We’ve all heard the saying ‘You are what you eat.’ And it’s not completely true. Yes, the quality and types of foods you put into your body matters. But if you’re only focusing on the foods you’re eating, you’re missing an important piece. This is why so many people fall short on their expectations of feeling better and having more energy on an organic, whole foods diet. There’s more to the story. Your digestive fire is a key to your health.

According to Ayurveda, your digestive fire (agni) is critical for optimal health. A strong digestive fire will take anything that comes into the system, absorb, extract, and keep the nourishing parts it needs, and burn off or eliminate the rest. A weak digestive fire will not be able to keep up with this process, and thus toxins (ama) build up, overwhelm the system, and create imbalance, which then leads to symptoms and can result in illness and chronic disease.

We must process and digest thousands of sensory and energetic inputs all day long and keep what is needed and eliminate the rest.

Unprocessed food, experiences, and emotions build up as toxins.

Once the toxic load overwhelms the system, symptoms show up. Our body’s internal digestive fire or metabolism is the main way we absorb what we need and eliminate what we don’t.

You Are Not What You Eat; You Are What You Digest

The piece most people miss is that it’s not just about food. The reason so many people don’t feel better just by changing the foods in their diet is that the mouth is just a gateway into the human system. There are many other gates of entry—the five senses and thousands more at the energetic level that we cannot consciously perceive.

Digestion is about our ability to process all aspects of life – food, drink, experiences, memories, and sensory impressions.

The body and mind are exposed to hundreds of things to process every day. They take in sensory inputs through all of the senses – eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin – where they create reactions within the human system. These reactions are biochemical, physiological, physical, mental, emotional, behavioural or spiritual.

If we keep everything in, regardless of whether it is health-supporting or health-weakening, we can get toxin accumulation, and at some point, this toxic load can overwhelm the human system and begin the six stages of illness.

For example, I remember driving my car on a warm and sunny morning with my windows open, listening to music and enjoying my commute to work. The next thing I knew, I saw a bicycle courier get hit by a car. In that moment, I had a sensory input through my eyes and another through my ears because my window was open and I heard the ‘thump’ of the cyclist crashing into the car. Those sensory inputs created reactions within me—an emotional reaction that triggered a memory of falling off a bike and injuring myself, and a physical reaction that caused my body to tense up and my breathing to become rapid.

At that point I had two choices. I could either digest and process the reactions that I was having, or I could choose to push them down and repress them.

By calling a friend and feeling the emotions fully, I digested and processed the reactions—I kept what I needed and eliminated the rest.

If I had repressed my reactions, I would have added to the toxic load within me. And if I continued to repress my reactions, eventually it would have led to toxin accumulation, which would then create symptoms, illness, and chronic disease.

This is where the concept of the toxic load really becomes important. Anything that we don’t digest, that we don’t process, eventually builds up and creates a toxic load within us. Toxic load comes from many places, not just diet and environment, which we have become very focused on over the past decade. According to Ayurveda, there are five areas that contribute to toxic load, which most of my patients and students had never considered before. Toxic load is created by lifestyle and routines, diet, space and environment, work, and relationships. Toxic load comes from everything in your life.