Operation: Rest the Gut
There is an old Indian Proverb that goes something like this: One who eats once a day is a great Yogi (Divine Man). One who eats twice is a great Bhogi (sensual gratifier). One who eats thrice is a great Rogi (plagued by ill-health). One who eats 4 times is a great Drohi (one who torments all).
Ayurveda, which translates to ‘life science’ or ‘life knowledge’, is a system of health which is designed to purify the body in order to enhance self awareness and bring about deep and profound transformational changes in one’s life. Ayurveda makes use of many different treatments and techniques which work together toward this common goal. Yogic practices, such as yoga, breathing, and meditation, as well as what, when, and how we eat, play a very important role in purifying the body and integrating the mind, body, and soul.
One of the ingredients on the path to enlightenment, or at least to a balanced life free of dis-ease, is our food choices and eating habits.
As I have mentioned before, I have had issues with my digestion for quite some time now; let’s say about ten years. While I certainly believe that the kinds of foods we are eating make a huge impact on our health, I also believe that we need to give more attention to when and how we are eating. I have always been into healthy eating, but, until recently I have put little to no thought into the way I am actually eating all that local, organic, bio-dynamic, hand-harvested kale :), or whatever it may be. I have been feeling frustrated by the fact that I am eating so clean (no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol, etc.) but yet still dealing with digestive upsets such as bloating, gas, and constipation. It wasn't until I met with my Ayurvedic doctor that I understood what was going on for me. Based on a tongue analysis, Dr Rama was able to determine that my large intestine is tired, dehydrated and depleted which is why I am not digesting my food properly and therefore experiencing uncomfortable symptoms after eating. Now that we understand the underlying cause of these symptoms, we could devise a plan.
Operation: Rest the Gut
Before going into the nitty gritty of this eating program, perhaps we should have a quick refresher on the human intestine so we have a clearer picture of how things work.
The intestine, which is also known as the bowel or gut, consists of two segments, the small intestine and the large intestine. The small intestine is the part of the gastrointestinal tract following the stomach and followed by the large intestine, and is where much of the digestion and absorption of food takes place. The large intestine extracts water and electrolytes from solid wastes before they are eliminated from the body.
When you eat a meal, the food stays in the small intestine for about 4 hours while it absorbs 80-90% of the nutrients into the bloodstream. The meal then moves into the large intestine where it stays another 4 hours while the colon extracts water, salt, and some fat-soluble vitamins. When your digestion is working optimally, it should take about 8 hours to completely digest a meal. The gut needs 16 hours of complete rest each day to fully repair itself. This is where the idea of only having one meal a day comes in, as per the Yogic diet mentioned in the Indian Proverb. While there are many ideas regarding the benefits of the Yogic diet, one is that the body is able to fully rest, repair, and rejuvenate itself by having the break it needs between meals. The importance of detoxification of the body is essential to our health and vitality, but the body puts detoxification on hold when it is digesting food. It is during these crucial breaks between meals that the body’s janitor can come in, sweep and tidy up the place before the next meal arrives.
As my large intestine is depleted, sluggish, and dehydrated, when I eat a meal, the food stays in the colon for longer than four hours and the toxins I am meant to be eliminating are being reabsorbed back in to the bloodstream. NOT what we want!! With this in mind, it is easy to understand why it is very important to get everything back in working order. The treatment plan consists of lots of repairing nutrients and, most importantly, REST! Resting the large intestine means giving it longer breaks between meals, ideally 16 hours with a minimum of 12. While the Yogic diet of one meal a day would give my digestion the optimal opportunity to heal and repair, I think I need to be a bit more pragmatic in my approach. Guess that makes me a Bhogi. Cop that.
So here’s what the doc and I came up with:
- Eat a large breakfast and lunch so that the majority of food is consumed during daylight hours when the digestive system is strongest and working most efficiently.
- Dinner should be light as any food eaten after the sun goes down has to be processed by a weaker digestive system.
- Cut out oats, wheat, rice, corn, barley, tapioca, and potatoes which are all too gluggy for an already tired and dehydrated gut. Millet, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat are all great alternatives.
Breakfast and Lunch should consist of:
- 50% vegetables
- 20% beans, legumes, peas, lentils (soaked and cooked)
- 10% nuts and seeds
- 10% dips and sauces
- 10% animal protein (if needed)
- Soup in winter
- Salad in spring
- Fruit in summer
- 9am – 10am breakfast
- 1pm – 2pm lunch
- 5pm – 6pm “supper,” meaning small supplemental meal, if needed
- Nothing but water and/or herbal tea for 16 hours
Make lunch the biggest meal of the day and eat it before 2pm when the digestive fire is at its peak. Ensure to take the time to sit calmly, relax, and savor each bite. After finishing the meal, don’t get up and rush into activity. Try to spend 5-10 minutes chilling out, or even lying down, before tackling the rest of the afternoon. This allows for efficient digestion and avoidance of the dreaded afternoon slump. In regards to dinner, or supper, always eat if hungry. The intention of this program is never to feel hungry or uncomfortable. If eating enough nutrients and quantity at lunch, gradually you won't be hungry after 2pm as you are receiving 4-8 times more nutrients on this program.
Food can affect the body in different ways based on how it is eaten. Food is digested and metabolized most efficiently when eaten under relaxed and leisurely circumstances rather than while stressed and in a hurry. It is also important to practice mindful eating. Eliminate other distractions, slow down, fully experience the elements of the food and chew thoroughly. In his book, The 3-Season Diet, John Douillard explains, “If the mind is otherwise occupied while the body is trying to eat, then it will have no awareness of eating and will not even bother to send the proper signals to the salivary glands and digestive enzymes to do their jobs. The food, which is designed to nourish the mind and body, will actually separate the mind from the body and the result will be either indigestion or lack of vitality.”
What do you reckon? Sound do-able?
I have been giving this program a go for about a week now. I have had no problem devouring a massive lunch. I usually include some animal protein in addition to boundless veggies, nuts, seeds, and sometimes legumes or grains. I am struggling with not having anything “to do” while eating meals. We are all such multi-taskers nowadays that it can feel very strange not doing more than one activity at a time. The best way, I have found, to get over this hurdle is to eat my lunch in the park. I despise eating at my desk and avoid it at all cost unless it’s raining. Being outdoors with my shoes off and breathing fresh air makes it easier and more enjoyable to chill out and focus on the task at hand which is chewing! I guess I am also killing two birds with one stone as hopefully I am catching some much needed rays as well! Eating a super early dinner is also quite an adjustment. For me, it just involves more planning. I've discovered that I need to find other distractions to keep me from munching when I come home from work, like going for a walk or taking a bath. I love being in the kitchen and I often spend a bit of time in the evenings preparing meals for the next day. It’s difficult to refrain from a bite here and a bite there when all this yumminess is within arm’s length. Of course, the hardest part of this program is figuring out what to do when I have plans to go out to dinner. As many of us work in the corporate sphere, the only time during the week to catch up with friends and family is at dinner time. I am trying to schedule more lunch time meal dates, but of course there will be inevitable nights out to dinner. On those days, the best way to mitigate the digestive distress of eating heavy and late is having a light lunch and trying to make good choices when out. Obviously slamming the bread basket and polishing off a massive bowl of Fettuccine Alfredo will not do you any flavors that night or the next morning. But the main thing to keep in mind is that what you do every day is what will make a difference in your life, not what you do once in a while. I reckon if I do this plan 51% of the time, then I’m winning and will feel the results.
Unfortunately it’s not as simple as just resting the gut for 16 hours. The treatment of this issue goes beyond the food component and requires consideration of the thought pattern in my subconscious mind. The Ayurvedic Mind-Body System studies how the body’s functions match and mirror the mind (our beliefs). I have written a bit about this before here, but essentially the idea is that our physical body reflects our life, and our well being depends on how we interpret the life events to which we are exposed. When we have a wrong or inaccurate belief or conclusion about our abilities, our body reflects it through dis-ease. In this way, dis-ease is a learning opportunity which gives us a chance to correct our wrong belief(s) and thus upgrade our wisdom.
As mentioned, the large intestine’s job in the body is to squeeze water out of food that has no further value and then remove it as waste. A digestive disorder relating to the large intestine is associated with the ability to let go of events of no further value so that new events can enter. In my case, my tired and depleted large intestine is not letting go of waste so it is staying in the colon for too long. This corresponds to the thought pattern, or view in the subconscious mind, that something in my life is taking too long. There is a sense of feeling “stuck” and not wanting to let go of things that are no longer serving me.
Consciously contemplating what in my life is ‘taking too long’ hasn't been working for me as I find that I can rationalize just about anything! As a way of trying to access the inner workings of my subconscious mind, I have recently begun doing Early Morning Pages. For anyone who does not know what that is, it’s essentially stream of consciousness writing first thing upon waking in the morning when you are half awake and half asleep. I write whatever crosses my mind, from ridiculous thoughts to deep musings. This goes completely uncensored, so if I am thinking about how I have to pee, I write it down! I haven’t been doing it for that long but, so far, it’s been pretty incredible what kind of stuff crops up out of nowhere as soon as I put pen to paper. Accessing that deeper part of myself and all those subconscious thoughts and feelings is like a meditation in its own right. I appreciate that a deep and direct relationship with the inner self is very important on the path to healing, so I will keep it up and see what happens!
If you’re interested in learning more about Early Morning Pages, check out The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
As always, I would love to hear from you on anything and everything!