Set Your Meal Time Each Day
This is the first step towards good health and will help you feel more satisfied. Sitting down to eat at your meal time is an expression of our appreciation and respect for our food. Sitting down enables us to create order in our daily eating habits and it makes us more conscious of what we eat. The tendency is not to count the food we eat while standing. It just doesn’t enter our consciousness. In fact, we usually stand when eating the foods we really don’t want to eat or shouldn’t be eating.
If you tend to snack throughout the day, you will have trouble regulating your meal time and perhaps have some difficulty with weight control. Generally, we don’t realize how much food we ingest when we are eating constantly. Remember that many people eat not because they are hungry but out of a desire to soothe their nerves or calm their frustration. For them, food acts as a tranquilizer. You will become more aware of it if you sit down whenever you snack if this is true in your case. You may even decide you don’t really want to eat at that time.
Chinese medicine says that food has both physical aspects and chi (or energetic) aspects. If you want to absorb the energetic aspects of your food, your stomach must be in the bent position it takes when you are seated, not in the elongated position it assumes when you stand.
Meal Time Versus Active Time or Resting Time
As I see it, different positions are for different activities. Standing is for being active and productive; reclining, which is a receptive position, is for sleep, sex and rest; and sitting is a transitional position between the two postures. We eat during the day so that we have the energy to be active. We sleep at night so that the body, using the food consumed during the day, can repair and maintain itself.
Sitting is the link between standing and lying down. Think about how the seated position aligns with eating. The seated position is the one in which the change between the external and internal environments, between giving out and taking in, occurs. Sitting is the position for receiving nourishment, for strengthening the ability to absorb, digest and assimilate food. It is also the position most congenial to the process of thinking. Try reading while standing up or lying down. Ideas are not as easily understood in these positions. So, whether we are talking about absorbing, digesting and assimilating food or ideas, sitting is unique.
If you eat while standing up, your stomach cannot accept the food properly. Standing interferes with the digestive process. When you sit down to eat you will be more conscious of what you are eating and also how much you are eating. Since sitting is a more relaxed position than standing, you will probably eat less food because you will be digesting what you have eaten more thoroughly and will be satisfied with smaller amounts.
The Relationship Between Sitting and Overeating
When you are seated and you overeat, often you don’t know it until you rise from the table. Then you think—oh- oh, I ate too much. In other words, what you are experiencing at that moment of awareness is a natural sensation of fullness. This gives you a gauge by which to measure how much is too much. However, when you stand to eat you never know when you’ve had enough. You lose your natural sense of how much food it takes to satisfy you.
In the early stages of medicine, during the era of Hippocrates, Eastern and Western medicine were very similar. Both were grounded in practical knowledge and common sense. Both taught the importance of diet and life style in creating good health. In those days, health advice included instructions for properly handling all aspects of life. People were taught to sit up straight when eating and to chew their food thoroughly. These guidelines were considered rudimentary. Then, as the East moved toward a more spiritual way of life and the West gravitated toward science and analysis, their commonly held ideas became increasingly divergent. However, certain of these ideas—like sitting down to eat and chewing properly—were passed on from one generation to the next in both the East and the West.
Ideally, a meal time is for nourishing and balancing oneself. Meal time is meant for relaxation, openness and receptiveness to nourishment and these attributes don’t mix well with activity. Eating while doing other things such as reading, working, watching TV, talking on the phone, driving interferes with our ability to receive nourishment. Light, quiet conversation is fine because it makes you more open and receptive. (Heavy, loud conversation tightens you up and closes you down.)
Don’t Close Off to Your Food
My analogy is this: If we’re talking and in the middle of our conversation I pick up a book, I close off to you. If you’re eating, trying to receive nourishment from your food, and you do something else at the same time, you close off to your food. It’s that simple. If you do not pay attention to your food it is impossible to fully nourish yourself. Each of us takes different nourishment from the same food. Our ability to receive nourishment depends on how we eat at meal time, on our approach to eating.
Now, many people don’t like to sit down and eat without doing other things, especially when they are alone. When you eat alone, what happens? Thoughts and feelings come up, memories come up. Often we don’t like what comes up but if we learn to think of this as part of a cleansing process, of getting things out that don’t belong inside us, it should be easier to eat without distractions. Happier thoughts will shortly follow if we can just be patient and allow the unhappy thoughts and feelings to come up and then leave. In the beginning, just try to let go of your thoughts as you would in meditation. Acknowledge each thought as it comes and then let it pass away.
Food is our strongest desire in life. Food also has the capacity to give us an incredibly deep sense of satisfaction. If we eat quietly and without distraction, we will feel deeply satisfied and fulfilled. However, many people don’t allow this to happen. As soon as unhappy feelings come up they automatically feel the need to do something, to jump up, to read something, to turn on the TV. It’s very important to get past this.
The Cause Is the Cure
Let’s say that when you begin to practice macrobiotics you abruptly stop drinking coffee. A headache follows. You can either allow the headache to pass (and the pain might be very intense for a few days) or you can drink a cup of coffee and end it. You might not think so but this situation is analogous to eating without doing other things. Eating while you distract yourself with something else is the same as taking the very thing (coffee) that was the cause of your problem (headache) in the first place. The cause is also the cure—albeit a very temporary one.
Of all my recommendations, I think sitting down to eat at meal time without doing other things is the most difficult one for my clients to practice. At the same time, it’s the most important of all the steps. It’s the one that sets our direction towards health or towards sickness.
To learn more about a proper meal time balance, please consider an in depth, group macrobiotic course here at Strengthening Health Institute or consider 1-on-1 counseling with our founder, Denny Waxman.