The holiday season is in full effect meaning lots of options when it comes to stuffing oneself of stuffing, sweets, festive meats, and other delicious foods at hand. The diagnosis during this time is typically food coma, or as we say in Chinese medicine, food stagnation.
For many, prognosis is positive and aided by a few hours of napping on a nearby sofa. Symptoms of lethargy, abdominal fullness, and let's be honest, a fair amount of gas and bloating generally subside on their own.
Note that, digestion can be aided by some choice probiotic foods like sauerkraut (a staple of some Thanksgiving meals) and even some herbal teas (many think of ginger or mint but hawthorn is especially good with heavy meat consumption).
But between big meals it's important to remember healthy food habits and to give your tummy some serious love. After all, these meals may be tasty on the tongue but can be tough on digestion. That's why I want to share some tidbits on eating habits from an East-West perspective.
Food that is rushed into the stomach has rarely had the mouth-time necessary for proper digestion. This means chewing, people! Chewing not only makes solid food more digestible by mechanically breaking down those tasty morsels but also coating proteins, carbs and fats in enzymes that will prepare food to be efficiently absorbed.
Here the problem: food that isn't absorbed shows up in the large intestine and feeds a host of bacteria that release gas as a result of their meal. Gas in the large intestine means bloating for you and likely undigested food appearing in the stools.
It all starts with chewing but chewing alone isn't the problem. Additional problems can result from eating-on-the-go, eating while working or consuming heavy-duty caffeine with your meals. All of these habits prioritize everything but digestion.
I'm walking, eating a burrito, pounding an iced green tea then stopping to open my laptop and fire off a work email. Not the ideal situation.
To get Chinese medicine here, your blood and Qi will be everywhere else but stomach and gut. It'll be in your brain as your going through all your stresses, in your legs as you hustle down the street, and - thanks to the stress hormone boost from caffeine - into your extremities and away from digestion.
The ideal situation is prioritizing meals. When food-time occurs, make it your focus - better yet, make it an exercise in mindfulness. Unpack flavors, tune into the spices and the body sensations they produce. If your food is terrible, maybe you shouldn't be eating it! Maybe that's a sign from your body that something is wrong either with self or what's on the plate.
A big symptom in Chinese medicine is eating without enjoyment of food. How many people do you know that have that feeling? How many times have you experienced that feeling? Chinese doctors have traditionally associated this with a Heart pathology, which is to say, an emotional or psychological issue. Joy (associated with the Heart organ) should come from eating. Food and our relationship with food should be one of joy, despite many negative feelings associated with eating the wrong foods.
So in this holiday time where the fortunate live between feasts, make sure that joy not only comes from time with friends, family and happy traditions but also from the day-to-day experience of eating. Your body will thank you for it.