“May the food we are eating make us aware of the interconnections between the universe and us, the earth and us, and all other living species and us. Because each bite contains in itself the life of the sun and the earth, may we see the meaning and value of life from these precious morsels of food.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Diet is a major factor contributing to the health of the body and the mind. One of the main causes of obesity is unhealthy eating habits including overeating and eating unhealthy foods. We sometimes get so carried away indulging into the taste of food, that we often forget the purpose of eating, to maintain healthy functioning of the body and mind. Learning how to evenly balance the specific nutritional needs with delicious flavors is key in the Ayurvedic diet and healthy living.
Before diving into what specific foods to eat according to the Ayurvedic diet for obesity, we first must understand general guidelines on how to eat. These guidelines help us to create healthy habits for consumption. Some of these include:
- Eat only when you feel hungry
- Eat at a moderate pace, not too fast or too slow
- Eat freshly cooked meals whenever possible
- Wait until one meal is digested before eating the next one (Intervals of 2-4 hours for light meals, and 4-6 hours for full meals)
- Leave 1/3 to 1⁄4 of your stomach empty to aid digestion
- Eat your largest meal at lunch around noon time when digestion is strongest
- Give Thanks
It is recommended for someone looking to lose weight to first follow these guidelines before cutting calories. “You will be surprised to find that your excess weight is caused not just by what you’ve been eating but by how you’ve been eating it – carelessly or compulsively, on the run instead of sitting down, between meals instead of at regular hours. There are simple things, of course, but they make a big difference.” (ChayaVeda Ayurvedic Yoga Immersion Manual).
An important guideline to note is the difference between the breakfast and lunch meals compared to dinner. Breakfast and lunch should be fuller meals, lunch being the larger meal around noon, while dinner is on the lighter side not later than 6 or 7pm. The dinner meal should be healthy and simple while still delightful to the taste buds. Because humans do not produce much bile at night to digest food, the meal should be easy to digest. The later you eat, the lighter the meal needs to be.
Ayurveda’s essential focus when eating is mindfulness. This means savoring every bite, feeling the textures, tasting both the obvious and the subtle notes of flavor, and bringing awareness into how the body feels during and after consumption. Mindful eating aids in digestion by eating at a natural rhythm, alerts us to stop eating when full, expands our intuition on suitable food choices, and brings a sense of connection with our food and the earth which gives rise to our food. Mindful eating supports wellness and may also promote weight loss.
Our body’s intuition is a strong guidance system that gives us many signs about what and how we consume. Listening to and honoring the body’s communication helps us live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Sometimes certain foods don’t seem to sit right in our stomachs, this is a sign that either the food is not right for us and/or our metabolism or digestive fire (agni) is disturbed, making the food toxic to the body at that moment. That does not necessarily mean that the food itself is toxic, but rather the body’s way of simply telling us that whatever was consumed was not needed to support the body’s current state.
Ayurveda provides guidelines to help us choose the right foods and combinations of food to avoid feelings of unsettled digestion. Ayurveda provides ways of improving metabolism and lists of incompatible foods to avoid eating together. For example, not mixing dairy with fish, eggs or meat, not mixing raw foods with cooked foods, as they are incompatible. Another example is fruits, which should be eaten alone with the exception of apples, pears, dates, and coconuts. Incompatible foods are those that do not digest properly when consumed together, creating undigested food that leads to the production of toxins (ama), clogging the channels in the body and mind, hindering digestion, slowing metabolism and resulting in imbalance and disease.
Individuals with obesity are likely to be experiencing a kapha-imbalance, as explained in previous parts of this blog series, so the individual should consume foods which reduce kapha and balance the doshas. The kapha-individual should consume vegetables and foods that are pungent and bitter, such as broccoli, collards, and asparagus. All spices are great to reduce kapha, except salt. Honey, raw and unprocessed, is a suitable sweetener for these individuals as it is hot, astringent and dry. The kapha-predominant individual should avoid sweet, sour and salty tastes, packaged, frozen, cold, deep-fried, heavy, fermented and processed foods. They should avoid eating large quantities of food at one time and avoid eating at night, favoring foods that are pungent, bitter and astringent, that are also light and dry. Below is an example and recipe of a kapha-reducing meal, Mung Dal Kitchari.
Mung Dal Kitchari - KAPHA
Serves up to 4-6 – V↓, P↓, K↓
- 1 cup yellow split mung dal
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 3 tbsp. ghee
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 small pieces cinnamon bark
- 4 whole cloves
- 4 whole cardamom pods
- 6 cups water
- ¼ tsp. salt
- Wash the mung dal and rice twice. Soak the dal for a few hours, if you have time.
- Heat a saucepan on medium and add the ghee. When it is hot, put it in the bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and stir until the spices are mixed and fragrant.
- Mix in the rice, dal, salt, and water. Cook at a low boil, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Cover and cook on low heat until the dal and rice are soft, about 25-30 minutes.
*This kitchari recipe is tridoshic, but especially good for kapha because of the warming and pungent qualities of the spices.
While in Western culture, weight reduction is focused on fad-diets and cutting calories, the Ayurvedic approach focuses on eating whole foods that induce balance and harmony within the body and mind, based on each individual’s unique constituents. Because our body and personality are constantly changing, how, when, and what we eat should also change to cater to our needs. Eating based on the blend of dosha imbalance, intuition, and mindfulness leads to the removal of obesity and disease and in turn promotes radiant health of the body and mind.
Check our resource page for an AMA Questionnaire to see more about what symptoms let you know if you are accumulating AMA, and another recipe for AMA Reducing Dahl.