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How Moderation and Movement Affect Your Digestion

There is a fantastically diverse variety of dietary trends, lifestyle mantras, and food-eating philosophies that pepper our nutritional landscape and often times seem to confuse us, just as much as inform us. Food choices have almost always been equated with medicinal treatments. “Let food be thy medicine,” is classically attributed to Hippocrates, the forefather of the modern physician. In Chinese Medicine there is actually an entire pharmacopeia (or book of medicinals) that stems from both the rare to the regularly eaten -- plants, animals... and even stones. But outside the fields of acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, and a few other esoteric systems, there is little in the Western world of nutrition that actually addresses “how” we should be eating, as opposed to simply “what” goes into our mouths.

The greatest guiding principle of how to eat, and essentially the one true golden rule of nutrition can be summed up in the practice of “moderation.” This exercise in temperance, with regard t-o the approach of eating and food, is consistent across cultures, continents, and even periods of time. And, it is an exercise for sure, considering the awful struggle and discipline it requires to tame the aggressiveness of our stomach’s appetite, affectionately called our "second brain."

A classic strategy of tempered eating simply requires one to avoid “cleaning off” the entire plate. Obviously, in our excess culture, this gentle guideline is easy to curtail -- just shovel a load of food onto a larger plate and leave nothing but an unfinished spot of garnish and grisel in the corner! Manipulating our intake of food, and in many cases it’s emotional co-dependence, requires careful calculation and borderline chicanery. But fooling our minds with the way we eat is not the point… or is it?

Interestingly enough, our "second mind," or stomach, is a bit slow on the uptake. That is, there is a significant delay in the gastric-hypothalamus communication system of hormones that allows us to continue eating about fifteen minutes past the time when we were actually “full.” Thus, we recall the numerous recommendations -- eat more slowly, take smaller bites, chew each piece of food 10-20 times -- all based on the fundamental principle of tricking ourselves into feeling full and satisfied at the honest and appropriate time.

There is an old Chinese adage that states “the stomach is filled, but never full.” The contradiction here refers again to this modern mind-stomach mechanism. Although we sense fullness within ourselves, there is actually constant movement within the digestive tract that ensures food is continually broken down and eliminated. This is the healthy way -- the opposite of stagnation. In addition to the quality of the food types themselves, such as heavy meats versus fibrous vegetables, the constant and ever-present moving function of digestion can be slowed down or sped up by how we choose to move ourselves as a whole.

“If you walk ninety-nine steps after your meal, you will live for one hundred years!” There is an over-abundance of wise, mysterious, and occasionally antiquated sayings on diet and exercise. However, the guiding principle remains the same: the importance is in how we move. The digestive (and elimination) system is a system dependent on posture and movement, pulled by gravity and pushed internally by muscles and body mechanics. The retention of food, its slowing down and ultimate stopping and constipation, can be greatly reduced by gentle exercise and avoidance of the sedentary lifestyle.

I believe it is important to clarify that gentle exercise used here, that is after having the meal -- not during it, is not intended to be athletic or “exercise of exertion.” Instead, it is best to take a long walk, do breathing exercises, or even some soft expression of Tai Chi or Qi Gong. So keep it simple. Move and be moderate! Take the first step toward incorporating these essential strategies of an “overlooked diet” into your current eating trend, and make complication seem simple again.

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