Ideal eating times

I tell patients never to miss meals especially breakfast, which must be your biggest meal. Eat like a king, lunch like a queen, dinner like a pauper. I always am upset to hear my patients tell me they skip breakfast, one of the first questions I ask when I meet new patients is a run down of their regular daily meals. Needless to say, food and eating habits are crucial to keeping your body in balance. In TICM, food is heavily relied upon as medicine. What, when, the temperature of the food and how you eat it affects the function of your digestive organs, Spleen and Stomach, which in turn influences the Qi (energy) and function of all the other organs. Breakfast must be eaten between 7-9am when Stomach energy is at its peak and receives most Blood for digestion. Stomach energy is weakest between 7-9pm so ideally you should stop eating at 6pm.

A person with a healthy digestive system will convert most, if not all, of the food ingested into energy. However, low energy leads to compromised organ function and an imbalanced body, which leads to an inefficient conversion of food into Qi. The end result is weight gain.

What you eat is not even the bottom line. There are many other factors that go into having a healthy nutrition from what time to how much.

Timing: It is best to eat at the same time every day. In TICM, the Spleen and Stomach are the organs most involved in digestion and they work best at certain times of the day. The Stomach time is from 7-9am, which is the best time of day to consume a good hearty breakfast. The Spleen time follows the Stomach from 9-11am, here you are digesting that hearty breakfast and turning it into energy for your body to use. These organs are weakest 12 hours later, so you want to avoid eating from 7-11pm to avoid damaging them.

Weather and temperature: external cold temperatures dictate the consumption of warmer foods like soups and stews, external heat calls for colder foods like salads. Excessive consumption of cold, raw foods can damage the spleen, so ease up on the salads in winter, switch to lightly stir-fried or steamed foods.

Pay attention: be mindful of what you are doing while eating. You should be focused on eating, not watching TV, talking on the phone, surfing the internet, driving, walking etc. Being attentive to the task of eating, helps improve digestion, increases awareness of how much you are eating and helps you recognise when you are full. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for digestion, being overstimulated or stressed while eating decreases the nervous system activity, which directs resources away from your digestive tract.

Quantity: you should eat to the point of 2/3 satiety, to allow some reserves in the digestive tract for the process of digestion. TICM do not favour all you can eat buffets.

Build the fire: digestion is a warm process dependent on the Yang of the Spleen and ultimately the Kidneys. Healthy eating means looking after this fire. If we continuously fill the body with chilled foods and cold energy foods, we weaken this fire. If we eat a mostly warm, cooked diet we support it. The extent to which we need to do this will depend on our constitution. Eating raw (cold) foods can also be buffered by the use of warming ingredients in dressings such as mustard, black pepper, horseradish and vinegar and by chewing well to warm and break down the food on the mouth.

Remember also that the digestive organs, Spleen and Stomach are not only about digesting foods, it is also about how you are digesting and absorbing life.

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