Diet is a controversial word these days. When many people think of the word diet, they think of restrictions. Restriction of types of foods, amounts of foods, and amount of total intake for the purpose of losing weight or creating a particular physical change.
What is diet?
Diet is actually something that we all engage in everyday, regardless of any parameters that we do or do not put around our eating. For example, someone who eats processed, sugary, fatty foods is engaging in a processed, sugary, fatty diet. Someone who eats fresh, whole foods that are easily digested is engaging in a fresh, whole food, easily digested diet. Each of these will have impacts on our physical health, state of mind, emotions, and ability to spiritually connect.
Diet is simply the foods that we consume on a regular, daily basis. The concept of diet itself - that which we consume - is expansive with unlimited possibility and the potential for immense creativity. It can take us in one of two directions depending on how we approach it: a health promoting direction or a disease promoting direction.
“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”
The Ayurveda Approach to Diet
Diet is considered one of the main and most important tools that we have to empower our health, immunity, vitality, and total well-being.
Ayurveda is a science and an art. The science aspect helps us understand the way our body operates so we can work within those parameters, and helps us understand cause and effect so we can make our choices wisely. The art aspect helps us learn to be aware of the state of our digestive system and the condition of our doshas (which reflect in the symptoms we have at any given time) on a daily basis so that we can flex and flow - and be creative and free - within the structure of honoring what is natural and necessary for having a human body.
When we understand how our digestive system works and how food is leading to our increase or reduction in symptoms, we can make informed choices on a daily basis that supports our health and vitality.
Ayurveda approaches everything in life, including food, as not inherently good or bad. Everything has qualities that have effects, and most anything can be used medicinally in some way.
Understanding the digestive system
Understanding the digestive system is an essential first step in improving our health and diet. If we aren’t consuming food in a way that our body can process and digest then we can eat the best food on the planet and still create metabolic toxins that lead to poor immunity, fatigue, symptoms, and disease.
This is why there is emphasis not just on what to eat, but how to eat. How we eat makes a tremendous difference in absorbing and assimilating nutrients into the body.
This includes practices such as chewing our food well, which is essential for the digestive process to happen properly, and avoiding overeating because when there's too much food in the body it’s like an over-full blender that can’t mix the digestive enzymes properly with the food. It leads to the production of ama (metabolic toxins) that weaken the digestive system and travel to weak places in the body and become the sites of disease.
It also includes understanding how the six tastes play an important part in digestion and overall health, the proportions of types of foods (based on the tastes of foods) that we consume in a meal and shifting our emphasis to fresh, wholesome foods that have maximum prana, or life-force, that is directly related to our level of vitality.
Once we ground in understanding how to eat the food we consume and we are including all six tastes and balanced proportions of types of food in our meals, then we can refine what foods we are eating based on the symptoms we are experiencing. We create a structure, or framework, in which we can flow.
There is unlimited possibility for enjoyment and health. Ayurveda is not limited to rice and beans, it is not only Indian food, and it is not complicated or confusing. Ayurveda teaches principles of how to understand and support our digestive system, understand cause and effects, and how to emphasize fresh whole foods in the diet to feel our best. It can include all kinds of foods, all type of cultural influences, flavors, and spices, and meals can be as simple or as extravagant as you would like them to be.
Through the Ayurveda approach to diet, we learn how to intuitively and fluidly observe and respond to our digestive state and symptoms so that we can enjoy the beauty and enjoyment that food offers us while respecting the capacity of our digestive system and enhancing our health.