Digestion: Balance vs. Imbalance

A good digestion is the source of good health, both of the body and of the mind. Without this process, you would not get nutrients that nourish and power your body. If you have ever used chocolates to lift your mood or experienced brain fog after a heavy meal, you know how closely linked your gut and your mind are.

Your digestion is also intricately linked to your prakruti or innate metabolic personality. Your appetite, food choices, digestion, and excretion all depend on it.

Digestion happens in 3 phases.

  • 1: Slow and steady (kapha); takes place in the mouth and the upper stomach; food is made ready for digestion
  • 2: Intense (pitta); takes place in the lower stomach and the small intestine; the actual breakdown of food takes place
  • 3: Light and quick (vata); takes place in the large intestine; nutrients are absorbed and waste matter segregated

The whole process can take about 4 to 6 hours, depending on how strong your digestive fire (agni) is and what your prakruti is.

In Balance

When in balance, no matter what your prakruti is, you may not even notice how good your digestion is. You naturally gravitate toward the right types of food and feel great.

Light and Quick (Vata)

  • Your appetite is variable. Sometimes you feel ravenous; at other times, you have a small appetite and are satiated with little food.
  • You crave warm and oily foods.
  • Excretion is usually gassy.

Slow and Steady (Kapha)

  • You don’t feel hungry quickly since your rate of digestion is slow but steady. Your appetite builds up slowly. You can skip a meal easily and face no major discomfort.
  • You do not really need to snack. When you do, it’s because you like eating for comfort. You like eating fruits, veggies, salads, and legumes.
  • Bowel movement is generally regular, but you may skip a day or two in between.

Intense (Pitta)

  • You have a strong appetite and experience sharp hunger pangs at mealtimes. Not eating at the right time can make you irritable. “Hangry” was coined for people like you.
  • You have a fast digestion. So you can soon feel hungry and may need to snack frequently. Foods you like to eat include cooling ones like rice, milk, and sweet fruits
  • Your bowel movement is regular but tends toward loose stool.

Slight to Moderate Imbalance

When you are not in balance, you get indigestion. The symptoms match your unique metabolic personality. For instance, if you are predominantly slow and steady, you feel full for longer than usual. This is because in your case, phase 1 of digestion (slow and steady phase) gets prolonged. On the other hand, if you are predominantly intense, you get heartburn during phase 2 (intense phase).

Don’t despair. Imbalances in digestion are particularly easy to spot and fix. They often arise out of wrong eating patterns – wrong foods, wrong amounts, and wrong timing. Eat the right food and herbs and make small changes to your lifestyle to get back to balance.

Light and Quick (Vata)

  • You have low or no appetite. You want to skip meals. When you eat, end up making wrong food choices. You crave foods that just aren’t right for you – cold, dry, or junk foods like candy or sodas.
  • You get gas and bloating easily. Skipping meals or eating junk worsens it.
  • You have alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea.

Slow and Steady (Kapha)

  • You have no appetite because you feel full, bloated, and heavy in the upper abdomen.
  • When you do feel hungry, you want sweet, oily, fatty, and high-salt comfort foods, say a bag of wafers, just the kind you shouldn’t eat.
  • You have a tendency toward constipation.

Intense (Pitta)

  • You have frequent episodes of heartburn and acid reflux.
  • Despite the indigestion, you still feel hungry and want to have spicy, salty foods.
  • You get diarrhea and experience a burning sensation after passing stool.

Severe Imbalance

By breaking down food and releasing nutrients, digestion helps build your physical body. So if you are not digesting well, your energy, muscle mass, bone density, immunity, and brain function all suffer a blow. If the imbalance continues for a long time, whether because you have not observed your body or you thought it was a passing problem, you have a high risk of disease.

Speak to your healthcare provider if you find a long-lasting change in your digestion pattern.

Light and Quick (Vata)

  • Besides excessive belching, hiccups, gas, and abdominal pain, you may have chronic constipation.
  • Since constipation leads to the buildup of toxins (ama) in the body, your immunity will suffer.
  • Prolonged imbalance leads to low energy, fatigue, and anxiety.

Slow and Steady (Kapha)

  • Since you do not like to exercise, any imbalance in digestion leads to an accumulation of toxins. This shows up as more lethargy, poor focus, obesity, and a feeling of malaise.

Intense (Pitta)

  • You are prone to inflammation; so you may suffer from GERD, gastritis, ulcers, inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disorders (IBD) when severely out of balance.

It’s great that people now are more health-conscious than the previous generations and put some effort in planning their diets. You can take one more step to improve your digestion. Factor in your unique energy mix while choosing your foods and herbs. Eat what your mind and body truly love.