You are not what you eat; You are what you digest.
Having used foods to help heal my ulcerative colitis since a young age, I am no stranger to health foods like raw kale salads and green smoothies. And while no doubt these foods are packed with vitamins and minerals, I've learned that you are not necessarily able to absorb those nutrients just because you chew these foods. In order to fully utilize the foods we eat, we must fully digest them.
One concept that is central to Ayurvedic medicine is the concept of Agni, or digestive fire. Imagine that there is a small fire burning within your lower stomach and small intestine. The goal is to keep this fire stoked without letting it get too big or smothering it to death. We all digest food differently. If someone drinks a raw green smoothie, for some it can be like throwing a huge wet log on top of the fire and extinguishing it. This can cause all sorts of problems in the body. Meanwhile others, who have a very strong agni, drink the smoothie and are able to digest it just fine.
So how can you tell if you are digesting your food properly? After eating, one should feel content, satisfied and energized. Your bowel movements will be well formed and timely, and you will feel hungry shortly after waking up in the morning. If you are experiencing lethargy, exhaustion, or pain and discomfort after eating, you are not digesting your food properly. Other indications that your food may not be digesting well can be: constipation, diarrhea, lack of appetite and an overall feeling of sluggishness.
Along with determining how to eat properly for one's unique constitution or dosha, agni is the most important factor in determining how and what we should be eating. One's agni can become compromised by overeating, under-eating, eating the same foods year round regardless of season change, drinking too much water with meals, staying up late, eating at irregular times, and lack of exercise.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help keep your agni balanced:
- Follow your body's own signals. If you are not hungry, don't eat.
- Resist the urge to snack throughout the day if you are not hungry. Your body needs time to digest your previous meal before you feed it again.
- It is best to wait at least two hours after you eat to exercise, otherwise your food doesn't have time to fully digest.
- Try to eat in a relaxed, quiet atmosphere. This includes away from computers and phones! Make it a mini-vacation by unplugging while you eat.
- It is important to eat the foods that are balancing for your body type, seasonally appropriate, and in proper proportions.
- And don't forget, is also important to enjoy the taste of what you are eating!