I recently shared with you why I’m a big believer of a NO-DIET plan and a balanced lifestyle. (If you haven’t checked out, READ HERE). That being said, there are some dietary theories and lifestyles that I believe have good backing, lots of positive research showing their benefits, and are good for you to know more about. It doesn’t mean you have to follow their “rules” 100% (again, I personally prefer not to follow strict rules with diet), BUT their principles are extremely beneficial in achieving and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle that can help you reach (and sustain) your health goals.
I wanted to share a bit about the principles of AYURVEDA, which I personally apply a lot in my personal life and with my health coaching clients.
Ayurveda literally means “the science of life” (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). It’s an ancient holistic healing science from India that’s been in practice for over 5,000 years, and focuses on all areas of health, including diet, mind (& mindfulness), lifestyle (encompassing both exercise & sleep), and places a big emphasis on DIGESTION and DETOXIFICATION (which I love and believe is KEY).
Ayurveda is centered around achieving BALANCE on all levels of being, not just eating a healthy diet.
The aim in Ayurveda is to reach a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance.
According to Ayurveda, we (like everything in the universe) are made up of five elements; earth, water, fire, air and space. We all contain these same five elements in different amounts. The combination of these different elements together with prana (or life energy) forms our “doshas” which are essentially our personal “constitutions.” There are 3 doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. We all have some of each, but in varying degrees. We tend to have 1-2 dominating doshas, and keeping these doshas balanced (via diet and lifestyle adjustments) is the key to achieving our optimal health.
I love Ayurveda because it really helps us to better understand ourselves – and others! Once you start to understand Ayurveda, you realize why you (or your spouse/friend/family member) is so chatty yet forgetful (excess Vata), while someone else is super intense and competitive (Pitta), and that other person is super relaxed, zen, but a bit lazy (Kapha). It gives us great perspective into the differences between people, and truly emphasizes that what works for one person (to achieve health, optimal weight etc) is totally different than what works for another person.
Here is a “beginner’s dive” into our Ayurvedic doshas and a few takeaways that you can apply today:
VATA is made up of the elements air and space, and is said to govern all movement. The qualities of Vata are light, dry, airy, quick, and cold. Physically, Vata-dominant people are usually thin, either tall or little, and have asymmetrical features. When “Vatas” are in balance, they are creative, sweet, friendly, eloquent and easily adaptable. Thin but healthy. When Vatas are out of balance, they get very stressed, anxious, afraid and have difficulty concentrating. Physically they tend to suffer from constipation, bloating and dryness.
A few things to help balance Vata:
A regular, consistent ROUTINE.
Eating lots of grounding root vegetables, grains (preferably presoaked and well cooked), healthy fats such as ghee, nuts/seeds and bone broth (if not vegan).
Avoiding dry and very cold foods; limiting salads.
Regular yoga and/or barre (or similar exercise), long walks and meditation are key.
Spending time in nature, going to bed early and engaging in contemplative activities also helps.
Avoid over-exercising. Take time regularly for SELF-CARE and relaxation.
PITTA, heat, is made up of the elements fire and water. Pitta governs digestion, nutrition, metabolism and body temperature. The qualities of Pitta are hot, sour, pungent, sharp and acidic. Pitta people tend to have strong digestion. Physically, they’re usually medium weight and athletic build. When Pittas are in balance, they are intelligent, cerebral and sharp. When out of balance, they are overly competitive, easily angered and often hot. Pittas tend towards getting red, and skin issues such as rosacea and rashes. Digestion-wise, an imbalance can lead to acid reflux and/or diarrhea/loose stools.
A few things to help balance Pitta:
Avoid very spicy, hot foods, and instead fill up on cooling foods such as cucumber, mango, coconut, lime and mint. Avoid doing exercise in the heat.
Limit caffeine, alcohol and excessive red meat.
Be careful not to over work nor do too many competitive exercises; instead opt for peaceful, calming activities.
Eat in a peaceful environment and avoid eating when upset or eating too quickly.
Be active but avoid activities that are too competitive, and avoid exercising in the heat.
KAPHA is made up of the elements earth and water. Kapha is our bones, muscles, teeth and everything dense in our bodies. The qualities of Kapha are slow, steady, heavy, oily, and cold. Physically, “Kaphas” tend to be bigger boned and have a tendency to be rounder / heavier/ bigger in size (though not always, and again, you can be more Kapha “mind” and less Kapha “body”). When Kapha people are in balance, they are strong, calm, loving, nurturing and grounded. When out of balance, they are often lazy, needy, melancholy and heavy in body (and mind), and in terms of digestion, they can accumulate excess mucus.
A few things to help balance Kapha:
Exercise daily, opting for more rigorous exercise.
Eat lots of leafy green vegetables. Raw salads and fresh cold-pressed green juices are great.
AVOID / LIMIT: heavy, dense meals. Minimize red meat, fatty foods, salt, sugar, dairy
Regularly check in with your emotions and try expressing them to a close friend/family member. Do more introspective activities like meditation and journaling. Practice self-love and self-acceptance.
Avoid overeating, avoid naps, and do lots of outdoor activities.
You can take a questionnaire (like this one) to determine your dosha; or if you’re lucky and have access to a professional Ayurvedic practitioner, they can look at you and read your pulse and give you a more accurate description of your strengths and imbalances.
As a health coach and huge fan of Ayurveda, I have over time acquired more and more knowledge in Ayurveda and apply certain aspects of Ayurveda (like the above principles and recommendations) on a daily basis with my clients, so reach out to me if you want to learn a bit more of what works for you (and what doesn’t).