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”:

© YogaRose.net 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 YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Power to the pitta, plus a recipe for a delicious fig and date almond drink

Figs and dates soaked overnight in 1/2 cup of water.

Figs and dates soaked overnight in 1/2 cup of water.

As I’ve spent the past several weeks dumping, sorting, packing, moving and organizing to move from an apartment to a house, I’ve been on an ayurvedic jag. Maybe it’s that I’m drawn to the idea of reining in excess and imbalance. Maybe it’s that I want to start out on the right foot when it comes to cooking, now that I have a real kitchen. Maybe it’s because I’m coming up on a year of practicing six days a week, and it’s a natural shift.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been feeding this craving to learn more about India’s ancient medical/healing system by reading Robert Svoboda’s Ayurveda: Life, Health and Longevity and listening to Yoga Peeps podcasts on ayurveda. Thanks to being stuck late at the office on Friday, I started searching for more podcasts on ayurveda, since I had the place to myself, and discovered a 2009 Puja.net podcast featuring Aparna Khanolkar — an ayurvedic lifestyle and culinary coach in Santa Barbara — about how to eat stress-free during the holidays. At the end of that podcast, I still had more work to do, so I went on to one about people with dominant characteristics of the pitta dosha.

At fist blush, it seems I have a lot of characteristics of pitta (and a lot of vata too, but perhaps more pitta).

Here is how this blog describes the three:

  • Vata is the Queen of the three doshas (Vata, Pita, and Kapha) because she is main vehicle of transportation of energies. Vata is the manifestation of air and space (of the 5 elements) and is responsible for a wide variety of physiological functions that involve movement.
  • Pitta is the manifestation of fire and water. It governs digestion, metabolism and vision.
  • Kapha brings the stability and solidity of earth and water to the body/mind. Kapha is responsible for immune function, strength and vitality, lubrication and structure.

One of the most common traits I keep hearing about pitta folks: They’re organized and efficient — the type to make lists and stick to them. And they can get quite irritable when hungry.

All three of my sisters and I — and our mom too — are organized, efficient and make lists (sometimes, we even make lists of lists), and all four of us can go from fine to crazyfrustratedangryannoyedbecausewejustrealizeditisquitelateandwehaventhadachancetoeat in about three seconds flat. (By the way, if you’re more of a vata-type, here’s the Puja.net post on vata. If you’re kapha, here’s the post on that.) 

My sister Alisa has coined a brilliant term for our zero –> angry state when driven by hunger:

Hangry: That particular kind of anger that arises when hungry.

Our significant others know about it, our coworkers know about it, our friends know about it — and anyone who knows about it does whatever needs to be done to avoid it. At the small firm where I work, one of our interns summed it up by saying: “Don’t get the women of Martin Waymire angry — and if you do, bring food.”

The post recommends the following food for pitta-types:

  • Eat cooling foods such as cucumber, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, peas, potatoes and leafy greens
  • Favor sweet ripe fruits such as blueberries, dark grapes, melons, pears, raisins, mangoes, figs, and coconut
  • Eat grains such as barley, basmati rice, wheat and quinoa
  • Avoid beets, carrots, eggplant, garlic, hot peppers, onions, spinach and tomatoes
  • Avoid sour or unripe fruits

Speaking of lists, I have about seven more things on the to-do list for today, and the sun is starting to set. So let me share the recipe — a first for YogaRose.net!) that accompanied this pitta blog post. It’s for a fig and date almond drink, which I made today.

Fig and date almond drink

Ingredients:

3 figs soaked in 1/2 cup water overnight
5 dates soaked with the figs
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla

Preparation:

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blended for 3 minutes. Serve chilled.

 

Fresh Almond Milk

Ingredients:
½ cup raw almonds
3 cups water

Preparation:
Soak the almonds in water overnight or in hot water for about 30 minutes. Peel the almonds. Grind it with water and till the almonds are blended finely. You may have to do this in two batches. Place a bowl on the counter and carefully pour the nut milk from the blender into the straining bag or a fine mesh strainer. Discard the almond meal and enjoy the milk in teas, or drinks.

 

(Source: Puja.net ayurveda blog post No. 5)

(Note: I bought almond milk. Don’t judge — it’s my first recipe for the blog. :) ) I had to go to three local grocery stores to find one with figs, but other than that, the recipe was a breeze (which is a requirement when you have my level of culinary skills). It combines two things I love — dates and almond milk — and one I like but rarely get to eat (the figs). While I really enjoyed the creamy and healthy concoction, it was on the thick side for me (most likely because I didn’t make my own almond milk). So I prepared a second batch that had 1 3/4 cups of almond milk rather than 1 1/2, and I blended it for a little longer. That suited me better, and I poured some of it into an espresso cup and slid it into the fridge, with the idea that I could save it for the next time I’m about to get hangry!

Happy Belly Happy SoulBy the way, the author of this recipe came out with a new book this year called Happy Belly Happy Soul: A Guide to Vedic Cooking that I’m ordering. It’s a $16.99 paperback on Amazon.com with 108 vegetarian recipes that the publisher pledges are easy to prepare. My body’s cravings have changed so tremendously over the past year (for example, I love quinoa, and I’ll take that over carbs just about any day, at this point) that I want to strike while the iron’s hot. Here’s to hoping that putting a cookbook in my virtual shopping cart will actually improve what I put into my real-life grocery carts.

© YogaRose.net 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 YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.