fires and elemental fires and will weaken them also. Since tissues will not be capable of metabolising anything reaching them, intermediate products of tissue metabolism are formed. Cells will not be able to expel these products and over a period of time they get converted into tissue toxins and damage cells. All these events will lead to manifestation of many diseases, weakening of strength and immunity.
Apart from this, food taken in excess and consequential weak fire and digestion will lead to kapha increase in body. This will lead to many kapha disorders.
Taking food in excess also causes diseases of over-nutrition. They are called santarpanotta rogas.
Santarpana = over nourishment
Rogas = diseases
Examples of diseases due to over nourishment
- Urinary disorders, diabetes
- Skin diseases
- Ama and Kapha diseases
- Edema etc
So, one should take less food or more?
One should not take either less or more quantity of food. Food should be consumed according to one’s capacity but not to a point of saturation.
Digestive fire is not enhanced by fasting or by consuming food in large quantities. This is because, absence of fuel in form of food extinguishes existent digestive fire and excess of fuel extinguishes mild fire.
Need of taking food in right quantities
Most incurable diseases are produced due to improper food. So, an intelligent and self controlled man should consume conducive food in right quantity, and at right time to prevent diseases.
Benefits of food taken according to quantity
If food is taken in proper quantity, it prolongs life. This food will not aggravate doshas, in fact it will have them in balance.
Food will easily get digested and pass down to rectum. It does not impair digestion capacity. It gets digested without difficulty. Therefore food should be consumed in proper quantity.
Food consumed in proper quantity at proper time will enhance digestion as a rule. This depends on nature of food consumed, light or heavy foods.
Heavy foods should be consumed half of stomach’s capacity. Light foods should not be taken in excess. Amount of food consumed should be such that it gets easily digested.
Food partaken in proper quantity will not disturb one’s constitution. It would bestow strength, immunity, color, health and longevity of life.
How much food should one eat?
Master Charaka gives a simple mathematical solution to solve problem of ‘right quantity of food to be consumed’.
He tells that kukshi i.e. belly should be divided into three equal portions.
- One third of belly should be reserved for solid foods.
- One third of belly should be reserved for liquid foods.
- One third of belly should be left vacant for action of vata, pitta and kapha.
If one consumes food in this pattern, he will not become victim of diseases and other bad impacts caused by improper consumption of food.
This shows that one should consume foods, including solid and liquid portions to three fourth of one’s capacity. Solid foods should be consumed to one third of one’s capacity and liquid foods to one third of one’s capacity. This capacity differs from person to person and between different body types.
Here term ‘kukshi’ should be taken as ‘stomach’.
This also explains that one third space in stomach is needed for action of doshas and doshas too take part in digestion of food. Therefore when less or excessive quantity of food is taken, balance of doshas is disturbed.