The importance of eating in a healthy environment

The importance of eating in a healthy environment

In my clinical experience, many people suffer from indigestion. After my traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis, I find that some of these people have digestion problems as a result of their eating habits.

Generally when people have indigestion they may have the following symptoms: after eating the stomach feels full, bloated, uncomfortable or painful. Burping, heart burn, constipation or sluggish bowel movement and feeling lethargic after food. During my treatment I give my patients Chinese herbs or acupuncture to balance their body. I tell my patients that indigestion may be caused from the way you eat the food in addition to what kinds of foods you are eating. Many people eat quite healthy foods, but still have digestive problems, that is why it is important to know the way your eat your foods. For instance, eating food too quickly can cause indigestion.

Now I would like to share some of my experience with you about the ways you should eat food.

1. Eat slowly

I often see someone eating food very quickly. This may be because they do not have much time or due to their habits. Some may even eat while they are working. This is not a healthy way to eat. One ancient Chinese books Yang Bing Yong Yan states that “no matter what you eat, you should eat slowly (chewing and swallowing slowly)”.

i) Our stomach has the job of breaking food down. If you eat quickly, large pieces and amount of food reach the stomach and make it more difficult for the stomach to breakdown the food as it is working over-time (making the stomach Qi to be deficient). This may cause bloating especially above the umbilicus area.

ii) Our gallbladder secretes one of the major digestive fluids (bile). When we eat the bile slowly flows into the stomach. If you eat too quickly and the bile can not catch up it will affect the function of the digestion. No matter what condition you are in, it is important to arrange a specific time for eating. It is important to note that children should not eat quickly, as it will affect their growth.

iii) Eating too quick, is one of the reasons that people gain weight. Because when you eat quickly, your full stomach can not send the message to the brain that quickly. So when you feel really full, that is when you have over eaten. So I suggest to those who want to lose weight, you should eat slowly and eat only until you are satisfied not full.

2. Concentrate while you are eating

To concentrate while you are eating, you should not talk a lot or loudly, do not read, do not watch television, do not think about other things and do not drive at the same time.

Chinese medicine considers, that when foods enters the digestive system it needs certain organs energy (Qi) to help to breakdown, transport and absorb the food. When you are eating whilst doing other things at the same time, it will reduce your digestive organs Qi. This will cause your digestion to slow down. Chinese medicine has a famous proverb “over-talking reduces organ Qi, over-thinking reduces spleen Qi, over-reading reduces liver Qi”. It its these organs, which are very important for digestion. This is why, some people after eating may suffer from burping and bloating as they are swallowing air whilst they eating.

3. Be happy whilst eating

This topic makes me remember when I was younger. About forty years ago, when I was in school we went on an excursion to a dairy farm in Beijing. We went into a big shed with about 100 cows eating their lunch. At the same time you could hear very soft, gently music. One of the students asked the farmer why music was playing, the farmer replied that “whilst the cow is eating and listening to nice, soft, happy music it will make the cow happier and their digestion will better producing a greater quantity and quality of milk”. From this day on, I realised that the environment and happiness is important for eating and digestion.

i) What is a good environment whilst eating?

Nice, quite and clear areas which are not loud and busy are the best conditions for eating. A temperature where it is not too hot or not too cold is also important. The lighting should not be too bright. When eating, listening to soft, gentle music is the best. One ancient Chinese health books called Shou Shi Bao Yun mentions the spleen responds well to the playing of soothing music.

I remember one day when I went to a restaurant with friends. Two table next to us had a party, they were talking loudly whilst eating, walking around and drinking lots. This made us feel unsettled which made us eat quickly and left so we were unable to enjoy our dinner. This was not a good environment for us to eat as we were unable to eat slowly, concentrate whilst eating or enjoy our meal.

ii) You should be relaxed and happy whilst eating

The best time to enjoy your meal is when you are with your family or friends. During this time, it is best to avoid talking about unhappy thing, avoid arguments and for parents especially, do not criticise children while they are eating.

4. Avoid drinking large amounts of icy cold water

The spleen is one of the major organs which help to transport food for digestion. The spleen likes warmth and when it is warm it can function very well. If you drink large amounts of icy beverages during eating, it may affect the function of the spleen and make digestion slow down. This may cause the following symptoms: bloating, lack of bowel movement, heaviness in arms and legs, and for long-term effects it may cause spleen function deficiency which may cause weight gain.

Finally, I hope this article has helped you and your eating habits. I wish you to have a healthy and happy meal every day.

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Dr Ping Wang is the clinic founder and senior practitioner of Ping Ming Health. She has over 30 years of experience in traditional Chinese medicine teaching and practice. Dr Ping especially enjoys sharing her knowledge of Chinese medicine through our popular clinic articles, seminars and clinical training of students and practitioners.