The whole body loves routine, belly included. It does its best digestive work when you eat your meals around the same time everyday.
Eating lunch at 11 am on some days and 3 pm on others, for example, is a bad habit that needs to be kicked by people who want to feel physically well.
(That’s all of us, no?)
All the kale, green juices and ginger tea in the world can’t make up for unhealthy eating habits like scattered meals. Good digestion depends on both wholesome food and the way it’s taken in.
If your belly knows what hour to expect food, it can prepare itself by firing up the process of digestion before you’ve even taken your first bite. It lights up its digestive fire (agni in Ayurvedic lingo), prepares digestive enzymes, and in turn you feel hungry. Ayurveda teaches us that we should only eat when we’re hungry, so regular mealtimes create a ongoing healthy digestive cycle.
Eating around the same time everyday also ensures that your body has enough time to finish digesting one meal before it’s loaded with the next. As a result you feel light and refreshed after meals instead of heavy and weighed down.
Most people normally don’t think twice about digestion unless they’re chronically uncomfortable with gas, bloating, diarrhea, acidity, cramps or constipation. Even then they might ignore the body’s plea for dietary caution. Left untreated, indigestion will cause food to purify in the gut no matter how wholesome the meal.
Putrefied food becomes toxins, and toxic accumulation will eventually lead to dis-ease if ignored. Hence the importance of all of Ayurveda’s dietary “rules”.
I know that many of you will cringe at the idea of a mealtime routine. I used to do the same; avoiding any kind of routine like the plague. So fearful that routine would stifle my personal freedom, I quit my 9-to-5 and became a carefree vagabond, living each day (sleeping, food, lifestyle) entirely different from the next. My recklessness eventually caught up to me and my belly cried out in despair with gas, bloating, embarrassingly noisy digestion, fullness, and totally unsatisfying poos (no use beating around the bush).
I’ve found, though, that instilling a mealtime routine actually gives me freedom. By supporting my digestion with Ayurveda’s dietary guidelines, I’m no longer enslaved by the discomfort of a funny tummy. I’m properly hungry at breakfast time, hungry at lunchtime, and hungry at dinnertime– an underrated sensation. I enjoy anything and everything so much better now that I feel physically well.
You can feel this way too. Your digestion should be seamless: comfortable, without noise, and resulting in the feeling of lightness. A mealtime routine will definitely help.
If you’re in the habit of eating whenever, it can take some adjustment to fall into the rhythm of an eating schedule. Here are a few tips to ease the process.
Breakfast: Have something light to digest and warm within an hour or two of waking up. Some body types do best with hearty foods like oatmeal, while others function better with fresh fruit.
Lunch: Make lunch your biggest meal of the day as digestion is at its strongest. 12pm-1pm is an ideal lunchtime, but if your work schedule deems otherwise, still aim to make this your biggest meal. This is a good time to eat proteins and other heavier-to-digest foods.
Dinner: The power of digestion is less in the evening, so make dinner light and warm. Eating between 6pm and 7pm gives the body enough time to digest before that ideal early bedtime.
Snacking: Over-snacking is the demise of the mealtime routine. As you adjust, try limiting snacks to light foods like fresh fruit, cooked vegetables or a few soaked almonds between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner so that you don’t spoil your appetite for the main meals. You might find that you can eventually do away with a morning snack. Either way, keep on a schedule with snacking, too, eating at the same time each day.
Let this process evolve over the course of several weeks. Your body will eventually adjust, making for a relieved belly.
(This article was also published on elephantjournal.com.)