Tips for Eating Healthy – How, When and What to Eat
In this comprehensive article, find out everything you ever wanted to know about what to eat, how to eat and when to eat – straight from the Mystic.
When you should eat, in what posture you should sit, and how you should welcome the food into yourself are things that are completely ignored today.
How to Eat
#1 Pay Attention
Eating should not be a routine. You must observe. Today, the body needs this much food, so you eat that much. Tomorrow, it may not need that much. Every animal is aware of this. If you have a dog at home, even he refuses to eat on certain days. These days, they have made him so stupidly disciplined that he eats every day; otherwise it is natural for him not to eat on certain days. He will eat some grass, puke it out and do his own cleansing for himself. All creatures are aware of this, but human beings are using their intellect to decide what they should do.
Because of the education systems that people go through, we have given too much significance to our thought. Our attention is the greatest thing we have, not our thought. Our thought is a product of the little data that we have gathered. That is not going to get us anywhere. It is the keenness and intensity of our attention which can take us from one dimension of living to another.
#2 Eat with Gratitude
One must eat, but we must eat relishing the nourishment of what the food offers and with gratitude of what it means to our life. This is not to take away the pleasure of eating. The true joy of eating is that you are conscious of some other life willing to merge with your own life and become you. This is the greatest pleasure that a human being knows, that in some way something that is not you is willing to become a part of you. This is what you call love. This is what you call devotion. This is the ultimate goal of the spiritual process.
Whether it is lust, passion, devotion or ultimate enlightenment, it is all the same, just on a different scale. If it happens between two people, we call it passion. If it happens with a larger group, we call it love. If it happens much more indiscriminately, we call it compassion. If it happens without even a form around you, it is called devotion. If it happens in its ultimate scale, we call it enlightenment.
Eating food is a demonstration of the oneness of the existence. This beautiful process is happening at your mealtime every day. Something that was a plant, a seed, an animal, a fish or a bird, just merging and becoming a human being is a clear demonstration of the oneness of the existence and of the hand of the Creator in everything that is.
#3 Sit in a Cross-legged Posture on the Floor and Eat
In the Yogic culture you are always asked to cross your legs and to not stretch your legs in the direction of an energy form. This is essentially because you can receive anything that comes towards you in many different ways. The Yogic intention is always to receive it from the higher aspects of your life. When there is a consecrated space, that means there is a powerful energy which has the possibility of transforming you. That energy must always come to you from the highest possibility that you can receive. We do not want to enhance our survival processes; we want to enhance other dimensions of life. It is very essential that we survive, but surviving better than someone is not a life goal. It is a waste of time because whatever you do, you are not going to survive forever.
All your survival instincts, self-preservation, are in the lower three chakras – manipuraka, swadhishthana and muladhara. The longing to break away from all this and go beyond is in vishuddhi, agna and sahasrar. Anahata is the meeting point.
So when you sit in any space where you think there is power and energy, you always cross your legs and sit because you want to close the lower part of the body. You do not want to sit with your legs open in front of a consecrated space because that will attract a totally different kind of energy towards you which could be detrimental to you. You want the upper part of your body – above Anahata – to be exposed to this.
Keeping your legs crossed whenever you see a powerful form is very important. Food is also a very powerful thing. If you have not eaten for three days, you understand that. It is important that your legs are crossed when food comes in front of you. If you are very hungry and food is exposed to the entire body, this is not good for you. You never open your legs and sit in front of food, consecrated objects and human beings who are of a certain power within themselves because that will bring a wrong kind of energy into your system.
#4 Eat with Your Hands
When you do not touch the food, you do not know what it is. If food is not good enough to be touched, I do not know how it is good enough to be eaten! Also, the cleanliness of your hands is entirely in your hands, whereas the cleanliness of a spoon or fork is not necessarily in your hands. No one else but you has used these hands, so you can be sure how clean they are right now. With the fork, you do not know who has used it, how they have used it, and for what. All they have to do is wipe it with a tissue and it looks clean.
Above all, when you use a fork, you do not feel the food. When food appears in front of you, hold your hands upon the food for a few moments to feel how the food is. If something appears on my plate and I just feel it, I know what to eat and what not to eat without having to taste it. My hands are the first level of knowing the food.
#5 Chew Your Food Twenty-four Times
In Yoga we say, “If you take a morsel of food, you must chew it twenty-four times.” There is a lot of science behind this, but essentially, your food gets pre-digested in your mouth and will not cause dullness in your system. If you chew twenty-four times, the information of that food gets established in your system and every cell in your body will be able to start judging as to what is right and not right for you – not in terms of the tongue but about what is appropriate for the whole system. If you do this for some time, every cell in the body will have the education as to what it likes and does not like.
#6 No Talking While Eating!
Only when I came to United States for the first time, I saw that everywhere in public places – particularly in schools and those summer camps where we used to do programs – there were notices instructing what to do if somebody chokes on food. I cannot understand why anyone will choke on food. I can understand if someone drowns in the pool, because we are not made like fish – we have to learn to swim. Someone who does not know how to swim well enough may drown but why would people choke on food? The main reason why they are choking is because they are talking so much when they are eating. We do not realize such a simple thing. All we have to do is just enjoy the food and eat quietly.
When children want to eat and talk at the same time, the first thing we teach them is, "Shh, no talking when you are eating." Because this speech has to come out, food has to go in – how can you do both at the same time? When I have to speak, something has to come out of my mouth. If I have to eat, something has to go in. Obviously I cannot do these two things at the same time. If I do these two things at the same time, things can go wrong.
When to Eat
#1 Wait for Two Minutes Before You Eat
Not eating when you feel like eating is one part of sadhana, so that you take away compulsiveness for food, or for anything for that matter. Food is a very fundamental thing. Based on this, many other aspects of life become compulsive.
Many of you might have suffered this torture when you come to the ashram: it is the meal time, you are really hungry and you come to the dining area. There is food in front of you, you want to gobble it up. But people are closing their eyes and folding their hands for the invocation. The idea is that you are very hungry but you wait for two more minutes. Try to do this with everything that you are compulsive about – just wait for two minutes. It will not kill you. It will leave you very strong.
Gautama the Buddha went to the extent of saying, “When you are very hungry and you are badly in need of food, if you give away your food to someone else, you will become stronger.” I am not going that far. I am saying, “Just wait two minutes” – it will definitely leave you stronger.
Taking away that compulsiveness in the body is crucial. Your body and mind are a composition. All kinds of past imprints have formed tendencies and those are compulsive. If you go by that, it means you have decided not to evolve. You have decided that you do not mind living in the pattern. You do not want to break the pattern and explore new possibilities.
Food is something very basic and simple but still, how you handle this aspect makes a lot of difference. This is a journey to a more conscious way of functioning by slowly distancing yourself from the information that is already there within you, which is ruling you from within. Bondage is on many different levels, but the foundation of all your bondage is your body, so that is why you work with the body.
#2 Digestion Matters - Eat According to Your Age and Activity
What you call as your body and your mind is a certain accumulation of memory. It is because of this memory – or you can call it information – that this body has taken its shape. The food we eat transforms into the body depending on this memory. Let’s say I eat a mango. The mango gets into me and becomes a man. If a woman eats a mango, the same mango will go into her and become a woman. If a cow eats the mango, it goes inside a cow and becomes a cow. Why does this mango go into me and become a man and not a woman or a cow? It is essentially because of memory, a specific kind of memory that is there in my system.
Why is it that if I eat a mango, one part of it becomes my skin and it comes to the same skin tone? You do not suddenly find one mango-colored patch on the hand. Because there is such a strong memory structure, whatever I put in, the memory will make sure it becomes this person, not some other person.
As you age, this ability of the body to integrate food starts to reduce because your genetic memory and evolutionary memory become less capable of transforming whatever you consume. You may be healthy and capable of digesting what you eat, but the body will not be able to transform the mango into a human being with the same vigor. Digestion happens but transformation of one life into another will not happen as well because the memory is becoming weak.
If you are over thirty-five years of age – unless you are an extremely physically active person or have some medical issue – two meals a day would definitely be healthier for you. The body will adjust itself to this slowing down, but if you are conscious about how you eat and what you eat, you can adjust it more sensibly. If you are eating more, you are burdening the system unnecessarily. You no longer need that much food because your vertical growth is completely over. If you feel a little hungry or tired, a fruit in between should take care of you. If you can maintain this, you will live very well. It is economical, eco-friendly, and you will be healthy.
#3 Two Meals a Day and No Snacking in Between!
When the digestive process is happening in the stomach bag, the purification of the body on the cellular level almost shuts down. So if you keep eating through the day, the cells retain impurities for a longer period, which creates various problems over a period of time. Even the excretory process from the intestines does not happen efficiently because the waste material will keep coming to the colon at different times instead of at once.
If the colon is not clean, you are asking for problems. In Yoga, we say that an unclean colon and psychological disturbances are directly connected. If the colon is not clean, you cannot keep your mind stable.
In Indian traditional medical systems such as Ayurveda and Siddha, it does not matter what a patient’s ailment is, the first thing they will want to do is purge your digestive system because most of your problems may be due to an unclean colon. The way people are eating today, keeping the colon clean is going to be a big challenge for them.
But suppose you eat just two big meals a day and nothing in between (like we normally do in the ashram), or if you are too active you may eat a fruit in between, then your colon will always remain clean. In the Yogic system, we say there must be a minimum of six to eight hours between one meal and the next. If that is not possible, at least a five-hour gap is a must. Less than that means you are causing trouble to yourself.
#4 Mind and Body Function Best on an Empty Stomach
You may think that eating something through the day will help you be more active. But if you look at how your body feels when there is food in the stomach and how the body feels when the stomach is empty, you will see your body and brain work best when your stomach is empty. If food is constantly being processed in your digestive system, a certain amount of energy is naturally allocated towards that, so both your brain and body will not function at their best.
If you want to function at your full potential, be conscious and eat that kind of food where within 1.5-2.5 hours, your stomach bag becomes empty and the food material moves to the intestine. The body does not consume so much energy from that point. And within twelve to eighteen hours, the food must be completely out of the system. This is what Yoga always insists. If you maintain this simple awareness, you will experience much more energy, agility and alertness. These are the ingredients of a successful life irrespective of what you have chosen to do.
One level of what the spiritual process means is that you bring a certain sense of integrity to your body and mind. By integrity, I mean when your system is not consolidated in a certain way, if it is loose, it becomes incapable of experiencing anything. Even if the greatest things happen, you will miss it. The reason why Yogis or those who are in sadhana eat only once or twice a day and nothing in between is because they do not want to open the body for anything. No outside elements except air and water should enter the system too often because it will loosen the integrity of the system in terms of sensitivity. Sensation is the outermost layer of who you are. If you want to keep yourself very sensitive, it is important you do not open your body to anything and everything that comes your way. You must eat well, but you should not be eating many times.
#5 Dinner Time and Bed Time
There must be three hours after the evening meal, before you go to bed. If this includes at least 20 to 30 minutes of light physical activity – such as simple walking – your system will largely be healthy. If you go to bed with food still inside the stomach, it generates a certain level of inertia in the system. Physiologically, this inertia is like an acceleration towards death. Death is ultimate inertia.
Another dimension is that if you go to bed with a full stomach, it puts pressure on other organs in the abdomen. This will also lead to various kinds of health issues. For that reason too, it is very important that before you go to bed, the food you have eaten has moved out of the stomach. As you sleep in different postures, the stomach should not put pressure on other organs at any point.
#6 Fasting on Ekadashi
It is good to fast once in a way, but if you forcefully go without food, this may cause damage to the system. If you want to fast, you have to prepare psychologically and physiologically, so that you can effortlessly go without food. We have identified certain days of the lunar month when digestion is not at its best. On these two days in the month, known as Ekadashi, which is the eleventh day after the full and new moons, it is best to have only light food or to fast entirely. Ekadashi was built into your system. If you can fast, please do. If that is not possible for you, go on a fruit diet.
What to Eat
#1 Eat What Makes You Agile and Alive
The decision whether a particular food should go into you or not changes from day to day, because your body is different every day and every moment. If you feel the food, you just know whether it should go into you on this day or not. If the necessary awareness is brought in, we do not have to tell people what they should eat. Every meal, they should decide what to eat this time.
There is no one prescription of what you should eat for the rest of your life. That said, sugars and carbs are definitely a serious issue. But the real long-term challenge is weaning people off meat. Almost 200 pounds of meat are consumed per capita in the US per year. And 3 trillion dollars are spent on healthcare – the healthcare bills in the US are higher than most nations’ GDPs.
This is a violent way to exist, and it is very hard on your system. Illness is the first level of violence. You cannot be peaceful when you are ill, because your body is in a constant battle. The fight with some virus, bacteria, or something else that comes from outside is one thing. But a chronic ailment is like a civil war. You created a battle within your own system, without an outside enemy.
Too many people die from chronic ailments, and more than that, even when they are alive, they cannot live well. And unfortunately, the maximum number exists in one of the most affluent countries on the planet. And this will happen to the whole world at some point. We see similar things in Indian cities. It is just that the US may be the forerunner. This sends the message that if affluence comes, we will lose all our sense. It is very important that the US corrects itself, because whatever they do, for some reason the rest of the world does, too.
Eating improperly and eating inappropriately are two big aspects. The way we “do” food is violent, and if we carry much more on this frame than what we should carry, it is a kind of soil erosion. Whatever number of pounds you shed does not go into the sky – it is going back into the earth. You prevent soil erosion!
We are allowed to carry what we want, but not beyond what is comfortable for us. The pain of existing like that is such that most people who are in this state have forgotten what it means to be light, agile, and really alive. It is not just about the medical aspects and the number of people who die. The biggest problem is the number of people who are alive but cannot live a full life.
#3 Eat Fresh
Every few years, a different theory emerges on what kinds of foods to eat, and there are a whole lot of people who follow it religiously. We should not be making food a religion. It is not about what you or someone else believes. It is about eating sensibly.
The first thing to remember is that essentially, food is fuel. If you want to refuel your car, you go to the gas station and choose the appropriate fuel for this particular machine, in order to achieve optimal performance. You could put kerosene into your car and it would actually drive, but it may smoke and cough, and you may not be able to accelerate as you want. This is the situation with most people when it comes to their food choices. To choose the appropriate fuel, you need to know what type of machine you are.
If you are interested in your wellbeing and that of your children, you must ensure that the food you eat is fresh. In the Yogic culture, we always consume cooked food within 1.5 hours after it comes off the stove. If it is any later, inertia will set in. If you eat food that creates inertia in the system, you will lose all your dynamism. There is also a correlation between the kind of food you eat and the amount of sleep you need. Generally, doctors advise that everyone must sleep a minimum of eight hours. If you sleep eight hours per night, it means you are sleeping one third of your life.
People are writing whole books on how everyone must sleep eight hours, and warn of dire consequences if you do not. These days, I am getting a little lazy and sleep for four hours. But earlier, for twenty-five years, I used to sleep less than three hours per day, and I am healthy. The body needs restfulness, not sleep. One important factor of how much sleep you need is what type of fuel you put into your system. If you put the wrong fuel into your car, it will need a lot of servicing. Similarly, if you put the wrong fuel into your system, it will need a lot of sleep.
#4 Eat What Is Far From You
Your body is just an accumulation of the food that you have eaten, after it has been transformed and assimilated. There is a certain intelligence, memory, and genetic code in the body that determines what the food that you eat is converted into. For example, the same apple, depending on who eats it, becomes part of the body of a woman, a man, or a cow.
As life evolves, the information and memory an organism carries get increasingly complex. In the Yogic tradition, we always said you must eat what is furthest away from you, genetically. In that sense, plant life is furthest away from us. If you must eat non-vegetarian food, we advised the consumption of fish, because among the animals, it is furthest away from a human being, if you look at it from an evolutionary perspective. As the first animal life on the planet is thought to have evolved in water, the first avatara was matsya avatara or the fish.
After a century of saying the best thing to eat is meat, doctors in the West are slowly shifting to a different view today. For some time now, they have been saying that beef is a main cause for most of the cardiac ailments in America. And in the last few years, they are also saying that meat consumption can cause cancer. In the Yogic culture, we have been telling you for ten thousand years that if you eat foods with a complex genetic code, your system will break down, one way or the other. We arrived at that not by doing million-dollar research, but just by observing what happens in our system when we eat. If you pay enough attention, you will know.
So, do not make food some kind of a religion. If it is a question of survival, eat what is available. But when survival is taken care of, there is a choice. When you have a choice, you must eat sensibly, what is best for your system. The ideal fuel for your body is what leaves you alert, agile, and active. You could experiment. One day, just eat fruits; another day, just eat raw vegetables; yet another day, you cook the vegetables; then you eat fish, you eat meat – try out everything. With what kind of food you are experiencing maximum levels of energy and alertness, please eat that, and you will be healthy.
#5 Digest This!
If you eat a fruit, within 1.5 to three hours’ time, it will be fully digested. If you eat cooked vegetables, it will take twelve to fifteen hours to digest them. If you eat cooked cereals and other foods, it will take twenty-four to thirty hours. If you eat cooked meat, it will take forty-eight to fifty-two hours. If you eat raw meat, it will take seventy-two hours to digest it. When food remains in the system for such long periods of time, it will rot and cause unnecessary levels of bacteria. With such food choices, you are causing damage to the system. And then you believe you need medicines, rather than living healthy. You need pharmaceutical products because you are generating poison within yourself.
What you put into your system can make a big difference. To give an example – when they first introduced ethanol gasoline about twelve years ago, I said, “I do not want to put ethanol in my car because the engine is going to rust.” You do not have to be some brilliant scientist to arrive at that – it is just common sense. Now, after it has been used for twelve years, they finally admit it may cause corrosion of the engine. You just have to pay attention to how things work. Most people do not pay attention to anything. For everything, they need a prescription.
If you have been eating the wrong kind of food for too long, the body may have become so lethargic and dense that you cannot notice anything. In that case, fasting will give you a break. It is time we teach people how to pay attention to what is happening in their system. Just ask yourself – is it working well right now or not? This is a simple way to know.
#6 Eat Local
Question: Namaskaram, Sadhguru. Is there a relationship between the body and that particular part of the earth where one is located? Does the specific place where someone grows up influence them? Is that why they tell us to eat the local food?
Sadhguru: How the deeper human system functions is definitely impacted by location. It is true with every other life also. The plant and animal life which is very comfortable in southern India would wither away anywhere around New York State or in that part of the world because the life here has evolved differently. It is not just because of the weather and the volume of sunlight or cold. Those have a big impact too, but why life has evolved in a particular way has something to do with the location.
In Yoga, the prescription for eating food is the distance a man can walk in a day. In a single day, the distance you can walk should be the radius of the area from which you eat. You should not eat food which is grown far away from you because the body that you carry is essentially a piece of this planet. If you are eating food from that specific area where you are living, there is a constant interaction between your body and the earth. Even today as you are sitting here, if you sit in this place, your body and this part of the earth on which you are sitting are in a constant state of very profound interaction.
It is because of this that being in contact with the earth is a very important part of one’s health and wellbeing. In the Yoga Center, we are always giving people who are not healthy work in the garden so that they are in touch with the earth. Today in modern spas, this being in touch with the earth has reduced itself to a mud bath. Well, you must be in touch somehow. It does not matter how you do it, either with a mud bath, by working in the land, sleeping on the floor, or whatever you do – essentially you are trying to be in contact.
#7 Eating for Wellbeing
Food is a transaction. What was in the earth, you are taking it into the body. The body will function best if the food you eat comes from that area of earth on which you are living. Suppose you live on a patch of land, grow your own food and eat it. Within a month’s time, you will see a very distinct change in the healthfulness of your body. I think we can bring down the incidence of cancer on this planet by at least fifty percent if we are in touch with the earth that we are living upon and the food comes from the area in which you live, not from somewhere else.
Right now, if I go for breakfast, the food may come from New Zealand, Vietnam, or who knows where. We are able to transport things around and there are supermarkets which can sell the world to you, but we are doing this more for pleasure, not for wellbeing.
#8 Eat Seasonal
In India, during summer the food is cooked in one way, during the rainy season in another way and in winter another way, according to the vegetables available at that time and what is suitable for the body. It is good to bring in that wisdom and eat as per the needs of the body and according to the weather or climate we live in.
For example, when December comes, there are certain foods which produce heat in the body like sesame and wheat. The skin usually breaks because the climate becomes cold, and people do not traditionally use moisturizing creams and things like that. So everyone ate sesame on a daily basis. It keeps the body warm and the skin clean. With lots of heat in the body your skin will not break. In summer, the body gets hot, so cooling foods were eaten. For example, in Tamil Nadu, they eat kambu (pearl millet). These things were fixed so that the body is able to adjust itself for that season.
#9 Plant-Based Diet
A live cell has everything to sustain life. If you consume a live cell, you will see the sense of health in your system will be very different from anything that you have known. When we cook food, we destroy the life in it. Eating food after this process of destruction does not give the same amount of life energy to the system.
#10 Fruit Diet
Digestion means jataragni – the digestive fires. If these fires have to burn most effectively, fruit is definitely the best thing. Unfortunately, a lot of people enjoy lethargy and inertia. Life has not touched them so they enjoy a part of them being dead. Sleep, intoxication, overeating and just lying down feels better than being alive, active and dynamic. Fruit may be a problem only for such a person because it will keep you alert and awake. One can know an extreme sense of joy, intoxication and a deep pleasure out of heightened levels of awareness also.
#11 Multigrain Diet
Today, doctors are saying that nearly 80 million Indians are heading towards diabetes. One of the reasons for this is because most Indian people are on a single-cereal diet. People are eating either only rice or only wheat. This can definitely cause health problems. It is important to bring in a multigrain diet in one’s life.
Traditionally, people always ate lots of grams, pulses, legumes and many kinds of grains. But slowly those things have gone away, and if you look at a southern Indian’s plate today, there will be too much rice and just a little bit of vegetable. This is a serious problem. This shift to a total carbohydrate diet that has happened in the last twenty-five or thirty years needs to be reversed because a person’s long-term health will be seriously affected if they just eat lots of carbohydrate and very little of other things. This is a basic conceptual change which needs to happen in people’s minds. The majority of the diet should not be rice but all the other things. Rice is your choice – whether you want to eat or not, you decide according to your hunger levels.
#12 Eating Right While Traveling
We cannot always eat the ideal kind of food, especially those of us who are traveling and doing a whole variety of activities. In case you end up eating something that makes your body a little sluggish – that is if you are sensitive to what is happening in the system – all you have to do is cut the next meal into half, or skip the meal. That is all it takes for the body to bounce back.
Travel definitely takes a toll in terms of fatigue, but you can minimize it by eating as little food as you can when you are in an airplane. If you need to eat something, eat a fruit or just drink lots of water. The mechanism of hunger involves certain acids working on the stomach lining, which create a craving to eat. If you drink a glass of water or eat a fruit, the acids get diluted, and the hunger diminishes.