6 Steps to Improve Digestive Health
Sitting while you eat greatly increases attentiveness, sensory enjoyment, and supports digestion. It also keeps you from eating on the fly.
By refraining from multitasking while you are eating, your sense of connection will grow exponentially increasing your reverence and satisfaction, and eliminating any episodes of mindless shoveling or nibbling throughout the day.
Digestion begins in the mouth if you allow it by taking the time to chew your food thoroughly. Teeth are in your mouth (not your stomach) to physically break down your foods, so use them! Inhaling your food quickly can leave you wondering what happened to all the food, unable to digest it thoroughly, and eating too fast to hear your body’s signal that you are full. Aim for 20-30 chews per bite. Once you get the hang of it, you can stop counting and just know when a bite is thoroughly chewed.
When proper chewing takes place, foods become softened and lubricated by saliva, which contains enzymes to start breaking down carbohydrates into usable nutrients. Washing down foods with large amounts of water or other beverages shortchanges this process and sabotages digestion by diluting digestive secretions both in the mouth and stomach. Aim for drinking 4 ounces or less during your meals and staying hydrated by consuming plenty of water between meals. An ideal schedule is to have your beverages an hour after eating or twenty minutes before eating.
Only eat when you are hungry. Awareness of the distinction between the desire to eat from a mental or emotional origin and the need to eat from a physical sensation in the belly is very important to cultivate. Most people aim to avoid feeling hunger and eat preventatively throughout the day. According to Ayurveda, constant consumption undermines the Agni (Sanskrit for digestive fire) and results in Ama (Sanskrit for metabolic toxins). Allowing digestion of your previous meal before you eat again is one of the best things you can do to support your Agni, which is important because digestive health is considered the primary key to wellbeing in the Ayurvedic science of life. Depending on the pace of your digestion and what food you ate in your last meal, it could take anywhere between 2 and 5 hours for the fire in your belly to indicate that you are physically hungry and ready to eat again.
Your body has some simple yet very subtle ways of letting you know when you have had enough to eat. One of these is to pay attention to a slight movement of air rising from the chest or throat. This sensation is far subtler than a belch or burp, and is more like an air bubble that may or may not be audible. According to some obscure teachings in Ayurveda the first air bubble you experience while eating indicates that your stomach is approaching fullness and it is a good idea to stop. The second air bubble is a sign that the stomach is 75-80% full which is the recommended end point for your meal. The third air bubble is a signal that you have reached capacity. All foods eaten beyond the third air bubble will not be digested properly and will contribute Ama (metabolic toxins). Listening for these subtle air bubbles requires conscious eating, which is supported by sitting, focusing, chewing, sipping rather than gulping beverages, and waiting until you are physically hungry before eating. Though it may be difficult to push your plate away after the first or second air bubble, your digestion will thank you and your body will be happier and healthier as a result!