Eating Habits

Do we eat to live or live to eat? Our relationship with food determines whether we have control over our appetites or not. We may not always think of food or our eating habits as something that we need to be mindful of. However, in Islam, we have guidelines and recommendations for every aspect of our lives, including those on the etiquette of eating.

Food can be a hidden temptation and weakness for us if we overeat or choose to consume things that are not healthy for us. Eating excessively is a disease, which if not controlled, results almost certainly in health-related issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and so on. The lesser known effect of overindulgence is a spiritual one, which is something we should pay more attention to.

Spiritual Effects of Overindulgence

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) has been narrated to say that, “There is nothing more harmful to the believer’s heart than excessive eating, for it brings about two things; hardness of heart and arousal of [sexual] desire.”1

The best way to put this hadith to the test is through fasting. What is the difference between an empty stomach and a full one? Being mindful of how we feel when we overeat, compared to when we are on an empty stomach, can help shed some light on this subject. Aside from the initial effects of feeling hungry and irritable, pay attention to your other responses. When fasting, you may feel that your mind is sharper, that your thoughts are clearer, and that you have more focus on what you do. And more specifically, after fasting for 30 days in the month of Ramadhan, you may feel as if all the toxins have been cleansed from your system, as though you have undergone a spiritual detoxification.

The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) is reported to have said, “Fast and you will be healthy.”2


So what happens when we put way too much food on our plates and eat so much that it becomes difficult to breathe? If there is a task or an act of worship to do, it becomes difficult to complete. This is because your mind is focused on the fact that your stomach hurts so much. Food can be a difficult temptation unless we observe a good deal of self-control. We may become slaves to our appetites rather than masters of them.

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) is narrated to have said, “O Abu Muhammad, “The stomach transgresses under the impact of over-eating. A servant is nearest to God, most Majestic, most Glorious, when their stomach is empty and light. The most disliked condition of a servant to God, most Majestic, most Glorious, is when their stomach is full.”

3 Ways to Control One’s Appetite

1. Start your task saying ‘In the Name of God (Bismillah).’

Any difficult task can be made easier with the remembrance of God. We are here living and breathing due to His infinite Grace and Mercy. Remembrance is a means of grounding us, re-centering what is important, and submitting to God’s Will.

One of the companions of Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) is narrated to have said, “I once complained before Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) about the trouble I face from food. The sixth Imam (p) said, ‘You may have eaten without mentioning the name of God.’ I said, ‘I had mentioned the name of God but it gives me trouble.’ Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) said, ‘When you discontinue mentioning the name of God by speaking [and] then return to eat, do you mention the name of God?’ I replied, ‘No, I do not.’ The sixth Imam (p) said, ‘This is why it gives you trouble. Were you to return to eating if you mention the name of God, it would not harm you.”4

2. Acknowledge the problem and change your outlook.

Being conscious and aware that you need to control and moderate your meals is a good place to start. Accept that a change in your relationship with food is needed, that you no longer want to be a controlled by your appetite. A simple change in outlook can make a significant impact in your response to the temptation of food. Think to yourself, do I live to eat? Or eat to live? That is a great guiding principle on which to base your new perspective of how you choose to consume food. You can plan menus and be more strategic in the items you purchase at the grocery store. If you don’t have it, then you can’t eat it.  It also helps prevent food wastage, read ‘How to Alleviate Hunger in our Community’ for ways you can help.

3. Set your target and aim for moderation.

Mental preparation is necessary when you want to change a habit. Before you sit at the table to eat, you already have to have your goal in mind. For example, you may decide, ‘I will only eat one serving of food and finish before I feel full’. Follow through with your target every time, and have a consequence if you do not. Consequences could be no dessert, extra exercise, and so on.

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) is narrated to have said, “God, the most Majestic, the most Glorious, dislikes overeating.” and “Children of Adam must eat to keep their backs straight [sustain their physical strength]. When one of you eats, keep one-third of your stomach for food, one-third for water, and one-third for breathing.”5

This hadith provides a good ratio and reference point to use as a guideline and is a great tangible target to try to implement. Moderation, when you eat, helps limit overindulging.

4. Fasting

Fasting helps cleanse our bodies of whatever we already have consumed, revitalizes our soul and body, shrinks our appetite, and re-establishes our self-control. Our senses dull when we have too much in our stomachs. Fasting mentally reactivates our brains.

We eat in order to live. The key is to be in control of our appetite and not be a slave to it. There are so many health related and spiritual risks associated with excessive eating that it is important to take the necessary steps to change our eating habits. With the help of God and some simple changes in our lifestyle, we can do anything we put our minds to.

[1] Mustadrak al-wasa’il p.94
[2] Mizan al-Hikmah Vol 2 p.1686
[3] al-Kafi Vol 6 p.269
[4] al-Kafi Vol 6 p.294
[5] al-Kafi Vol 6 p.269

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