Many people suffer from digestive problems in one way or another. From constipation, feeling bloated, belching or heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome to food intolerances or improper absorption of nutrients. At the same time, we can do a lot about this by how we eat. Namely through habits that strengthen our digestive fire - agni - and prevent the build-up of undigested remains - ama, from both food and emotions.
We often know that these habits help, but we are not aware of how much effect these simple lifestyle adjustments have. However, Ayurveda pays a lot of attention to this, as your digestion has a major effect on both your physical and mental health.
Our digestion already starts in our mouth. Your saliva contains various enzymes that aid in digestion. By chewing longer, your food comes into contact with it more. In addition, good chewing ensures that your food is divided into smaller particles, providing a larger surface area for the digestive enzymes to act on (both in your mouth and further along the digestive tract). Plus, your intestines have no teeth, so it's useful to let that process take place in your mouth.
Take the time to eat
In our fast-paced society it is so easy to grab something to eat quickly. However, your digestion works best if the parasympathetic nervous system can also do its work properly. The moment our body thinks a fight-or-flight response is desired, our sympathetic nervous system becomes more active and our digestion is put on the back burner. Your body then thinks that this is less of a priority at that moment. So sit down for your meal and create a pleasant atmosphere while eating.
By consciously connecting with what you are doing - eating in this case - your body also understands better which processes need to be activated. Mindfulness is not just for your thoughts. It also affects the processes in your physical body, including your digestion.
Eating at the dining table is one of those simple moves where you communicate with your body with a simple habit. I recently adopted my grandmother's habit of making the table a bit more cozy & pleasant to look at for dinner. The senses also want something…. but not from distractions in the form of screens. Because TV, social media or other things on your phone take your attention away from what and how you are eating.
Keep a third of your stomach empty
After chewing, your food passes through your gullet into your stomach, where other digestive enzymes start to do their work. It is important that your stomach is not full of food. Just like you don't fill the washing machine completely with laundry, but leave about a third of space so that the washing machine can do its job properly. For most people, that's about the amount of food that fits into the “bowl” that arises if you form a bowl with your hands. However, many people find it difficult to feel how full their stomach is. This is also due to the fact that it can take up to 20 minutes for the signal to be processed by the brain (coming from your digestive system) that you have eaten enough food. So are you unsure whether you need a second portion? Then you can also take a short break before eating again so that you have the opportunity to really feel how hungry your body really is.
Do you notice that you are getting small burps or belches? Then you know that you have eaten enough anyway.
Of course you don't want to eat too little, otherwise you will always end up snacking. And that's not good for your digestive fire either. You can see this as if you increasingly add a little extra dirty laundry to the washing machine during the washing process. Just as the washing machine does not clean the laundry properly in a normal time, your intestines are less able to digest the food.
Choose complete, freshly prepared meals that really nourish you and not just fill you. Food should not only be tasty while eating, but also feel good in your body after eating.
Small sips & no cold drinks during meals
Just as warm food is better for digestion than cold food, (luke)warm drinks are better to ensure that you do not slow down the digestive fire too much. It is also better to stick to small sips during meals, so that the enzymes in your digestive system are not enormously diluted.
Furthermore, if you drink something with bubbles, you are more likely to get a bloated stomach, so that is also not recommended. Instead, have a cup of warm herbal tea. That may sound a bit strange at first, but try it yourself to discover how much better it feels in your stomach.
As I mentioned above, it is good for your digestion to connect with what you eat in a positive way. This includes the food itself, from the ingredients and how they were grown and everyone who helped grow them, get them to you and prepare them into a nutritious meal. You cultivate a feeling state that activates the parasympathetic nervous system, making your digestion work better.
What to do when you eat something that is not so healthy? Then really eat it with gratitude and other positive feelings. This makes it much less harmful, because your digestion also responds well to how you eat.
Use all your senses
By using all your senses while eating, you are signaling to your body what food is coming. The body responds to this and it will benefit your digestion.
By using all your senses while eating, you also get more satisfaction from your food, making you less likely to snack in between.
Eat your largest meal in the afternoon
The natural rhythm of nature ensures that some qualities are stronger or weaker at certain times. For example, the digestive fire is strongest around noon from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., during the pitta part of the day. That's why it's best to make your lunch the largest meal of the day. If you eat a full meal at lunch, you will probably feel less likely the need for snacks during the afternoon. Subsequently, you could then make the evening meal a bit lighter, such as a nice warm soup.
You are not the first one if you find this difficult to combine with your occupation. What helps many people is to take a warm meal with them in a thermos designed for food.
Even though Ayurveda recommends preparing all your meals fresh, it can still be a good tip to make a larger portion in the evening so that you have enough for both your evening meal and for lunch the next day. That is still much better for your digestion than a sandwich with cheese or a cold salad.
Eat your dinner no later than 6:00 PM
Between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. are kapha hours, which naturally slow down digestion. In addition, you sleep better if you have at least 3 hours between your last (preferably an easily digestible) meal and your bedtime. This way your sleep can also be better used to digest emotions and experiences of that day.
Did you know that if you don't sleep enough, insulin becomes less effective, leptin levels drop and ghrelin levels rise, leaving you hungry even when you've actually eaten enough? Since eating too much is not good for digestion, this quickly becomes a vicious circle.
No real appetite?
Learning to listen to your body ensures that your body can also take better care of you. Then the digestive fire (agni) becomes stronger, you store less undigested remains (ama) and you automatically experience fewer digestive complaints.
If you are not yet really hungry, this usually also means that your body does not yet need food. The difficult thing is often to distinguish between hunger of the body and the mind. For example, if our body does not need food, but the mind needs something that helps to ground or soothe.
These are also often the moments when we are not in the mood for a full meal, but for a snack. However, if there is less than 3 hours between eating moments, this often comes at the expense of the digestive fire.
What helps me in case of mind-hunger is to make a delicious cup of herbal tea and drink it with awareness and really enjoy the moment. This way I give myself a pause and the caring and soothing that my mind asks for, with something that is even good for the digestive fire.
Digest your emotions
When you feel strong emotions, the body often naturally ensures that you do not really feel like eating. Emotions (just like food) also need to be digested.
Emotions are energy in motion. They also affect the nervous system. In cases of anxiety and stress, among other things, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, while we need the parasympathetic nervous system for good digestion. So before you eat against your will during intense emotions, it is usually better to first give yourself some time to process the emotion.
Eat fresh meals
Choose food instead of filling and fresh instead of processed food. You then know exactly what is in your food and you can adjust it based on what your individual body digests better. In addition, fresh food contains more life energy, which helps you feel energetic. See if you can eat your prepared food within 24 hours.
A short walk after a meal
We all know that walking is good for us. But what we often don't think about is that a short walk after a meal is also good for digestion to activate your intestines. This really doesn't have to be a long walk. Just a walk around the block for about 10 minutes works well.
Enjoy your habits today in a way that truly nourishes you physically, mentally and spiritually.
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