What do we know about our heart? We know that it’s the size of our fist, and it’s located inside our chest, slightly to the left side. It provides blood to the entire body. Also when we don’t exercise or gain weight, our heart experiences stress. Fine, good enough. Now what do we know about our lungs? That they are inside our ribs. And regular exercise can improve their health.
Now, what do we know about our stomach? Do we know the size of our stomach? Its location? What it does for us? What can harm it? Surprisingly, though our stomach is an involuntary organ just like our heart and lungs, not too many of us seem to know much about our stomachs. We can guess that it is somewhere roughly between our chest and hips, that it is separate from the intestine.
Why do we pay so little attention to our stomach? Is it because it never attacks us? We have all heard of heart attacks but stomach attacks? No. Our stomach never seem to attack us. The world heart attack also is a misnomer. The heart is working for us from the time we are in mother’s womb. It is in fact one of the first organs that is developed, somewhere around the 6th week of pregnancy. The heart that we owe our life to cannot possibly attack us. But we definitely attack it with our habits, eating, lack of activity and exercise, etc.
I think we care so little about our stomachs and digestive system because any amount of abuse to it doesn’t not lead to our death. At the most it’s a week off from work. I know people whose stomachs are always crying out loud for attention with acidity, bloating, constipation, burps, farts, nausea, etc. But they are just not bothered to listen to its signals. Antacids, salts and laxatives have become a way of life for these people, almost a daily ritual.
Heard the term, ‘stomach an insult’? We actually share a very abusive relationship with our stomachs. We eat all the junk in the world and then go on a ‘detox’ holiday. We come back from the detox holiday and get back to junk eating with a vengeance. Worse still, we go on crash diets consisting only of juices with guaranteed weight loss and then gain all the weight back in 2 weeks flat. Some others let their body weight yo-yo as a way of life. Wedding? Party? Get thin. Over – get fat again.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Do we really hate ourselves to much? On the surface we do seem to care for ourselves. We wear good clothes, go for that manicure, get ourselves the best car and house that our money can buy, except love and respect from our partners, etc. But if we love ourselves so much, why do we abuse that integral part of our system which provides us with love and nourishment; our digestive system?
If we want to get toned, muscular and popular, fit into that little black dress, have no stretch marks or be bikini ready 24/7, then we need to establish a good relationship with our stomach. One of mutual love and respect.
Loading the stomach when it has no capacity to digest is criminal. It’s a human rights violation. Our lifestyles, where we eat nothing until evening and the start loading our stomachs for dinner, are just wrong. Its like hiring people for a 9 am to 5 pm job and giving them little and no work till 5 pm – and then, just as they are about to leave from work, loading them with all the files and work in the world. You don’t need me to tell you that these kinds of bosses receive no loves or respects the staff either. Such behaviour just leads to loss of productivity, time, creativity and basically loss of health of the organisation.
Truth about antacids
Eat too much at one time or keep long gaps between 2 meals and you will want to reach out for that antacid. So what’s wrong with your antacid? Actually what’s wrong with you, especially if you need it almost daily?
Other than eating too much or having too big a gap between meals: stress, spicy food, harsh medication, in short hurry, worry, and curry, will cause heartburn, burping, constipation, bloating and everything in between.
The ingredients of an antacid, including magnesium and aluminium, produce a laxative effect, lead to hormonal imbalance, frequent urination, loss of appetite, dehydration and mood disorders too.
Extrapolate this to our eating habits. As the sun goes down, so does our digestion and assimilation ability. And we give our stomach no work and therefore no nourishment during the day. Its ability to digest food is highest between 7 am to 10 am, and many of us give it chai, coffee instead. Thus we actually work at making our stomachs dull and our digestive enzymes weak. We barely grab our lunch, and generally eat light till 5 pm. After that, as the stomach starts winding down and wants to rest, we load it with bhel puri, sev puri, grilled sandwiches, some more tea and coffee. Later between 9.30 and 11.30 pm, when the stomach is already tired and sick after the evening’s snack attack, we give it a heavy dinner or pasta or rice with vegetable and chapati, and of course our favourite dessert. Because dessert tastes best with dinner and we eat a lot for dinner because that’s the only time the entire family eats together. That the centre of attraction during dinner is our darling TV is another story. And so our stomach takes this abuse and ill treatment day in and day out, for years together. Then if it calls out to us for help by bloating, farting or burping, we think it is weak and not behaving well! And to suppress its cries of help we use antacids and laxatives.
Some go one step further and eat antacids and salts with their meals thinking they are nipping the revolt at the bud. Smart advertising professionals have made some interesting ads encouraging this behaviour. Remember the one where the son-in-law cannot eat beyond 4 or 5 laddoos, which are thrust upon him? Out comes the magic effervescent salt. Like a true hero the gulps them down and readies his stomach for more onslaughts.
The burp smells of samosa, everything. It’s all just sitting there undigested for the world to smell. Some wise person rightly said, why fart and waste, when you can burp and taste? If you eat at a time when there are hardly any digestive juice beings secreted, when the stomach has lost its power of digestion, when there is no prana (life force) in the stomach and when the mind is distracted, how can you except food to get digested properly? And instant of the constant onslaught of antacids and laxatives, shouldn’t you just learn to eat right and at the right time?
Fasting: Yoga’s take
Fasting is a powerful tool as a spiritual practice, but nowadays is used mainly as a weight loss tool by ‘experts’. It is recommended by ‘health experts’ as a form of rest for the digestive system. Have you ever thought of giving your heart a rest? No? Then why think of the digestive system as something that needs rest? The digestive system, like the heart, is an involuntary system, and to keep it in a relaxed state what we need to do is eat s little at a time. Yoga is, in fact, counter to some people’s beliefs, against any extremes; including fasts. And of what use is a fast when all you think about is food? According to yoga the mind and body are interlinked. So even if you think about food and eating, you will see immediate effects in a physical body. This means that even thinking of chocolate pastry can lead to weight gain!
Overeating and overeating threshold
According to ayurveda, overeating is the cause of all diseases. Overeating can be defined as eating more than the body’s ability to digest at the point of time. It doesn’t simply mean eating the wrong foods, or eating too much. If the stomach lacks the fire or the power to digest at a particular time, then even a slice of an apple will amount to overeating. So overeating doesn’t just mean eating a large quantity of food, it means eating that food at the wrong time.
Agastya Muni, one of the highly revered seers of India, once drank the entire ocean! You can actually eat all you want but you need to have the power to digest it. This means that your digestive fire should be active and efficient. You can keep the fire active through a disciplined lifestyle, regular exercise and optimistic attitude. Our basic problem today is that our digestive capacity is diminishing and our consumption is increasing.
The overeating threshold is a very very thin thin line. That gap between eating the right amount and overeating is crossed by just one mouthful, bite or spoonful. It’s crucial to be very aware of this threshold because once you cross this, then you can go on and on and on. Your senses go numb and you can eat up to 5 to 6 times your stomach’s capacity. Obviously you know the inevitable consequence of this: you wake up dull, tired, bloated, and irritable the next morning. Sorry, forgot to mention this, but it’s also a foolproof way of gaining body fat.
What remains is the deep sense of guilt and shame at not stopping at the half piece of pastry. But when you are that half piece, you had already crossed the overeating threshold. Everything after that happens so fast that you don’t get the chance to stop or to apply your analytical mind and reasoning. It’s like an accident. You can see the damage but you don’t know what exactly happened.
The only way to avoid these diet accidents is by learning to observe our feelings and accepting them. So in situations like this, accept that you get tempted by pastries but refrain from actually eating them. No half piece of small bite, because after that it’s just a downward spiral. Sadly, in spite of repeated experiences we simply refuse to learn from our past.
Tip: don’t store sweets or fried foods at home. You might be gifted sweets and the like at festival time. After completely enjoying 1 or 2 pieces, give these away to friends, family, share it at office, give it to your watchman etc.
Post tip: don’t always dumb your excesses on one person. Choose different people for charity. But get those things out of your sight and reach.
Eating as a way to overcome boredom or entertainment
Watching a movie? Eat popcorn. Stuck in a party with nobody interesting? Nibble on the deep-fried starters. Bored of eating the same old vegetable, chapati? Call for a pizza. Not happy with your sex life? Eat a pastry. Too often we use food as a crutch to overcome boredom or as a distraction from our deep rooted fears or feelings. This is also what girly magazines call ‘comfort food’. Food, or the act of eating, is the most primitive form of comfort, but we need to understand that food is about providing nourishment to the body and not about overcoming boredom or stale relationships. And have you noticed that when you eat food as entertainment or as a distraction fro some niggling thought, it’s always something that is calorie dense, extremely sweet or extremely salty?
And no, your boredom or thoughts don’t give away after eating that pastry or chips, in fact they are still very much there. So what are you going to do? Reach for another one?
- Switch off you phone, TV and computer.
- Wash your hands.
- Serve yourself half of what you usually eat, on a nice, clean plate.
- Preferably adopt the crooslegged posture or sit at your usual dining place.