Ayurvedic Nutrition 101

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Today, I am joined by Ayurvedic Health Coach Jessica Rousseau, and she is shedding brilliant light on why healing our guts actually begins with healing our relationship with food. A four-thousand-year-old art and science, Ayurveda is the cousin of traditional Chinese medicine, and yoga's sister-science. Within the context of Ayurveda, every person is completely unique, living in a wholly unique body, and having a fantastically unique experience of life that nobody else has ever experienced before, nor will anybody else experience after. In today’s episode, Jessica and I explore the life-changing process of bringing restoration and balance to our bellies, our plates, and our relationship with food. Come on, mama, let's make peace with our bodies and our food, starting right now.


In today's episode, we discuss:


  • The three mind-body types

  • Why nutrition isn't 'black and white' or 'all or nothing,' and why food is not the enemy

  • How Jessica tweaks a tasty treat to promote better digestion

  • Daring to be bravely honest about your preferences and experiences around food

  • Why nutrition does not have to be (and shouldn't be) restrictive, highly-regimented, or punishing

  • Encouragement from Jessica for all mamas

The Three Primary Mind-Body Types


Ayurveda defines three energies or mind-body types called 'doshas.' Each person has their own fantastically unique mix of the three:


VATA DOSHA


  • Personality: A very creative person who is easily inspired; may seem to travel on a whim

  • Physical characteristics: May have a hard time gaining weight; can be very slight-framed and thin-boned; may have thin, dry skin

  • Vata in the natural world: We see vata in autumn and early winter when the air starts to feel dry and crisp, the wind picks up, and the leaves fall.

  • Vata out of balance/ in excess: Some of the imbalances of vata can include anxiety, insomnia, super dry skin, gas, bloating, constipation, or rabbit pellet stool.

  • Possible Enneagram Types: 4, 5, 7


PITTA DOASHA


  • Personality: 'Manifesters,' leaders, change-agents, athletes, captains of industry, people who are forward-focused and organized; if you go into a Crate & Barrel or The Container Store, you will be in a sea of pittas!

  • Physical characteristics: We see this in the body as someone who is very measured; their body is well-proportioned, and everything is pretty routine and reliable

  • Pitta in the natural world: The heat of summer

  • Pitta out of balance/ in excess: May be prone to stress or perfectionism; may have really hot digestion (for example, when you eat a food and immediately feel stomach cramping, experience a lot of acid reflux, or have burning diarrhea or any stool that feels hot as it comes out); skin rashes; balding (often for men)

  • Possible Enneagram Types: 1, 3, 8


KOPHA DOSHA


  • Personality: They give the best hugs in the world (when they hug you, you just sink in and feel really warmly enveloped); they are rock-solid, stable, calm, and very attached to tradition and lineage; they may never move away from their hometown

  • Physical characteristics: Super thick wavy hair; glorious, glowing skin (effortlessly)

  • Kopha in the natural world: The blooming and bursting forth of new life that comes with spring time

  • Kopha out of balance/ in excess: Lethargy, unbending or stubborn ('this is the way things have always been, and there's no need to change'), weight-gain, depression, prone to sleeping for far too long

  • Possible Enneagram Types: 2, 6, 9


Nutrition is Neither Black and White, Nor All or Nothing, and Food is Not the Enemy


In Ayurveda, 'anything can be medicine, and anything can be poison.' This is because any food in excess - even a 'healthy' food - can be problematic for the body. Water is a good example of this.


All health and disease begins in your belly, and understanding how you digest food begins with understanding your relationship with food. Let's say that you are particularly concerned about a specific food or family of foods (gluten or dairy, for example), and say this food unintentionally slips past your radar, or maybe you decide to have a 'cheat' meal or snack. Jessica advises that, in this hypothetical scenario, you would probably have an inflammatory response, because your fear-based relationship with that ingredient, meal or snack will aggravate that food's potentially inflammatory properties as your body digests it.


Although foods have diverse profiles and levels of inflammatory potential, it is the way in which these foods are received by and interact with our gut that really determines whether or not and how inflammatory they will be for us. Fear, resistance, anxiety and stress can activate inflammation.


In order to move towards improving gut health and digestion, Jessica begins by facilitating discovery and awareness of her clients' relationships with food. She typically begins this process by exploring the following questions:


  • What are your favorite foods?

  • What are your least favorite foods?

  • Why are these your favorite and least favorite foods?

  • When do you eat what particular things?

  • What are your feelings surrounding foods?


Ayurveda is a process of self-discovery: you are embarking on a life-long journey of learning about your your body, your mind, and your health - all of which are entirely unique from every other person. It is for this reason that generic nutrition protocols and sweeping assertions about universally healthy and unhealthy foods miss the mark, because they ignore the profound individualism of each person.


Tweaking a Tasty Treat for Better Digestion


Jessica shared that she absolutely loves popcorn, even though it does not interact well with her body type: it creates intestinal upset from which it typically takes her several days to recover. Instead of viewing popcorn as the enemy, she has learned how to eat it in a way that works better for her body. For example, there are times of year and times of day when it is better than others; or she can combine popcorn with other foods and spices, and these pairings make it easier to digest. Individualized strategies and modifications like these allow eating her favorite treat to be an enjoyable experience for her, whereas previously it was quite detrimental.


So, how can you adopt simple strategies that will have a similar effect for your gut health? In order to get there, you first need to explore and identify which foods and experiences do not feel good...


Dare to Be Bravely Honest About Your Preferences and Experiences Around Food

You cannot implement changes of any size or kind if you are hiding from the facts. If you truly want to see positive change in your life, you have to be willing to be an agent of that change: you must be willing to objectively interact with your habits, tendencies, preferences, feelings, and experiences within your body around the food that you eat throughout the day.


If you are wanting to create a better reality for your physical body and for your life, rather than resisting, you must become willing to open your eyes and your mind and, yes, even your heart, to the unfiltered, raw truth of your preferences and experiences as they currently exist - even as you acknowledge that they are not where you ultimately want to remain. After all, the foundation of our whole life is our experiences, and you are not going to know how to find balance if you are unwilling to see the imbalance, and to sit with it. It is from that place, and from that place alone, that you can then start to carve your way out of an imbalanced state.


Check in with your body before and after eating. Notice how it feels, and choose to be okay with whatever comes up. Your job is to observe, to feel, without assigning qualities of 'good' or 'bad,' 'healthy' or 'unhealthy.' Then, once you have taken a few moments to accomplish that simultaneously simple and challenging task, you can ask yourself whether you like or dislike that feeling.


Recognize, too, that you preferences will shift over time, and tune into those changes. You are physically not the same person every seven years: your cells completely turn over. Your experience is going to shift constantly, every day. Lean into these transitions.


Nutrition Does Not Have to be (and Shouldn't be) Restrictive, Highly-Regimented, or Punishing


Long-term, hyper-specificity around portions and measurements (as we sometimes see with macro counting and calorie counting) can create and perpetuate unhealthy relationships with food, which negatively impact digestion. Jessica encourages us to relax around the rules and regimentation, recalling again that food is not your enemy - make this your mantra!


Jessica's Parting Words of Encouragement


Life is a series of endless transitions, and when we enter into motherhood, we really come to understand this in a visceral way, and in an emotional way, too. We experience many transitions throughout pregnancy, over the course of labor, and certainly after giving birth as our baby grows. Motherhood truly amplifies the transitional nature of life.


Jessica wants you to know that you get to choose to live in a sense of flow with these transitions, as opposed to fighting them, living in the past, or living in anxiety of the future. This process of practicing living in the flow of life's transitions is a whole learning experience in and of itself, and there is never going to be a moment when you have mastered it - and that's okay! Learning how you, as a wholly unique individual, can manage the ups and downs of the transitional nature of life will help you live in alignment with who you are, and with your purpose on this planet. Ultimately, this will benefit your children, your family, and the world around you. So let go and flow, mama!


Go to another episode about Ayurveda.


About Jessica

Jessica Rousseau is an Ayurvedic Health Counselor and yoga teacher with over 10 years of practice and education. Her years on the mat, in the kitchen, and growing babies has led her to create a safe haven for mamas who want to feel good in their own skin. She offers health counseling services, postpartum meal delivery services, and public yoga classes.


Here's where you can connect with Jessica:


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