“Why have I become sensitive to certain foods as I get older?”
This is a question that we are asked nearly daily. In fact, rather than a question, it has become a standard statement made by almost all our clients, friends and family over forty. Do any of these sound familiar?
“I used to be able to eat everything, but now some things just don’t suit me.”
“I used to eat spicy foods all the time but lately I cannot tolerate them…”
“I can’t handle alcohol like I used to!”
And how about:
“I am gluten-free, wheat upsets my stomach.”
“ I try to avoid dairy, my body doesn’t like it.”
“I cannot eat greasy food anymore!” and so on.
When I hear these kinds of comments, I can’t help but remember the older women in my family who lived well into their late 90s eating simple chicken noodle soup, a boiled egg, warm rice pudding and a yogurt. I also have wonderful memories of their unstoppable energy until almost the end; I don’t recall them eating any large meals, eating heavy chocolate cake or drinking too much red wine or coffee.
As they got older and older, the foods they ate became simpler and lighter, practically going back to baby food.
The way my aunties and grandmothers lived was part of how I grew up, it only made conscious sense recently when I attended a workshop on mindfulness by the wonderful AG Mohan and his wife, Indra Mohan.
Both in their 70s, the Mohans are slender, fit and amazingly vibrant. In their workshop, they talked about the simple concept of energy of the body, obtained from two sources: breath and food.
Food is of course an essential source of energy, which we obtain through the digestive process, ignited by the so-called Agni, or digestive fire. Now, don’t get me wrong here, this is not to suggest we have a flame in the stomach that burns the food we eat. Agni can be interpreted as the heat, energy and stomach acids that the digestive tract needs in order to digest food. Without this energy, digestion is slower and less efficient.
As AG Mohan pointed out, older children, teenagers and young adults have a powerful “digestive fire”. With some exceptions, they can literally eat anything, from hot dogs to burgers, popcorn, birthday cakes to ice-cream, without any real problems! Maybe you can remember when you were able to go out for big meals and endless glasses of wine or beer–and still go to work the next day with a coffee and a couple of aspirin?
Just as the sun–the largest fire that sustains life–slowly loses its power, so does our digestive fire. As we get older, the ability of our digestive system to burn food efficiently is diminished, so we find that from a certain age we cannot eat the foods that we used to, in the quantities that we would like to.
This is a natural process of life, and it would be unwise and even dangerous for our health to regularly over-eat and consume foods high in fats, sugars and artificial ingredients. We just cannot get away with it forever.
This doesn’t mean that we have to make our lives miserable by eating porridge (although we can give you a delicious recipe for porridge that you’ll love). We should simply aim to make our lives fuller by recognising and appreciating the foods that make us more vital, physically and mentally, slowly moving away from what causes us pain and discomfort.
You can enjoy food just as much by keeping a positive attitude. Remember, if what’s on your plate gives you the energy you need to live a healthy, long life, you will also love eating it.
– Montserrat, with warm thanks to AG and Indra Mohan for their enlightening view on life.