The food we eat, what a huge contributing factor it is to our overall health. We are all very familiar with the concept “you are what you eat”. A healthy balanced diet impacts on our digestion and levels of health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) what and how you eat is considered equally important. In this article we will explore TCM ideas about digestion and the importance of how we eat.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the process of digestion is called transformation and transportation. The digestive organs receive food and drink which is transformed into life giving energy called “Qi”, blood and other vital bodily substances. The Qi, blood and vital substances are then transported throughout the body. The process of transformation and transportation (digestion) is seen as being extremely valuable and essential for good health. You could say it is the center of all other functioning of the body. For this reason TCM theories encourage protecting and supporting digestion by being mindful of the way we eat. The following is some ways to do this.
- The physical act of chewing food:
The digestive system is responsible for the digestion of food. Food and drink is broken down so that nutrients can be absorbed, used and wastes eliminated. The first stop for food entering our bodies is the mouth. The mouth or oral cavity contains teeth and a tongue both important tools for starting the process of digestion. With the help of saliva teeth pulverize food breaking it down to be swallowed. Inadequately chewed pieces of food will take longer for the body to break down and in some situations will remain undigested. Thoroughly chewed food is easier for the body to digest improving the process of digestion.
TIP: Aim to chew each mouthful thoroughly breaking down all solids to paste consistency
- Slowing down eating:
The modern world is fast paced, there is so much to do and often it feels like not enough time to do it all. For this reason eating quickly and on the run is common for many people. Eating quickly often leads to inadequate chewing so immediately the digestive process gets off to a bad start. If we want to aid our digestion it makes sense to stop and take time to chew thoroughly. Eating at your desk while working to save time is another bad habit some fall into. Chewing thoroughly is difficult when your mind is otherwise occupied and digestion is compromised.
TIP: Take time out to sit and eat calmly. Wait at least 10-15 minutes before resuming activity
- Eating while in a calm mood
Traditional Chinese Medicine sees the mind, emotions and moods as powerful influences in health. Thoughts emotions and moods are considered capable of affecting physical functioning of the body. For this reason it is recommended that one should eat in a relaxed and calm manner. When experiencing a strong emotional state such as worry, anger or sadness eating a meal would not be encouraged. To do so could mean food would not be digested properly leading to digestive upsets like pain or bloating. Ideally it would be better to calm one self then to eat.
TIP: A calm and peaceful mind while eating may aid digestion
Have a think about your eating habits, are they supportive of promoting good digestion? Often when we shine a light on the way we eat we realize there is room for improvement. The great thing about being more mindful of how we eat is that it actually means we take time to enjoy our food more. We slow down, relax and connect with the experience of enjoying a meal and the people we are enjoining it with.