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!
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!
What is the ultimate purpose of good nutrition? Is it just to stay alive? Is it to avoid disease? We have so many food choices in our modern society, yet diet and nutrition are controversial and confusing subjects for most Westerners. Ayurveda, the traditional healing science of India, offers us a profound understanding of the ultimate purpose of good nutrition. Coming from the ancient Vedic tradition that valued spiritual enlightenment above all else, it's no surprise that Ayurvedic nutrition serves to further that same goal.
In the 2500 year old Ayurvedic text, Caraka Samhita, it is stated:
When diseases cropped up creating impediments in penance, abstinence, study, celibacy, religious observances and life-span of living beings, the holy great sages, out of sympathy on creatures, assembled on one of the auspicious sides of the Himalayas.
A challenge that comes up a lot with my patients is how to make time to prepare real, nutrient-dense meals. Believe it or not, this crucial piece to your overall health does not have to be time-consuming. Whether you're an athlete, a nursing mom, or just a busy person, you can easily incorporate highly nutritious superfoods into your meals. Given the stresses of today's modern lifestyle, it's more important than ever to take advantage of super nutritious foods. Number one, you get some serious bang for your buck. And when you feed yourself real nutrition, your appetite and cravings naturally fall into balance.
What is a Superfood?
Superfood is a term used to describe foods that are extremely nutrient-dense. Superfoods have been used throughout time by most cultures around the world to increase energy, vitality and endurance. Thanks to online shopping, now we can order superfoods from all around the globe. Some of these exotic superfoods you may have heard of: acai, goji berries, maca root, mangosteen, amalaki, hemp, blue-green algae. Many common fruits and vegetables are also super nutritious: blueberries, kale, and pomegranate, to name a few.
The great thing about superfoods is that when you eat a meal composed of these nutrient-dense items, you supply high-quality, readily available nutrition to your cells. So your body actually gets nourished and doesn't get as hungry as often. Cravings for empty foods - processed foods - go away. When you look at all the foods in your typical meal, how many of them are nutrient-dense, and how many are relatively, or totally, empty?
If your food is empty, no wonder you get hungry just a short while later.Your body is still starving for nutrition.
If you're one of the millions of people who suffer from low blood sugar, you probably have been advised to eat frequent, small meals throughout your day. Believe it or not, this advice is totally the opposite of what traditional Ayurvedic medicine recommends. As you've likely heard me say a million times, Ayurveda teaches that the root cause of all disease is improper digestion. So with this focus, you can trust Ayurveda to have a very thorough understanding of what optimal digestion is! What I'm about to explain to you may be contrary to what you've heard, but if you'd like to uncover the underlying cause of your blood sugar instability, check this out.
What Happens When You Eat Frequently
In our society, food is everywhere. It's almost hard to avoid eating all the time! Except breakfast, which people tend to skip. (Click here to read about the importance of breakfast.) But let's say you eat breakfast, and then around 10 am you have a muffin, or fruit, or nuts. Healthy snack, right? Well your digestive fire, your metabolic process, now turns its attention to the new food coming in. The problem here is that during the 5 or so hours between meals, you are really supposed to be burning fat, not new food.
Fat is our calm, stable, non-emergency fuel.
Stored in there, too, are all the fat-soluble toxins from the environment. So fat burning is totally crucial! Not just for weight loss, but to detoxify our bodies and also release the essential fatty acids and stable fuels that regulate our blood sugar levels, and in turn our mood and energy level. If we're constantly giving our digestion new food to focus on, then we never enter fat-burning mode.