Building Your Body Like Baking a Cake
Imagine I want to bake the perfect cake. It should turn out moist, yet light, pleasantly golden and totally satisfying. So I start by mixing a batter with only the highest quality, most wholesome ingredients. I preheat the oven, pour some batter into a pan and pop it in to bake. I can’t wait to enjoy this wonderful cake, so after five minutes, I open the door and peek inside. Nothing is happening yet, and I wonder if the cake will end up being big enough to fill me up, so I pour in another inch of batter. As I wait for the timer to go off, I daydream about how happy this cake is going to make me feel. After another five minutes the kitchen begins to fill with a warm, sweet smell. I peek inside again. There is some bubbling and rising going on, but I still think the pan might be big enough to fit a little bit more cake, so I add another few spoonfuls of batter on top. Finally the timer goes off, but when I open the oven door, the top is still gloopy so I decide I better let it bake another few minutes. Pretty soon, the pleasant toasted smell of fresh cake turns into a burnt one. Quickly I turn off the oven, pull out the pan and wave some smoke away from the smoke alarm.
The spectacle I hold between my oven mitts is nothing like the ideal cake I had imagined. It is totally crusted and burnt on the bottom, still raw on the top, and the center neither here nor there. I can’t eat this, and this pan is going to need a good cleaning before I can even think about starting over.
Heat and Timing are Key to Health
Ayurveda tells us that just like the delicate science of baking, the right amount of heat and proper timing is also key to the transformation of food into well developed, high quality tissues in the body. In fact, Ayurveda tells us, the balance of this process is at the core of our overall immunity.
When we add more food to our stomach before the previous food is completely digested, we are combining raw and partially cooked ingredients. The all-important digestion process gets derailed partway through, and this mixed-up blend of partially digested inputs is what Ayurveda calls aama, or ‘toxins’ in the body. Rather than getting the desired outcome of healthy tissues and properly eliminated wastes, we experience dampened hunger, lowered immunity, and weaker tissues, among many other symptoms.
Even the most organic, whole, fresh, home-made foods, if popped in every hour or two as small snacks or multiple, little meals scattered at irregular timings throughout the day… those same wonder foods become a liability on your digestion and a stumbling block on the road to radiant health.
Feeling Hungry Before Eating is a Life Skill
From a young age we are often trained to drown out healthy feelings of hunger and ignore feelings of fullness at the end of meals. As parents we worry that our kids aren’t getting enough vitamins and nutrients so we press them to eat a few more mouthfuls after they have said they are full. Otherwise, we keep feeding them snacks - always ready with a handful of nuts here, a box of cut fruit there, never mind the random sweets and chips offered by well-meaning friends and family throughout the day - and then we feel frustration when they don’t have an interest in the meal we put in front of them at dinner time.
We know they should eat well at meals, and often we try to train them backwards: pressing them to eat at meals, even if they say they aren't hungry, in the hope that they won’t want snacks later. This strategy, however, puts a burden on their digestion - piling new foods up in the stomach before the previous foods have been digested. Rather, we can trust the body’s innate intelligence, give a gap between food, let them experience their own body’s signs and signals around when to eat and when to stop, and create a lifestyle of timely meals that supports their optimal digestion.
Food Training Practices
To support our children’s (and our own!) health and immunity we can:
Set consistent meal times to be followed every day with a gap of at least 3 hours between meals and before bedtime.
If hunger often comes up between meals, set a snack time and only have something if you feel hungry at that time. Regular timing for snack means you won’t fall into the pattern of snacking throughout the day, and only having that snack when you actually feel hungry means listening to your body affirming it is empty enough to digest something new.
- Release our own subtle fear of our children feeling hungry. Hunger is the body’s natural signal that it is ready to eat. Letting them feel it connects the desire for food to a biological need to add fuel to the system, not any other reason (emotional comfort, boredom, expressions of love, chasing flavors for fun, etc.)
By approaching meal times this way - as a rhythmic pulse to the day that is anticipated by hunger - we not only build physical and digestive strength in our children, we also send a powerful message to them about a healthy attitude toward meals that they will carry for a lifetime.
How are you trying these practices for yourself or in your family? What questions or challenges have you faced trying to establish meal time rhythms?