During this season of gratitude, we express appreciation for our loved ones, and various aspects of our lives. If there’s one thing to be the most thankful for in life, it’s your [insert drumroll] digestive system.
Why? Your digestive system:
- harnesses prana (nutrients from food) to keep you alive.
- affects every other system in your body.
- is the seat of your immunity. Your immune system, in turn, protects every other system in your body.
As we celebrate the fall harvest season, every celebration from every culture centers around food. Vata imbalance is ubiquitous during the heart of vata season (as most other times of year in modern urban society). Most of us are feeling undernourished, depleted, and craving comfort foods. This makes sense because heavy, rich, dense, sweet (think carb loaded) are qualities that balance vata; so it’s natural to have those cravings at this time. Instinctively, mammals fatten up for the winter season as a survival mechanism. We no longer need to do this, but many of us follow that (vata balancing) instinct subconsciously anyways. We tend to overindulge as with our vata imbalance, we don’t have good impulse control and we are reaching for things to fill that void, or restlessness we feel inside–a perfect set up for emotional eating.
This is why so many of us are concerned with how to handle food, eating, and all the digestive symptoms that ensue when we overindulge. Here are my top 5 recommendations on supporting your digestive system (showing it your appreciation) during the Holiday Season.
- Triphala I usually don’t suggest herbs as the first recommendation, but this is a worthy exception. I believe everyone should take triphala (unless you are pregnant, on blood thinners, or have a bleeding disorder). You can learn more about the benefits of triphala on my website (svasthahealth.com), but the short version is that triphala helps to keep everything flowing in the digestive system, reduces the effects of stress on the digestive system, and is a powerful tool to balance your vata.
- Avoid cold food and drinks. Most of us have felt esophageal spasms if we eat something cold quickly, and that signals our digestive system to stop working. Hot water and herbal teas are good to support digestion, as are warm foods.
- Portion Control Cup your two hands together and form a bowl with them. This “bowl” is your maximal individual portion at one sitting (level bowl, not heaping). You can eat more frequently, and tolerate it well if you are maintaining good portion control. As soon as you feel full physically, stop! Take the rest, put it in a (glass or stainless steel) tupperware, and save it for later (ideally, 2 hours later at least). My pushy relatives are okay with me saying I’ll consume their food offering in 2 hours because I really want to savor and enjoy it, and likely yours will be too.
- Include Spicy-hot and Bitter Tastes. As I mentioned earlier, foods for this season tend to be more kaphic in nature (heavy, carb loaded, and sweet). These are inherently harder to digest. We can help to balance these qualities, and support our digestion, by really spicing it up. Spices for the season are all quite heating (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger) as this improves our digestive capacity (agni). Try to include a spice in everything your consume (e.g. cinnamon in your coffee, rosemary in your eggs, black pepper on your veggies, paprika on mashed potatoes, etc.). While pungent, or heating, spices help support digestion of seasonal foods, bitter taste helps to reduce accumulation and stagnation in the digestive system. The easiest way to get bitter taste in is with fresh leafy greens, and the best way to do so this season is to cook and spice those greens.
- Support your emotional body. In my experience, the digestive system is the portal through which the energetic patterns in your mind/emotions enter the body. It’s almost impossible to have optimal digestion if you have a lot of intense or rapidly changing emotions. During this season in which we try to squeeze in family and travel and holidays with our work load, it’s easy to find yourself in a stressful place. Check in now, and really consider what your greatest tools for self care and emotional balance are. Then, plan ahead to use them! Book the massages now, schedule the day spa, plan which yoga classes, find out your therapists holiday hours….you get the idea.
Of course, anything you do to balance vata and maintain agni (digestive capacity) will help support digestion. Start with these 5 to avoid overwhelm, which is another facet of vata imbalance.