How to space out meal timings and control servings with Ayurveda

In Ayurvedic texts, “ahara,” meaning food, is one of the most important aspects of life and the most important of its three pillars. The three pillars are “ahara” (food), “nidra” (sleep), and “Brahmacharya” (abstinence). These three pillars promote growth, strength, development and the enhancement of “Ojas” or the vigor of the body.

Some of the major diseases manifest in the body resulting from psychological and lifestyle disorders caused by wrong food. While wholesome food nourishes your body and mind, unwholesome food has the opposite effect. This is why a properly ingested diet, as per ayurvedic principles, is vital to keep your body, mind and sensory organs healthy.

So, how do we eat right?

The principles of dietetics and nutrition in the ayurvedic system of medicine include different classes of eating and drinking, information on wholesome and unwholesome diets, learning the discipline of eating and so on. This is called “Ahara Vidhi Visheshayatana” or the eight principles of food. Of these, three particularly address the Ayurvedic rationale for spacing out meal timings, the right time to eat, and the portion sizes. They are as follows:

Raashi (Quantity of Food)

To understand this principle, you need to know how digestion happens in the body. If you continue to eat after your stomach is full, there is no space left for digestion, and digestion will not occur as it usually does. So, what is the right quantity to eat? Ayurveda divides the stomach into four quadrants. We should ideally eat to fill half our stomach, another one-fourth of the capacity should be kept for water, and the last quarter should be kept empty. Unfortunately, nowadays, with the number of distractions around, our mind is not aware of the amount of food we eat. During a meal, we are preoccupied with the television or our mobile phones, and we are not mindful of whether our stomach is full or not. So, it’s important to maintain a good connection with the food as we consume it.

Upayoga Samstha (Rules For Taking Food)

Upayoga Samstha denotes the rules for diet. Food should be eaten only when the last meal has been digested properly, and one must feel hungry and enthusiastic about eating. Our body exhibits hunger when it needs food. Snacking without hunger, especially if it is done at night, will definitely cause indigestion. Activities like laughing, talking, and watching television while eating should be avoided. It is not a good idea to eat when we are anxious, worried, deep in thought, angry, or sad. Or in other words, eating when one is emotionally compromised must be avoided.

Food should not be consumed in a hurry or too slowly either. In addition, the quality of food must also be taken into consideration. For example, food should be warm, tasty, easily digestible, of good quality, of the right quantity according to the Agni of a person, and should contain all the six rasas. In Ayurveda, there are six tastes or rasas: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy, and astringent. Ayurveda recommends including each of the tastes in every meal. Too much of any one of the six rasas should also be avoided.

Ayurveda further emphasizes a fixed meal time for proper digestion and assimilation of food. It is not just about maintaining a fixed time for meals; how the food is prepared is also important. For example, jumping out of bed at 7 am and having a quick bite is not the right way. We need to wake up early, engage in light exercises like yoga and meditation and complete our morning ablutions. It is then that our body enzymes start working for digestion.

Ayurveda believes in customized food patterns according to one’s doshas. But generally, we can have a light and warm breakfast like porridge, millet rotis or chapatis, warm oatmeal, rice pudding, egg, steamed fruit and so on by 7 am. Lunch must be the heartiest meal and should be taken between 12:30 and 2 pm. We can have some fruit in between breakfast and lunch if hunger strikes. But this should be taken before 11 am. Post lunch, at 4 pm, one can have fruit juices. Dinner should be consumed at least two hours before bed. That means, it can be taken between 6:30 and 8 pm and not after. A relaxing walk post-dinner is a good practice after which one should go to bed by 10 pm.

Upayokta Samstha (The One Who Consumes The Food)

This principle covers mindful eating. You should be aware of how the food is being made, focus on the taste as you eat it, feel the consistency, enjoy the meal, understand the benefits you are getting as you consume it, and more.

With an understanding of these principles, you will be able to maximize the benefits you get from your food and reduce the risk of developing diseases.