Written by John Immel,
IntroductionYour days are rushed, and you find yourself grabbing a bite of food as you run out the door. Maybe eating on the run has become a way of life for you. So how are you going to stay healthy when you just don't have the time? Follow these tips below before the strain of irregular meals and eating on the go wreak havoc on your digestive system. You'll learn about the optimal eating schedule, how to make it work when eating on the run, and solutions to the everyday obstacles getting in the way of your mealtimes.
The biggest challenge to eating on the run is eating at the wrong time, which puts strain your digestive system. Ayurveda promotes eating meals at the same time everyday. This supports your digestive strength (agni) which is only active at certain times. The more you stray from the optimal eating schedule, the fewer the digestive enzymes you produce.
The second biggest challenge to eating on the run is eating under stress. The more stressed you are, the less blood flow to digestive organs, and the weaker your digestion becomes.
The tips in this article are specially designed to help you when you are eating under stress, off-schedule, and multi-tasking. The following tips and meals are easy to digest and easy to consume in a variety of circumstances.
Multitasking While EatingApart from the time of day, another challenge you face when eating on the run is lack of attention to your food. Ayurveda recommends giving full attention to your meals, but people who eat on the run often don't have this option. A way to overcome this obstacle is ensure anything you are eating on the run is also easy to digest, and easy to consume on the fly.
Let's go into some commonly faced situations where you simply don't have time to eat a meal leisurely and look at some manageable solutions. Ironically, restaurant workers are in this group. Waiters never get to eat when they're hungry because that's their busiest time - all their customers are hungry too.
Eating at Your Work DeskThis is perhaps the most common situation faced by those eating on the run. On busy days, stopping for even 30 minutes can seem impossible. You are likely tense and frantically trying to get a task complete by a deadline in this situation. It's unlikely that you will be able to pay attention to anything you are eating and you may have your eyes glued to the screen while trying to abate your hunger.
Take a few deep breaths before starting your meal to release stress and tension in your digestive tract. If you know in advance you have a busy day ahead, a simple homemade soup is easy to digest and takes little to no time to eat. If you don't have any food with you and find you need to grab a sandwich, remember to take your time and eat it slowly because sandwiches are difficult to digest. If you are glued to your desk, you're not going anywhere for a while, so you can chew the meal slowly.
Take at least a five minute break from your desk after eating lunch. This will give your eyes a much needed break from the screen. Also, you can try massaging your eye muscles to reduce strain and fatigue. If possible, walk around the office for a minute or two and stretch your legs. This also helps with the digestive process after a meal. Your stomach needs some space to churn the food, and stretching it also improves circulation to your digestive organs.
Eating in a MeetingIf you are faced with back to back meetings, your mind will be tired and tummy rumbling. Fortunately, you are generally sharing ideas in a somewhat relaxed atmosphere during a meeting. When you are relaxed, you will be better able to digest your meal. As meetings often run long, you probably have the chance to eat something substantial too. However, you do need to be conscious to keep your suit clean, and not bring any strong smelling options into a boardroom. A tuna fish could turn your neighbor's stomach!
Chew your food thoroughly. You have the time in this situation and it will help you digest your meal. If you're ordering takeout food for the meeting, try to steer the group opinion away from fried food to a healthier option. Order a soup if available as they are easy to digest. If sushi is on the menu, order a miso soup to go alongside your nori rolls. Avoid the coffee being served and opt for a herbal tea to settle your stomach. You can even bring your own tea bags. Some good options are fennel, ginger, chamomile, or even a simple cup of plain hot water.
Eating In-Between ClassesWhether you are a student or teacher running between classes, you may only have a few short minutes to get where you need to be. With a growling stomach and another two hours of lessons ahead of you, a snack is much needed to replenish your energy. Yoga teachers can also find themselves teaching back to back classes with no chance to eat. In this situation, you'll be incredibly rushed with little time for adequate digestion.
You won't have much time to chew or digest in this situation, so ensure what you are having is small, light and easy to digest. Smoothies are a great choice as they are hydrating and take no time to consume. Some light berries or a piece of fresh seasonal fruit is another quick and convenient option. If you know your schedule ahead of time, bring a lunchbox with a selection of some roast veggies in ghee to munch on as a snack as you move from one class to the next.
Eating During a PresentationIf you have to eat during a presentation, you will face a few obstacles to overcome. All of your energy will be focused on your performance. Your heart will be pumping hard as you have to be incredibly focused and self-aware. All eyes will be on you and you won't have much time to chew. Professionalism is also required in this situation, so you want to make sure what you eat will b appropriate for this delicate situation.
The best option is to wait until after your presentation. Eating will distract your focus and digestion will use up metabolic energy you need to deliver your message well. Try sipping water throughout your presentation as a first line of defence against hunger pangs. It will also help your voice during a long presentation. But if that's not an option, remember you are eating in front of a group, so simple is best. Sip a smoothie with a straw. Your audience will simply think you are drinking a beverage, which is acceptable in this situation.
Eating While DrivingStudies have estimated that about 20% of American meals are eaten in a car. If eating in the car is a regular occurrence, you're probably already aware that there are a certain set of challenges to this scenario. First and most importantly, there are safety issues associated with eating in the car. You can't concentrate on a complex meal and the road at the same time, so never take the risk. Also, it is essential to avoid eating or drinking anything hot at all times when driving as it is potentially dangerous and could scald you if spilled.
To boot, you are also probably sitting in a poor posture for eating, and uncomfortable, as your stomach is scrunched. You may be stuck in traffic and feeling tense, so don't become a hazard on the road, spill mustard on your lap, or give yourself reflux in a traffic jam.
With so many factors at play when driving, a simple snack is best, one that can be safely eaten with one hand. You can bring a lunch box of blueberries, chopped apple, strawberries or some veggie sticks. An orange is also a good snack and acts as a digestive. Or, bring a smoothie with you. It can sit in the cup holder until you can safely reach for it.
You can also create a mini "car pantry" or "travel kit" to ensure you don't get stuck starving in a traffic jam or layover. Pack some dry goods such as sunflower seeds, almonds and raisins into a backpack you can put in the car for the day. You can eat these at a traffic light if necessary.
Eating LateIn the evening, digestion starts to slow down again, so having dinner no later than 7pm is ideal. After 8pm, any fried food, meat, cheese or even brown rice are too difficult to digest and should be avoided. At this time of night as digestive strength wanes, soups and well cooked stews are a more appropriate choice. It's also recommended to finish eating at least two hours before you go to bed to give your evening meal a chance to digest.
ConclusionEating on the go may be occasionally necessary when you lead a busy life. However, there are ways that you can modify your food choices to benefit digestion when eating on the run.
Try as much as possible to stick to regular mealtimes. This regulates your appetite, benefits digestion, and calms your nervous system down as your body knows when the next meal is coming.
On the days when eating on a schedule is simply not possible - don't fret. Instead, think first about what time of day is it. Is this a time of day when digestion is strong? If yes, you have more flexibility with what you eat. If your only opportunity to eat is a time when digestion is weak, or if you are stuck in a situation with limited time, opt for some of the more easy to digest options like cooked soups, smoothies, light vegetables and fresh fruits.
With a little practice, you will get to know what options work for you and your schedule and you can limit the digestive strain that comes with eating on the run.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.