Something that has fascinated me for a long time is what people eat. I remember being eleven years old and proclaiming to my mom that I wanted to be a vegetarian. I also remember re-introducing meat into my diet after an illness and how much energy I got from that one Costco chicken wing… I have “changed my diet” more than once, always in an effort to improve my health, my energy, my immunity, or the clarity of my mind. Food matters – how do we know what to choose?
Ayurveda believes there are three main pillars of health; they are nourishment (which includes food), sleep, and the management of our vital energy. Food falls into the very first pillar of health… It is that important.
Over the past decade of practice, research and education I have learned that there are many different views on food and diet. There are many different diets. Ayurveda teaches us that everyone has different needs based on their unique elemental composition (known in sanskrit as “dosha”).
It’s not what you eat, it’s what you digest…
Interestingly, Ayurveda is less interested in what you eat, and more interested in what you digest… You can eat whatever you want, however if you are unable to digest it, then it is not going to support your health.
Medicine vs Poison…
The Ayurvedis believe that everything in this world is both a medicine and a poison at the same time. The determination of if something is a medicine or a poison for you is whether you can digest it or not. If you can digest it, it has medicinal potential. If you cannot, it becomes poison. So if you are lactose intolerant, then dairy will never be your medicine no matter how well it works for someone else… and the same holds true with any other allergy or sensitivity or food (even broccoli).
There is an interesting nuance here, which is that something can be a medicine UNTIL you cannot digest it, then that very same thing becomes poison – we could refer to this as ‘dosage’ or amount consumed. My favorite example of this is chocolate. Likely a piece of chocolate would be fine, but three family size chocolate bars – very different story.
And since our digestion is affected by more than just the food we eat, we know it is affected by our mental-emotional state, when we eat can also make a difference. If you are stressed or upset, it is unlikely that you will digest any of what you are eating, because your energy is trying to digest the thoughts and feelings. Then something that is typically so “healthy” for you (and usually digestible), might not be healthy or nourishing for you given your state of being.
There is not a “one size fits all” meal plan that will work for everyone…
We are each unique, and we will have unique dietary needs that will shift with the seasons, with age, and with our state of health. I’ve learned that my diet is an ongoing process – and there is always the opportunity to refine what I chose to eat as I understand myself and what I need better.
Generally speaking, those with more earth element will benefit from lighter foods, those with more fire element will benefit from more cooling foods, and those with more air element will benefit from denser, heavier foods.
There are a few things we can keep in mind to help us in our exploration as we figure out what works for us:
– Eat locally.
– Eat simply.
– Eat seasonally*.
The invitation for the next few weeks is to consider – what are you digesting? What aren’t you digesting? How does it feel? What happens if you simplify? Eat local? Eat seasonally?
Enjoy your self-exploration!
peace & love,
*If you’re not sure which foods are actually seasonal – which is challenging when stores provide you with foods from all over the world, from every season, all year round – you could shop at the Farmers’ Market or check out The 3-Season Diet by Dr. John Douillard (or check his website at www.lifespa.com )