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The Great Life Diet
A Practical Guide to Health, Happiness, and Personal Fulfillment
By Denny Waxman
PEGASUS BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Denny Waxman
All rights reserved.
Take Time For Your Meal Everyday
SIT DOWN TO EAT YOUR MEALS OR SNACKS WITHOUT DOING OTHER THINGS.
This is the first step towards good health and will help you feel more satisfied. Sitting down to eat 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 meals 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 lessen their frustration. For them, food acts as a tranquilizer. If this is true in your case, you will become more aware of it if you sit down whenever you snack. 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. 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.
"If the soul is a kind of stomach, what is spiritual communion but an eating together?" —Thomas Carlyle
Sitting, standing and lying down
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. 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. When you are seated and you overeat, often you don't know it until you get up 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. On the other hand, if you eat standing up you never know when you've had enough. You lose your natural sense of how much food it takes to satisfy you.
Eastern and western medicine
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.
"Tradition is a guide and not a jailer." —W. Somerset Maugham
Nourishment and balance
Ideally, a meal is a time for nourishing and balancing oneself. A meal is a time to be relaxed, open and receptive 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, or driving interferes with your 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.) 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. You aren't being fully nourished. Each of us takes different nourishment from the same food. Our ability to receive nourishment depends on how we eat and on our approach to eating.
Many of us don't like to sit down and eat without doing other things, especially when we are alone. When we 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. And, if we can be patient and allow the unhappy thoughts and feelings to come up, they will be followed by happier ones. 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. 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 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.
Sitting down to eat your meals and snacks without doing other things is the first step towards good health.
When you eat without distraction, you absorb the most nutrition.
You need to concentrate when you read a book or see a movie to get the most out of the experience. You need to participate fully in a conversation to be completely satisfied. This principle applies to your meals as well.
Sitting down to eat without doing other things allows you to be more aware of what you are eating and to stop when you have had enough.
You eat less and feel more satisfied.
This is one of the most difficult steps. Try always to be conscious of it.
ALLOW ADEQUATE TIME FOR YOUR MEALS.
The minimum time required to consume a meal is twenty minutes. Now you might think that that's an arbitrary number, but it isn't. Let me explain. According to Eastern thinking, everything in the universe is energy, some of it materialized energy (us, for example) and some not (wind, for example). Energy is manifested in vibrations. And we know that vibrations have a natural tendency to align with each other—that's physics. I first realized this when I was in Switzerland, in a shop that sold cuckoo clocks. All the pendulums were exactly aligned. (I was so pleased with my discovery that I made the mistake of buying one of these clocks. It drove me crazy once I was home.) Or, take the example of women's menstruation. It's well known that after a short while women who share living quarters begin to menstruate at the same time. Therefore, it should not surprise you to learn that after twenty minutes in the same room the rate of heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing of those present tends to align. By the same token, if someone should enter the room whose rate of heartbeat, blood pressure or breathing is very different from that of the group's—too different for alignment to occur—everyone will feel some discomfort, no one will be able to relax completely. Understandably, the person who entered the room will feel too uncomfortable to stay very long.
Fifty cycles of energy every day
Why does the process of alignment take roughly twenty minutes? Here is the reasoning: fifty cycles of energy (ki, the Japanese word for energy) flow through the body each day. This means that ki circulates through the entire body fifty times a day. One cycle takes just under thirty minutes. It takes seventy percent of the thirty-minute cycle, or about twenty minutes, for alignment to become significant. You can check on this yourself. When you go somewhere new, how long does it take until you really feel comfortable? How long does it take to settle into a serious conversation? It takes about twenty minutes. Still, many people sit down to eat a meal assuming that five to ten minutes is an adequate amount of time. It certainly isn't. If a friend says he has something really important to talk over with you and you say—great, I can give you five minutes—it's likely he or she will feel insulted. You can't have a serious conversation in five minutes. You can introduce the subject but you can't delve into it. In the same way, you can have an appetizer or a snack in five minutes but not an entire meal.
Breakfast is the most forgiving meal because we're active for a full day afterwards. Dinner is the least forgiving. In other words, if you have a fifteen-minute breakfast, it's not the end of the world. But in a manner of speaking, a fifteen-minute dinner is. It doesn't count as a meal. I'm not talking about solid eating time. I'm talking about the time it takes to complete your meal—from the moment you sit down until the moment you get up from the table.
Let's say you're standing next to someone at a bar. Even if you don't say a word to that person, after twenty minutes your energy will be aligned. If you smile at that person, the alignment happens more quickly. If you talk together, it happens more quickly still and the alignment becomes stronger. I hope you can see now that quiet conversation during mealtimes, talking and eating together, fosters a strong and deep alignment. If you eat quietly without talking, you become more independent, but not as strongly connected to one another. Whether you eat alone or with others, the minimum time for a meal is twenty minutes.
The minimum time for a meal is twenty minutes.
Time yourself from the beginning to the end of the meal, not just while you are eating.
Breakfast is the most forgiving meal in terms of time.
It takes time for your body to adjust from being active to receiving nourishment just as it takes time to settle into a good conversation.
EAT SLOWLY AND CHEW WELL.
It's only common sense that in order to eat slowly you must be seated. You must also allow time in your mind for the meal. If you don't do this you won't be able to slow down. If, when you sit down, you are thinking that you're running late, that you don't have time for this meal, you won't be able to eat slowly. Once you pick up your fork, the pace is set and it's very hard to change it. In other words, eating slowly and chewing well require some preparation.
"Chew your drink, and drink your food." —Mahatma Ghandi
Chewing and posture
In order to chew well, we have to assume the correct posture. The posture for chewing and the posture for reading are exactly the same. If you have something to read that is important to you and requires deep understanding, then you had better sit up straight and tilt your head forward slightly. It is in this position that we can best absorb, comprehend and retain. I think we can agree that if you sit up straight but tilt your chin up slightly, reading becomes more difficult. In order to chew, digest and absorb information completely, we must sit up straight, head tilted slightly forward so the head spiral is pointing upward. The same holds true if our aim is to circulate, digest and absorb what we eat.
In this position, sitting up straight with your head spiral facing upward, the food remains in your mouth as you chew—it doesn't slip down your throat—and you can circulate (chew) the food as many times as you wish—fifty times, a hundred times, five hundred times. In order to chew thoroughly and well, it's best to put down your utensils between each mouthful and place your hands in your lap. This increases your concentration and encourages thorough chewing.
Why do I place so much emphasis on chewing? Chewing strengthens digestion. If you chew your food well, you will develop your physical ability to digest and assimilate food.
Chewing and circulation
Chewing is a pump. It circulates all our body's energy and fluids, all blood, lymph, digestive, hormonal and cellular fluids. Each chew is like a pump circulating all our energy. Each chew is renewing our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. To digest food properly, the minimum count is thirty. To quiet the mind and develop thinking, the minimum is fifty. To refine ki (energy), the minimum is one hundred.
In Eastern philosophy, the body is made up of different systems working together and complementing each other. The digestive system and the brain form one of these systems. The digestive system is designed to digest solid and liquid food, the brain to digest vibrational food—food that takes the form of thoughts and images.
Chewing food— chewing ideas
Once, while I was living in Japan, I was invited to a restaurant that specialized in fugu, a treasured Japanese delicacy. Fugu is very expensive. It has a delicious and delicate taste but it is also highly poisonous. In fact, if it has not been properly prepared, it is usually fatal. Two days before I was scheduled to eat at this restaurant a famous sumo wrestler died of fugu poisoning, a fact which only served to increase my nervousness. But it would have been a terrible loss of face to turn down such an honored invitation so I went. I drank sake and ate fugu with my Japanese friends. None of them seemed unsettled by what had happened to the sumo wrestler but I wondered if this was to be my last meal. I tried to behave naturally even though I was frightened and eventually I managed to relax a bit. The fugu was delicious. To this day I don't know whether it was the taste and texture or the danger it posed that made it so interesting to eat.
Later, I told this story to a well-known Japanese macrobiotic teacher, Herman Aihara. He had a good laugh and then said, "A macrobiotic person can't be poisoned. His body won't accept the poison. It will immediately be thrown out of his body. You didn't have to worry."
Maybe, maybe not. But what I do believe is that we can be poisoned by ideas as readily as we can by food, perhaps more readily. If Eastern thinking is correct about the connection between the brain and the digestive system, then strengthening the digestive system is the easiest way to strengthen thinking ability. In other words, chewing your food and chewing your ideas amount to the same thing. If you chew your food well, you strengthen your ability to digest and assimilate ideas and thoughts. The action of chewing actually improves your thinking ability and your memory. A healthy mind can accept all ideas, chew them over and either absorb or dispel them. I call this conscious chewing. The concept is applicable to all forms of nourishment, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Excerpted from The Great Life Diet by Denny Waxman. Copyright © 2007 Denny Waxman. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
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