In today’s society, if you tell people you’re on a diet, your intentions are likely to be misunderstood. Most people are familiar with the damage done by fad diets that have no scientific basis (or positive results) for their claims. Nobody wants their friends or family to get sucked into one of those fads.
The Oxford dictionary defines diet in several ways. The first definition reads, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” Another definition is, “a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.”
Most people are familiar with the latter definition, but that definition evolved out of popular usage. The word ‘diet’ was not created to describe a weight loss protocol. The word “diet” is derived from the Greek term diata, which means “a way of life.”
Obsessive fad dieting can be damaging, but not everyone is trying to be supermodel thin, and not all diets are dangerous. Many people approach diets safely, and others adopt a new diet along with a new lifestyle. Ayurveda is one of those lifestyles.
An Ayurvedic diet is a lifestyle
Ayurveda developed as a system of health and wellness thousands of years ago in India. The Art of Living, founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shanker, explains: “The word “Ayurveda” means “the knowledge of life”; “ayur” translates to “life,” and “veda” translates to “knowledge.” Unlike classical western medicine, Ayurveda seeks to help the practitioner achieve optimal wellness through balance and integration, and seeks to treat the root cause of illness, rather than the symptoms.”
In this holistic context, Ayurveda as a lifestyle seeks to balance thoughts, emotions, and the physical body in harmony with yourself and your environment. Part of achieving and maintaining this balance involves eating foods that support your body’s specific needs.
According to Ayurveda, your body’s specific dietary needs can be determined by your constitution.
Ayurvedic constitutions: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata
Constitution, also referred to as “dosha,” can be determined through observation. How your physical body expresses, and the way you move through the world will reveal your dosha. For example, if you’re thin and full of boundless energy, you’re probably Vata. If you’re naturally slow in movement and a carry some extra weight, you might be Kapha. If you’re somewhere in the middle, you’re likely Pitta.
An Ayurvedic diet optimizes digestion
The point of an Ayurvedic diet is to optimize digestion through consuming foods your body can use for optimal functioning. Eating for your dosha is like alchemy. Your body is already creating billions of internal chemical reactions. Add the wrong ingredient to the mixture, and you won’t get the desired result.
Each dosha benefits from a slightly different dietary regimen due to differences in how each dosha digests food. For instance, Pitta people have naturally hot and acidic digestion; hot sauces will burn them out. Kapha people have slower digestion; sweet and creamy comfort foods will literally weigh them down to become more sluggish. Vata people have weaker and inconsistent digestion overall; crunchy foods and caffeine steal energy necessary for digestion.
Ayurveda supports fasting
Kapha people store energy much longer than others. It takes longer to digest food, and overeating can make them feel heavy, full, and lethargic.
Although Kapha people probably benefit the most, fasting has proven health benefits for everyone. Fasting generates more stem cells, giving your body a higher capacity to restore and replenish tissues.
“Fasting alone is more powerful in preventing and reversing some diseases than drugs,” says Satchidananda Panda, associate professor or regulatory biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California. Panda says intermittent fasting helps the body rejuvenate and repair, which promotes overall health.
You don’t need to fast for days on end to get these benefits. Just skip a few meals once in a while and don’t fill your stomach to capacity.
Ayurveda isn’t about getting thin
Although some people might end up losing weight on an Ayurvedic diet, the purpose isn’t to get thin. If your constitution is Kapha, for example, you might lose weight to a certain point and find your body is comfortable with some extra padding. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Losing weight on an Ayurvedic diet will be the result of natural balancing, and your body will eventually rest where it wants to be.
If you’re curious about what’s involved in an Ayurvedic diet, find your dosha and try it out for yourself. You can eat plenty of delicious foods, and no harm is done if you decide it’s not for you.