Is losing weight at the top of your new year's resolution list yet again? For many people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight, the proof is in the pudding...and the cake, pies, cookies, and chocolate, as well as in the pile of candy wrappers that compete with the holiday wrapping paper now overflowing in the kitchen trash can. For others, a sluggish metabolism and slow digestion are equal contenders for blame. In fact, at a recent lecture Dr. Robert E. Svoboda said, "it is not what you eat that matters—it's really what you are able to digest." That is precisely why those with strong digestive fire (agni) can get away with an occasional overindulgence in a box of holiday chocolates; waking up happy and refreshed, still fit and radiant—while those with poor digestive fire may experience a kind of sugar hangover...having a bellyache or noticeable weight gain after just a couple of candies.
In Ayurveda, strengthening digestion is crucial to achieving and maintaining your ideal weight. Digestion has been strengthened for thousands of years with great success through the use of herbs, yoga postures, breathing techniques, and diet. Here are ten basic tips to help you improve your digestion:
- Do not drink iced or cold beverages as they "put out" the digestive fire. Stick to room temperature or warm drinks only.
- When food shopping stick to the perimeter of the market. The fresh foods found there require less work of your digestive system. A diet of freshly cooked, whole foods (organic if possible) will keep your system working most efficiently.
- Eliminate canned and processed foods from your diet, especially those that contain refined sugar or corn syrup; they have the least available prana (vital life energy) of all foods.
- Avoid leftovers. Foods that are cooked and then refrigerated or frozen lose their vital energy and are much more difficult to digest.
- Determine whether you have a vata, pitta, or kapha imbalance and then begin altering your diet and/or lifestyle to restore your health. For example, if you are prone toward gas and constipation and would like to gain weight, you may be dealing with a vata imbalance. If you are prone toward acid indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, rashes and other skin disorders, you may have a pitta imbalance. If you are prone to colds, congestion, asthma, and conditions of chronic weight gain or obesity, you are likely to have a kapha imbalance.
- Use herbs to enkindle the digestive fire. For vata types, consider the powdered formula Hingvastak, or Vata Digest tablets. Pitta types can use cumin, coriander, and fennel (all of which can be found in Pitta Digest). For kapha individuals, the best choice is the powdered formula Trikatu or Kapha Digest.
- Create a routine time for meals. Most people do best to take their largest meal around noon, when the digestive fire is strongest.
- Eat all meals in a peaceful environment and be sure to take a deep breath after swallowing your last bite and heading off to your next activity.
- Remember that like increases like, so if you are trying to become lighter, you will do best to avoid heavy and oily foods (e.g. cheese, pudding, nuts, cake) and avoid overeating as well.
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Avoid stagnation. Stimulate your body and mind on a daily basis.
- Meditate daily. Even five minutes a day will help the body relax into a state of calmness that supports healthy digestion.
“I am now convinced that most chronic medical conditions can be helped significantly by a healthy diet.”
Top photo courtesy of Claire Ragozzino.