What is Rhythmic Eating?

Rhythmic Eating – An Overview

Rhythmic eating is about becoming aware of our own body rhythms and energy and aligning those with the energy of our food and the rhythms in our environment. This might seem like a lot that needs to be aligned, especially since all of these variables are constantly changing, but when you start tapping into your Inner Wisdom, it actually becomes quite easy. Deep inside you know what your body needs to be healthy.

Rhythmic Eating is perfectly aligned with Mindful Eating. The more in touch we become with our bodies, as we learn to do through Mindful Eating, the better we will be able to assess what our bodies need at a certain time. We’ll also know intuitively when these needs change.

To understand Rhythmic Eating, we need to first understand a bit about Food Energetics, which I’ll explain next.

Food Energetics

When referring to Food Energetics, we are not talking about calories, but about its energetic action on our body after eating it. This could be to cool, heat, moisten and dry it, amongst other more subtle actions.

Steve Gagne, author of “Food Energetics – The Spiritual, Emotional and Nutritional Power of What We Eat”, sums up the practice of Food Energetics beautifully:

“Food Energetics explains how food imparts a living wisdom that is separate from the science of nutrient values. Food is more than simply fuel. It imparts a living wisdom that is beyond the science and mechanics of calories, grams, and nutrient values. Ancient peoples, through their relationships with the plants and animals providing their food, understood that their food conveyed the unique energetic qualities of its source, such as swiftness from wild deer and groundedness from root vegetables. With the rise of agribusiness and industrial food production, people have become disconnected from the sources of their food and are no longer able to register the subtle rhythms, harmony, and energies that food can convey. This separation has thrown the basic human-food relationship out of balance – to the detriment of human consciousness.”

Through Rhythmic Eating, we are trying to re-establish this human-food balance so we can once again connect with the subtle rhythms and energies of our food the way our ancestors did. This innate capacity still resides within us, we just need to learn to connect with it. Combining this sense of the energetic quality of our food with an awareness of what our bodies need at various times plays a big role in improving our overall health. From a Food Energetics perspective, there is no such thing as a universally ‘right’ diet. We eat according to our constitution and we all have different nutritional and energetic needs, this changing depending on the season, time of day or our state of health.

One of the main qualities to consider when choosing our foods, is its temperature. This is not its actual temperature, but its affect on our bodies after digesting it – its energetic temperature. Daverick Leggett, author of “Helping Ourselves – A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics”, gives some good general guidelines on how to determine whether our food will have a cooling or heating effect on our bodies:

“There are no absolute rules that govern whether a food will be warming or cooling. However, the following general guidelines may help:

  • Plants which take longer to grow (root vegetables, ginger) tend to be warmer than fast-growing foods (lettuce, courgette).
  • Foods with high water content tend to be more cooling (melon, cucumber, marrow).
  • Dried foods tend to be more warming than their fresh counterparts.
  • Chemically fertilised foods which are forced to grow quickly tend to be cooler than their naturally grown counterparts.
  • Some chemicals added to foods may produce Heat reactions.

    For a more in-depth list of foods for various constitutions from a Chinese Food Energetics perspective, I highly recommend his book and food charts listed below.

    Daverick Leggett also explains how different cooking methods can affect our foods “energetic temperature”:

    • Raw – Cooling
    • Steamed – Cooling/Neutral
    • Boiled – Neutral
    • Stewed – Warming
    • Stir-fried – Warming
    • Baked – More Warming
    • Deep-fried – Heating
    • Roasted – More Heating
    • Grilled – More Heating
    • Barbecued – Most Heating

    Longer and slower methods will also produce more warming effects than quicker methods i.e. a stew will be more warming if it is cooked slowly than if it is cooked quickly.

    Now that we have a better understanding of Food Energetics, lets take a deeper look at how to align this with our individual bodies.

    Body Rhythms

    Their are various rhythms in our bodies, just as their are many rhythms on our Earth. The main 3 rhythms keeping us alive are our breathing, heartbeat and cerebrospinal fluid rhythm. These 3 rhythms have an interdependent relationship with each other, as most rhythms do, but aren’t dependent on our daily food intake.

    Besides these ongoing internal rhythms keeping us alive, our bodies also have a daily rhythm. Today scientists are referring to this as our Circadian Rhythm, but this daily rhythm is also depicted in traditional oriental medicine, often referred to as the Body Clock. Whilst there are some variations between these two, the basic principles remain the same. This image illustrates the best times for certain activities, based on a combination of both the Body Clock and Circadian Rhythm:

    If we were to just look at how to align our eating with our daily body rhythm, we could summarise it as the following:

    • It’s best not to eat when we first wake in the morning, waiting until about 2 hours after waking is optimal. Our bodies are more in need of water and fluids upon waking, rather than food.
    • We should ideally not eat after 7pm in the evening. This is when our body’s digestion starts to slow down. Not eating anything until 2 hours after waking the next morning, when we “break the fast” (i.e. breakfast), gives our bodies a rest and allows them to perform their other functions optimally.

    So now that we have an idea of the best times to eat to align with our bodies daily rhythms, let’s take a look at what we should be eating. From an Oriental Medicine point of view, this is based very much on each individual’s constitution, looking at it in terms of these basic qualities: Excessive or Deficient, Hot or Cold, Dry or Moist. As we already established earlier, the most important qualities to consider in our food is the affect on our body temperature after we eat it. Looking at the Food Energetic qualities we explored previously, Daverick Leggett says the following:

    “With an understanding of the temperatures of food we can already establish a few guidelines about the right kinds of food for our condition. A primarily hot person will need to eat a somewhat cooling diet: plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish rather than meat and not too many spices or fatty food or heating substances such as alcohol. A cool person will need a more warming diet: plenty of stews and casseroles, warming ingredients such as ginger or garlic and not too many cooling substances such as tea or raw food.”

    We can then further refine our eating by considering any imbalances in particular organs or elements (in terms of 5 Element theory) and matching our daily food choices accordingly. However, it might be best to consult a professional for a diagnosis in this regard to get a clearer idea of what these imbalances might be.

    A good start is to eat according to a foods heating or cooling qualities, balancing this with your body’s needs and the optimal times of the day to do so. Remembering that we are all unique and what works for one might not work so well for another.

    Earth Rhythms

    Now that we’ve looked at the rhythms and energy of our food and our bodies, let’s take a look at the rhythms around us – those of our planet Earth. We’ve already touched on the rhythm of day and night in our Circadian Rhythm and Body Clock. The next area to look at would be the rhythm of the weather – hot, cold, damp, dry (notice the similarities we discussed in terms of our constitutions?). We have our daily weather fluctuations (or rhythms) and then we have overall climate (average weather fluctuations over a longer period of time – basically weather is to climate, what emotions are to moods). Our climate changes according to our location and the seasons. You might have already heard of ‘seasonal eating’ or ‘eating locally’. Often, the foods that grow in the areas we live in and within the season we are eating them, are the best aligned with our energetic needs. We’ve become removed from this due to food being available all year round by being imported from other countries.

    So looking at the rhythms of the weather and seasons, we would ideally need to eat more warming foods in winter and more cooling foods in summer. In dry climates we need more moistening foods and in damp climates more drying foods. This is a general guide, but also bearing in mind we may sometimes experience conditions that require eating differently to balance us out. For instance, getting a cold in summer – if our bodies are healthy we would tend to eat more cooling foods in summer, but if we have a cold, our body would need more warming foods until we feel a bit better.

    Eating Rhythmically – A Summary

    This topic has a lot of depth to it and we’ve only scratched the surface. However, we’ve covered enough for you to have a basic idea of how to start aligning your eating with your body rhythms and the rhythms around you. This is a vast topic which you can explore further in the books I have referred to above (and listed below). You might also want to consult a professional to help assess your unique requirements.

    In summary, doing the following is a good start to eating rhythmically:

    • Eat foods according to your individual constitution and condition – warming foods for cold conditions and vice versa; drying foods for moist conditions and vice versa;
    • Don’t eat for at least 2 hours after waking and stop eating by 7pm;
    • Align your eating with the seasons and climate of your area you are living in, unless you are experiencing an imbalance or illness that requires otherwise.

    Recommended Reading & Food Charts:

    Bronwen de Klerk Be Present
    Bronwen de Klerk Be Present
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