Tonight I attended a lecture on ayurveda with Sahara Rose of Eat Feel Fresh. Sahara is a certified holistic, ayurvedic and sport nutritionist who is known for blending ancient Eastern healing wisdom with modern Western nutritional science. It was a great time to schedule the lecture with the start of a new season (fall) when our bodies transition to a new phase of weather. Although I live in Southern California and it may seem like the seasons don't change here, we also experience a cooler climate that affects the way we will be eating and feeling. Sahara stresses the importance of eating organically grown seasonal produce, which I strongly agree with. It doesn't make sense to be eating a diet of tropical fruit imported from Costa Rica when you are in a city experiencing cooler weather and a different agricultural landscape. If you notice that even though you have always been eating the same diet but the foods that gave you life and vibrancy in the summer months are now making you feel cold, lethargic or bloated, it has a lot to do with the seasonality of the ingredients you are using in your kitchen.
Ayurveda focuses on doshas (energies) and believes that in order for our bodies to stay in equilibrium, we must eat foods that will balance our energies. The three doshas ayurvedic practices describe are vata, pitta and kapha.
Vata is known as the wind energy and common behaviors of a vata personality include multitasking, forgetfulness and other airy qualities. If our vata energy is too high, we can experience bloating, constipation and other drying sensations (dry skin, chapped lips, etc.) To balance a vata dosha, we must eat warming foods like quinoa porridge for breakfast, spice tea (Sahara recommends a blend of cinnamon, fennel, turmeric and ginger) and avoid cooling or dry foods like crackers or smoothies.
Pitta is the fire energy and can be best described as a personality with determination, impatience, irritability and can lead to physical bodily symptoms like acid reflux, overheating and acne. To balance out a pitta energy, cooling foods that would not work for a vata can actually be optimal. Think cold smoothies for breakfast, raw salads and avoiding stimulants like caffeine (coffee, chocolate, alcohol and spicy food). The spice tea is also a great option for pittas because spices work as adaptogens in the body and can help regulate blood sugar and overall hormonal health.
A kapha energy is one of grounding and routine, best describing personalities of people who tend to live in the past, can sometimes be lazy or uninspired to exercise. This type of person may also notice that even if they don't eat a lot, they tend to gain weight easily and feel heavy after meals. This energy can lead to emotional overeating, lethargy and stubbornness. Kaphas need to be motivated by exercise to help remove the stagnate energy from their body and to increase circulation and metabolism. They will thrive on eating less meals and following their intuitive hunger cues to curate an eating schedule. Foods that can improve a kapha's energy are vegetables, beans and avoiding dairy.
Sahara explains that we are all born with one dosha, but our lifestyle and daily practices may have shifted our dosha to another energy. This is why you may associate with more than one characterization from the energies I previously listed. She encourages us to return to our roots and to remind ourselves of the foods we ate as children and the foods our ancestors grew up on. This way of intuitive eating may bring us out of a diet rut we may be currently experiencing, particularly if we fell off the wagon with healthy eating. If the concept of ayurvedic diets is too overwhelming to handle, start by going to your local farmer's market and buying what's in season (everything sold at the market). Prepare foods using these ingredients and incorporate spices that can be readily available at any grocery store. Strive to eat organic so that the pesticides in your food don't effect your gut bacteria and lead to further illnesses.
While I am not a huge follower of ayurvedic practices because I don't see the correlation between ancient Indian wisdom and twenty first century life in the western world, I think that the practices of these traditions should be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle. Ayurveda encourages to eat mindfully and mostly plant based and to stick to a routine. I also think that incorporating more spices and root vegetables into your diet during the winter months will do wonders for your overall wellbeing because you will be eating closer to nature and get the warming sensation your body craves as it gets colder outside.