Many people develop rigid eating patterns and consume only a limited selection of foods. This inflexibility is often based on a preference for certain tastes or just a discriminating personality. Teenagers and elderly people are subject to this lack of flexibility (as are some health food fanatics) more often than other areas of the population. Sometimes this is based on fear, rebellion, lack of adventure, or just being stuck in an attitude that will not allow them to be open to other ideas. They just maintain themselves on a few foods, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, and sodas for the younger crowd, or eggs, toast, potatoes, and meat in the older group. All lack the freshness and vitality found in natural foods.
There are people who develop what I would call positive restrictions in their diet. We all have certain foods we do not like because of their flavor or past experience with them. Specific allergic foods are clearly best avoided. Restricting foods such as meats, milk, or chemical-containing foods may be based on certain philosophical or health choices. However, being too rigid in our diet is usually not in our best interest.
It is difficult to get people to change when they do not wish to, especially in regard to what they eat. They already know that they won?t like it before they even try. Sometimes, consulting with a nutritionist and doing a diet analysis by evaluation or computer can show people the excess or lack of nutrients in their diet, and this may educate and influence them to make some changes.
Ideally, we should eat a variety of foods, from all the groups that I have discussed previously, unless there is a particular sensitivity to certain ones. This gives us the opportunity to absorb the nutrients that nature and our world provide. Eating them in moderation while introducing new ones daily is a healthful path to follow.
We have already discussed overeating and undereating, but there are other issues surrounding the use of food in dealing with stress and psychological troubles. Some people eat when upset or depressed; others cannot eat at all in this condition. Our emotions strongly influence our eating behavior, so if we want to maintain a more balanced diet, and thus a more balanced life, we need to learn to deal with our emotional states in ways other than with food.
Using hunger as a guide, integrated with a regular eating plan, we create our basic diet. If we are overweight, we need to plan our meals to include less food; if underweight, we will include more food and calories and then maintain a balanced diet when we are at a better weight.
We can learn to deal with stress, sadness, frustration, depression, and so on through self-development techniques, through counseling, or through mental affirmations and visualization, all good ways to clear these problems?or at least not let them take hold of us and run our lives. There are very few issues that are important enough to take precedence over our health. And not using food to cover up these important feelings, thoughts, and issues is crucial to maintaining our health.
Liquids and Eating
Many of us drink liquids with our meals. This is not really a good practice, since extra fluids can dilute the digestive juices, making it more difficult to break down food. Drinking water before meals or sometime after them is much better. A small amount (less than a cup) of water with meals may help dissolve the food and stimulate digestive juices.
Water is generally our best beverage, and consuming about eight to ten glasses a day (most of us will need less when we consume a higher amount of fruits and vegetables), is very helpful for weight loss and keeping the body functioning. It is best to drink two or three glasses first thing in the morning, several glasses between meals, and then a couple of glasses about 30?60 minutes before dinner to reduce the appetite a bit. Sweetened soda pops should be avoided. Milk is a food (to be used sparingly by adults), not a beverage to be drunk with meals. Many people feel that a bit of alcohol before a meal stimulates the appetite and the digestion of food. Coffee or tea following a meal is enjoyed by many people, and is probably not too detrimental when done occasionally. Overall, it is wise to be aware of needs and drink when thirsty, and it is best to drink only between meals, giving our digestive tract the best shot at getting those nutrients ready for our cells.
Additional Habits to Cultivate
Preparation of both ourselves and our food is helpful. Food made with awareness and love adds that little extra, and when we take the time to prepare ourselves to receive nourishment, such as with a little prayer or some quiet time, we also give ourselves the chance to get the most out of our meal.
Relaxation around eating is a good habit to develop. This is part of preparation and digestion. After a fair-sized meal, it is important to take some time to let digestion begin. After about an hour, we can begin some light activity. A walk is ideal. However, most of us cannot afford the luxury of taking this time around meals. When I cannot, I try to follow the Warrior?s Diet (see Chapter 9) of frequent small snacks, through the day, until I can take more time to prepare and eat a proper meal.
Exercise is very important to keeping our body healthy and to utilize the nutrients that we consume. I do not recommend exercising for at least an hour, or longer, after eating. It is usually several hours after a meal before my body feels right doing any vigorous activity. Often, I exercise first and use eating as a reward for doing the physical activity that I feel is needed. Early in the day before breakfast, and after work before dinner, are the two best times for exercising.
There are three important factors which will help us choose what foods to eat in combination and when to eat them. These are acid-alkaline balance, food combining, and food rotation. I will discuss them briefly here, as they are useful in developing ways to improve our general health or digestion or to reduce food allergies. They are discussed more fully in Part Three, Building a Healthy Diet.
Since our body tissues and blood are slightly alkaline, we need to eat more foods that break down into alkaline elements. The ash or residue that remains when a food is metabolized influences our body?s pH, or acidity. The foods that generate an alkaline ash are the fruits and vegetables (even the acid fruits, such as lemons), except for cranberries and most dried fruits. The whole grains, nuts, and seeds are slightly acid in our body, though millet, buckwheat, corn, almonds, and all sprouted seeds tend more toward the alkaline side. The cereal grains tend to be more acid-alkaline balanced than the more acidic nuts, milk products, meats, and refined flour and sugar products.
For a system that does not get too acidic, congested, or mucusy, the diet should contain about 70 percent alkaline foods. This means the type of diet that I have been talking about throughout this book?one that focuses on fruits and vegetables, with some whole grains, more sprouts, and smaller amounts of animal foods and refined treats. This will keep our system functioning optimally, provided we get the balance of vitamins and minerals we need, as well as the essential fatty acids and amino acids to perform the required fat and protein functions.
Food combining is a somewhat complex issue?and a revolutionary idea in terms of the standard diet. The basic theory is that for best digestion and utilization of our food, we need to observe certain rules for the way we combine foods within a meal.
Fruits are eaten alone, as they are more easily digested than other foods. We eat lots of vegetables and combine them with either starch or protein foods?protein foods, such as meats and milk products, are not eaten with starches, such as potatoes and breads. So meat and potatoes are out, as are cheese sandwiches. The reason for this is that, for best digestion, proteins require an acid digestive medium and starches an alkaline one. When eaten together, they interfere with each other?s utilization, so that digestion takes longer and is inefficient.
Fruits and simple sugars are not eaten along with or after other foods, because doing so would cause them to be delayed in the stomach juices and begin a fermentation process, allowing gas to go through the intestines. Milk is not drunk as a beverage but used as a food. The fruits of the melon family are eaten alone, not even with other fruits.
Fruit is usually eaten in the morning or several hours after other foods. Meals are simpler than is usual in the American culture, consisting of lots of vegetables with either a protein food, such as dairy products, eggs, or meats, or a starch food, such as grains, pasta, or potatoes. This type of diet, I believe, generates less stress on the intestinal tract and creates overall better health, both immediately and on a long-range basis. In Fit for Life, the authors stress the principles of food combining and the need for a more alkaline diet in their program. I feel that it can be a healthy one provided we balance our diet properly and obtain all of our necessary nutrients.
Rotating our foods is a common method for discovering or diminishing the effects of allergies or hypersensitivities. It also may be helpful in preventing the development of many food allergies in the first place. When we overconsume a food, our body can become sensitized to it and make antibodies that will react with it when it is absorbed into our system. The most common allergens are protein foods, including milk, wheat gluten, eggs, beef, yeast, soybeans, and corn, though most any food can generate allergic reactions.
Food allergy is fairly common and can be short- or long-lived. Some people who are allergic to certain foods as children may remain allergic to them for most of their lives, while for others, sensitivities to certain foods may come and go.
The physiology of food allergy is somewhat complex and still mostly theoretical. It involves both our cellular system and our immune system. Keeping stress to a minimum, reducing incidence of infections and colds, and maintaining basic health and digestive tract ecology all seem to minimize food reactions. If we do have problems with certain foods or wish to prevent such problems, food rotation is a good idea. The theory is that it takes about four days for the body to entirely process a food and clear it from our system. Thus, each food in the diet is consumed only in one day out of every four, so as to minimize the potential allergic stimulus of each food. Following this program also allows us to isolate foods more easily should we have any reactions. It is not a simple process, but it can be very helpful, and it is probably a good habit to develop. It provides us with a variety of foods and brings a certain discipline to our diet, which is positive practice for developing other useful habits.*
* For more information on acid-alkaline foods, food combining, and general nutrition, see Dr. Haas's Seasonal Food Guide poster and booklet (Celestial Arts, 1990).