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Physical Habits

Habit and Food.--Most of our likes and dislikes for food are neither
physical nor physiological, but simply habitual. We have become
accustomed to certain things, and so we like them. We are unaccustomed
to them, and do not care for them. It is amusing when people put
forward these lacks of habituation as if they were physiological
idiosyncracies. Many thin people do not like butter and milk. The real
reason for this is not any peculiarity of digestion, or any gastric
incompatibility, at least in 99 cases out of every 100, but the mere
fact that they are not habituated to their use. That is one of the
reasons why they are thin. Our tastes for curious foreign foods are
nearly all deliberately acquired. Not one in ten ordinary Americans
likes olives or caviar when first tasted. Nearly every curious article
of food is "caviar to the general" at first trial. Later it becomes
impossible to understand how we could have had any objection to them.
At times, even an actual craving for them asserts itself as a
consequence of the habitual use, and then deprivation means positive

Slow Eating.--One of the most valuable habits that a man can
cultivate, but one of the most difficult to acquire in our time, is
that of eating slowly. Most Americans bolt their food to a degree that
would be quite appalling to them if they realized what they were
doing. Pieces of potatoe as large as the end of the thumb are
swallowed. Bread and milk may be eaten so hurriedly as to be as potent
a source of digestive disturbance as fried onions. There seems no
doubt from what we know of Fletcher's experience and Chittendan and
Follin's studies that a man derives more nutrition from food that is
masticated properly, that he can get along and do his work on less
material and that, above all, there is not the same tendency for him
to put on weight that is so common among people after reaching middle

Sir Andrew Clarke used to have his patients chew a definite number ol
times on each bite--say thirty times. Even so great a man as Gladstone
submitted to this rule and gradually learned to accustom himself to
eating very slowly. Fletcher's system of chewing the food until it
passes down the esophagus of itself without any swallowing effort is a
better rule. It is a surprise to most people how unconsciously
swallowing can be accomplished in this way and how little liquid is
needed in order to prepare food to be swallowed. The formation of the
habit, however, is not an easy one. Persistence and frequent reminders
are needed, or else the beginnings of the habit are soon dissipated
and old bolting habits reassert themselves.

Water Drinking.--In drinking, habit is as supreme as in eating. The
majority of people who work outside and perform muscular labor crave
and take an abundance of water. Many of those who live indoors,
especially in steam-heated houses, may need it quite as much if not
more, but get out of the habit of drinking water. As we need about
three quarts of water per day for use in our economy, this no water
habit often becomes a serious factor in the production of
physiological disturbances. We have replaced water drinking and the
milk drinking of the olden times by tea and coffee, and as these are
stimulants, habits form very readily with regard to them. I have known
people who were sure they would be miserable without their half-dozen
cups of tea or coffee each day, and who actually would be miserable
for a few days, when deprived of it. They were seriously impairing the
efficiency of their nervous system by so much stimulation.
Unfortunately, it is just those whose nervous systems have least
stability, and are already the subjects of more stimulation by
conscious introspection than is good for them, that are most likely to
form the tea and coffee habits, and who are most harmed by them,
though they find it hard to understand the reason therefor.

Air and Exercise Habits.--Habits with regard to exercise and fresh air
are particularly important. In this matter it is only habit that can
be really helpful. To work at high pressure indoors for several days,
and then, when one is quite on edge, to take a lot of severe physical
exercise is not good. Every human being should go out between meals. I
am not one of those who believe much in exercise for exercise's
sake--what is needed is fresh air. Our sanatorium patients who sit
out-doors all day have fine appetites. The advice to a busy man that
he must form the habit of being out between every two meals for from
half an hour to an hour would usually evoke a strenuous protest, but
all he needs to do is to get up half an hour earlier and walk down to
his office, and if he will walk back in the evening he will have
plenty of air and exercise between his meals.

Change of Habits.--Patients do not want to change their habits. They
come to a doctor to be treated. They want some medicine that will,
without further inconvenience, rid them of certain discomforting
symptoms. At the beginning, at least, patients resent interference
with their habits. They are quite satisfied, and to modify them
requires an effort that must be continued for some time. The changing
of old habits and the formation of new habits are most important for
the ordinary ills to which mankind is prone. Modifications of habit
constitute real hygiene and are not mere corrections of symptoms,
permitting the habits that have led up to them to go on.

Patients may conclude that it is too much trouble to change their
habits. We all know persons who feel that they can not give up their
coffee. As to whether or not the modification of a habit is worth the
trouble it involves, the patient must be the judge after the case is
put properly before him. It is possible that he may learn to endure
the inconvenience given him by his symptoms rather than to stand the
inconvenience of changing a nicely settled habit, and forming a new
one. The reward should be put very plainly before him, however, and
besides, the consequences of his habit in the future should be
suggested so that he may realize just what it will lead to.

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