Daydreaming of mounds of chocolate chip cookies or Reese’s Pieces? Can’t wait for the meeting to end so you can dash to Starbucks during the break? Whatever the craving, it’s important to understand the underlying need if you want to alleviate it…AND protect your long-term health.
Ayurveda understands the connection between food cravings, emotions and our environment. That is why the ancient wisdom recommends the following practices to help individuals balance their diets and environmental triggers.
Eat Real Food – Not processed or GMO food or items with lots of unpronounceable ingredients. Leftovers should be disposed of after 24 hours max. Organic, fresh food is the best; it will introduce less bacteria into your digestive system and provide more nourishment to give your body what it is missing. Newsflash–food must actually nourish the body in order to satisfy cravings. Fast food, old dead food, and food that the body can’t process because it’s not really food at all (think Twinkies and GMO foods) only leaves you with digestive issues and continued cravings.
Eat a Wide Variety of Food – This includes food of diverse colors and food groups. If we make our meals colorful with red, orange, yellow, green, purple, brown and white foods, our food is more visually appealing. We all need protein, complex carbohydrates (grains and fruit and vegetables), healthy fats and oils, adequate fiber and nutrients from vegetables and legumes, and the digestive support of cooking spices. And make sure you have the proper proportion of each of the six Ayurvedic tastes integrated into your diet for your body type. The tastes are Sweet (meats, dairy, good fats and oils), Sour (fermented dairy and vegetables and sour fruits like lemons, limes and sour apples), Salty (sea vegetables and salt), Astringent (legumes and other drying foods that make us pucker and thirst), Bitter (greens and herbs like dandelion and burdock root) and Pungent (spices and hot foods). By ensuring a variety of colors and the right proportions of food groups and tastes, we take in a wider assortment of building blocks and enzymes necessary for the health of the body and the satisfaction of the mind.
Prepare Food Properly – Cooked food is more nourishing than raw food as the cooking process helps break down food particles to release digestive enzymes. Raw foods are harder to digest and can weaken the digestive fire (agni) as a result. “When agni is weak, the body creates ama (accumulated toxins), which clogs the channels and prevents the body from receiving nutrients from food,” says Maharishi Ayurveda.1 Adding spices, like cumin, coriander, fennel and black pepper, help boost the digestive agni for better assimilation and satisfaction.
Eat Mindfully – When we sit and focus on our food, our body relaxes, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. Known as the ‘rest and digest’ division of the autonomic nervous system, when the parasympathetic nervous system engages, the body slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and glandular activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. The body’s natural intelligence system, associated with the Pitta energy in the body, does a better job of releasing appropriate amounts of bile and digestive enzymes when we take time to see, smell, and taste our food. An optimized digestive system equals better food assimilation, which naturally provides greater satiety.
Confront the Concern Gently – When your thoughts are overwhelming, too painful or blocked and you feel like you need a break, go ahead and take one. A brief walk outside (preferably in nature), listening to one of your favorite songs, or a 5-minute meditation can do wonders. I like to refill my water glass and then drink a healthy portion of it; you’d be surprised how invigorating this can be! Then, before returning to your task, check in with yourself to clearly define what is really bothering you and what you can do to make it better. Take a step to resolve your discomfort. If you conclude you can’t do anything except change your perspective, then meditation, music or a walk are the best ways to change your outlook quickly!
Craving by the Doshas – Different emotions and deficiencies trigger different cravings. Depending upon whether we are anxious, heartbroken, emotionally down or lethargic, different doshas may be out of balance, requiring us to take in different qualities to re-balance. Let’s take a look.
- When you are feeling stressed out, anxious and overwhelmed due to too much Vata, the tendency is to reach for Sweet, Sour or Salty comfort foods to ground and nourish the body. Before you reach for unhealthy versions of these tastes, however, open your spice cabinet and add black pepper, cumin or coriander to nourishing protein and grain dishes; this will open the channels of the brain and ground the imbalanced air and ether that makes up Vata energy. Consuming healthy versions of Sweet, Sour and Salty tastes with spices that help assimilate them usually does the trick. Walnuts, almonds and coconut milk are especially supportive for the mind.
- Emotional lows are the result of an imbalance in Sadhaka Pitta, the subdosha that governs the heart. When Pitta is out of balance, particularly in the summer, you are likely to crave the moist, cooling Sweet taste. Leave the Rocky Road in the freezer though. Instead, try satisfying the Sweet taste with a piece of sweet, juicy fruit, soaked dates or raisins, rice pudding, a date-milk shake or a mango shake. In my house, we keep plenty of cooling and moistening coconut milk and aloe vera juice handy in the summer…just in case. Aloe vera has the added benefit of being Bitter, which tends to quickly wipe out any desire for sweets. These healthier choices will give the brain and heart what they need and leave you satisfied.
- Lastly, when Kapha goes out of balance, we typically crave caffeine or chocolate to help stimulate and energize ourselves. While a little caffeine can often be supportive for someone with a legitimate Kapha imbalance, drinking basil lemon ginger tea, using aromatic scents like rosemary and clove or dancing around to some lively music are other ways to re-energize and balance your emotions.2
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.