Hello to all of you. My name is Juan Pablo Velasquez and will be sharing with you some thoughts regarding Mindful Eating in this space. Let's start exploring some of the established diets we see out there and point out some key elements for a broader understanding of the subject.
Before diving into the analysis, I thought it would be interesting to look up the definition of the word diet. I found some surprises, such as “The legislative body of certain countries, as Japan” and “The general assembly of the estates of the former Holy Roman Empire”, but looking into the kind of meaning that concerns us, most definitions basically involve some form of food restriction as a major component. This concept of diet then becomes somewhat of a task to accomplish, where you must leave out some foods you usually consume (your favorite) and incorporate new foods (your least favorite) for a specific goal. Seems like a not-very-attractive thing to do, something that would make a child angry (take my favorite food away from me?), and it makes sense, because given the number of diets we have out there (most contradicting each other), this can be dangerous for your health and an effective path to frustration if one fails in the process. Turns out we are wiser than we thought! And I say this because health is a dynamic state ruled by moment to moment circumstances, a ride where decisions are each and every moment according to your place in time and space. So, what am I saying here? Nothing new actually, since most health systems in the past were all about integration and wholesomeness and less about separation and specifics. That’s why I would like to first introduce some fundamental concepts coming from Ayurveda, an ancient medical system originally from India, before going into the diets themselves.
After thousands of years of oral tradition and more recently written also, this system is slowly becoming popular around the world because of the emphasis it gives to the uniqueness and complexity of every human being and its various needs. It is said that one person’s medicine can be the other’s poison, and Ayurveda applies this to diet. But the type of food you introduce in your body is part of a greater process, the digestion, and basically what we want is food to be broken apart, nutrients to be assimilated, and waste products to be eliminated. What I am saying here, is that there are other things we can do to enhance this process and get to know what foods best agree with us. Maybe your diet is just fine, but your habits surrounding the digestive process is what is getting in the way between you and your goals. For example, we all know that food tastes better when we are hungry. Ayurveda says true hunger is one of the requirements for good digestion, and it appears only after the previous meal has been digested fully. It is also advised to eat your heaviest meal around midday when the digestive fire is at its peak, avoid large amounts of liquid intake with solids and pay attention to quantity especially at nighttime. The temperature of the food is also important, as digestive enzymes have a preference for warmth and cold foods or cold drinks will slow down their activity. Some other place where most of us can benefit from putting more attention to is the speed at which we eat. Food must be liquefied for the powerful stomach acids and enzymes to penetrate fibers and access nutrients, and a good reminder is the fact that the stomach wall does not have teeth, and any solid fibrous substance that ends up there will come out the same way through the other end, with all its nutrients and all. Also, in my experience, whole foods tend to give more flavors the more you chew them, like little secret flavors you can unlock that you could be missing out. Then there is the well-known fact that physical activity enhances digestion, but could also undermine it if done in excess or right after meals. Common kitchen spices and herbal teas also aid in the process. For example, ginger, black pepper, clove and turmeric are excellent for protein and fat digestion, so any heavy meal can be better assimilated with the addition of this substances. Other spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cilantro and chilies can also be used for the purpose of flavor and digestive ease.
As we have briefly seen, this are some habits we can try to work with without going on a diet, or while you are in one for a more integrated approach. After all, the word diet etymologically comes from the Greek “dayta”, which means “life regimen”, confirming once more out current tendency to separate the whole into parts sometimes leading to an analysis lacking context.
In part 2, we will go into specific already established diets, looking at them from a qualitative perspective taking everything into account. We will discover why you do well on certain foods and why it can be so hard to follow some of this trends. In the meantime, you can chose one of the Ayurvedic tips mentioned and pay extra attention to that area of your life. See what happens!
Illustrations by: Juan Pablo Velásquez