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6: Physical Alignment Practice #3 - Eat well!

This series considers the importance of developing that intra- and inter-personal harmony by offering holistic practice considerations. They are intended as regular practices to support being in ‘right-relationship’ with yourself and with others. However, they are not prescriptions so much as offerings from which you may choose, modify or replace as you wish.


The emphasis here is on the interconnected whole that is each of us and that surrounds us. As you read through these, please take time to reflect on how you experience these interconnections to enhance your consciousness.

For an an understanding of the intent and context this blog post, please visit the blog series introduction.

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Eat well, enough, mindfully

You are what you eat (and drink, breathe and think!). What we put in and on our bodies affects us in many ways. This is especially true for what goes in your stomach, which is connected to your brain stem via the vagus nerve, which helps to regulate heart rate, digestion, sweating, and even speaking. What you eat goes directly into your digestive and nervous systems and affects mood and cognitive function very quickly.


There are many ideologies around nutrition, new studies, new and old fads, etc. What I’ve learned from my experience (and each person needs to think deeply about their own experience and what they’ve learned), is that it’s not just what you eat, but how much and when you eat it. As the food you eat is very cultural and personal, I won’t provide many specific recommendations for what may be right vs. wrong (e.g. vegan vs. paleo diet), although I will outline my own eating preferences.

Consider this:

- Listen to your body. What helps you feel light, clean and healthy? If you experience negative symptoms that have no direct medically reliable explanation for it, learn and explore more about what you’ve eaten to identify if there is a potential correlated or even causal relationship. Recognise that these things are rarely linear or simple; there may be other factors involved too!

- Quality over quantity. Meaning don’t worry so much about counting calories. If you regularly eat a fairly balanced diet that focuses on colourful vegetables over starches (rice, white potato, pasta, bread) and sugars, minimises saturated oils, with a dose of berries and nuts and omega 3 fatty acids (fish or fish oil), and reduces red meat in your diet (see impacts on health, water, grain and climate), you should be fine. Just make sure that what you eat is healthy and combined with proper exercise.

- Whole rather than refined carbs. Refined carbohydrates (e.g. white rice, white bread) not only lack the stronger fibre and nutrients of ‘whole carbohydrates’ (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato), they also turn into glucose quickly affecting your blood sugar levels, insulin response, and energy. On a chronic basis, eating high glycemic index (GI) foods can generate health problems, including type two diabetes. Eating whole, natural carbs, including most vegetables (outside of white potatoes) will help to maintain more stable blood-glucose and energy levels.

- Read the label. You may have heard this somewhere along the way, but how many people actually do this regularly? Even if it’s the original food (e.g. beans), it is still important to read the label to see what may have been added. Things to avoid are sugar, glucose syrup, fructose syrup, corn syrup, and really any syrup whatsoever! They are like refined carbs on steroids – very bad for your blood sugar levels. They show up in sauces and salsas and in various other places. Another is monosodium glutamate (MSG), which you may see occasionally. A common seasoning in Asian food, but it carries some risks and in my experience, makes me feel a little nauseas. Lastly, more and more people are avoiding gluten, so watch out for wheat, which is a common additive in soups as a thickener, soy sauce, and others. Of course, if you have a food allergy, you will be likely reading labels already. And if you’re eating out, just ask the server or kitchen, if you feel so inclined!

- Eat it when you’re going to need it. After you drink your morning glass of water, eat a good breakfast to fuel the day, which will help kickstart your metabolism. This way your body won’t be in conservation mode for the day, ready to burn more as you’ve signalled there’s food aplenty this day. It will also signal your digestive system to release what was digested from the evening before.


A healthy meal around midday is also important. As you enter the evening, however, eating fewer starchy carbs and more leafy vegetables to help satiate without the unnecessary. See below for some suggestions. The phrase “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,” comes to mind here.

You may want to leave at least three hours between the time you eat and the time you sleep so your stomach isn’t still busy digesting as you slip into bed, which can make falling asleep difficult.


On that note, there are many nutrition plans/fads that call for fasting for various periods of time. The argument is that your digestive system needs a chance to recover, much like any other, allowing for the energy to be used elsewhere (e.g. healing, etc). The most sensible plan I've seen advocates for 14 hours of fasting, with eating to occur over a 10 hour period. This means finishing dinner by 6pm and starting breakfast at 8am, which I follow. For more information, see this Healthline article.

- Eat mindfully for better nutrition. So many of us eat for taste or in haste or in moments of stress. In Singapore, the majority of people consider themselves “foodies”, meaning they enjoy eating food. But what do we understand of the food we eat, as we eat it?

How can we better appreciate where the food came from and who/what was involved in growing/providing it? What gratitude seems best to honor what was sacrificed so that we could have such sustenance? How can we mindfully taste and appreciate each bite of nature’s goodness, recognizing the vast natural and human systems that to happen?



When we are more mindful and grateful of the food as we are eating it, we will naturally be more present and less worried. When we are feeling less stressed, our digestive system is enabled to operate more effectively. Says an author from The Chopra Center:

“The energy of Samana Vayu [a mindful state of Ayurveda] is what

enables us to digest and absorb the nutrition from the food we eat…

When this force is dampened due to emotional upheaval, or just the

modern stressors of daily life, it can have a direct effect on our capacity

to digest food, as well as our feelings.”

Tip: Take 10 minutes prior to sitting down to eat to relax, let go of the thoughts that are creating worry or stress for you and begin to think about what you are soon to eat and how it got to you – from the ground up.

Some food suggestions:

- Colourful vegetables* (e.g. broccoli, sweet potato, pumpkin, tomatoes, Brussell Sprouts, mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, etc)

- non-refined grains* (e.g. brown rice and quinoa)

- good sources of unsaturated fats (e.g. avocado, olive oil, fish)

- healthy proteins – non-animal based (e.g. tofu, beans, nuts and chickpea (hummus) and some animal protein (e.g. eggs, cheese, yogurt, fish)

- cook with healthy oils (e.g. avocado, olive, sunflower, canola)



Supplements:


We aren't always around nutritious food or food that speaks to our specific nutritional needs. For decades, common sense wisdom has prescribed the use of vitamins and over-the-counter supplements. However, it's important to note that vitamins and such are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so claims made by these companies offering supplements about the quality of or results from their products are not independently verified or approved. Point being, you'll need to do some of your own homework.


Fortunately, I've done some homework on this matter as well and have been a regular user of the USANA nutrition products, including CellSentials (vitamins and minerals) and other supplements that I've found to make a significant difference for my aging body and brain. After some time of using the product, I chose to represent them and can support you with any questions you have about it.


My approach:

Due to sensitivities to gluten (protein found in wheat/oat/barley), sugar and alcohol, I’m a real party pooper. I am also healthy and fit, approaching 50 without any chronic disease pre-markers. I enjoy a splendid variety of different vegetables and creative gluten-free recipes. That said, I’m no vegan and will occasionally have animal protein, given my highly active lifestyle. Many of my running friends have moved into solely plant-based nutrition, which I follow three days a week.

Here is a typical day’s menu for me:

- Breakfast (after exercise) - Fruit and yoghurt, with chia seeds and baked (not oiled) nuts. Alternatively, I have a protein smoothie with berries, 1/2 banana, peanut butter, and a chocolate-based protein powder.

- Lunch – Omelette with veggies, sweet potato, sometimes refried beans and salsa with corn tortilla chips.

- Snack – Chips or grapefruit

- Dinner – Fish or tofu, veggies, hummus, quinoa and/or salad (spinach, beetroot, goat cheese)


Conclusion:

What and when you eat will ultimately be impacted by your taste preferences, habits and culture, so I tend not to judge the preferences of others. There is something to be said about being conscious of the impacts of our choices, however. If we limit the amount of meat and dairy in our diet, for example, we can reduce the amount of water and grain used and green-house gases produced.

It’s also worth noting that in order to be self-sufficient, should we experience disruptions greater than COVID-19, it may be worth exploring how to create community vegetable gardens or grow your own. Eating a vegetable only diet at that point may be helpful.


Then there is our own health to consider. No one is perfect, but being conscientious about our choices and our approach to eating and nutrition is important to our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being as well as that for the planet we live on.

References / Readings:


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