I have written so much about what and how to eat, so I thought I’d say a few words about what we might do before and after a meal to enhance the experience.
First, the before-meals recommendations:
1) Set an intention. This applies to food, medicine, and supplements, though I think it especially makes sense for medicine and supplements because you had a specific outcome in mind when you bought them.
I believe there’s some value in stating to yourself what you want to happen whenever you put something into your body. Even if you’re doubtful about your ability to influence your body’s inner workings, perhaps you’ll find it worthwhile to just get clear for a moment on why exactly you’re swallowing something. But if we consider how powerful the placebo effect is – it’s not a matter of being fooled into believing we feel better, but a very real ability to cause our bodies and minds to change – isn’t this worth taking full advantage of?
When I say “set an intention,” I don’t mean you have to have an elaborate ritual (although if you want to light a candle and take your time with it, that’s great). I really just mean taking about 10 to 30 seconds to close your eyes, recognize that you’re about to introduce a new influence into your system, state clearly what you intend to get out of it, and feel grateful.
What do you want this new influence to do? Please you with its flavor, texture, and a satisfying feeling in your stomach? Make you feel grounded? Give you energy? Nourish you in the deepest places? Calm your mind? Repair something that is out of balance? Help you feel connected to the world? Build your muscles? Expressing your choice may make a difference.
2) Make sure you’re hungry. I should have said this first, but I wanted to make sure you saw the part about intention. It should be at least two hours since you last ate, and in my opinion, it’s best to avoid snacking between meals (though four or five small meals per day is fine). If it has been several hours since you last ate and you know you should be hungry, but you have a poor appetite, you can try taking some bitters before the meal, such as 15 drops of gentian tincture in a little water. Others prefer blends of bitters with aromatic herbs, such as citrus peel, cardamom, and ginger. Luckily, there is a wide selection of great bitters these days.
3) Make sure you’re not starving. If you skipped breakfast and now it’s lunch time, it’s quite possible that you’re going to eat faster than your body would like and more than your body would like. If meal skipping is a common thing for you, it’s also possible that your metabolism has slowed down, and it will be easy to eat more than your body can readily burn. I recommend not going more than about four hours between meals. If you’re already starving, of course you need to eat, but try doing it slowly. Next time, eat sooner.
4) Let everything go. Stop moving, sit down, and to the best of your ability, set aside anything you’re worrying about. Now it’s time to feed yourself and that deserves your full attention and enjoyment.
After you eat:
1) Set an intention again. You can spare 10 seconds to do this. You just filled yourself up and maybe forgot about that starting intention until now. So, once again, consider what you would like to happen with what you just consumed and state it clearly to yourself. For example: “Thank you for this meal. I intend that all the nutrients will be well absorbed and will go exactly where they’re needed in my body.” Or, “I’m grateful for this meal and intend to be thoroughly nourished and energized by it.”
Once, when I was doing a lot of qigong, I went out to eat with a friend. After finishing my food, while continuing to converse with her, I imagined I was sucking all the energy from the food through my digestive tract into all my cells. It was something I was practicing at the time, it only took a minute, and I thought I wasn’t giving any outward appearance of doing anything. But my friend’s eyes bulged out and she yelled, “What the hell did you just do?!” I explained what I had been up to and was very curious as to what she perceived. She said she couldn’t really explain it, but that it looked like my whole body came alive (I’m assuming she meant more alive). Regardless of what it looked like to her, I was just struck by the fact that my internal visualization had an outwardly noticeable effect. So, try it!
2) Relax. If possible, don’t get right back to your work or something that stresses you out. Give your body at least a few minutes to assimilate what you just consumed.
3) Take a walk. Vigorous exercise right after eating isn’t a great idea, but a walk is fine (after a brief rest), and will assist with digestion, especially after a big meal.
Give these easy practices a try. I believe that even if your food choices aren’t always excellent, you’ll be much better off if you observe these simple acts. Let me know what happens.
Be well ,
Dr. Peter Borten