Digestive Health and Ayurveda: The when, where, what, and how of eating

“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” – Anonymous

Digestive issues are an extremely common side-effect of the Western lifestyle, particularly when coupled with the Standard American Diet. Eating while stressed, eating processed and refined foods, under-and over- eating are just a few of the habits that contribute to the chronic bloating, gas, cholic, acidity, and pain that most Americans experience at some point.

According to Ayurveda, the foundation of health is the digestion. In other words, the more optimal the digestion, the more optimal health will be. As a wholistic approach, Ayurveda looks at digestion with a multi-layered lens; in other words, digestion is not just about what you eat, but also how, where, when, and even why. This means that when targeting any specific digestive issue, it’s not just about the food you eat; we must look at everything that involves your food, from sourcing to prepping, to eating, and even what you do after eating! After all, eating and digestion is one of the most complex activities that our body and mind undergo during any given moment of the day!

There are many useful and beneficial guidelines for digestive health, from many traditions, including modern “allopathic” medicine. Ayurveda focuses on long-term digestive health as the key to sustainable immune strength and resilience. This is why, consistency and commitment are the cornerstones to the Ayurvedic approach to lifestyle practices. Moreover, according to this ancient science, there is no cookie-cutter solution; each person has their own unique, individual constitution and imbalances. So although the guidelines from this tradition are indeed beneficial to supporting any digestive issues, you should always work with a Practitioner in order to get more targeted practices.

Can digestive issues be reversed?

According to Ayurveda, in most cases the answer is yes, most digestive issues can be reversed and prevented. The gut can be healed, and by adopting the appropriate lifestyle habits, we can support long-term digestive health. With practice, commitment, and patience, we can restore our digestive power and feel more energy, get better sleep, and even eat our favorite foods. Yes, it all comes back to the digestion! Although there is no silver bullet when it comes to reversing digestive issues, these ancient guidelines, when practiced as part of a wholistic lifestyle approach, can support the healing process in a big way.

  1. When

Focus on having the larger meals mid-day (specifically from 10:00am – 2:00pm); metabolism is stronger during Pitta time of day. Also focus on being consistent day to day – having meals around the same time each day, the same amount of food each meal, not skipping meals, etc.

  • Where

Where you eat makes a difference; a quiet, peaceful place will promote a feeling of calm as you eat and as the digestion starts working (and it does work hard!). Avoid eating at your desk, while answering emails, or while having a difficult conversation with your boss. Whenever possible, separate your workspace from your eating space.

  • What

This one is always a challenge for people. I usually recommend to focus on whole foods (i.e. reduce/eliminate processed, refined foods with artificial ingredients and tastes). This requires a bit more planning and some strategic shopping, but over time this will become easier. Also focus on the six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent. A well-rounded meal includes each of the six tastes, as each has a very distinct action on the digestion. This way of designing meals will have the biggest impact on our long-term digestive health.  

  • How

One of the best ways to support digestion is by eating food that is cooked and warm; avoid too much raw, undercooked, and cold food. Eat slowly, chewing well, and in a quiet environment. If it is in your tradition, you can say a blessing or prayer before eating; otherwise showing any form of gratitude for what you are about to eat will elevate the energy of the act of eating.

The one thing I often tell my clients is “ouput equals input”. In other words, what you put into your dietary habits, is equal to what you get out of it. If you are consistent about the when, where, what, and how, your digestion will also be consistent about the when, where, what, and how. Try it and see for yourself! Lastly, food is medicine, and the act of nourishing our body and mind is sacred. Preparing food and eating it should be treated as a sacred act; done with a positive attitude and reverence.