Healthy and Mindful Eating

Self-care Series Part 4

When I was a kid I learned that we should “Eat to Live” and not “Live to eat”. The lesson there was that we should not be eating all the time and thinking of the next meal and live only for eating but look at food as just something needed to keep us alive. But now when I look at it with Awareness, there is a flaw in just eating to live. Eating is one of the most important part of living and we do need to “live to eat” and “live while eating” as well as “eat to live”. The process of eating food can be a relishing, joyful and fulfilling activity rather than just something to dump into our bodies to help it remain alive. Therefore, this article is about what is Food and how to eat food as well as when to eat food. This article doesn’t include what foods are healthy and what foods are not so healthy, which may be a topic for another article. Let us look at the human body and the digestive system to understand how relishing and enjoying every meal helps. 

The body secretes various digestive enzymes to break-down, digest and absorb the food we eat and this begins right at the mouth and happens all through the rest of the digestive track right until the colon. The taste buds are the trigger to start this process. So every time something tasty enters the mouth the entire process of digestive juice secretion begins. The process of digestion starts the moment food enters your mouth. The mouth and esophagus themselves don’t make any enzymes, but saliva, produced in the salivary glands and excreted into the mouth, and down into the esophagus, contains several important enzymes such as amylase, lysozyme and lingual lipase. Saliva is mixed with food as you chew, and acts as a lubricant to start the digestion process. The enzymes in saliva start to break down nutrients, while some also help protect you from bacteria and support the body’s immune system. Gulping down food with drinks therefore leads to undigested food, harmful bacteria getting in and weak immunity. 

The food then remains in the stomach for two to four hours depending on the size of your meal and the enzymes produced in various organs digest the food, primarily proteins. Any cold drink along with food interferes with this process and drinking water along with food or just before eating dilutes the enzymes so optimal digestion doesn’t happen. Drinking tepid or lukewarm water after about an hour of eating helps the process of further digestion, progression through the intestines and absorption. 

Any drink you consume other than water is treated as food by your body. The secretion of digestive enzymes begins again each time you drink something such as coffee, tea, fruit juices, canned or bottled drinks. Such drinks can be consumed two hours after a light meal or three to four hours after a heavy meal. Drink slowly while relishing it and allowing the saliva to mix with it in the mouth. If it is a very cold drink, drink it even more slowly so that it becomes warmer before reaching the stomach. Dumping a large quantity of very cold drink into the stomach causes an involuntary limbic response as the stomach prefers warmth and the body quickly wants to compensate to make it warm again. This limbic response by way of secretion of adrenalin, cortisol etc, faster heart rate,  leads one to believe that the drink has given an energy boost but such short term boost results only in leaving residue of toxins in the body. 

Ideally the body needs just three to five meals in a day spread with an interval of three to five hours and plain tepid water in between. Out of these one or two can be just a drink or a drink with a small snack. It might sound very difficult and too many things to remember and focus upon. This seems so only because of being completely carried away and focussed on what you are doing and unmindfully consuming packaged drinks and fast food at irregular intervals. Coping with the outcome of such a habit is actually much more difficult, time consuming and unproductive in the long run. 

So let me simplify this in a few summary points below:

  1. Decide on a daily routine of three to five meals – three full meals and two drinks with snacks – set alerts and be mindful until it becomes a habit.
  2. Allow full ten minutes for the drink and snack and twenty to thirty minutes for the full meal with phones switched off and being fully present with the eating activity – relishing and enjoying your meal.
  3. Do not drink water or any cold drink during the eating – especially the full meals. 
  4. Drink tepid or lukewarm water one hour after your meal. 
  5. Do not engage in brisk physical activity at least for one hour after a full meal. 

Find your perfect routine and set an intention to cultivate it into a daily habit. Your body and what you consume needs to be as important if not more important than your work or anything you do in relation to the outer world. This only helps you be more productive and effective in your engagement with the outer world in the long run.

Reach out to Selvan‘s mentoring program for help in cultivating healthy habits for a lifetime.

The self care series will be of five parts namely:

The self care series will be of five parts namely:

  1. What is wholesome sleep?
  2. How to enjoy wholesome sleep ?
  3. Water – the elixir for everlasting health.
  4. Wholesome nourishment from food.
  5. Bare minimal physical activity for healthy life.
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