A guest blog by dietetic intern Isabelle Carren-Le Sauter

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Working with Anastasia, I have been recently introduced to the Ayurvedic tradition and its personalized recommendations for maintaining health and happiness. As a soon-to-be dietitian, the nutritional recommendations were most interesting to me, and right from the beginning I realized how intuitive they are. Of the three doshas, or personality-types, the kapha dosha tends to be very solidly built, calm, stable and strong. However, when someone who is primarily kapha is out of balance, they tend to oversleep, become congested, and feel unmotivated. I instantly connected: This is me. When I feel this way, I seek comfort food; I crave pastries and Mac and cheese, heavy foods in large portions. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with these foods, the Ayurvedic tradition would argue that eating heavy food will only allow a kapha to sink deeper into their kapha-ness, while eating opposing foods such as lightly sautéed leafy greens over a bed of whole grains, or going for an energizing walk will bring you out of what I think of as the “kapha funk.” Intuitive, right?

In addition to describing personality types, the three doshas also have primary seasons. We have just entered Pitta season, which ranges from mid-June to mid-October. When out of balance, pittas tend to be fiery, prone to sarcasm, irritability and easy overheating: all things which can be exacerbated by the sticky, hot weather at this time of year. Even people without much pitta in their constitution can begin to feel irritable and easily frustrated when the weather turns hot. But an in balance, pitta is focused, energetic, organized and creative, and to return to these wonderful qualities, here are a few simple tips:

  • Stay Fresh: Seek out ripe fruit for a light, delicious, and refreshing snack that will quench your hunger and your thirst without weighing you down. Watermelon, mango, grapes and apples are all great choices. Water-laden vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, zucchini, and leafy greens are also recommended. Sautee, blanch, or steam them briefly, and add cooling herbs and spices like mint, fennel, dill and coriander.
  • Avoid heavy foods and flavors: A hearty butternut squash curry may sound extremely appealing after a long day out in the snow, but a steaming hot stew on an 85 degree day may just get your blood boiling. Try to avoid heavy, greasy foods, as well as sour, spicy or salty foods such as citrus, unripe fruit, sour cream, cayenne, chiles, and pickles or other condiments.
  • Don’t Shock the System: While an ice-cold beverage may seem like just the thing to cool you down, the Ayurvedic tradition cautions against this because instead of calming the digestive fire, it may just snuff it out. Plenty of hydration with room temperature or slightly cool water is a much better way to go.
  • Take It Outdoors: Daily exercise strengthens the mind, improves mood, and restores the body’s natural flow, and doing it outside is a way to be in nature and appreciate the beauty of summer. To avoid flaring up that Pitta fire, try cooling exercises like early morning or nighttime walks, yoga in the park or on the beach, and swimming.
  • Routine: Ayurveda really promotes the importance of doing certain things daily, like eating breakfast and rubbing your skin as a form of awakening massage each morning. They also promote arising with the sun each morning, which may seem like a struggle, but allowing yourself time in the morning to stop an enjoy that cool summer breeze on your way to work, or to do 15 minutes of yoga before you leave can really create a beautiful start to your day. Give it a try for a few days – once you get used to it, you may never go back.

The most important thing to remember is that the Ayurvedic tradition is meant to help and heal, not cause stress. If you find you are feeling weighed down or especially irritable with the heat, feel free to give these tips a try, but only if it is helpful for you. Everyone is different, and you know yourself better than anyone, so trust yourself.

References:

Krishan, S. (2003). Essential Ayurveda: What It Is & What It Can Do for You. Novato, CA: New World Library.

(2007). A Food Plan to Balance Pitta Dosha. Retrieved from: http://www.holistic-online.com/ayurveda/ayv-Pitta-food-plan.htm

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin

 

I recently returned from a family trip to Amsterdam and Vienna, that in addition to wonderful art museums, composer's apartments, and explorations of both cities' dynamic history, included daily 3 to 4 hour-long family feasts with multiple courses and wine, followed by the sweet specialties of the region, usually both before and after meal time (apple strudel, ice cream, hazelnut torte-you name it!). 

A few days back in my NYC office, a client brought up her belief that she will always be "in recovery" from her eating disorder; always struggling to manage her eating, her desire to lose weight, and always working to prevent a relapse. 

Ten years ago, as I struggled with my own disordered eating, negative body image, and overexercise patterns, I would have believed the same. I didn't have anyone at the time giving me the message that I could actually live my life completely free of any possibility of relapse or have an identity outside of food and body where food was a nourishing yet neutral part of my life

In fact, at that time this type of family trip would have been a huge nightmare - overshadowed by anxiety about how much food I would "have" to eat in order not to upset my family, trying to figure out any possible way to avoid a meal, or skip family activities to seek out exercise (how boring is going to a hotel gym instead of exploring  a new city!?).  

Looking back on my journey to being fully recovered, I still have moments full of gratitude and awe. I am amazed at how easy and sweet meal time with my family is now, and how I can look forward to and enjoy ALL types of food without allowing food to become the center of attention. I am grateful to share precious time with loved ones with full presence, and breathe through conflict without turning to food (or lack thereof).

And perhaps most importantly, I now know how to honor my own body's needs, despite my Russian-Jewish grandma's lifelong mission to always make me eat more :) 

When food comments are made at the table, I can lean on my spiritual practice to help remind me to feel compassion towards that person who is likely struggling with him or herself. Over time and through trial and error, I have learned how to say both yes and no to food by connecting to the wisdom of my body. 

As I shared this with my client and hope to share with you, full recovery is absolutely possible for anyone committed to the path of healing.

And to stay on our path, yoga reminds us to seek the company of souls who help to elevate our consciousness and remind us to come back home to our heart. 

Here's a yummy recipe for a delicious morning smoothie or try this for an afternoon snack!

Ingredients (makes 2 smoothies):

  • 7 dates (soften dates by soaking in water for about one hour)
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 medium bananas 
  • 2 cups almond or coconut milk
  • 2 pinches cinnamon powder
  • 1 vanilla bean scraped

Blend ingredients and enjoy!

I made this recipe a few weeks ago and wanted to share it with you because it is simple, delicious, and Vata-Soothing. In Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, Vata dosha is the constitution associated with the Fall and a dry, light, airy, etherial, and irregular qualities. Grounding, warm, cooked and sweet foods like root veggies are balancing for Vata.  If you are interested in learning more about Ayurveda, contact me for a consultation. 

To make the recipe, I bought a bag of sweet potatoes, rinses, boiled them and peeled the skin off. (you can also roast the sweet potato with coconut oil for a more toasty flavor). I then added 1 can of light coconut milk and minced fresh ginger into the sweet potatoes and blended with my immersion blender. Add salt to taste. I cut up some cilantro and crushed walnuts on top for garnish. Enjoy!

 

This morning I attended a fascinating lecture for eating disorder professionals in New York City.  (Yes, as well as being immersed in yoga and spiritual practice, I am also a neuroscience nerd). Leah Graves RD and Scott Moseman MD each presented on research that suggests brain differences in anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, and non-eating disorder population.  I hope to share with you some interesting findings that stood out to me today:

 

  • Dr. Moseman spoke to his belief that anorexia is an anxiety disorder where restricting food and focusing on weight becomes the mechanism of managing already high levels of anxiety and genetically predisposed character traits such as perfectionism, obsessive compulsive tendencies, altered interceptive awareness such as overactive bladder function (I was surprised to learn people with anorexia actually have an unusually high rate of bed-wetting), harm avoidance and possibly altered gastro-intestinal function.
  • Many of these traits exist prior to the development of an eating disorder. New brain studies show that people who struggle with anorexia do not have the same reactions to reward  as people without anorexia, and that there are disturbances in dopamine systems, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Brain differences in this area explain why a "normal" eater feels agitated by hunger, while someone with anorexia may feel calmed by hunger.  In fact, the area of the brain associated with delay of gratification is overly active in anorexia. Some of these brain differences may explain, for instance, why those who struggle with anorexia also have a difficult time receiving positive feedback and latch onto any sign of criticism. 
  • Research studies on brain function in bulimia and binge eating disorder (the most common eating disorder), also show neurobiological and regulatory differences that account for traits such as impulsivity, commonly associated with this population. One of these differences is the down-regulation of dopamine in the brain. Specifically, something that would satisfy a non-eating disordered person may under-satisfy someone with this type of eating disorder due to the way dopamine functions in the brain.  However, because there is a high comorbidity in bulimia with substance abuse, trauma and other psychiatric disorders, most brain research studies focus on anorexia. Hopefully more studies will allow for a better understanding in this area.  
  • Genetic predisposition is now thought to contribute to 50-80% of those who develop an eating disorder. These estimates are similar to those found in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • 40-50% of people with anorexia are vegetarians, whereas only 3% of the general population is vegetarian. Vegetarianism can be a major risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Avoiding sources of nutrients, such as in animal protein, can make recovery and weight-restoration even more difficult for someone with dietary limitations. While this is not necessarily a neuroscience fact, there are brain changes in anorexia (areas of the brain can actually shrink) that depend on proper nutrition and weight stabilization to be restored to normal function. The good news is that by cultivating healthy eating and exercise habits, our brains can function at their maximum capacity. 

My hope is for understanding more about neurobiology and food behaviors to allow for a  holistic approach to treatment and recovery. I believe that when we practice self-awareness and acceptance of the more difficult parts of our personality (and even brain chemistry), we can work to channel these parts in a healthier way that serves our well-being and health.  Happy Friday!

     Namaste,

           Anastasia