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:
- Spicy food
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
- 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.
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.
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