One of our newsletter readers wrote in today and asked: “Should you meditate on an empty stomach or after eating?”
If you’re hungry, is it better to meditate before you eat, after you eat, or perhaps even while you are eating?
There are both pros and cons of meditating on an empty stomach. And to a degree, it depends on the individual and how they feel when hungry and when full. Your mind changes around your hunger levels, and this can change the nature of your meditation. Ultimately, it depends on how your mood changes around food.
Let’s take a look at the three different options: meditating when hungry, after eating, and while you are eating. Then you can decide which works best for you.
Should You Meditate On An Empty Stomach?
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 and can either make it better or worse, depending on the individual and their reason for meditating.
Hunger causes a sudden drop in glucose that affects our mood and our meditation. In particular, hunger can cause stress and anxiety. You might have noticed the “Empty hollow sensation” or “Hunger pangs” and these might effect your emotions .
One reason why you should meditate on an empty stomach is that you may notice stress and anxiety, and your meditation might not be as relaxing.
Then again, if you are trying to lose weight it is possible that you should meditate on an empty stomach. Doing so will train your mind to be less reactive to physiological stressors, which means you will improve your tolerance for uncomfortable circumstances.
When we are hungry our focus increases. This might sound like it would help with meditation, because meditation is entirely about focusing. However, when you’re hungry your focus changes in a specific way: your mind focuses entirely on finding food. This means you will be less likely to focus on meditating, which will make your meditation less effective.
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) and to prevent hunger from interfering with your efforts to lose weight.
Should You Meditate After Eating?
Most people should not meditate on an empty stomach. But does that necessarily mean that you should meditate after eating? Again, the answer is not so clear. On the one hand, you will be less moody after eating, but you may also be more tired.
When you eat, your body enters “rest and digest” mode, which means that the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This produces feelings of relaxation and mild drowsiness that could lead you to 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 [professor of health science at Japan’s Kyorin University] could cause less blood to flow to the brain. This makes you a) tired, and b) less able to focus.
If you meditate after eating you will be tired, and you will have less concentration. 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.
How About Meditating While Eating?
If you should not meditate on an empty stomach and you should not meditate after eating, how about meditating while eating? This is called Mindful Eating.
Mindful Eating can be an incredibly beneficial practise, especially if you want to lose weight or gain weight (yes, it can help with both). The general process of mindful eating is to eat slowly and consciously while focusing on your food. Research shows that mindful eating 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.
So what’s the answer?
The truth is that it is not ideal to meditate on an empty stomach or too soon after eating. If you meditate when hungry, you will find it hard to focus, and you might also be ratty, which will make your meditation less effective. If you meditate after eating, you might be too tired to focus.
Some people also recommend fasting while meditating because fasting increases concentration according to Rahul Jandial, MD, PhD. So there might be some benefits of meditating while hungry if you’re using methods like Samatha. However, remember that the Buddha himself advocated the middle-path and as the best practice, which is why it is better to meditate when you’re neither too hunger nor too full.
The best strategy is this: Meditate at least one hour before or after eating. That way, you won’t be too hungry or too full.
1: Ciampolini M, Lovell-Smith HD, Kenealy T, Bianchi R. Hunger can be taught: Hunger Recognition regulates eating and improves energy balance. Int J Gen Med. 2013;6:465-478. Published 2013 Jun 17. doi:10.2147/IJGM.S40655