No more crash diets says Eminé Ali Rushton, author of The Body Balance Diet Plan. Tailor your nutrition to your body type instead.
What is Ayurveda in laymen’s terms?
A 5,000-year-old, completely holistic (and comprehensive) system of medicine, indigenous to India.
How do I find my body type?
There are five doshas. Pitta, Vata, Kapha, Bi-Doshic and Tri-Doshic. The best way to find out is by taking the traditional diagnostic questionnaire. There is one in the book, several online (Dr Vasant Lad’s one is great), and also a detailed one that gives you your results at Balance Plan.
How do I learn to listen to my body?
Certain foods make us feel good – they give us energy, they boost our mood, we digest them well. So we eat more of them. Other foods make us feel sluggish, heavy, possibly a bit ‘low’ – so let’s not eat so many of those foods. We’re also designed to need different foods in different seasons, weather and climates too. If you’re eating the same food most weeks, all year round, you’ve probably moved very far away from ‘listening’. If you’ re balanced, you would naturally crave warming spice, root veg and richer meat in the winter and, come spring, your body would start to crave enzyme-rich shoots, nuts, seeds and leaves.
My body tells me to eat naughty treats, should I obey?
We have cravings for a reason, and when we are balanced beings they help guide us toward the right stuff. We want to eat in tune with nature and the seasons because our bodies are better at knowing they need specific things. When we’re out of balance, we often crave the tastes (of which there are six in Ayurveda), that do us the least good. If you are craving sweets, crisps, chocolate, cake, chips all day every day, no, you shouldn’t obey – you need to stop and reassess what’s going on. If you’re craving some yummy chocolate after a good meal, an ice-cream cone on a summer’s day or a portion of chips with your lovely lunch, then that’s different, enjoy it! I wholeheartedly believe that nothing is ‘naughty’ – food is food. If it’s fake and additive-filled then it’s just bad for you (not naughty). But every balanced diet needs room for things that bring us joy and pleasure too.
How do I fend off cravings?
Insistent, unrelenting cravings – the sort that send you madly towards a cupboard, where you grab and eat without thinking – are a sure sign of an imbalanced body. Ayurveda believes that if we understand our unique body type and eat primarily the foods that best support that constitution, then our bodies will be ‘brought into line’ if you will. Eating a balanced Ayurvedic diet satiates your body in a way that provides it with its best fuel – often we get blood sugar slumps that lead us to ‘crave’ chocolate or biscuits. Eating a whole food and seasonal diet really helps to stabilise blood sugar. Interestingly, a lot of people crave very salty or very sour foods when they’re stressed, and this is common in one of the dosha types. Using the right spices can also help stabilise blood sugar, reduce inflammation, lower stress levels and satiate on another level – all of which mean you’re less likely to have those powerful cravings. Balancing hormones can really help with this too. I’ve found taking a monthly female balancing supplement to be much more effective in keeping my cravings, appetite and moods balanced – Pukka WomanKind is a favourite, and keeps hormones and the reproductive and menstrual cycles in check.
So no more crash diets?
Definitely not. Because Ayurveda is holistic, all the advice references both the effects on the mind and body. And crash dieting taxes the mind. The minute you’re stressing about not eating, counting every calorie, or feeling very hungry, you become physiologically stressed too. Feeling hungry has always produced a primitive response in human beings: panic. We’re designed to get very worried and anxious when food is not forthcoming, as our primitive ancestors would then be propelled into going out and hunting. No food meant death, so they had to react. Today, we don’t need to go far for food – but regardless, hunger will always produce a ‘stress signal’ response in us.
How do I energise myself in the morning without binging on caffeine?
Caffeine delivers a very short-term kick, and of course, a lot of people want to wake themselves up quickly in the morning. But the dip you get later is inevitable, and in terms of trying to be ‘balanced’, caffeine doesn’t really work (you don’t want to be going up and down again all day long). Coffee is absolutely fine, in moderation. But not on an empty stomach – all the body needs first thing is a glass of warm water (with grated ginger and a pinch of Himalayan salt if you want to kick-start cleansing and digestion), or a small squeeze of lime. The body is supposed to wake up gradually and gently in the morning (of course, not always possible if we’re still tired, or woken abruptly by alarms or prematurely by children). If you can, you need to give yourself a few minutes and try to breathe well and bring yourself into your body. Then the warm water with ginger and a fresh piece of seasonal fruit. Half an hour later, an energy-fuelling breakfast (that doesn’t tax the digestive system). Porridge with baobab, maca, cinnamon, cardamom, and organic milk; or coconut flesh and nut milk pancakes with a sprinkling of cacao beans and cinnamon… filled with energy. If you love your coffee, then a cup a day for Vata and Pitta is fine (make it nut-milky and single shot if you can; organic and cold-pressed even better), while Kapha types can have a couple of cups a day and be OK.
After achieving a balanced body, how do I get a balanced mind?
Ayurveda does it automatically. Eating the right foods naturally balances the digestive system, which in turn promotes positive mental health. The very latest scientific research is now showing us that 95 per cent of our happy hormone, serotonin, is manufactured in our gut. A compromised inner ecosystem and poor gut health can dramatically reduce this percentage. If you eat better you’ll feel better – we all know that. Eating more ‘sattvic’ foods has also been shown to promote a much calmer and more balanced mental outlook – these are naturally ‘life-energy’ rich foods – think of non-starchy veg and fruit, soaked nuts, basmati rice, blue corn, coconut… nourishing but easy to digest. Sattvic foods are said to promote sattvic individuals – people who feel calm, content, and unshakably balanced. We can all aim for a bit more of that.
What do I put in my kids lunch box to keep them happy and healthy?
If your kid likes trying new things, the world is your oyster. Try little samosas – we make halloumi and sweetcorn samosas for our kids and they love them (we use the traditional gram, or chickpea, flour which you can get in supermarkets in the world food sections). If they’re more cautious, and like wraps, try making simple gram chapatis, which you can add finely chopped coriander, mint leaves and fennel seeds to, for a digestion-boosting bread. Pop their favourite cheese/ham/chicken filling in and, if they like hummus, use that as the spread instead of marge. Pizza is perfectly Ayurvedic if you make it yourself – it’s basically a good grain (the base) with lots of seasonal veg on top – we use spelt flour for ours, and use whatever we have in our weekly veg box as topping – bung it all into a food processor and pulse until it’s nice and finely chopped, then sprinkle on, then add some good cheese (buffalo mozzarella, ricotta or goat’s cheese are our staples). Leeks, peppers, courgettes, squash, shallots, red onions – focus on their favourite flavours, so you know they’ll enjoy it. We’ll have it for dinner and the next day, pack 3 slices into a tupperware box as a healthy school lunch for our eldest. It’s not about reinventing the wheel with kids – but it is good to keep them interested.
What essentials do I need in my kitchen cupboard?
First, stock up on spices. Nigella, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric (the fresh root is amazing, and great to steep in tea with fresh ginger & cinnamon to ward off colds), asofoetida (a great resin that helps you digest pulses and beans), coriander (ground and fresh), ginger (ground and fresh), black pepper (grind yourself, it’s much more potent), fennel seeds, cardamom… acquaint yourself with their uses and flavours. Buy some good alternative flours – spelt, buckwheat, gram – depending on your own dosha; basmati rice; coconut oil; ghee (a clarified butter that really nourishes the body and helps transport vitamins from food into the tissues). Beyond that, just try to go as seasonal as you can. A weekly veg box is a big help in this department – just ensure the company sources organic, seasonal (and local as possible) produce.