Food's True Nutriment

I get a lot of questions and emails about diet and nutrition. What are the best foods to eat and avoid, and what about this supplement and at what dose? Rightly so, as our very existence relies on nourishment. In fact, we are connected to all living organisms in that we all rely on nutriment to survive. Edible foods are one of the most basic ways that we nourish ourselves, but lets go beyond content…

An old time patient of mine came in the other week, concerned about his digestion. It was an odd complaint for him, as over the dozen or so years that he has been coming for treatments, he has never had any digestive issues. I have always remarked what a lucky guy he is, to be blessed with guts of steel. But he had been noticing bloating and stomach pain after meals that would persist into the evening and sometimes even disrupt his sleep. He noticed it more on days where his schedule was very tight and he had to rush in between appointments and meetings.

His case reminded me of when I was in TCM school, working in student clinic. I brought one of my friends in to consult with one of my most valued clinical teacher mentors, who is a highly respected herbalist. My friend had been having similar complaints as my recent patient, and I was eager to learn what herbal formula my teacher would finesse to cure my friend’s digestion.

However, to my initial dismay, but subsequent veneration, my teacher never prescribed my friend any herbs. Instead, she advised my friend to stop and chew her food.

I have never forgotten this wisdom… well except for when I forget to stop and chew my food. I feel like content is the easy part. For me, it’s the bigger picture of knowing how to truly nourish myself that is a challenging practice.

Our bodies can’t digest as efficiently when we are eating on the run. The digestive process begins in our mouths with the amylase enzyme in our saliva, so if we rush the chewing part, our stomach and intestines have to work harder to break down and metabolise our food.

It is a luxury these days to stop and take 5 minutes to really enjoy our food. I have been trying to practice this daily, and I’m finding that it takes an incredible amount of diligence. I am so programmed to be productive and to multi-task. Once I have gotten over the feeling of impatience and that I’m wasting my time, it feels like an act of love to stop and give my body this time, space and attention to nourishment.

Once a day or at least once a week, I try to turn off the phone, the radio, the tv, the music and spend 5-10 minutes paying attention to how my food nourishes me. I try to look deeply into all of the conditions that have come together to create this food - the sun, the rain, the other living organisms, and all the hard loving work. I aspire to see my food as a gift from the whole universe, and to be worthy of receiving it. I try to ask myself if this food makes me feel whole? How is this food nourishing my body, my mind, and how is it healing me? Does it help me feel connected to or cut off from myself and the world around me?

It has been a serious practice for me, and a learning process. One thing I have noticed so far, is that I tend to start preparing another bite of food while I still have a mouthful of nutriment. I am already nourishing myself, yet I am unconsciously getting the next bite ready. What does this say about my relationship with food and consumption? So when I notice that I’m doing this, I put my fork down, so as to savour what I’m chewing, notice how it makes me feel, and not rush my body’s metabolizing work. It’s amazing, each time I do this, I’m more in touch with when I feel sated, and it’s always with a smaller portion than I think I need.

How grateful I am to my teacher, who could have wowed me with a clever formula, but instead planted this humble seed that I continue to learn with. It’s not just about what we eat, but also how we eat. Let’s not just fertilize ourselves with discreet nutrients, lets remember to also nourish ourselves with love and wholeness. Especially when we are nourishing our soil to plant a seed, for as they say, ‘only love begets love.’

Dr. Alda Ngo

Alda Ngo