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Diet sure has a good dose of confusion surrounding it. In reality the body’s dietary needs are simple. A seasonal, freshly cooked, whole foods diet will keep you humming. There are many examples of people who have reversed cancer or heart disease just by eating this way. But a wholesome diet is only part of the equation for a healthy diet.

Another consideration is what it takes to breakdown and assimilate the food we eat. We all have a handy system within us called the autonomic nervous system. (When you think “autonomic” think  “automatic”.) It controls the things that happen automatically like our heart beat, breath, the release of enzymes, hormones etc. Our autonomic nervous system has 3 branches but i will only expound on two of them:

  1. parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)
  2. sympathetic nervous system (SNS)

In the PNS, we are in a resting state. We have the chemicals we need to digest food, build immunity and thrive available to us. The PNS is also sometimes called the “rest and digest” response.

When we are in the second branch or a SNS we are in a “flight or fight” response. The PNS turns off, because the body has gone into survival mode, and resources are diverted to survival, not to digestion or resting. Both of these modes are essential to our evolution.

These two branches release different chemicals as they represent two very different modes of operating. The chemicals available to you in the PNS allow you to digest, absorb and eliminate your meals.  The SNS diverts energy away from the digestive tract to the heart, lungs, limbs because your body thinks it needs to get you out of an emergency.

What does this mean in terms of meal time? It means that the thoughts we think and the feelings we feel are determining what chemicals are irrigating us. It could be debated that it is more important to remain calm than it is to eat organic whole foods. It really is striking that we can consume the best food in the universe, grown organically specifically for us, and have it prepared by an ayurvedic chef who also happens to love us deeply, and while this chef cooks s/he sings songs of praises but…if we are anxious or stressed while eating this loving masterpiece, we will literally not be able to fully digest and assimilate it. If we eat, but do not digest, then toxins are created. Crazy huh!

Also under the guidelines of how to eat, it’s suggested to just eat when you eat. Checking emails, driving, walking around the kitchen take your attention and divert it away from the food and unto something else. Our prana and bodies cannot be in two places at once. We are either present with our food or not and the body and prana are clear on which ever it is.  For optimal digestion to take place it helps to be present with our food. Nourishment is just like everything else. If we desire a respectful child it is in our interest to attend to our child. If we want a healthy marriage it helps to be present with it and attend to it.  This is why Ayurveda says, it is more important how you eat than what you eat. Instead of the old adage, you are what you eat; Ayurveda says, we are what we can digest.

One thing that strikes me about our culture is we will do anything, ANYTHING, but look at our diet and lifestyle choices as a means for well being. I observe us traveling to foreign countries for treatment, electing surgeries, ingesting meds, getting liposuction, spending great deals of money, etc but the understanding that diet and lifestyle choices are a path to balance is seldom considered. It’s quite perplexing that the things we do everyday are not given the respect they warrant.