A lot of us really care about what we eat.
We buy organic, avoid GMOs, weigh up antioxidants, evaluate the glycemic index: all factors relating to the quality of the food entering our bodies.
Props to us for doing our research and making healthy choices, but it’s all done in vain if we don’t give as much attention to the process of eating itself. It’s not only what we eat, but also how we eat that matters.
This concept may seem a little silly at first. After all, we’ve got decades of practice under our belts!
But let’s face it, the norm in our busy American lives is eating in the car, standing up, when we’re stressed, in a rush and chowing down on cold leftovers straight from the fridge. Under these conditions, we don’t digest properly and even the most wholesome food becomes unwholesome to the body. There’s certainly room for improvement.
For this reason, Ayurveda gives us upayoga samstha: the art of eating.
Here are the guidelines:
1. Eat when your food is warm.
It shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. Warm food ensures we don’t snuff out the agni (digestive fire) and makes for good digestion.
2. Eat freshly cooked food.
Fresh food is full of prana (life force) and nutrients. These start to diminish soon after it’s cooked. By the time it’s a leftover, the properties have changed and it’s heavy for the body to digest. Cooking every single meal may not be realistic but at least try to avoid food that’s been cooked more than 24 hours before.
3. Eat the right quantity of food.
Overeating leads to indigestion and undereating leads to loss of strength. There’s no standard amount that’s right for everyone because we’re all different sizes and have different needs. Find your right amount by filling your belly 50 percent with food, 25 percent with liquids and leave 25 percent empty for digestive action.
4. Chew your food thoroughly and eat at a moderate pace.
Digestion starts in the mouth. Chewing your food properly makes it easier for the rest of the system to process.
5. Wait until the previous meal is digested before eating again.
Ayurveda says that feeding the system too soon is a major cause of ill health. How to know if your food is digested? You should feel light, enthusiastic, hungry, and thirsty.
6. Eat around the same time each day.
The body thrives on routine. The digestive system does well when it can expect its meals at a certain hour. It’s prepared and ready for action.
7. Eat when you’re hungry.
Hunger (meaning true hunger, not the munchies) is a natural urge that should not be suppressed. Once you’ve got an eating routine going, you’ll find that you’re hungry when it’s meal time and won’t crave snacks. Listen to your body’s hunger cues when given.
8. Never eat when you’re upset.
Wholesome food will lose its wholesomeness in the digestive tract if it’s eaten with a negative state of mind. If you’re upset, angry or crying, postpone eating until you feel better.
9. Eat in a quiet, settled atmosphere.
A calm environment promotes a calm mind. And the state of mind has a direct impact on the physical body and the process of digestion.
10. Always sit down to eat.
Try your best not to eat in the car, while walking or even while standing. The body doesn’t want to multitask when you’re eating. Sitting ensures that all your energy is given to digestion.
11. Concentrate on your food.
When you give it your full attention it will taste better, you’ll enjoy it more and you’ll be less tempted to overeat because you’ll notice those cues of satiation. Avoid distractions like eating in front of the TV, reading or working.
12. Sit for a few minutes after each meal.
Don’t eat and run. Just be still for a little while to let your digestive system do its thing.
These guidelines are simple but make a big difference. When you choose seasonal, local, organic foods appropriate for your body and eat them in the right manner, your body can process the food the way it’s supposed to.
Good health starts with good digestion.