It seems that our modern society has a love/hate relationship with food. We promote the high calcium levels in milk (actually lower than most leafy greens), but quickly turn on it when it appears to cause allergies. We talk about the need for more fiber in our diets, but bemoan grains for allegedly making us gain weight and cause inflammation.
Ayurveda, a science that spans more than 5,000 years, has been around as many diet trends have come and gone. As people continuously look for health by restricting or over-analyzing their diets in new ways, Ayurveda remains an infinitely simpler way to build a positive relationship with food – by treating ourselves as individuals composed of the same five elements as everything in nature and approaching eating as a sacred act.
One size can’t fit all
The most important thing that Ayurveda teaches us is that each one of us has a unique constitution. This means we digest different foods in different ways, depending on our state of balance, where we live and the way we approach eating. There are some Ayurvedic concepts that apply to most everyone, such as eating fruit as a separate meal because fruit digests much faster than other foods, but taken as a whole, the guidelines Ayurveda offers are just that – guidelines. While some online dosha quizzes will have you believe that you are a dosha and should follow one food list for life, a true Ayurvedic approach is to become a student of your own body. With that understanding, you can make conscious decisions about how and what you eat and track how you feel so that you can have vibrant health throughout your life.
Most modern diet trends offer rules that apply to every person, regardless of your constitution, environment or lifestyle. Most of these rules are passed down through the Internet or books, few come from a practitioner who spends the time to understand you as the whole, complex being you are. Give yourself the gift of understanding your body on every level by working with a practitioneror in close self-study, as opposed to finding a category in a book that is “close enough.”
The initial feel-good effect
When many people take on a diet, such as gluten-free or paleo, they often see a positive initial response. Skin issues clear up, digestion seems easier – even their mental outlook improves. But over time, health effects usually dwindle and people are left with a diet that is restrictive and unsatisfying to their body and spirit.
The reason for this initial improvement can usually be traced back to a poor diet prior to starting the diet. If you ate a lot of fast food or junk food, just eliminating those will significantly improve how you feel. You might stop eating as many prepared foods and add more vegetables, fruits and whole foods to your plate, which will always bring a positive effect. But diets that mask or create greater imbalance in your body instead of addressing the underlying issues will catch up, sometimes quickly, sometimes in a few years, depending on your unique constitution. The initial boost will eventually go bust.
The root of food allergies and indigestion
Food allergies and inflammatory conditions are often what drive people to diets. This is for good reason – the modern diet and lifestyle has wreaked havoc on our digestive tracts. Eating processed food, not chewing adequately and ignoring digestive ailments at the first sign all contribute to indigestion and the related food allergies and illnesses. Food that is undigested from lack of chewing – or is indigestible from chemicals or processing – remains in your small intestine until it has fermented (rotted) enough to pass through to the large intestine. This prevents the proper absorption of nutrients, depletes your body of its full health and causes gas, bloating and other symptoms. If your digestion has been in this state for a while, some foods, such as wheat or dairy, may seem to blame, when, in fact, the issue is the lack of proper digestion itself.
Instead of adopting a restrictive diet, a well-rounded Ayurvedic approach is to remove processed foods, eat in a way that allows you to chew thoroughly (avoiding television, driving or reading during meals) and tune in to the messages your body sends you each day about what brings optimum health and what brings illness.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the Ayurvedic perspective on four modern diet trends:
Your body is a work of art. A diet that is balanced and tailored to your specific constitution will always bring health. Rather than restrict or over-analyze what you eat, allow yourself to rejoice in the beauty of a sattvic Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle. This is the true seat of health and harmony, one that will continue to nourish you long after these trends have come and gone.
Want more tips like about how to eat for a great life? Tune in your body by tuning in to Hale Pule’s monthly podcast, Everyday Ayurveda and Yoga.