In order to lead a healthy life, rather than what we eat or how much we eat, it is important to note if all the consumed food is getting digested properly. It is incorrect to keep eating every now and then. Simple and straight forward rule is to eat only after earlier consumed food has been digested. For the food to get digested properly, one should follow the meal times as prescribed by Ayurveda. This article gives us the direction on these rules.
1. What should be the meal timings?
1A. References from the ancient Ayurvedic holy texts
In all the ancient Ayurvedic holy texts, one can find references to morning and evening meals. There is no reference to afternoon meals or night meals.
1B. Main reason behind eating in the late nights
Consuming meals in the night became customary after electricity reached our homes. We became habituated to stay awake till late night to watch the programs on television channels, and in order to be able to do that we started having late night dinner. With this, gradually the indigestion related problems started to show up.
1C. Ideal timings for meals as per Ayurveda
As per Ayurveda, the ideal timings for having meal are 9 am to 10 am and 5 pm to 6 pm (i.e. before sunset). Because the people from earlier times used to follow these meal timings strictly, they used to lead a healthy life. Even today one can find the people involved in heavy physical labour follow these timings. Those who are able to follow these timings should definitely adhere to them, however since our life and daily routine is associated with the society at large, many times it becomes difficult to follow these timings. Hence given below are the alternate timings.
1D. Alternative to ideal meal timings
Main meals should be consumed at 11:30 am and 7 pm. These changed meal timings suffice our modern lifestyle and are all-compassing as well.
2. Fundamental principles
behind deciding the timing of meals
2A. Digestive power is dependent upon position of sun
Responsibility of digestion of the food we consume lies with our inner digestive fire. This digestive fire, i.e. the digestive power, is dependent upon the position of sun in the sky. If sun is present in the sky, at that time the food that we eat gets properly digested. As per the seasonal regimen for rainy season, whenever there is an overcast for long time due to cloudy sky, Ayurveda prescribes that one should have a very light meal or fast if possible. This proves close relation between presence of sun in the sky and our digestive power.
2B. Digestive power is good for 1.5-2 hours after sunset
It is ideal to have lunch within 3 to 3.5 hours after sunrise and dinner half hour before sunset. This ideal timing is based on above mentioned principle. If this ideal timing is impossible to follow, as an alternative, the timing can be extended by 2 to 2.5 hours. This is because the digestive power remains good for that much period.
2C. Dinner takes longer time to digest in comparison to lunch
Since our body rests while we are asleep, all the body activities including digestion become slow paced. Therefore it takes around 12 to 14 hours for the dinner to digest completely. In comparison to this, the morning meal digests completely within 8 hours due to presence of sun in the sky. Therefore it is recommended that one should eat dinner around 8 hours after having lunch and the lunch should be taken 12 to 14 hours after consuming evening meal the previous day.
2D. Maximum part of digestion
should be completed prior to retiring for sleep
Prior to retiring for sleep in the night, maximum portion of digestion should be completed. This is the reason why one should have dinner within 1.5 to 2 hours after sunset.
3. What measure of snacks can be consumed?
Answer to this question lies in the word snacks or refreshments itself. Snacks should be consumed in small quantity. The quantity should be such that 3 hours later during the meal time one should feel very hungry. One should understand its own digestive power and accordingly eat the snacks, leaving the stomach bit empty. If heavy snacks are consumed then one does not feel hungry during the main meals. In such case just because it is a meal time, one consumes food as a routine although not feeling hungry. Food which is consumed while stomach is full, does not digest. If food does not get digested then it proves harmful to the body and gives rise to diseases, rather than providing nutrients to the body.
4. Timetable for consuming food
In order to be able to abide to above mentioned rules, timetable has been given below for consuming food.
|Ideal time||Alternate time|
|Breakfast (morning)||–||8 or 8:30 am|
|Lunch (morning)||9 am||11:30 am|
|Snacks (afternoon)||2 pm||4 pm|
|Dinner (evening)||5 pm||7 pm|
5. Let us not neglect health
शरीरमाद्यं खलु धर्मसाधनम् ।
Meaning : It is a saying that our body is a primary medium in order to be able to abide by Dharma.
God has gifted us this body to be able to perform spiritual practice. In order to be able to perform maximum spiritual practice, it is essential to maintain our body in good health. Therefore everyone should follow the timetable for eating food as much as possible. Those who are unable to follow this timetable due to education, job, service etc., should carry a lunch box with them and decide upon the suitable timings for having food as given above.