Recently I was asked, “What is the single most important and beneficial change a person could make to their life right now?” Of course I can think of many things, such as proper breathing, creative release and regular exercise, but when I reflect back on my practice and really think about it, as well as what I discuss in my book Food As Medicine, I can say it in one word: breakfast. Of course, this may come as a no-brainer to some of you, but if this is the case, you might be surprised how many people regularly skip this meal, or choose something entirely inappropriate.
Based on a perspective that sees human health and natural rhythms intertwined, Ayurveda suggests that your digestion and metabolism is directly related to the path of the sun across the sky. Thus when the sun first rises, we only begin to feel this influence weakly, but as the sun rises higher and higher in the sky, burning away the morning mist and dew, digestion and metabolism similarly increase until they reach their peak at midday. Thereafter, as the sun begins to decline, so too does our digestion and metabolism in preparation for sleep. According to Ayurveda, we want to eat on the ascent of this curve, following the ancient axiom that we ‘breakfast like a king; dine like a pauper’. Doing so ensures that our mind and body are properly fed, providing us with energy throughout the day. Every day is a journey, and just like when you pack up to go on a trip, you want to make sure that you are well prepared. Imagine if you were heading off on a road trip, and pulled over to get some gas. Let’s say you put only a couple bucks worth of gas in the car – you wouldn’t get very far, would you? Now imagine the hassle of having to pull over every so often just to get a few more bucks worth of gas to keep you going. Using this approach, you might even find that you run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Nobody would think to do this, and yet many people treat their cars with more foresight and care than they do their own bodies!
The common pattern is to either skip breakfast or to have something quick, then perhaps have a light lunch, but as the afternoon progresses hunger sets in and these people begin to snack, eating almost continuously throughout the day and into the evening. This pattern, called ‘evening hyperphagia,’ is linked to obesity and weight gain, and in Ayurveda is directly opposed to the natural rhythm. It’s also the reason why many people say they aren’t hungry in the morning – simply because they ate too much the evening before. Eating too much at night not only causes you to pack on weight, it directly impairs digestion, and in my experience, is linked to everything from hiatus hernia to sleep apnea.