Thanksgiving opens the flood gates to six weeks of family feasts and holiday treats. The ancient Indian health science of Ayurveda offers helpful tips on how to make your way though the holidays without gaining weight or over-eating.
The increasingly colder days of fall bring with them an increase in “vata dosha” — the subtle energy in the body that governs movement. When vata dosha predominates, there is an increase in the dry, rough and cool qualities in the body. This dryness can disturb various tissues and organs. Many people notice dry skin and lips. Dryness can also occur in the colon or large intestine, leading to constipation. Simultaneously you may find that you develop cravings for heavy, sweet and unctuous foods. This is simply your body’s attempt to balance the increase in vata by increasing kapha. Unfortunately, these heavier foods can also lead to poor digestion and to an accumulation of toxins over the winter, which could result allergies in the spring.
Holiday Eating Tips
The following tips can help you navigate the holiday festivities, pacifying vata dosha while avoiding the weight-gain often brought on by kapha-increasing foods.
1. At the start of the holiday season, consult an Ayurvedic expert to see if you have any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances. If these are left untended, you may find yourself at the mercy of cravings and compulsive eating.
2. When you first arrive at a gathering, request a cup of hot water. This will help to pacify vata and will help you avoid mindless eating. Additionally, people often mistake thirst for hunger. If you are well hydrated, you will feel less compulsion to eat. Drinking plain hot water throughout the day is a simple Ayurvedic secret for improved health.
3. Always sit down at a table to eat. Don’t eat if you are standing or moving.
4. Whenever you eat, give eating your full attention. Enjoy your food — even if you are eating something “naughty”! Eating mindlessly while you are doing something else does not allow you to properly taste, experience, or digest your food. As a result, even if you are full, you will feel unsatisfied and want to eat more later.
5. Learn about the six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Each taste satisfies a different need. Missing one or more of the tastes can result in cravings. Try to have all six tastes at each meal. If this sounds daunting, there are spice combinations (churnas) made specifically for this.
6. Favor warm, cooked foods. If you want to indulge in heavier foods, do so during the day, when your digestive “fire” is stronger. Try to keep evening meals light, favoring soups and cooked vegetables.
7. Try to take small portions. Ideally you should feel refreshed and energized after eating, not dull. Over-eating compromises digestion. When you overeat, even though you ingest more than you need, your body actually assimilates less. This can result in nutritional deficiencies, perpetuating cravings and the habit of overeating.
Eating with full attention and enjoyment improves digestion. It settles and strengthens your entire system. This can have far-reaching health benefits seemingly unrelated to nutrition.
If you find that you have over-indulged during the holidays, consider enjoying traditional Ayurvedic detoxification treatments, called Panchakarma, in January or February. The soothing oils used in the treatments help detoxify body fat and the recommended treatment diet is the perfect way to get back into healthy eating habits.
Learn more about Ayurveda treatments for weight gain and detoxification at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa: