I have experimented A LOT, with different diets. I have tried primal, paleo, AIP, Low Fodmap, vegan, vegetarian and now Ayurvedic. After having tried all these diets, I walk away with one practice: employing different diets at different times to feel my best. Because our bodies are constantly changing, one diet may be perfect for one time but not for another.
For the past 2 years however a modified version of paleo has been my GO TO. It’s anti-inflammatory, Gut healing, whole foods bases, includes ancestral practices and deeply nutritious. However curiosity has had the best of me and i’ve been really intrigued by the Ayurvedic diet. It’s thousands of years old, tried and tested. It’s based on bio-individuality as well as the energetics of your constitution and the environment that you are in. I LOVE that this diet changes depending on your particular constitution, imbalances, and environment. I’ve been experimenting with it now for almost a month and am very curious to see how I feel after two months of eating this way. I still don’t eat dairy so I’ve been doing a Vegan-ish version plus fish a couple times a week.
how it works
The Ayurvedic diet is quite complex but put simply, it is a diet that helps to bring in balance to your particular constitution. There are 3 different types of constitutions each one relating to one of the elements: Earth, Air, Fire. according to Ayurveda we all have a little of each, however we typically have one that is dominant or our constitution. Our dominant element determines our physical constitution, our body type, our personality and what we become prone to when out of balance.
So Ayurvedic practitioners collect data on what health problems you struggle with, how you are mentally, and personality wise to determine which element is your dominant and then treat you by bringing that element into balance. For example if your dominant element is fire and you are experiencing health problems related with too much fire (think heartburn or high blood pressure), then your diet would consist of more cooling alkaline foods to balance out your fire.
For some, you may find you are in the middle between two elements. Often people can be a combination of 2 elements being dominant. For example, I am a combination of air and fire.
Lastly, there is the element you were born with or your base element but you can always have an imbalance in any other element. Depending on your diet and lifestyle you can become out of balance in ANY ELEMENT, even one you are not dominant in. For example, if you are fire element but have been eating a lot of foods to induce Earth dominance, you can experience earth related health problems.
So before this gets too confusing let’s break down the 3 elements, or Doshas.
The 3 Doshas
The three Doshas are: Earth, Air, and Fire.
Let’s talk about Vata, or Air. When I was a child I was super skinny with long limbs and my appetite was so flighty, my Mom would chase me around with an egg yolk on a spoon praying I would get enough to eat. Vata’s typically tend to have very long and slender limbs, and tend to be very thin, think model body types. They are creative artistic types who can easily be swept up on a whim. However they can be indecisive and flaky. They tend to run cold, and enjoy warm tropical climates, because of their cold and dry constitution. They have irregular appetites, sometimes not hungry at all and at other times ravenous. They are grazers. They tend to struggle with digestive problems, often constipation and struggle with food sensitivities. This is believed to be because their appetite is so flighty, their digestive fire is very unreliable, either too high or too low.
Now it’s time to talk about Pita, or Fire.
I want you to meet my boyfriend, he is a very smart intelligent, driven and a highly athletic man. He has great ambitions and a great work ethic. BUT he can also get very irritable, has an insatiable appetite and his anger is quick to flare. He is textbook Pita. Pita’s tend to have very athletic and muscular builds. They also may have masculine facial features, such as a broad jaw line. Personality wise, they are more type A CEO types, who have BIG goals and are determined to see them through. They are very disciplined. Yet on the flip side they do have fiery personalities, both passionate and easily irritable. Health wise they tend to struggle with too much “acidity”, such as high blood pressure, acne, oily skin and indigestion. However they do have very strong digestive systems, because all that fire can burn up food really well.
Finally we come to Kapha, or Earth.
Kapha people are just that: Earthy. They tend to be very grounded and have a very calm demeanor. They take things at a slow pace and love to have their daily routine and rituals. They are the most Chill Dosha, which is something I really admire about them. They are also very nurturing people, who are great listener and advice givers. Physically they tend to be bigger boned, and can easily gain weight and struggle losing weight. They may actually have very light appetites but often use food as a coping mechanism. They also have very lustrous hair and glowing dewy skin. Their constitution is cold yet moist so they tend to have beautiful complications. An overbalance in too much Earth may result in depression and laziness. Health wise they may struggle with sluggish digestion resulting in bloating and water retention.
How to live for your dosha
Living for your Dosha means many things: 1. Identifying your dosha. 2. Identifying any imbalances with any of the doshas. 3. Eating and living to bring your doshas back in balance. For example, for me, I am a combination of Vata/Pitta. when my system and hormones are out of whack, I struggle with indecisiveness, constipation and scanty periods because of too much air in my element. So throughout this experiment I have been eating more warming and grounding foods and have been extra diligent with my grounding healthy habits of exercise and meditation.
However, just because I am mostly Vata doesn’t mean I can’t have a kapha imbalance. When I first moved to China, I was really homesick. I started to eat too many sweets, take too many naps, got depressed and gained weight. In that situation I was inducing a Kapha imbalance because of the way I was living.
I suggest look at what your current patterns are and think about where you may be out of balance and work backwards from there.
For Vata imbalances:
eating warm cooked foods are very important, as they ground you, especially during the cold and dry winter months. Certain spices and herbs can very grounding as well like cinnamon, garlic, and cloves. Soups, stews and sweet potatoes are the name of the game. Getting enough fat and protein is also important for grounding a flighty Vata, which is why perhaps I feel so great on a paleo diet.
For Pitta Imbalances:
because of too much fire or acidity, Ayurveda suggests more refreshing and cooling foods like cucumbers, butternut squash, and fresh salads and smoothies. Pita imbalances can also occur during the summer months, because of the heat in the environment. Mentally, pita’s do well with more earthy practices like mediation that help to snuff out a fiery temper.
For Kapha Imbalances:
Kaphas need movement to uproot their stuck ways, although it may feel like the last thing they want to do. Exercising is a great way to bring in balance a Kapha. Because a Kapha imbalance has slow digestion eating enough fiber is important and according to Ayurveda, they do well on a vegetarian diet. Fasting can also be helpful for a Kapha imbalance as it gives their digestive systems time to rest and increases insulin sensitivity.
After eating this way for 3 weeks, I honestly can’t say I feel terribly different. Maybe this is because I have been eating nutrient dense diet for years now or maybe it takes more time. However what I do like about this approach is it is quite surprising how accurate it is with the Doshas. When I was reading about the Vata dosha, i thought “how do they know me so well??”. It really is a science.
I also love that the diet and lifestyle is always changing and adapting to the seasons, the phase of life you are in and your body at this moment. It accepts that what you need now may not be what you need a year from now, which is a philosophy I have always abided by. I also love that in Ayurveda you prepare the food to be AS DIGESTIBLE as possible. For example, soaking nuts and legumes to break down lectins and preparing them with ginger. It’s all about unlocking the nutrients and making it more bioavailable. Eventually I will probably return to my Paleo way of eating but I will start to incorporate a lot of the concepts from Ayurveda and perhaps make my own hybrid of the two.
Stay tuned for my update at the end of this experiment.