I have started to open my clinic slowly and began seeing patients in May. In the last few weeks, I have seen more patients with issues related to digestion, and of course stress.
Allow me to share an example with you. My patient, let's call her, Jennifer, (this is not her real name) but we use Jennifer for the purpose of illustration. Jennifer has been a patient for over a year. She came in for her weekly maintenance session but complained about something new – bloating, cramps, and gas after each meal.
Jennifer eats really well. She consumes organic foods, healthy meals, does juicing, and takes additional supplements. However, she was still frustrated with eating healthy foods, and why she still has digestive problems. She asked me why this could happen and what she could do about it.
So I started asking her some questions to gather some data to understand her lifestyle, to see if there was anything unusual, when she eats and how she eats.
Right now, as we slowly transition out from shelter-in-place, Jennifer has been working from home. She is working harder than she did when she had to commute every day to her office. She has more virtual meetings on zoom than she ever had in person. More often then not, she eats her breakfast and lunch standing up in her kitchen counter or while she's preparing them while preparing for the next zoom.
The same thing goes for dinner. She either eats at her desk, while working or in front of the tv while trying to relax. During her meals, she drinks cold water. She always has a cold beverage or water with ice to wash down her meals because she is in a hurry to eat and get to the next task or zoom meeting.
Within that moment of listening, in my mind's eye, I already know what was the cause of Jeniffer's issues and what she could do differently. However, my approach has to be welcomed and delivered with examples. So here is my summary of our conversation.
Although Jennifer eats very healthily, we often forget that HOW we eat and WHEN we eat plays a very big role in how our bodies digest food. Drinking cold water or cold beverages slows down the digestive system.
Chinese Medicine says that food has physical aspects and energetic aspects. If you want to absorb the energetic aspects of your food, your stomach must be in the bend position like when you are seated, not in the elongated position it assumes when you stand. Do not stand and eat. Take a seat and enjoy your meals without rushing (the exception is breakfast).
Different positions are meant for different activities. Standing is for being active and productive. It’s good for making phone calls and projecting your voice. It’s good for your overall health too and many say sitting all day is the new smoking. Reclining is for sleeping or resting. Sitting is a transitioning position between these two postures. And sitting also is the position for eating and thinking.
We eat during the day so that we have the energy to be active. We eat to fuel our bodies.
We sleep at night so our bodies can use the food we consumed during the day to repair and maintain itself. Don’t forget how important a good night's sleep is!
Sitting is the position for receiving nourishment and for strengthening the ability to absorb, digest, and assimilate food. It is also the position most important to the process of thinking.
So you can try reading while standing up or laying down, but those ideas are not as comprehensively thought out as when you are sitting.
When we want to digest and assimilate food or ideas, sitting is the best way to do this.
If you eat while standing up, your stomach cannot except the food properly. Standing interferes with the digestive process.
When you sit down to eat you will be more conscious of what you were eating and how much you were eating.
Since eating while sitting in a more relaxed position than standing, you will probably eat less food because you’ll be digesting what you have eaten more thoroughly and will be satisfied with the smaller amount.
When you are seated and you overeat, often you don’t know it until you get up from the table.
If you are eating and standing, your body is elongated, you will never know when you have had enough. You lose your natural sense of how much food it takes to satisfy you. This can cause you to add unnecessary weight you do not want to gain.
Next, let’s look at eating at your desk. Ideally, a meal is a time for nourishing and balancing oneself.
It is a time to be relaxed, open, and receptive to nourishment and this does not mix with doing work or other activity.
Eating while doing other things such as reading, working, watching TV, talking on the phone, or driving interferes with the ability to receive nourishment.
If you’re eating and trying to receive nourishment from your food, whilst at the same time, you do something else, you are closed off from your food. You tend to chew less and you absorb less. You are cheating yourself out of the nourishment your body needs to work properly.
Chewing our food is important for our circulation. Chewing acts as a pump. This pump circulates all our body’s energy and fluids, blood lymph, digestive, hormonal and cellular fluid.
This pump circulates all energy, to renew our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. And to digest food properly, the minimum count is 30 chews per bite. Please try this.
As you can see, if you don't chew properly and enough times, you lose a lot of the nutrients that could have gone to all the organs. This can also cause unnecessary digestive problems.
Food, being one of our strongest desires in life, has the capacity to give us an incredibly deep sense of satisfaction.
If you eat quietly and without distraction, you will feel more deeply satisfied and fulfilled with the food that you just consumed.
However many people don’t allow this to happen. They need to combine eating with lots of distractions. As soon as an unhappy feeling comes around, they will feel the need to do something else to take their mind off, this includes turning on the TV, or checking the phone, looking at Facebook or Instagram for a rush of good feeling that is usually shallow and short-lived.
During this time with COVID and self-isolation, many of us are eating alone. Other times, we eat with our family. Whichever way you eat, spend the time mindfully with your meal. Have a light conversation with your family. If eating alone is hard, just know how much and how far your food needs to travel to be in front of you and on your table. When you see that, you can get past the feeling of being by yourself.
I know that sitting down to eat without doing other things can be difficult for many people to practice but at the same time is the most important of all the steps to get better digestion.
It is the one that sets the directions for better health, better digestion, and elimination.
Lastly, drinking cold water cools down our digestive system. I want you to imagine your stomach as an oven. If you need to bake a cake, you need to set the temperate to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celcius. This way, the cake will come out baked and well done.
If you set the temperature to 150 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celcius, the cake will not bake. It just sits and putrified over time.
So the same thing is with our digestion. While it needs to digest and metabolizes, it needs to be warmed up. We certainly do not throw cold water into our oven while we are baking. We need to keep the digestive fire going. In Chinese Medicine, good digestion means having a balance of Stomach Fire. In Ayurvedic medicine, its called Agni Tatva (digestive fire).
The warming of Stomach Fire fuels digestion, elimination, and a host of other physiological workings of our body.
So bring on the warmth, bring on the heat. Stop drinking water with ice. Lukewarm water is wonderful. Hot tea is even better. Please eat your food cooked and warm so you can stoke the digestive fire. This way, it does not sit and putrified.
They are other ways to add to the prevention of bloating and gas. And many other herbs and spices you can include. But I see that the simplest way is to start being aware of HOW we eat, WHEN we eat, and the temperature of our food and beverages. These 3 things could make a huge difference in your digestion and elimination.
Some highlights from this article:
– Sitting down to eat your meals without doing other things is the first step to a good digestion
– When you eat without distractions, you absorb the most nutrients
– Sitting down to eat without doing other things allow you to be mindful of what you are eating and stop when you have had enough
– Cold congeals and prevents blood flow from the digestive system. Drinking warm or hot tea helps to stoke the digestive fire