If you’re hungry, should you meditate before you eat, after eating, or perhaps even while you are eating (which sounds weird but is totally possible)?
Honestly, it depends on the individual and how they feel when hungry and when full.
Believe it or not, your meditation could change considerably based on when you eat and when you meditate.
We know from science (and from life) that our mood changes when we are hungry and when we are full. These mood changes can affect the nature of our meditation sessions and can either make it better or worse. It all depends on the individual and on their reason for meditating.
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Meditation is harder when you’re hungry
You might find it hard to focus when you meditate on an empty stomach, and you also might be irritable.
Hunger causes a sudden drop in glucose that affects your mood and your meditation. And in particular, it can cause stress and anxiety. You have probably experienced the “Empty hollow sensation” and “Hunger pangs” . And you probably already know how hunger affects your mind.
Put simply, it is harder to focus on meditating when you are hungry because you will just be thinking about food the whole time.
However, even if it is harder it can also be beneficial, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
If you are trying to lose weight it is possible that you might want to consider meditating when you’re hungry because it will train your mind to be more tolerant of the feeling of hunger.
But it will certainly make it harder to focus.
Interestingly, when we are hungry our focus increases. However, all of your focus will be on trying to find something to eat, and that will make it very difficult to meditate.
For these reasons, the only time I would say that you should meditate on an empty stomach is if you are intentionally training your mind to be less reactive to physiological stress. And this should only be the case if you are an advanced practitioner.
So what about meditating after food?
So Can You Meditate After Eating?
Most people should not meditate when hungry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should meditate after having food either.
On the one hand, you will be less moody after you’ve eaten, but you may also be tired.
When you eat, your body enters “rest and digest” mode. That means that your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This produces feelings of relaxation and mild drowsiness that could make you nod off when you meditate. Not ideal.
Plus, your brain changes after eating.
After you eat, blood flow to the small intestine increases dramatically, which according to Dr. Tomonori Kishino could cause less blood to flow to your brain. This makes you a) tired, and b) less able to focus.
Both these factors will reduce the quality of your meditation. And the larger the meal you eat, the less you will be able to meditate.
If you should not meditate on an empty stomach and you should not meditate too soon after eating, how about meditating while eating? This is called Mindful Eating.
The general process of mindful eating is to eat slowly and consciously while focusing on your food. Research shows that it makes us more aware of our food and can help us to make healthier dietary choices.
Overall, mindful eating is better than eating before or after food, because the body is in more of a “middle ground” physiologically (you’re not hangry and you’re not tired from eating).
So, if you’re trying to fit a mindfulness session in the middle of the day, this is a good way to do it.
How much of a gap between meals and meditation?
So you now know that it’s not great to meditate when you’re too hungry or too soon after eating.
So. Obvious question. How much of a gap should you leave between eating and meditating?
Basically, you don’t want to be too hungry when you meditate. And you also don’t want to meditate during the rest and digest period, when you will feel tired.
For these reasons, you’re best to leave about an hour and a half between eating and meditating.
However, some people actually recommend fasting while meditating because fasting increases concentration according to Rahul Jandial, MD, Ph.D. This seems to suggest that fasting might be a good idea if you’re doing traditional meditations like Samatha. Then again, Buddha himself advocated the “Middle Path”, which would mean not allowing yourself to go hungry.
So.. there are different theories, and ultimately it is up to you. But for most people it is not advisable to meditate when either too hungy or too full.
I hope that answers this question. But there are plenty more questions. That’s why I wrote a big article on Meditation Questions and Answers
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison