Does the food we eat actually strengthen our bodies or does it make us weaker? Today, with the availability of so many varieties of food brought in from near and far, and a burgeoning number of diseases resulting from overeating and wrong dietary habits, many health authorities are beginning to realize that the amount of food we consume may be directly responsible for a large proportion of human suffering. Perhaps, if we turned to a more simple and abstemious diet, before it is too late, many of our health problems would naturally be resolved without the need for expensive drugs and treatment.
In answer to this controversial question, an article published in 'New York World' several years back, described the remarkable feat of Oilman Low, a modern day Hercules, who "lifted 1,000,000 pounds in half an hour". How did he do it? Not by conventional training methods, but by eating only one meal a day, without meat, throughout his eight week training period. Previously, he had tried to accomplish the same feat after undergoing the usual training, which included three large protein-based meals a day, but had only succeeded in raising half the amount of weight in the same period of time.
What Gilman Low showed in this amazing weight lifting experiment was the same thing that yogis and sages have been alluding to since ancient times. The less we eat, the more energy we will have to re-channel in other directions. It is not food which strengthens the body, but energy or prana which is inherent within. According to yoga, the burst of energy which we feel immediately after taking food, is not derived from the food itself, which has not yet had time to be assimilated, but from the summoning of energy to the task of digestion. After ingesting food, the body draws on the brain for an extra supply of its stored up energy to perform the work of digestion. As this power is released, we feel it coursing throughout the body. But the source of this energy is the brain and not the stomach or its undigested contents.
This is the reason why under-eating actually strengthens the body, while overeating weakens it. Food is required to furnish the tissue elements of the body, but not the energy. Digestion of food is a tax on the strength, not a source of strength. It weakens the constitution in proportion to the amount of energy required to dispose of the excess food. If you overeat by habit, the surplus will not be a source of health, but of disease and early demise. So if you want to recoup your health, to be strong and full of vigour, to live over 100 years, remember the golden mean: Eat just enough to maintain your body and no more.
This maxim was recently verified in an experiment which compared metabolic changes induced by under-eating versus normal diet. Dr C. M. McKay of Cornell University, USA, took two groups of rats, matched for compatibility, and placed one on a normal diet which ensured maximum growth rate, while the second group was given an extremely light diet. Results showed that the underfed rats lived twice as long as their well fed brothers. Further experiments in which rats were forced to fast every third day, revealed an increase in life expectancy of 20%.
This dramatic improvement in longevity can also be experienced by human beings who fast regularly and are abstemious in their diet. Especially now that the summer season is underway, many people will be suffering from recurring gastric trouble due to the excessive heat. Abstinence is the simplest and most direct means of coping with this problem. It is both economical and time saving, and is far more effective than any antacid available on the market. Just as absence is said to make the heart grow fonder, in yoga we say that abstinence makes the stomach grow stronger.