Gluten is not the enemy. WHAT?!?!? And get this, neither is dairy, soy, corn, carbs, fats, meats, beans, hot peppers or anything else that may be on your personal forbidden list of foods you “can’t” eat, or “shouldn’t eat but sometimes do at 2:00am in front of the open fridge”. I am not saying that your sensitivities to such things are in your head, what I am saying is
perhaps your food sensitivity is a sign of weak digestion, not a fault of the food itself.
As one of my nutrition professors once said, “a strong healthy body with a strong stomach fire can eat rusty nails.” In Ayurveda we call this strong stomach fire, or strong digestion, agni. The word Agni comes from the Hindu god of fire of the same name, and is the root of the word “ignite”.
Agni refers to the strength of our digestion of not only foods but emotions and experiences, it is our ability to absorb and adapt all things that come our way, bacon-chili-cheese muffin, new job, everything. If you have certain foods that disagree with you and cause bloating, indigestion, reflux, loose or congested bowels, fatigue, moodiness or symptoms like sore throat, runny nose or skin reactions we need to take a look at the strength of your agni.
We are each different combinations of the Ayurvedic doshas of Pitta, Vata and Kapha (article coming soon I swear!) and are all dealing with different things in life. What is going on for you and your body right now as you read this is entirely different than it was 3 years ago, different from how it will be next month. There are some general things we can all safely try in order to improve agni, and here are my favorite 3:
If dinner is at 7:00pm and say, dessert is done by 8:30, don’t have solid foods again until 8:30am the next morning. Those 12 hours give your body time to empty the stomach, break down foods and while you sleep your organs receive the nourishment they need, cast away the leftovers and replenish for your next day.
Most people are more dehydrated than they think. The stomach needs water to balance stomach acids and the liver needs fluids to produce enough bile, both crucial elements of good digestion. Drink 8-16 ounces first thing with fresh lemon juice and/or raw apple cider vinegar (enough to taste, usually about 1 tsp total per 8oz). The liquid helps to hydrate the stomach lining and the bitter lemon or vinegar helps to encourage better bile flow and also alkalize the body (I know, lemon juice and vinegar alkalize? another article, promise!) In my ideal world you would have this first thing every morning, wait 20ish minutes and then powder your nose to pass whatever is left of breakfast-lunch-dinner from the day before.
How, when, where and often with WHO we eat, matters just as much as WHAT we eat.
Eat “date night” style: sit down, silence the phone, turn off the TV, make sure you like or even better love the person sitting across from you and chew it until it is liquid. There’s a macrobiotic principle that says we should chew each mouthful 50 times until it is one even consistency. Now, I’ve tried this, and yes it takes forever, you feel like a cow out in the field chewing grass and all of your meals are room temperature, but it will do wonders if you have trouble digesting. If 50 chews sounds too much, just chew it until it feels evenly broken down. Saliva itself offers tons of digestive enzymes and the very act of chewing or mastication, helps to reduce stress as it loosens the jaw muscles and signals the stomach to create digestive juices.
If you are at all like me, stressful relationships make your stomach feel tight, your mind distracted and your patience short. All of these feelings awaken “fight or flight” and send blood flow to our muscles (so we can run from this lovely person) and not to our stomachs where we’d want the blood to be at meal time. Eat with loved ones, good friends, your favorite pet, and remember you alone count as good company too! Positive emotions relax the stomach muscles and heighten our sense of smell and taste. When you can’t control the company or how you feel about them, make sure to chew chew chew and take a doggy bag home to eat in peace later.
The above suggestions are basic, you may need additional practices or to temporarily reduce/eliminate certain foods depending on what is going on in your body and in your life right now. I encourage you to see digestive problems as temporary, as a challenge to look closer at your habits and make better choices for the next meal.
I’m always here for you, feel free to contact me with your questions or heck,