When it comes to food, we cannot take a one size fits all approach because each individual is unique with their own unique requirements. Moreover, our dietary choices are very closely linked to our emotions, lifestyle, circumstances, stress levels, genetics, age, and environment. So, we need to have a holistic approach that looks at food as more than just calories or macros. Food is a source of energy, nutrition, medicine, sensory satisfaction, cultural connection and even stress management.
All of these are aspects we end up ignoring when we start following fad diets, usually in our quest to get thinner or leaner. We end up ignoring our intuition and get on the journey of either denying or forcing some foods on ourselves by labelling them as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. Whereas the truth is that only a very few dieters manage to sustain their weight loss. Research has shown that majority of people regain the weight that they lose after dieting, and some even gain more weight.
And that’s why we need to circle back to the foundations of our food culture, which is rooted in Ayurveda. Because it will teach you to reconnect with your intuitive intelligence and help you customize your lifestyle as per your personality type, environment and circumstances.
Here’s how you can begin this journey
1. Moderation: The core principle of both Ayurveda and Yoga is moderation. In terms of diet it is called Mitahara. Moderation is sustainable and can be practiced by everyone without disrupting their physical or mental health. Ayurveda discourages both over indulgence and suppression of hunger. Therefore, instead of taking extreme steps in any direction, choose a moderate diet. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not.
2. Mindfulness: Often times we eat not because we’re hungry, but because we’re stressed. Especially when we have intense sweet cravings it is generally the body trying to self-medicate for stress. You eat sugar in its various forms, as you temporarily feel better. Equally, if you have anxiety you may crave more of salty foods as it’s linked with Vata Dosha.
In order to manage these cravings, you must make time for stress management practices like gentle yoga stretches, pranayama or meditation. In the long run, they will make you more mindful and reduce the stress hormones in the body, thereby reducing food cravings.
3. Intuition: An ancillary benefit of mindfulness is that you become more self-aware. With awareness, comes better intuitive understanding of the body and how it responds to various food products. That’s why you may notice that when people start practicing yoga and meditation their food habits automatically start changing. They don’t force themselves to eat more ‘sattvic’ food, it just naturally starts happening with practice. However, this takes time, so don’t expect sudden transformation. It typically takes at least 20-30 min of daily meditation practice for around three months for changes to start showing. This may vary from person to person.
4. Constitution: This refers to your personality type which is identified after a comprehensive Ayurvedic Assessment. This is usually a combination of these three doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata people tend to be more air dominant and do better with warm, cooked meals, with healthy fats. Pitta people do better with a mixed diet which is less spicy, more naturally sweet and colourful, they would need their carbs. Kapha people do best with raw and light foods. To make some generalisations here, one can say that Vata people may do well on a high fat diet, and Kapha people may do well on a plant based raw food diet. But conversely, a Vata person on a raw food diet would end up suffering from severe bloating, gas and indigestion. Kapha person on a high fat diet may create even more sluggishness that could result in constipation or kidney problems.
A pitta person deprived of carbs may be cranky, irritable, and low on energy. And could develop liver issues, as that’s an organ influenced by Pitta dosha. Therefore, it is important to embrace your uniqueness, and listen to your body.
5. Seasonality: Last but not the least, you don’t have to eat the same type or quantity of food all year round. Your food preferences may change with seasons, or change in your environment.
Be open to that, listen to the body and explore the produce that’s available locally in your region. It will be highly nourishing and satisfying.
(The author is a Yoga and Ayurveda Lifestyle Specialist, Founder -Yoganama)
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