Where do you eat?
For decades I have been teaching and writing about the three pillars of the Ayurvedic diet:
- How you eat: calm, relaxed and not on the run.
- What you eat: whole foods, seasonal foods, body type foods.
- When you eat: bigger lunches and lighter suppers in sync with the body’s biological circadian clocks.
New science based on the time-tested wisdom of Ayurveda suggests one more pillar—where you eat! Where you eat has been found to curb levels of obesity, boost energy, and improve mood.1-5
Today, most restaurant chains sport uncomfortable plastic or cold steel chairs on concrete floors with excess air conditioning refrigerating the loud, echoing room—all strategically aimed at getting us in and out fast! The experience of eating a meal in a warm, cozy room full of ambiance is out of style. However, science suggests eating in unwelcoming environments negatively affects your digestion.
The ambiance of where you eat is a rasayana or longevity medicine in Ayurveda. Acharya Rasayana is a form of behavior therapy that focuses on securing longevity by changing one’s behavior. Vihara Rasayana deals with a change in lifestyle. Both of these rasayanas suggest environment, ambiance, and location of eating have a powerful effect on health. This ancient theory is now backed by modern science.14
The Science of Where You Eat
In one study, 49 elderly adults ate the same meal in two different locations—one in a traditional restaurant and the other in a staff cafeteria. The nice restaurant setting had a positive, cozy ambiance. In this environment, subjects consumed significantly more energy from their food compared with in the meal in the starkcafeteria.1
In a Dutch nursing home, 22 subjects were fed in a comfortable environment with a positive ambiance, then in a standard cafeteria. Dietary intake for both groups was insufficient at the beginning of the study. The group with the more pleasing environment experienced greater weight gain (which was a positive change in the nursing home) and improved nutritional status. The study concluded thatimproving the ambiance of food consumption is a must do for stabilizing health of nursing home residents.2
In another study, 28 women compares their moods after eating in both pleasant and unpleasant ambiences. They studied the effect this had on the endocannabinoid system, which is suggested to play a regulatory role in mood. This was the first human study that demonstrated positive effects on mood from a pleasant eating environment and negative effects from an unpleasant one.3
Obesity continues to be a major public health problem, affecting ~33% of adults and 20% of children in the US.4 A study by the American Heart Association found feeding children in a healthy environment was actually more important than what they were fed.5 They concluded parents and caregivers can create an environment that helps children develop healthier eating behaviors early in life, which can reduce the risk for excess weight, obesity, and cardiovascular disease in the next generation.5
So if you’re looking to make the most out of every meal, consider making your dining room more comfortable and restful!
The Ayurveda of Where You Eat
According to Ayurveda, the environment where one cooks and eats should be sattvic (peaceful, calm, positive, and loving). Remember the old Vedic saying, “If you eat standing up, death looks over your shoulder.” Simply being aware of how, when, what, and where you eat may offer surprising health benefits.
21 Ayurvedic Eating Tips
1. Eat your main meal at midday.
Studies suggest digestive strength is greater at midday and weaker at night. Start with a small breakfast that is big enough to get you through to lunch without hunger. Make lunch your main meal and have nothing until supper. Make supper as small and as early as possible, but eat enough to get through to breakfast without needing more food.6
2. Be sure the stomach, bladder, and bowels are empty before eating.
Eat only when you are hungry. Eating just two meals a day is fine as long as you remain satisfied throughout the day.
3. Eat predominantly a plant-based, whole food, minimally or completely non-processed diet, and, if needed, small amounts of meat (only a~10% of the diet).
4. Instead of grabbing a snack when craving food between meals, drink water.
Studies suggest many cravings for food are actually just a need for water.7,8 Use this tip to avoid snacking between meals.
5. Pre-hydrate your stomach for optimal digestion.
Studies suggest digestive and weight loss benefits from drinking a glass of water 30 minutes before a meal.8 This hydrates the bicarbonate acid buffer layer in the stomach, which allows the full production of stomach hydrochloric acid. However, too much water very close to a meal can dilute essential stomach acids needed for digestion.7,8
6. During your meals, sip room temperature or hot water in an amount needed to create a soup-like consistency of the food and water in your stomach.
7. Do not drink iced beverages during meals.
8. Do not eat while upset, angry, or distracted. Eat sitting down in a relaxed, casual manner.
9. Bring everything to the table so you don’t need to get up once you start eating.
Whenever possible, designate a server so this is easily accomplished.
10. Say grace or give thanks.
Studies show that a pre-meal ritual actually improves digestion.9
11. Clear your mind and look at your food while eating.
12. Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
13. No TV, mail, reading, or distractions during your meals.
Enjoy pleasant company and zero business talk while eating your meals.
14. Avoid leftovers.
If you do have leftovers, do not save food for more than 24 hours.
15. Avoid over- or under-cooked food.
Studies suggest over-cooking can be harmful and under-cooking can make it difficult to assimilate certain nutrients.10
16. Eat a balanced meal: a plate that is ½ veggies, ¼ starches, and ¼ protein. Add healthy oils in small amounts.
17. Try to include all six tastes in each meal: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
18. Avoid heavy food at night, such as yogurt or cheese.
These foods are heavy, warming, and best eaten in the middle of the day when your digestion is strongest.
19. Eat more seasonal foods.
Sign up for our free monthly seasonal emails, The 3-Season Diet Guide.
20. Eat supper early and maintain a 13-hour fast from supper to breakfast.
Studies show this supports healthy weight loss and blood sugar levels while resetting metabolism.11
21. Take time after the meal to rest for 5-10 minutes. If possible, rest on your left side and then take a short walk.
Studies show that this improves digestion and balances blood sugar.12,13
Do you follow any of these Ayurvedic eating tips? What have you noticed?
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