The over-emphasis of “What shall I eat? How much shall I eat? How often shall I eat? When shall I eat? How shall I eat?”—all extreme attention to these questions is just as liable to bring chronic indigestion as a reckless neglect of them altogether is liable to upset a good, strong stomach and keep it upset. The woman who chewed herself into indigestion fussed herself into it, too, by constantly talking about what was not healthful to eat. Her breakfast, which she took alone, was for a time the dryest-looking meal I ever saw. It was enough to take away any one’s healthy relish just to look at it, if he was not forewarned.
Now our relish is one of our most blessed gifts. When we relish our food our stomachs can digest it wholesomely. When we do not our stomachs will not produce the secretions necessary to the most wholesome digestion. Constant fussing about our food takes away our relish. A gluttonous dwelling upon our food takes away our relish. Relish is a delicate gift, and as we respect it truly, as we do not degrade it to selfish ends nor kill it with selfish fastidiousness, it grows upon us and is in its place like any other fine perception, and is as greatly useful to the health of our bodies as our keener and deeper perceptions are useful to the health of our minds.
Then there is the question of being sure that our stomachs are well rested before we give them any work to do, and being sure that we are quiet enough after eating to give our stomachs the best opportunity to begin their work. Here again one extreme is just as harmful as the other. I knew a woman who had what might be called the fixed idea of health, who always used to sit bolt upright in a high-backed chair for half an hour after dinner, and refuse to speak or to be spoken to in order that “digestion might start in properly.” If I had been her stomach I should have said: “Madam, when you have got through giving me your especial attention I will begin my work—which, by the way, is not your work but mine!” And, virtually, that is what her stomach did say. Sitting bolt upright and consciously waiting for your food to begin digestion is an over-attention to what is none of your business, which contracts your brain, contracts your stomach and stops its work.
Our business is only to fulfill the conditions rightly. The French workmen do that when they sit quietly after a meal talking of their various interests. Any one can fulfill the conditions properly by keeping a little quiet, having some pleasant chat, reading a bright story or taking life easy in any quiet way for half an hour. Or, if work must begin directly after eating, begin it quietly. But this feeling that it is our business to attend to the working functions of our stomachs is officious and harmful. We must fulfill the conditions and then forget our stomachs. If our stomachs remind us of themselves by some misbehavior we must seek for the cause and remedy it, but we should