How You Eat is Just as Important as What You Eat

eating-contestYeah, you read right. Sure most of us have every intention of eating right.

Yet you could eat a healthy diet, eat  the right quantity, and exactly what’s right for your body, but that all goes out the window if you were to, say, wolf down that very healthy meal while walking down the street and talking on your phone.

Hey, I’m not judging. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not perfect and have eaten burritos while driving, sandwiches while walking, and scarfed down bowls of piping hot soup while on conference calls (thankfully there’s a mute button).

During my 20s, I had lots of shame around eating, staying thin, and often felt horrible if I ate anything containing carbs or fat. I relentlessly counted calories and subsisted on salads, raw veggies, low-fat, fat-free, and aspartame-filled junk masquerading as food.

As a result of all the shame, mixed with raw veggies, constant snacking, weird toxic food-like substances, and rarely sitting down to eat, my digestion was jacked up something fierce. And so was my health. I was anemic, bloated, moody, had water retention horrible skin, miserable anxiety, and every meal gave me indigestion.

Thanks to lots of Ayurvedic wisdom and counseling, my eating patterns have shifted and my digestion and overall health have improved. But even if you don’t change your diet, you can make a huge impact on your health by only changing how you eat.

In Ayurveda good agni (literally digestive fire) is the key to good health. So here are a few tips for making sure your agni stays strong:

 

Be thankful. Stop and say a prayer over your food. If you’re not into prayer, just take a moment to be grateful for something to eat. Engage your senses by looking at your food and smelling it before you consume it.

Chew. Novel idea, huh? The enzymes in saliva start digesting your food as you chew, so the more work your mouth does before your food hits your stomach, the less strain on your digestion. My teacher who hails from a 700-year lineage of healers told me her grandfather chewed each bite of food 33 times. He lived well into his 90s and was a seriously healthy guy. Have you ever tried chewing your food that many times?

Eat the right amount. If you eat slowly and chew thoroughly, you’ll notice more easily when you’re growing full. The right proportion of food to water to space (yes, that would be empty space in your stomach) is this: fill your stomach half with food, one third with liquid, and leave the rest as space to help digestion. Your stomach needs room to churn and digest the food, so leaving a bit of space helps your body do its thing. (But don’t stress about exact amounts of food to water to space, just approximate.)

Sip a beverage while you eat. I’m not talking a bucket-size soda with ice. Rather, small sips of warm or hot water in between bites helps lubricate digestion. By dousing your stomach with water or soda while you eat, you’re hampering digestion, essentially putting water on a fire. (Here are some more tips on water consumption.)

Not snacking. This has been the single most difficult Ayurvedic eating principle for me to follow. I mean, I grew up grazing out of the pantry and grabbing finger food while watching cartoons. If I hadn’t learned about the importance of meals, I’d continually graze all day. (Perhaps I’m part goat.)

By constantly eating, the digestion never gets a chance to rest. It’s best to eat three square meals a day and leave four hours or so in between meals. If you’re super hungry or feel burning or dizziness, by all means grab one small snack.

If your stomach is full of food all the time, it can lead to all sorts of indigestion-related maladies and diseases like heartburn, acid reflux, constipation, bloating, sluggishness after eating, water retention, colds, coughs, and asthma. Down the road, this constant barrage of food can lead to more serious illnesses, like cancer or heart attacks.

So moral of the story: let actual hunger, not boredom, dictate when you eat. Try the tips above for one week and let me know if you feel lighter, healthier, and are able to better digest everything you eat.

Photo credit: Tryveg.

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