‘One of the most striking contrasts between modern medical science and Ayurveda has to do with the different value they place on food and diet in the health and life of an individual’
The way we eat:
No food is intrinsically good or bad according to Ayurveda. If you have had exposure to Ayurvedic philosophy before you will not be surprised to hear that Ayurveda says that ‘each person according upon his or her constitution will react differently to the foods that they eat’. But Ayurveda looks deeper than just a person’s unique makeup to explain the effects of the food you eat upon your body. Your food choices will also affect you differently at different times of the day and in different seasons. Ayurveda looks at many different aspects which affect the way we metabolise the food we choose to eat. Our inherent constitution, our mental state, how much stress we are under, the season, the time of day, the combination of the foods we eat, how they were processed, how much we eat of each and even the company we keep whilst we are eating all affect the digestion and subsequent absorption of nutrients. So there is plenty to think about when we start talking about a healthy way of eating besides the food itself.
Many diseases are caused by ignorance of the rules for choosing and ingesting food. Therefore, knowledge and application of these rules can help eradicate disease and help us feel happier, healthier and with tons more energy!
Essentially these ten rules say that your food should be cooked and appropriately oily so that it is as near the state of the body when it is consumed to provide less work for the body. Naturally oily food and foods with essential fatty acids are always good choices – if you are watching your cholesterol/fat contents then monitor the amounts but do NOT eliminate them altogether. You should take in the proper amount and not take contradictory foods at the same meal. You should neither rush nor pick slowly at your food and eat with due concentration. You should also know which foods are suitable to your body-type.
Food is one of the three sustaining factors of the body according to Ayurveda (the other two being sleep and brahmacharya). There are hundreds of slokas/verses regarding the importance of food in the Ayurvedic texts. It is considered paramount in preventative health and each disease has advice regarding foods to avoid and foods to increase according to their effects on the dosha and dhatu (tissues).
It is important to approach a change of dietary habits mindfully. A lot of times Ayurveda enthusiasts just jump right in and start to eliminate foods and live on what they are assuming is a body-type diet without truly understanding what Ayurveda is suggesting when giving lists upon lists of ‘good and bad foods for your doshic body-type’ or considering what comes first or if it really suits them. Consider these things carefully over the next six weeks. Resist the urge to skip straight to step five and six!
Your six step plan:
Step one – Noticing what, why and how you eat:
Start to become aware of what you eat and how you eat and how you feel on your current diet. (If I tell you to ‘become aware of your shoulders’ or ‘listen to your breath’ some automatic changes in posture and rhythm of breath will be assumed without any force of will. Allow these natural changes to happen via the body’s own regulatory systems before taking over willfully.
Now you can start filling out a diet diary. Try this for one week before moving to step 2. You don’t have to do it every day or at every meal but be honest. Especially fill it in if you start thinking ‘well, I don’t usually eat like this so it’s irrelevant’.
Pick up a diet diary from me and start filling it in.
Step two – Your guts love routine:
Get a blank template of your week and work times (you can email me for this document or make your own).
Our digestive strength rises with the sun each day and sets with it at night. As we wake up it is good to have a high quality breakfast to ignite our sleeping digestive fire. During midday when the sun is high in the sky our digestive system is also at it’s peak. Plan your main meal for this time and feed yourself well and heartily! Plan your last meal of the day as quite a light meal and for before sunset. This will ensure that each night your digestion and therefore, your organs and your mind get the appropriate rest.
Now, using the schedule above, write in the times for breakfast, lunch and dinner for your schedule this month and try to stick to it. Adjust it whenever necessary as the days go by. By the end of the week you should have a rhythm which suits both your body and your lifestyle. Start to eat at regular times throughout the day. The most simple changes are often the most startling. Routine is the one thing that supports Vata dosha above all other changes. There is no reason to be inflexible about your meal times but there is certainly much benefit to be had by making an effort to have a routine regarding mealtimes. Never eat before digestion of the previous meal. Do this for about a week – don’t let the simplicity of this step fool you into thinking that the affects aren’t profound and far reaching!
Pick times each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and stick to them!
Step three – Making the common-sense changes first:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Deep-fried fast foods, foods cooked in re-used oils.
- Hydrogenated oil, margarine.
- Iodized salt
- White sugar
- Black tea
- Caffeinated drinks
- Hot peppers and pungent spices
Start to make obvious but vital changes in your diet. Cut out high fat, high salt, processed, junk foods and too many take-aways. Include more freshly made foods, make your meals simple (less ingredients/courses) and eat a sensible quantity (eating an amount that doesn’t change the ease of your breathing is one good way to judge serving sizes). Include plenty of fresh water in the mornings an hour or so before breakfast and between meals and cut down on caffeine and alcohol. Try to incorporate this step over the next week refining slowly before moving to step 4.
Start to make obvious but vital changes in your diet.
Step Four – Short Cleanse:
If you feel heavy, congested, bloated, uncomfortable or/and lethargic after eating or you feel that you have made positive dietary changes in the past and they haven’t given the expected beneficial results a cleanse can be a necessary first step before you move over to your body balancing diet.
If the digestion has become weak through improper dietary choices (you can see evidence of this if you stick out your tongue – can you see the teeth marks around the front third tip and sides?) then a cleanse can be just the thing to kick start your energy levels back up to optimal by giving your weak digestive system a much needed rest. If you are simply toxic (stick out your tongue again – does the top of your tongue have a slightly white coating even after brushing your teeth? Or is the front, middle or back third heavily coated white or yellowish?) then this same cleanse can help remove the build up of waste both on the top of the tongue and throughout the entire digestive tract.
Cleanse and heal the body with a short detoxing diet.
Step Five – Doshic balance:
We need to co-ordinate our diet according to the climate/weather/environment inside the body aswell as outside. The climate inside the body is your vkrti or current doshic state. The short cleanse may have increased your energy levels and boosted your health substantially, but you can still feel even better! You can change your diet to include foods that are like a medicine for your particular body imbalance. If you body suffers with low back pain, anxiety and worry, insomnia and constipation then a diet which is warming, grounding,nourishing can be a remedy for you. Foods such as root vegetables, whole grains and warming spices are good choices for you. If your body suffers from inflammation, irritability, over-heating and itchy eyes then you can benefit by changing your diet to include foods that soothe and cool. Sweet fruits, coconut water, green leafy vegetables and bitter greens all help the body to cool off and rebalance. If you suffer from congestive disorders, hayfever, allergies, weight problems and feel slow and lethargic a hot, spicy, light diet can help you kick aside those health issues. Picking the right diet can be a medicine for the body. Not one size fits all, as with most things in life.
Eat the foods which are a balm for your ills.
Step Six – Seasonal Eating:
When you feel happy and healthy again you can leave aside your vkrti diet and eat seasonally. Seasons play an important role in Ayurveda. It is during the change of the seasons that doshas become disturbed easily and Ayurveda recommends going back to the short cleanse during these times to pacify agitated dosha and strengthen the body ready for the change in the elements. During a seasonal change due to the position of the sun, certain elements are either released or absorbed from the atmosphere. This also affects the presence of those elements within the body (dryness, heat, moisture, etc)
Each season is predominant in certain elements (earth, water, fire, air, space). To balance the body, seasonal changes in diet and lifestyle should be noted.
During the Winter eat more heavy, sweet and nourishing foods.
During the Spring eat a lighter fare and think about how to detox your diet.
During the Summer eat plenty of cooling fresh sweet fruits and bitter green veg.
During the Autumn eat foods that help ground and re-balance.
You will start to notice that the types of foods/diets recommended for each season are what naturally grows each season. Become re-aquainted to what Nature has to offer us in each season. It will be just the right foods to keep you healthy for the climate you are living in.
Start to eat seasonally.
To learn more about eating the Ayurvedic way and to receive personally tailored advice and handouts; diet diary, short cleanse info, diet for your dosha, seasonal dietary advice and a yoga audio download for your current state of dosha – please book an Ayurvedic consultation with me by emailing [email protected]