Life after Sriracha: Transforming my eating habits with Ayurveda


Goodbye, coffee. Hello, teaccino. THe great Ayurvedic food switch.

The last in an occasional series on what I’ve done to change my eating habits. (I mean, I’ll still be writing about food, but I think I’m done writing about the *transition*.) You can read about the original cleanse I did, about my holiday snapshot, and about the day I realized I could no longer go on eating the way I was eating. Before all this, there was the celiac test — and remember my mystery meat adventures?

Five years ago, an endoscopy told me that I needed to cut out coffee, other forms of caffeine, and chocolate. I said no effing way to nixing coffee and chocolate, and soldiered on, eating in ways that I knew aggravated my condition. In the last couple of months, desperate to find lasting relief, I turned to Ayurveda. (If Ayurveda is new to you, I think this Q-and-A with Dr. Vasant Lad provides a great overview.)

I was surrendering to this ancient Indian system of health and well-being for two main reasons. The first was practical: My condition was worsening, and my prescription for Nexium (which I had learned from trial and error was the only medication that worked for me) was getting prohibitively expensive because my health insurance company didn’t cover it.

The second reason had to do with knowing that what I was consuming was affecting my yoga practice. I could continue to refine my physical practice, but I knew I would eventually hit a subtle but important wall created by eating habits that cause frequent digestive discomfort — which of course affects my body and my mind.

Is anybody listening?

I went through my first-ever cleanse in October. It was a group cleanse of mostly Ann Arbor-based yogis and led remotely via Google+ Hangouts by Kate O’Donnell of Ayurveda Boston. I felt great at the end of the cleanse, and it seemed like a bad idea to return to my old eating habits. I learned a lot during the private consultation I did with Kate at the end of the cleanse. I learned, for instance, about the concept of perverted cravings. Every time I reach for my coveted bottle of Sriracha thinking that’s what my body is craving, it was instead what my dosha — pitta dosha — was craving. That intuition I thought I had about listening to my body wasn’t in tune enough. I was listening alright, but my dosha was stealing the stage by being much louder and more demanding. Part of the work these two months since starting a new way of eating has had to do with learning *what* to listen to. I had to quiet down the dosha to listen to my body’s wisdom.

You’re kidding, right?

Halfway through our first consultation, I thought this project was doomed. I was being told that two of the most important things to avoid are:

  • Coffee
  • Spicy food
I heart Sriracha tee

My husband bought me this for my birthday this year. It’s one of my favorite tees.

These first two no-nos out of the gate were devastating to hear. I’m the “I love Sriracha” girl — I own the T-shirt and everything. My mother is Thai, and I can throw down with the best of the burn, baby, burn foodies I know. I put some form of hot sauce or red pepper flakes on virtually everything I eat, from eggs and sandwiches to salads and rice dishes. I would have voluntarily given up coffee if I could have kept spicy food.
That’s just the beginning, though. During this consultation, I found out all the other stuff I should also start avoiding (and you’ll see my play-by-play reaction):

  • Eggplant (Cool! I hardly ever eat eggplants in any form, so this works.)
  • Tomatoes, onion and garlic — and therefore, salsa (Um, total downer. I probably eat tomatoes and salsa every week.)
  • Bell peppers, especially green ones (I buy every other time I’m at the store, but OK, I can cut this out.)
  • White potatoes (Bummer, but OK.)
  • Citrus fruits (Not terrible, since I don’t eat a ton of them anyway, although I rather like clementines.)
  • Hard cheeses, such as parmesan (Wow. That sucks. A lot. I love parmesan. What’s not to love about it? I don’t eat a ton of it, but it’s such a treat when I do pick some up.)
  • Fried foods (Not such a bad thing. I already avoid much of it anyway.)
  • Stimulants of any kind (that includes caffeine, white sugar, energy drinks, sweets, chocolate and alcohol). (I knew this one already, so OK.)
  • Charred foods (Bummer again. That’s my favorite way to eat grilled stuff in the summer.)
  • Pickles (OK, now that’s going too far. I’m going to have my pickles taken away too?)

I love onion and garlic. I love salsa. Bye, bye and adios. I just recently found the best spicy pickles I’ve ever tasted. Bye to that too.

Hello morning cup of faux Joe

The good news? Kate worked with me to find a new habit to replace each of the old habits. And she told me that the cravings will begin to abate, once I start down this path. I’ve found this to be true so far.

These days, I drink Teeccino in place of coffee. It’s a caffeine-free herbal coffee sold in bags that look and feel just like coffee bags (somehow, this is important to me). I thought I would hate it, but I actually really dig how it smells. And I’ve come to realize that what I need in the morning more than anything is that warm beverage to hold and sip as I acclimate myself to the demands of a new day. Don’t get me wrong: I miss coffee, and some days I miss it like crazy (and I do let myself have an ounce or two every couple of weeks). What I don’t miss is how bad I would sometimes feel after a couple cups of coffee in the morning.

Rather than lather on the Sriracha or other hot sauce, I load up with spices like cumin, coriander and tumeric. I still look longingly at the Sriracha bottles I have at my office and at home, thinking perhaps one day I’ll be able to be reunited with my beloved. I miss my spicy food (I normally ordered “hot” on the hot scale at Thai restaurants, and I am quite fond of all the Thai spices) far more than I miss my coffee.

For now, I have to be content with being a member of the Sriracha fan club, even though I can’t actually indulge in the potent stuff.

After the consultation, I made over my pantry and fridge, stocking them with stuff that’s better for me, like:

  • Grains like quinoa, rice, beans
  • Sprouted-grain wraps
  • Coriander and cilantro
  • Coconut milk, coconut oil for cooking, and coconut water
  • Licorice tea, peppermint tea, fennel tea
  • Pomegranate juice, cranberry juice
  • Plums, prunes, pears
  • Dates
  • Apples and grapes

No Xanax required

We talked about pitta types and their fire of intellect, excitement and motivation. They are go-getters, but the other side of the coin is that they overbook and take on too many projects. I might know a thing or two about overbooking.

For this reason, part of the program is working on reducing the intensity of my day, especially at mealtimes. I’m not supposed to eat while doing something else. In two months, I think I’ve managed this one time. Once. I’ve eaten while sitting at my desk and multitasking for so long that I barely know how to instill this new habit. (The habit started as a newspaper reporter, I used to have to eat while driving to an assignment.) If I’m able to actually relax while eating — well, I’m usually talking to someone or reading. I’m also supposed to take a walk every day, around the same time if possible. In two months, I’ve done this zero times.

I thought the other principles of Ayurveda — not snacking between meals, and following the food protocol to balance out your doshas — would have been the hardest changes to make. Turns out the stuff that helps de-intensifying your day has been the hardest to achieve. These changes are on my to-do list for 2013.

Daily practice

Bathroom counter

I picked up some great habits from the cleanse that I still do daily. I start my day out with the neti pot and a tongue scraper. I also rub almond oil on my skin every day when I shower (the more traditional choice seems to be sesame oil, but I am allergic to sesame seeds and derivatives). Your skin is your largest organ, and doing this has not only helped my incredibly dry skin — the practice of abhyanga makes me feel calmer on some level. (I think I’ve mentioned before that other benefits include helping me get into garbha pindasana without a spray bottle. :-) )

Food for thought

At the end of that first consultation session, Kate said something that turned my whole attitude around. The good news about the way I am eating, she said, is that I am creating the problem.

Accepting that I need to give up some of the foods I love the most could have been one big pity/pitta party, but now I see it for the exciting project that it is. Because if there’s one things pitta-types seem to excel at, it’s taking on a new challenge to tackle. Life after Sriracha? I can do this.

© and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to with appropriate and specific direction to the original conte



It’s interesting how sometimes people help you with your practice without even knowing it. My in-laws do such a sweet job of setting up a comfortable place for my husband and I to stay when we visit for the holidays. This space is perfect for me to practice in — and I couldn’t help but feel that the snowmen were making sure I didn’t cut corners on any poses I perhaps don’t enjoy being in (cough*kapotasana B*cough).

Happy holidays, if you celebrate them. If you feel like sharing any holiday — or non-holiday — practice stories, please drop a comment. I would love to hear them.

Eating your way through the holidays, with a little help from Ayurveda

When I saw the new holiday KFC commercial the other night, I realized it sort of represents everything that’s wrong about how Americans eat. In it, a man sits between two women who are gossiping obnoxiously and loudly. “Find some peace this holiday,” the narrator says, as the man reaches for fried chicken, hands a piece to each of the women, and sits back and enjoys one himself, content that he is able to eat in silence. In the next scene, this same man is sitting in between two fighting children. He gives a cookie to each kid, which works like a charm — a pacifier to lull them into stillness. At the end of the commercial, which is for the chain’s “Festive Feast,” KFC’s tag line, “Today tastes so good,” comes on.

Pretty apt, I think. Today might taste good, but what about tomorrow? Eating as a coping mechanism (I’ve been there) eventually creates another lifestyle problem we have to cope with (I’ve been there too, resulting in some serious acid reflux).

There’s no shortage of examinations of how fat people have become, and the holiday season is a perfect time to reflect on our eating habits, because I think it all comes out — eating badly for social reasons (holiday get-togethers), eating badly for emotional reasons (depression, anxiety, etc.), eating badly for practical reasons (no time), and on and on.

Aparna Khanolkar did a podcast a few years ago on how to eat stress-free during the holidays, based on an Ayurvedic diet. Listen to it here.

I did an Ayurvedic cleanse in the fall followed by a consultation to work on my particular issues. In the weeks since, I’ve reprogrammed how I eat. Below are a few snapshots of how my eating habits have changed.

Dinner now: It’s after hours as I start to write this post at my office desk. I knew I would be staying late today, so I packed a meal instead of waiting to get home to eat (even though there’s a delicious holiday loaf of cherry walnut sourdough bread at home that I would love to pick at). In the Ayurvedic system, it’s advised to eat earlier in the day, when our digestion is stronger, so I cooked some rainbow chard and packed up some of my go-to white bean hummus.

Dinner then: I used to eat as late as 10 p.m. I learned along the way that eating that late was one of the factors that prevented me from getting up at 5:30 a.m. to practice yoga.

Chocolate now: Our office is littered with boxes of chocolate sent in by clients and friends (believe me, I’m not complaining about this). I love chocolate, and although I’ve cut down substantially over the past year, I still enjoy it. After I finished my dinner just now, I treated myself to a few pieces from a popular local chocolatier.

Chocolate then: Last year around this time, I was snacking on a piece here and a piece there as the day went on. But a habit I picked up during the fall cleanse was to not snack; if I’m going to eat sweets, I try to roll it up into a meal rather than snack in between meals.

Why? Ayurveda expert Dr. Vasant Lad answers that question in a MindBodyGreen interview:

Q: Some dietitians advise to eat small meals every 2-3 hours to keep metabolism high and to prevent blood sugar from plummeting. Ayurveda says that snacking is not healthy and advises to stick to 3 complete meals a day. Why is snacking bad according to Ayurveda?

A: The reason is very simple. For example if you are cooking kicheri (Basmati rice and lentils), you take some rice, lentils, and put them in the water to boil. But then instead of letting kicheri cook, as soon as the water starts boiling you add more rice and more lentils, and then again in 5 minutes you add more raw ingredients. If you keep doing this over and over again, kicheri will never be cooked. It is a good analogy to think about when we think about digestion – our internal cooking. Agni ( gastric fire) has to be strong to digest food. Three meals a day: a light breakfast, lunch as the main meal; and a light dinner allow for an easy digestion process. Constant munching might lead to overload on the digestive fire (agni) and slow it down. As a result, the food will not be digested properly and you will get a heavy bloated feeling in the stomach.

People who’s digestion is overtaxed often have a white buttery coating on the tongue. It is a sign of toxins in the body. Another sign is unclear foggy mind and bad breath. Ayurveda says that constant munching builds up toxins (AMA) in the body. Eating before a prior meal is digested will slow down Agni, weaken metabolism, and will lead to weight gain. This why Ayurveda says that three meals a day is ideal for a healthy digestion and proper assimilation of nutrients. This Ayurvedic approach to diet and lifestyle is very basic but it creates radical and profound changes in the body, mind and consciousness.

Coffee now: I don’t. Well, OK, I mostly don’t. I allow myself a few ounces of coffee once every couple of weeks.

Coffee then: My coffee consumption has varied over the years. At my worst, I was probably drinking two to three cups a day. It’s been a little hard to say no to coffee all the time, especially during this time of year, when it feels dark all the time, when I’m naturally more tired, and when coffee shops bust out with tempting flavors that involve peppermint and white chocolate.

Eating out now: I really enjoy eating out, and so far this holiday season, it seems I’ve been eating out quite a bit, thanks to a mix of work meetings, holiday parties and chances to meet up with friends. I’ve noticed, though, that eating out too many meals in a row does leave me feeling a little heavier and a little less energetic overall, probably because I’m in less control of what I consume.

Eating out then: The more the merrier.

To take us out, how about a little Gorillaz? It’s hard not to think about the misshapen world of processed food when I listen to “Superfast Jellyfish”:

© and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Showing up (for backbends, Capitol lawn protests, etc.)

Right-to-work protests at the Michigan Capitol buiding today. (Photo by Romain Blanquart via the Detroit Free Press.)

What is it that you show up for? I mean, really show up for? Your yoga practice? Your job? Your kids? Your marriage? Your church? A cause? Why do you do it? How do you do it?

I’m thinking about this on a day full of people showing up in vastly different ways. I started my morning at the yoga shala in Ann Arbor, rolling out my mat for Mysore practice at 6:15 a.m. The collective energy was, as always, powerful and grounding. All the ashtangis around me have had their own journeys of training themselves to change their lifestyle enough to show up at ridiculously early hours to practice, and why they do it week after week is like a fingerprint — unique to them. Yet the collective feel of a group of people working toward a similar goal is palpable in that space.

The 60-minute drive back to mid-Michigan, where I live and work, took 90 minutes this morning, thanks to cars clogging the highway as they headed toward Michigan’s capital city to protest right-to-work legislation. I work two blocks from Lansing’s Capitol building, so my coworkers and I — a mix of former journalists and news junkies — couldn’t help but to follow what was happening as thousands of protestors and two branches of government did their thing. The sound of helicopters above only added to the day’s heightened feel, but the most notable feeling for me, as I walked through the crowds in the bitter cold, was how upbeat the collective energy of the protestors felt. This was absolutely a politically driven event, but I’m not making a political statement here. To me, it was interestingly apolitical that the men and women who showed up in Lansing today seemed to believe that their presence in that very particular spot of the world was vital, even though all the pundits and analysts said it was game over for their side (and it was).

After work, I headed straight to the athletic club where I teach a beginning-level vinyasa-flow class. Tonight there were twice as many students as usual who were ready to challenge themselves with a mind-body practice. Some students I have seen every week for a year, and several were new. The feel in that room was one of determination — yoga may not necessarily come easily to them, but they weren’t going to give up and walk away.

I suppose what I’m saying is that in every setting I was in today, I was surrounded by people who had to make a conscious decision to show up — which is sometimes the hardest part. True, the shala and the gym’s yoga room aren’t divisive spaces like the protest grounds, which had an intense police presence, riot gear ready. Yet the collective feel in each was one of a group of people willing to do what it takes to show up to help create what they believe to be a set of better circumstances.

(What’s pretty inspiring on the yoga front is that it you can’t just marshal up that motivation once; it’s not a one-shot deal the way a protest might be. But I think that’s where collective energy can be so helpful to keep you fighting the good fight against laziness, inertia or a crazy schedule.)

So back to the questions. What do you show up for? I find that showing up to my yoga practice helps me be more present in everything else I do — my work, my marriage, my friendships, even how I process the feel of something like a right-to-work protest. And how do you go about being present once you’ve shown up? For me, I think that lately I’ve been working on putting forth the effort but trying to avoid clinging to what I want to happen (e.g., “I want to feel my body to feel light and my spine to feel supple this morning”), which allows me to be more receptive to what comes (note the emphasis on “trying”).

By the way, on the point of receptivity: Working on deep backbends — can you say kapotasana? — seems to help with the whole surrendering process (no kidding, right?!), which in turns seems to help me with the whole receptivity process.

That said, every new day is a test. I failed a couple of tests today (post-practice) and I passed others. We’ll see how tomorrow goes — starting with those backbends.

The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space (2011) (Courtesy of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor)

(Photo links: Free Press aerial shot; Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space)

© and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.