If I could only adopt one food-related life-changing habit, I would chose this one! This habit can help you improve digestion, get more energy, and lose weight.
It is called ‘adhyashana’ – not eating before the previous meal has been digested. This rule is very simple yet very effective. It comes from Āyurveda – the Indian holistic medical system that has been successfully used for more than 5000 years. As I will explain below, it is now even scientifically proven!
What most health & wellness blogs won’t tell you
If you are looking for ways to improve your health and wellbeing, the chances are you will come accross many sources that will tell you exactly what to do. They will list foods that are considered healthy and those which are not, some of them will tell you how you should plan your meals and your snacks, how much water you should drink, what supplements to take and so on. However, most of these sources will never mention crucial information regarding when and how healthy foods should be consumed, who they are good for and who should avoid some of them. Most nutritional advice that you find on the Internet seems to focus on people who have perfect digestion. It may seem that the only thing people need is changing the list of foods they are putting in their mouth and voilá, the results will be there!
Do you actually know how good your digestion is?
The truth is, if you have good digestion you will most likely digest any food and won’t even bother to change anything in your food patterns and lifestyle. On the contrary, if you have poor or declining digestion (as people naturally do as they age and when they are chronically ill or stressed), you will likely not be able to digest even super healthy foods that you will be consuming! Now, Āyurvedic medicine starts from digestion because digestion is the root of everything that happens in our bodies and minds. I will say more about this approach in this blog but for now let’s come back to our “number one” rule to improve digestion: not eating before your previous meal is digested in the stomach and has left it. This can take anything between 1-6 hours depending on your digestion strength, how hungry you were when you took your meal, what food in which combination you consumed etc.
Why is this rule so important for good digestion?
Snacking or having frequent meals leads to the situation where you still have some food from a previous meal in your stomach at the moment when you decide to have your next mouthful of something. The digestion process will have to start all over again. This will usually result in incompletely digested products that are neither good for building tissues, nor ready for excretion. These products are called Āma* in Ayurveda which is often incorrectly translated as ‘toxins’. They circulate in the body interfering with normal processes in tissues and organs and ultimately lead to disease. Think about it: people have known how such basic things as digestion work already 5000 years ago! Why don’t we use this knowledge? Because we need to re-invent the wheel, of course.
No woo-woo here, just science
This recent research paper (see the link below) basically shows that having appropriate intervals between meals is as efficient as using anorectic drugs in reducing obesity and metabolic syndrome. Who could have thought this!? By the way, it is an open access paper meaning you can read it for free. It is pretty cumbersome though, and one could hardly guess from the title what practical outcomes it may contain, but here is the link if you want to read it yourself.
How long should that optimal intermeal interval be?
Well, it will totally depend on several factors, such as:
- your digestion on that day (yes, your digestion can vary),
- time of the day (your digestion will normally be stronger in the first half of the day),
- season (think about eating a big warm meal if it is +35ºC outside),
- type of food (a small piece of pineapple will leave your stomach very quickly, a large steak will stay there for a while!).
How do I know when I can eat my next meal?
Many people experience it as heaviness in their stomach if they have eaten too early after the previous meal. Some will mention heartburn and acid reflux, some – bloating soon after eating. Whatever it is, you can find out by observing yourself and learning to see the connections. For example, you can keep a journal for a while writing short notes like: “I ate this and that at this time of the day, I felt good/bad several hours later” or “I ate this and that in the evening, had a nice/poor night’s sleep and woke up refreshed/grumpy”. But that’s so much work, you may say. Yes, and nobody can do it for you, unfortunately. There is just no magic doctor or magic pill that will sort things out for you!
It’s fine if you are not ready to change anything just yet. It takes time to prepare, gather information and inspiration to change something in life. But once you get really tired of feeling unwell you can always get back control over your life. As my friend Leigh Eastman has put it:
Taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing is, I believe, the key to a long happy and healthy life.
Do you have any questions, comments or suggestions?
* If you are in need of a biochemical analogy here, you can think of Āma as different biomarkers and risk factors, antibodies that are produced in allergies or other autoimmune conditions, and similar molecules that “should not be there normally”.