Where to Start – Diet

In general, without knowing which specific dosha you’re working with, and without taking into account seasonal eating habits, the below are some basic guidelines everyone can follow to improve digestion.

The Number One Thing You Can Do

Caraka, one of the codifiers of Ayurveda, devotes the beginning of chapter 5 of his treatise to the single most important thing you can do to cultivate health when eating…wait for it…ready? Here we go!

Eat the proper quantity.

So, how do we know what the proper quantity is? The text continues by stating that the appropriate quantity of food can be measured by the time it takes to digest.

Without getting too deep here, a general rule to consider: ideally breakfast is digested by the evening and dinner is digested by the following morning. Meaning you’d have two bowel movements a day. One first thing in the morning and one at night.

Signs of Good Digestion

When we eat the proper quantity of food each meal, we should experience the following:

  • Pure belching (no foul smell or taste)
  • Enthusiasm (no lethargy following a meal)
  • Urges of the body appearing naturally (no excess gas or burping, etc.)
  • A feeling of lightness in the body (related to the above in that no lethargy should take over)

How many of us really feel these things? I know for me that if I don’t eat the proper quantity, I definitely feel heaviness and a loss of enthusiasm, and ya know, maybe a few extra burps here and there. 😉

How to Get Our Digestion Back On Track

1.The ancient practitioners of Ayurveda had a beautiful way of determining the proper quantity of food one should eat: eat only what you can fit in your two cupped hands.

Genius, isn’t it? This mimics the rituals during a yajña (fire ceremony) in which many people make offerings this way. Eating is a ritual offering to the fires of our digestion. How can we learn to eat in this way?

Food as an offering.

2.The classics outline many rules for eating food, but one that I find very important in our technology-everywhere times is to eat with full attention on your food

This means setting the phone aside, turning the tv off and encountering your food with all of your senses: the tastes, smells, textures, sights, and sounds of the whole experience. By eating in this way we can nourish our five senses and allow our digestive fire (which we’ve just offered food to) to process our offering with the same care and attention we’ve given to making the offering.

3.Finally, lest I overwhelm, I will share one more classical tip (though it’s so hard to prioritize!) for optimizing digestion: sip warm water during your meal.

If you can, toss out the idea that ice water is healthy, let it go. Fly away! You frigid killer of digestion! Be free! Ice water kills the digestive fire and in turn creates an unnecessary imbalance of the doṣas (the monarchs of all processes of the body) and the dhātus (the tissues of the body) in the body.

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of the way: sipping warm water during your meal actually augments the digestive fire (BP. Pu. 5). Imagine you want to cook rice in a pot. Would you throw the rice in the pot without water and turn up the heat? No, well, not unless you like food that resembles mouse turds, and tastes like them too (though I’ve never tasted a mouse turd, I swear!).

The Bhāvaprakāśa, a later classical text to the Caraka, is clear about when to drink water: not before a meal or after, but during. If you drink too much before or after a meal it dampens your digestive fire. Before a meal, you want to allow the digestive fire to be stoked (like building a fire, you wouldn’t throw water on it before it’s blazing). After a meal you want your digestive fire to do its thing, digest. But during that sweet spot, adding a little water helps liquefy the food, while giving a medium for the heat to be carried to cook the food.

To Sum It All Up

Well, what a ride this has been! We’ve learned about how important eating the proper quantity is, we’ve learned about what to expect from good digestion, we’ve learned about how attention to our food can be an offering, and about adding a little moisture to our digestive lives (but not too soon! or too late! or too cold!).

The classics are replete with considerations to make during meals, but my hope is that these three things will help you improve your digestion now and if you’d like to go into all the detailed specifics about how you might consider eating, schedule a consultation with me or another Ayurvedic practitioner and we can help set you up with a routine that works for you.

To your health and happiness,

Sadashiva 💖


NO information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.

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