Diet and Biorhythms
Traditional systems of medicine state that each organ functions best at a certain time of day. This concept led western scientists to discover the body's biorhythms, and so decide the optimum time for different types of therapy so as to cause minimal disruption of the body's natural cycles. For example cortico-steroids and thyroid medication is usually given in the early morning when the body naturally secretes these hormones to get the optimum effects.
The digestive system goes through two cycles; the Eliminative cycle and the Energizing cycle. The Eliminative cycle starts in most people in the early morning (approximately 3-4 a.m. and continues till early afternoon 3-4 pm). In the first half of the day, we should eat those types of food, which aid in elimination. These should be foods which are rich in fibre, like raw vegetables, fresh fruits and high fibre cereals like oats. We should also take enough fluids to help the body eliminate the undigested residues of our foods. This is why most of us pass stools in the morning rather than in the evening.
The energizing cycle starts in the afternoon, so if we eat an early lunch at 12 noon it should start with a salad, and be a light meal. The heavy meals of the day should be after 3-4 pm at teatime or dinner. Many people do not feel hungry at breakfast but feel hungry by 4 pm. They should listen to their bodies and eat their heavier meals at this time.
Breakfast should be a light meal consisting mainly of fruit and fruit juice and cereals like porridge, oats or bran. Lunch should ideally consist of salad and rice, vegetable, fish or dal (lentils). The heaviest meal of the day should be dinner followed by rest and sleep.
Conversely about 20% of people have the cycle reversed. These people usually live in cold climates where energy usage during the night is heavy to maintain body temperature. In the morning they need more food to compensate for this usage of energy. For these people their breakfast should be heavy, followed by rest or light activity. Lunch and dinner should then be light meals with lots of salad & fruit. This cycle also changes in climates where there are extreme variations in conditions between summer and winter. The biorhythms also undergo changes and the food requirements change at different times of the year. The golden rule is listen to your body, not to your mind & taste buds when deciding on what is the right food for you. If the food you are eating is good for you, you will feel healthy and rested. The stomach should never feel heavy, distended or painful. These are signs that something is wrong with your diet.
It is worthwhile to experiment with both these models and see which one suits your constitution and makes you feel well.
We have all seen that in cold climates, our appetite increases as the body requires more calories to maintain our body metabolism and temperature. So calorie requirements vary according to the climate, temperature and level of activity.
Hindu philosophy divides the day into 3 parts. The Sattvic time from 4 a.m to 8 a.m which is the time for meditation, yoga and prayer. This is the time for you to explore your soul. The mind is usually still and clearest at this time of day. Food in this time is usually fruit.
The time 8 a.m to 4 p.m is called the Rajasic time and is the time for work and action. At this time your mind is active, and your creativity and productivity at work is the greatest. Food in this time should consist of small quantities of lightly cooked, easy to digest, vegetarian food.
The time from 4 p.m to 4 a.m is the Tamasic time, the time for your body to rest & heal. This time is for family, rest and recreation. At this time we crave and eat the heavy, protein rich high calorie food. This is why most people feel hungry in the evenings and night and the snack vendors and restaurants do their best business at this time.
Going to bed early allows us to wake up early and use the sattvic time which is the time for finding your inward peace and happiness. When you sleep late and wake up late and go straight into the rajasic time you miss out on the precious time for your soul and go straight into activity of our daily lives. This can lead to unhappiness and depression.
Our body contains five litres of blood which circulates in different parts of the body depending on the need of each organ. The body has an intricate system of valves, which open and close, sending the blood to different organs depending on their need. When we exercise, the majority of our blood goes to our arms and legs to supply the muscles. When we think, more blood goes to the brain, while when we eat more blood goes to our intestines. We feel sleepy after heavy meals because blood is diverted from the brain, the muscles and the other organs to the digestive tract. A heavy meal makes us sleepy so working after a heavy meal does not allow us to work efficiently. Hence organizations who serve or encourage heavy meals to their employees at lunch, are in fact sacrificing productivity after lunch.
After a heavy meal more blood is diverted to our digestive system, and so the intelligent thing to do after a heavy meal is to sleep. We should listen to the cues, which we receive from our body. To go for walk after a heavy meal is stupid, because we compel the body to divert blood from the intestine where it is digesting the food to the muscles. As a result the digestion of food is incomplete, causing indigestion and malabsorption of the food which may lead to hyperacidity and flatulence. In fact many people get a heart attack after a heavy meal as blood is also diverted away from the heart muscle to the intestines for digestion of food. Eating food till we are over full, also compromises the proper blood circulation to the heart as the over full stomach presses on the heart which lies in close proximity preventing its proper functioning.
At meal times we should eat enough to satisfy our hunger but not so much to make us uncomfortably full.