Adopting new food habits is probably one of the hardest, if not the very hardest, things in our life to do. We all have so many attachments to certain foods and the feelings we associate with them. Believe me, mine come up all of the time. According to Ayurveda, there is a "Yes" food list and a "No" food list for each constitutional type. You can imagine the look on my patients' faces when I show them the Ayurvedic Dietary Guidelines handout and they see all of their favorite foods on the "Avoid" list! Over the past 13 years in practice, I've realized that equally important to steering my patients in the right direction as far as "what" to eat, is "how" to make the change to an Ayurvedic diet. Here are some tips and a video that are really helpful to make your Ayurvedic diet, or any diet for that matter, stick.
Get psyched about the great foods that are on your "Yes" list instead of lamenting the foods on your "No" list. This helps put you in an abundance mindset instead of a deprivation one.
Put the foods to emphasize and to avoid on a continuum. I always highlight the most beneficial foods and the most extreme offenders. For example, Pitta people really benefit from alkalinizing, cooling foods like cucumbers, cilantro, mint, and leafy greens. I highlight those. On the "No" list, there are many things that are mildly Pitta-aggravating and also quite a few that are severely Pitta-aggravating. I highlight those extreme foods, like chiles, raw onion, garlic, fried foods, sour juices, and vinegars. When you're first starting out, it's a lot easier to favor and avoid those few than the whole list. There's plenty of time to move toward following the whole list.
Bring mindfulness into your experience of eating. I spend a lot of time educating my patients about why the food guidelines are what they are. I find that it helps them, as it helps me, to understand why the spicy, salty, and sour foods are on the avoid list, for example. How they can make Pitta people hotter, more irritable, and more acidic. Likewise, it makes choosing beneficial foods more enjoyable. Making food choices from a mindful, educated place is very different than eating while on auto-pilot. We have more awareness of why we are making choices (so often emotional reasons like if you're eating a pint of ice cream because you're depressed) and then, so importantly, how it feels in our body to eat. When we eat mindfully we tend to more slowly, and usually lesser amounts. We notice how we feel eating, and how we feel afterwards. I have my Ayurvedic Nutrition students keep a food journal with notes about how they felt afterwards, how their energy was, how they slept, eliminated, etc. This way you notice what the foods you eat most are really doing to you!
There are more great tips in the video below about creating healthy habits. Leo Babauta, the founder of the very successful blog Zen Habits, is interviewed by Matt Frazier, founder of No Meat Athlete. They discuss becoming vegetarian and training for marathons, and refer constantly to how these habits apply to adopting any new habit.
How have you made the transition to an Ayurvedic diet? What was the hardest part? What helped you the most? Please share your comments below!
I was recently asked about the epidemic numbers of people suffering from food allergies, specifically dairy and soy products. This population in the U.S. is so large that in fact the foods themselves have come to be considered generally "bad." While certain natural substances are indeed toxic, these foods are not, in and of themselves, actually the problem. The problem lies, as you will see, in the conditions in which these foods are produced, as well as the condition of most people's digestion in modern society. Below are the many reasons why dairy and soy have become such serious food issues, some of which come from the traditional wisdom of Ayurvedic medicine, and some of which are explained by modern environmental and nutritional science.
Last week I had the honor of being interviewed about Ayurveda, nutrition, and cleansing on a yoga-oriented internet radio show called "Where is My Guru." I love the name of the show because the answer to that question is the profound, empowering teaching "The guru is in you." These fun girls interview all kinds of guests in the yoga/wellness/sustainability world. We talk a lot about daily and seasonally cleansing, the proper mindset and intention to help you lose weight, and how to get our kids to make healthy food choices. Have a listen, make a comment, and check out their other shows as well!
There are so many theories about why we each are the way we are. While there's no one answer to this, the ancient science of Ayurveda offers a very logical, simple explanation based on the universal five elements found in nature and within each of us. People in the West are now becoming more familiar with this Ayurvedic concept of constitutional types, and you can easily find quizzes that are supposed to help you determine which Ayurvedic type you are. But it's actually very hard to discern the difference between your original constitution and your present imbalance. There are a million reasons why we might be experiencing a present imbalance. Here's an explanation of the difference between who you are meant to be, i.e. in a balanced state, and who you may be today.
How I Learned That I Wasn't Who I Thought I Was
My first exposure to Ayurveda was in 1991 through Dr. Vasant Lad's book, Ayurveda The Science of Self-Healing. I took the quiz in the book to determine which Ayurvedic type I was, and after answering all of the questions, I concluded that I was predominantly Kapha (earth + water). I began to identify with all of the attributes of a Kapha person and started to see myself in the world as that. There was a great deal of comfort in finally understanding why I was the way I was -- sometimes lazy, sometimes greedy, usually even-tempered, always congested, and adoring of my bed.
Summer is upon us, and thanks to climate change it feels hotter than ever in Santa Fe. I wish I could tell you that the ancient medical science of Ayurveda holds the key to controlling the weather. But the truth is that it does contain the secrets to staying cool when the temperature is reaching record highs. Summer is fire season, and when you learn what to eat and how to act to balance this element, you will feel cooler and more comfortable all season long.
Ayurveda describes summer as Pitta season. Pitta is made of fire and water, and its qualities are hot, sharp, oily, and light. During summer season you can reduce Pitta heat within your own body by eating a diet of cooling foods.
Most people regardless of their Ayurvedic constitution will feel more comfortable during the summertime by following a Pitta reducing diet. The best foods to keep you cool during summer are watermelon, cucumber, mint, coconut, summer squash, fennel, cilantro, and aloe vera. It's best to avoid spicy, acidic and greasy foods during summer as they will increase the heat in your body and make you feel hotter. For a complete list of Pitta reducing foods, open the food guidelines PDF here.
It's important during every season to exercise regularly, but the type of exercise you do should be in balance with the time of year. During the heat of summer, it's best to swim and do gentle yoga. If you prefer biking and running, try to save it for the early morning and evening when the temperature is slightly cooler.
A lot of people who do yoga love Bikram's hot yoga, but I would encourage switching to a cooler type during the heat of summer. Specific yoga postures and breathing exercises are more cooling than others. Moon Salutation is more appropriate during summer than Sun salutation for example. For instructions on how to do Moon Salutation, click here.
Here's a video demonstrating a Pitta reducing yoga practice that is really helpful for cooling your whole system during the heat of summer.
Ayurveda is big on oil, both internally and externally. I've written before about the calming effects of massaging warm oil into your body before bathing, but in summer it's important to use a cooling oil made with cooling herbs. Especially if you have trouble sleeping because of the heat at night, you'll love rubbing Brahmi Oil made from coconut oil and brahmi (gotu kola) into the soles of your feet and the scalp to calm the mind and promote restful sleep. You can use it on your whole body as well to counteract summer dryness and dehydration.
Keeping It Cool
I hope you try some of these suggestions from Ayurveda for staying cool this summer. Of course, if you tend to be cold no matter what or you live in the Arctic, then you should follow a plan appropriate to your particular situation. Most people, however, will notice a real difference in their experience of summer heat when they take action to keep their internal cooling system working at its best.