Setting the Stage for Your Meals: It’s Not Just What You Eat, But How You Eat It

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Excerpt from What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen (copyright Rizzoli)

You can have the healthiest, local, seasonal, organic, freshly picked, properly combined food on your table, but if you eat it at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or in the wrong quantity, ultimately that invigorating food will have some unhealthy consequences. Our digestive system is designed to absorb not only the chemical elements of the food, but also its subtle energies. A lot of us experience digestive problems because of unnatural eating habits. Long-term indigestion can lead to nutrient deficiencies and toxic buildup, which in turn can cause blockages, overweight, unwanted deposits such as calcium in the joints or plaque in the arteries, or growths like cysts and tumors. According to Ayurveda, almost every physical illness can be traced back to indigestion. If you care about your health, do everything you can to maintain optimal digestion!

Here are some simple, enjoyable things you can do to support strong digestion, along with the possible consequences of the opposite behavior. Please upgrade your eating habits lovingly. Feeling guilty, being rigid with yourself, or enforcing healthy eating on those you dine with is not so healthy.

Eat Like This

What Happens When You Don’t

In a settled, harmonious environment free of distractions Eating with noise, too many people, or too much movement around, or while watching TV, reading, or driving interrupts the brain-stomach communication, which disturbs digestion
In a peaceful state of mind Eating when you’re angry, upset, sad, or stressed out will only feed those negative emotions and cause them to flare up
In a sitting position When you stand or walk, your energy concentrates on your feet, to support you, and thus weakens your digestive strength
Only when you are hungry A lack of hunger means your digestive fire is slumbering and won’t break down the food properly, thus potentially leading to fatigue, toxin buidup, and becoming overweight
At a moderate pace, neither too fast nor too slow, with thoughtful chewing Devouring unchewed or partially chewed food puts extra pressure on the stomach
At an interval of two to four hours after a light meal, four to six hours after a full meal; this lets one meal be digested completely before the next (light snacks such as raw fruit or a few soaked nuts are okay) Bingeing and eating heavy snacks between meals doesn’t allow your digestive system to get a break and can lead to toxic buildup and obesity
Allowing at least two to three hours between your dinner and going to bed. Going to bed right after eating is a recipe for toxicity, weight gain, and morning sluggishness
Without drinking a lot of water or ice-cold beverages. Drink water no less than thirty minutes before a meal and sixty to ninety minutes after a meal. It is okay to sip a little warm water or digestive tea with your meal, especially if your food is dry. Drinking a large glass of water right before, during, or right after a meal tremendously suppresses your digestive fire
To only two-thirds to three-quarters of your capacity—a first burp is an indication to stop Overeating leaves no room for the food in the stomach to move and break down properly and thus becomes one of the main causes of illness
At regular times Eating at different times every day will negatively affect your body rhythms
With gratitude for the food you receive and praise for the cook Eating without respect for the food or for those who prepared it sets up negativity and disconnection from nature and people—yet another cause for feeling unwell
Remaining seated for a few minutes after completing your meal Rushing through a meal and jumping up from the table will feed your stressors more than your body

In my ashram years, I used to eat the yogic way: cross-legged on a cushion, in silence, with the fingers of my right hand (that’s right, no cutlery!), then wash my hands, mouth, and feet after every meal. After lunch (not dinner), I would lie down on my left side and rest quietly for about twenty minutes. Today I am a busy businesswoman in New York City, and this yogic way of eating is not always possible for me, although I still enjoy it, especially when I’m at home.

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