Physical Wellness: Food and Drink

This is the third in a series of articles on physical wellness based on Abu Zayd al-Balkhi’s work. The full seminar can be accessed here: Physical Wellness Workshop: Balkhi’s The Health of Bodies and Souls.

It is noteworthy that a scholar talked extensively about food as well as the types of food and their benefits and harms. The benefit is to use them in good ways and the harms are typically found in excess or misuse. 

Abu Zaid talks about milk products, eggs, grains, fruits, vegetables, and different types of food. He also talks about different times of eating, how much one should eat, and the importance of having balanced meals. 

Likewise, he writes about being careful about one’s drinking. It is important to drink enough but one should not drink excessively. One should strive to drink in accordance with the Sunna, to drink in sips and to breathe between each sip. One should not drink in gulps because it is detrimental physically and it is contrary to the Sunna.

Types of Drinks

There are different types of drinks. The fundamental drink is water but certain other drinks have benefits that have been deduced from human experience. In our times, we could contextualize that concerning tea and coffee. Tea and coffee have benefits, you can get a boost of energy for example. There is also a social function that people gather to drink.

However, if you caffeinate yourself at night you may struggle to sleep. This can then affect sleep cycles. Furthermore, too much of it could affect your mood.  One pursues the benefit to the extent that benefits, in a way that benefits. But one should also be aware of the harms.

The harms are learnt by gaining knowledge. For example, with tea, some do not see it as being harmful but if you add milk and sugar, you end up intaking a significant number of calories. 

Appreciate that the central Sunna concerning food and drink is to have less but with gratitude. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reportedly said, “The human being fills no vessel more harmful for them than their stomach, it is sufficient for a person to have a few small morsels to keep their back straight.” 

The human being craves food. It is part of a survival instinct. If one is not careful, fear of not eating or drinking enough can lead to excessiveness. A few small morsels to keep your back straight is that which gives you the strength to be able to pursue your worldly and religious benefit. 

Rule of Thirds

Then there is a dispensation, if you must then a third for your food, a third for your drink and a third for your breathing. It is said that a third of your fill is about half of what you normally want to eat right. 

One of the ways to reduce eating potentially is by drinking sufficiently. If you drink sufficiently outside of the time you eat, this could reduce the need to eat. Also, be purposeful in what you eat. Eat with gratitude. Eat with awareness of what it is that you are eating. 

There is also a great merit in hunger. This can be through actual fasting but also by not eating when there is not a need to do so. 

There is great merit in fasting the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reportedly said, “fast and you will become healthy.” 

There are times when it is good to drink and there are times when it is not good to do so. This can depend on the type of drink such as tea and coffee at night for certain people. 

Typically if you take less, you will be safer. Most people take far more than anything that approximates the Sunna, even the rule of the third. 

Furthermore, be conscious of what foods you eat. Your background, diet, and temperament are things one should invest in learning about or having awareness about.

The Third Key: Food and Drink

Harm is in excess. Avoid unnecessary snacking and avoid mindless eating. Take care of the Sunna ways of eating, eat in the company of others, take only a small amount of food at a time, and partake in conversation when you eat. It is not good to be silent when eating, it is not good to eat on your own unless you do not have any other choice. 

One should be deliberate, even at work, to eat with other people. Take a small amount of purposeful food that you have considered the benefit of, eat in small bites, chew it well and then do not prepare the next bite until you have swallowed the previous bite.

If you love burgers, take a small bite, put the burger down, move your hands away from it, chew right and have gratitude.

It is specifically Sunna to say Bismillah before and Alhamdulillah after. Many of the early Muslims would say Bismillah and Alhamdulillah with each bite. But also, Partake in conversation that slows down your eating as it facilitates for you to realize that you have had enough. If there is still a need to eat more, you could take more afterwards, likewise with drinking, drink in sips, no gulps. 

Be careful about the times of eating. Abu Zayd warns about eating just before one goes to sleep, for example. Eating too many times during the day would lead to excessive eating and gluttony, typically.