REFLECTION: "How to Eat to Optimize Health and Digestion: Tips from Ayurvedic Wisdom"
How you eat is as important as what you eat. Strengthen your digestive fire and build your immunity with a little rhythm.
In the past week, I've become very aware of what I'm taking in: with food, information, and conversations. I started to think about a blog post I wrote for BuddhaGroove a while back that really reflects on what digestion is all about; how by tuning into what and how you are digesting, you affect the strength of your immune system and experience of overall health.
Everything is about rhythm. In the past weeks, your daily rhythm has likely been turned upside down. With the presence of a pandemic, the question of "how can I stay healthy" is on everyone's mind.
In addition to washing your hands and staying home as much as you possibly can, finding some rhythm with your meals can help support your overall immune response. This simple practice of finding rhythm will give your body an added edge when it comes to fighting a virus.
That's right: your rhythm with food.
Notice I didn't say: what supplements you're taking, how much dairy you're eating, or if you're eating gluten. I'm talking about rhythm, as in the dictionary definition of: "a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement."
A strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement with your food is quite simply that: A consistent and predictable time (and place, if possible) to sit, remove distractions, and enjoy a satisfying meal.
Right now, with Shelter-in-Place being the norm for many, daily rhythms have been rocked. For those in healthcare, the daily rhythms have been not only rocked but dominated by persistent, high-intensity calls to action.
This type of change in our day-to-day routine is tough on your nervous system, which thrives when there is a degree of predictability. Your nervous system loves to know when your body will receive food, when it will receive sleep, and when it will receive some movement. These things offer a sense of safety and security to your body's sensitive inner circuitry.
Without that predictability, your body will start to feel on edge.
Add to this the added sensory input of media, bad news, and a whole lot of situational change; your digestive system is working overtime to make sense of it all.
WHY DOES RHYTHM MATTER?
Ayurveda teaches that how you eat is as important as what you eat. When you eat is also a factor. Aligning your rhythm to nature is the ultimate self-care practice.
When there is a steady rhythm to eating: eating at similar times each day, your nervous system leans into that and finds comfort. It finds ease. That predictability of "I'm going to be nourished soon," keeps your body primed for turning food into energy and keeps the dial on anxiety and stress turned down a notch.
When you show up for that meal and let go of other distractions (think media input), you are allowing all of your digestive energy to focus on that meal. Your digestive fire only has one thing to focus on—taking in nutrients. If you're feeding yourself food, bad news, and new information all at the same time, that fire gets dispersed. Nothing gets fully digested, and you're left with fragmented energy—and attention.
Finding a rhythm with your food and daily routine support your nervous system; it supports your mind and strengthens your digestion. When your digestion is strong, your immune system is strong.
WHAT DOES RHYTHM LOOK LIKE?
To find your rhythm with food, follow the sun.
Start your food intake with a lighter breakfast after the sun comes up. Avoid listening to the news or taking in any additional information that needs to be digested while you're eating.
Leave some space after breakfast to digest that meal. Let that first meal pass through the first stage of digestion before adding more food into your body. This generally takes around 3 to 4 hours.
Enjoy a lovely and satisfying lunch. Have your more substantial proteins now, and if you love dessert, enjoy a little with this meal. The sun is brightest in the middle of the day, and your digestive fire is burning the strongest as well. Let this meal be your biggest of the day, and it will fuel you through the afternoon. As best you can, eat your lunch at the same time each day. Your nervous system, blood sugar levels, and digestive system will all thank you.
Wait a few hours before supper. Let your body digest and absorb this meal. This will take approximately 4 hours. If you feel a wave of hunger about an hour or so after you eat, wait a few minutes. That's the sensation of the food moving from the upper stomach to the lower stomach. The "false hunger" sensation will fade after a few minutes, and your body can continue to do its digestive magic.
Enjoy and early and light supper before the sun sets. As the sun goes down it signals to your body that it is time for rest. You don't need a lot of energy from food to go to sleep, just a little something to carry you through to morning. Let this meal be a supplement. Soup is great for this meal.
Have your last meal at least 3 hours before you go to sleep. This break between digesting a meal and rest will improve the quality of your sleep and support your body with its natural detoxification process, strengthening your immunity in the process.
To learn more about tips and strategies for strengthening your digestive fire and connecting with your rhythm, check out this blog that I wrote for the wonderful folks at BuddhaGroove.
If you're interested in amping up your self-care and learning more about how daily rhythms can support you in your life, then check out Cracking the Self-Care Code, a self-guided mini course designed to help you uncover what self-care looks like for you!