In summer, our digestive power is naturally less than in winter, as is our overall bodily strength. This may seem surprising given that we are often more physically active in summer, but it’s quite noticeable if you look for it.
Digestive weakness can show up as a decrease in appetite, or for some as an uptick in symptoms like bloating, indigestion, belching, heartburn or acid reflux. You may find yourself intuitively drawn to lighter, easy-to-digest foods during summer for just this reason. The body knows.
The natural decrease in digestive strength is due in part to the body’s temperature management. Core heat is shunted out to the extremities to prevent overheating, and consequently less heat is concentrated in the belly. The digestive agni is thus diminished.
Anticipating this natural shift in our digestive capacity, we can take a few key steps to support proper digestion throughout the summer:
1) Observe your appetite, and adjust how much you eat accordingly. Your appetite is the best indicator of your digestive capacity – when appetite goes down, your body is less equipped to digest more. While you may be used to a certain sized bowl of cereal in the morning, notice if you are truly as hungry as usual. If not, have a smaller portion. Get curious about your appetite at that evening picnic, and see if your stomach really wants to load up on all those ribs, potato salad, and strawberry shortcake. You might enjoy these summer delicacies even more in smaller quantities.
2) Make dinner lighter than usual. Ayurveda always encourages a smaller evening meal and a larger lunch, and this is doubly helpful in summer. With weaker agni, a heavy dinner can leave you feeling heavy, lethargic, or bloated, and in turn can easily upset your sleep (which is also often lighter in the summer). Instead, have a smaller meal or lighter foods at least a few hours before bedtime.
3) Choose ingredients that are easier to digest. This is a tricky one. Everyone seems to think summer is the ideal time for salads – but if your digestion is weak, large quantities of raw vegetables can be quite challenging to break down. Choose young tender leaves, and eat them at lunch when your agni is naturally stronger. Avoid dense raw vegetables like broccoli, carrots or squash in your salad, and observe how you feel after a salad as the best reflection of your ability to digest it.
4) Avoid iced drinks with your meals. I know – it’s HOT outside! However, having iced beverages with your food is the fastest way to put out the digestive fire altogether. The best plan is to have small sips of warm water with your meal to improve the circulation of digestive acids and enzymes to easily digest your food. If you can’t do warm, then at least do room-temperature drinks.
5) Rest for 30 minutes after eating. In this season full of activity and play, it can be enticing to jump right back into physical activity after you eat. However, our grandmothers were right – it’s best NOT to swim after lunch! Ayurveda encourages taking about 20-30 minutes to rest after eating, especially before engaging in physical exertion.
In addition to the exuberant activities that make summer such a celebration, make sure to have a few lazy days of summer too! Watch how your body responds to the heat, and specifically how your appetite changes. Make time to relax, to give your body time to recover and recharge, especially if you live somewhere with depleting heat. Take good care of your digestion, and it will take good care of you!