It is not enough to know WHAT to eat. You should also know HOW to eat.
It is a common myth to say: If it’s natural, it must be healthy. Even poison is natural, but it kills. Many lifesaving naturally occurring drugs like digitalis can be lethal if taken in wrong amounts. Ghee mixed in equal quantity with honey acts like a lethal poison.
Even the best food that nourishes you, can also kill you if it is not consumed correctly and scientifically. According to the ancient science of Ayurveda, certain rules of eating must be followed and if they are flouted or ignored, then even the best and the most expensive food can turn harmful. The crux of the art of eating is to avoid Bad Food Habits!
What do you mean by Bad Food Habits?
Bad food habits mean eating like a pig, giving in to the consumer culture. Technically, bad food habits mean any of these: consuming food in incorrect amounts, eating at an incorrect time of the day, eating wrong food in wrong season, and eating in an inappropriate place or in an inappropriate way.
What happens if I have bad food habits?
Just that you can die early or develop chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc. And of course, cancer is on the top of the list.
Modern medicine has no idea why most chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s happen. Although researchers know what happens in these diseases (chemical deficiency in the brain), no one knows what causes these deficiencies. The same is with most cancers.
Ayurveda argues that one of the main factors for such intractable diseases is bad food habits. Since people are completely unaware of ‘How’ to eat, therefore even though they meticulously consume the right amounts of calories, proteins, multivitamins and minerals daily, still they fall sick.
To cure their sickness they take multivitamins, proteins and herbal products not realizing that the problem lies not in the type of food that they eat, but in ‘how’ they eat. Consequently they become more sick leading to chronic diseases.
Bad food habits are bad because they produce toxins in our body that contaminate and get lodged in our cells and organs producing dangerous and intractable diseases. These toxins are known as ‘Dushivisha’ (slow poison) since they accumulate and affect our body slowly over a number of passing years.
What diseases can I suffer from due to bad food habits?
Shushruta Samhita, an ancient book of Ayurvedic surgery, lists all kind of chronic diseases occurring due to Dushivisha. Skin diseases, diabetes, chronic sinusitis, heart problems, baldness, IBS, diarrhoea, fevers like PUO, impotency, Dhat syndrome, depression and mental disorders are some to mention.
Besides chronic diseases, Dushivisha can also cause acute diseases like seasonal viral fevers, bout of diarrhoea, allergies and sudden heart attacks all due to weakening of immunity and the internal organs.
Note that the above diseases are very common and mostly related to lifestyle, directly or indirectly. Lifestyle includes diet, sleep, exercise and sexual habits. Ayurveda pinpoints ‘food habits’ as the causation of these diseases.
What are the Bad Food Habits that I should avoid?
Charaka Samhita mentions a long list of good food habits, but here we are mentioning the most relevant, the most important and the most practical habits that you should try to cultivate. Where there is will, there is way!
Avoid Consuming food in incorrect amount :
I. Eat When Hungry and Stop Before Full.
Do not eat more than or less than required. The trick is to eat when hungry. Eat only so much that will alleviate your hunger. Do not binge or eat simply because you have nothing better to do. The point is ‘taste’ should not be the guide for the amount of food you eat. Make ‘hunger’ your guide in the matter of eating.
How to know when to stop? It is said half the stomach should be filled with food. One fourth with water. And rest one fourth with air. This is anyway common sense. In a blender the same principle works, otherwise there will be no blending or you will mess up the blender. The cut off point for eating should be just before you get a feeling of fullness. That means after eating you should feel a little hunger.
2. Eat to Live and do not Live to Eat
Eat two major meals a day. That’s enough for the human body. Do not keep on munching. Yes, many doctors recommend frequent eating but many experts have now refuted this myth of frequent meals per day.
Of course eating twice a day needs a little practice. But this doesn’t mean you do not eat the entire day even if you feel hungry. The point is two major meals. If you feel hungry in between you can take something light or may be a glass of juice or milk or some fruits. It is said that one major meal is for yogis, two for humans, three for becoming diseased and four for early death.
Avoid Consuming food at inappropriate time of day
1. Sun Sets, Digestion Rests
Avoid eating after sunset. According to Ayurveda your body mimics the universe. So with sunset, your digestive power goes down. Since at night your digestive system shuts down or is at its minimal activity, whatever you eat either turns into fat or wasted as stool. Even modern researches show that after sunset your body goes in absorption phase and excretion phase. There is no digestion phase after sunset.
So eating after sunset demands digestion which is against the body clock. This produces stress on the organs and rather than providing energy, fatigues the body. That is why do not be surprised if you wake up being tired after a late night dinner.
2. Never Eat when Digestion Power Peaks
Never eat between 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. Although it is generally said that digestion is at its peak during those hours, so one should eat at that time, this a fallacy. Yes, the digestion power during those hours is at its peak, but it is so high that any food eaten at this time will burn immediately and get wasted, just like putting food in a furnace. So food should be eaten either before 10:30 am or after 1:30 pm or even better after 2 pm.
Avoid eating wrong food in wrong season
1. Keep Summers Light and Winters Heavy
Do not eat heavy, fatty foods in summer, since fatty foods give a lot of energy and heat when metabolized in our body thereby raising the basal body temperature. This in turn will make you feel hot and uneasy inducing excess sleep.
Also since digestion power is very low in summer, the body is unable to digest heavy foods and consequently the fats get lodged in organs and arteries causing diseases.
Similarly do not eat light foods in winter. In winter, digestion power is at its peak, so eating light in winter can lead to acidity and gas problems.
Avoid Consuming food at inappropriate place
1. Of All Digestive Regimes, Peace is the best
Do not eat in public places like bus stations and from street food vendors. These places are bustling and often noisy, with no peace of mind. Better to sit peacefully and eat without distraction, in a grateful mood.
2. Eat Safe
Do not eat in a dirty place for fear of infections. Also, eating in a dirty place, according to Ayurveda, is disrespectful towards food.
Avoid Consuming food in inappropriate way
1. Mind Your Posture
Do not eat standing or walking. Every posture affects our mind. Reclining makes you feel drowsy and sleepy and so is not a good posture for eating since the body prepares to shut down your digestion along with all other processes. Standing and walking makes your mind alert and thus the body prepares itself for movement rather than digestion. Only in a sitting posture is the mind peaceful and alert enough to digest food to its best capacity.
2. Fast Eating = Fasting
Do not eat on the run. Eating too fast hinders the mixing of food with the digestive enzymes in saliva thereby hindering digestion. Food eaten fast therefore is not absorbed in the system and the food gets wasted as stool. The system is almost fasting when one eats fast. And therefore, fast-eaters quickly become hungry and have to eat frequently to allay their hunger and maintain their energy levels.
3. Even Right Things in Wrong Way will Harm
Do not eat while watching television. Ayurveda says eating should be mindful. Television distracts and puts stress on our vision and mind.
4. Be Patient and Attentive
Do not eat before the previous meal has been digested since that will interfere with the proper digestion and assimilation of the previous meal.
5. Do not ‘Mix and Match’
Do not take cold and hot foods at the same meal. Like ice cream dessert following a main course of pulao. This is because if you first consume a hot item your digestive fire will increase, but then following it with a cold item will reduce the digestive fire and thus hinder the digestion of both items. Best is to avoid cold and hot foods together. But if in case you have to take both, then keep a gap between eating each of them. Or take the cold item first and then the hot item, for the simple reason that the digestive fire reduced by the cold item will be increased by the heat of the hot item, keeping digestion intact.
6. Keep a Sequence
Take liquids first, then solids. Take less hot food items first and then more hot. Take most tasty food last. Some sequence should be maintained while eating. Some texts recommend that soft foods should be taken in the beginning and at the end and semisolids and solid food in the middle. Anyway, have some sort of sequence. Mother Nature is a mathematician!
7. First Sleep, Then Food
Never sleep just after consuming food. Sleeping arrests heat in the body and interferes with digestion. Also since sleep reduces the basal metabolic rate and slows down the organ activity, having food in the stomach will put stress on the body.
Similarly never exercise after food, since exercise increases heat in the body and disturbs the bodily airs interfering with digestion. In both cases, digestion is in a compromised state. If you are tired then first sleep as much as you wish and then take food. Never do the opposite however much tempting it may be.
8. Eat Clean : Wash-Eat-Wash Strategy
Always wash your feet, hands, and mouth before and after food. It is hygienic and cools and freshens the mind and the body making digestion easy and complete. But if you are traveling or at work, then washing feet may be avoided for practical reasons.
What happens if I follow above rules and avoid bad food habits?
Ashtanga Hridayam, another standard book on Ayurveda, states that consuming food in correct amounts increases digestive power. And that in turn prevents and even cures all kind of diseases and helps in increasing immunity by making digestion and absorption efficient.
Avoiding all kinds of bad food habits will keep away dushivisha and keep the mind fresh, in the mode of goodness, assuring youth, energy and freedom from all chronic and acute diseases.
Remember. Food matters. But how you consume food, matters even more!