Healthy eating guidelines from Cate Stillman (part 2 of 3)
Part 2 of 3 from Chapter 12 of Cate Stillman's book "Body Thrive" that you can purchase from her website. We are excited to collaborate with her to get the word out about healthy living! Also, listen to the recent interview between Cate and HANAH founder Joel Einhorn, here on Yoga Healer's podcast.
The Healthier Eating Guidelines, or HEGs
The HEGs are basic rules for attuning your tongue, listening to your gut and nourishing you. They read like a rule book. You may find some of the rules too challenging for you right now. Recall your "what" and your "why" on your journey to Body Thrive (from chapter 2... buy the book here).
Read the HEGs below and check off two that you want to work on. If you suffer from poor digestion or elimination, insomnia or stress, find which guidelines you break the most. Make those your new habits.
- Eat only two to three times a day, when hungry (not bored, tired, thirsty or upset).
- Take only water, without ice, between meals to let your digestion rest.
- Eat fresh, not leftover food. Notice the prana.
- Pause in gratitude and receptivity for your food and those who contributed to its journey to your body.
- Do not eat when emotionally distracted or multitasking.
- Enjoy your food. Taste the tastes.
- Relax after eating. After a big meal, rest for 5 to 15 minutes, then take a stroll if you can.
- Steer toward high-nutrient foods.
- Slow down for a satisfying midday meal.
- Eat a light dinner, leaving time to digest before rest.
- Allow 13 hours between dinner and "breaking" your fast.
- Be like Goldilocks—find just the right amount to eat so you don't stretch your stomach or need to eat to too frequently.
- Eat during daylight hours.
- Incorporate the six tastes.
- Follow the Ayurveda food combining rules.
- Learn the best diet for your Ayurvedic constitution and time of life.
- Eat your ecosystem. You'll eat seasonally and locally, and be more connected to stewarding your hood.
As a rule breaker, I've broken all of them. When I first encountered Ayurveda, I was breaking most of them. Over the last 17 years, I've tested each of the HEGs and found that, indeed, my overall health improves with each rule. The goal isn't perfection—it's great digestion. Stop obstructing your body from receiving nutrition, rest between cycles, and you're well on your way.
Let's look at three basics:
- Eat only two to three times a day, when hungry (not bored, tired, thirsty, or upset).
- Take only water between meals to let your digestion rest.
- Enjoy your food. Taste the tastes.
Now, let's apply the basics to Hunter.
Habit change science can help you here—you never want to ask someone to do more than they want to do or can see themselves actually doing.
Hunter needed to learn to read his tongue and eat fresher food. I taught him to use a tongue scraper and tongue map. As Hunter was a batch kind of guy, I taught him to make batches of sauerkraut. He experimented with fermenting various vegetables and spices. Fermented foods are packed with enzymes and turn up agni. I asked him to make fresh food at least every three days instead of once a week, which we both agreed he'd enjoy more. This is where we began.
Hunter's agni fired up and ama subsided. His tongue coating thinned. Once he streamlined his digestive energy he felt better, more energetic. His digestion improved, but not entirely. At a followup visit, we looked at what else was amiss. Hunter ate ice cream for dessert and cereal with milk in the morning. For breakfast, I asked him to switch to a hot grain cereal with rice or almond milk, and to replace the ice cream with ginger snaps most of the time. And, of course, I asked him to eat dinner earlier with dessert immediately following, and then close his kitchen and brush his teeth.
With these additional changes, Hunter discovered he had a world of control over how he felt. When he slipped back and had ice cream instead of ginger snaps, his stomach felt crummy. Hunter decided to cut out dairy and the rest of his ama disappeared. Hunter's bloating and stomach cramping days were over. He had more energy than he'd had in 15 years.
If you have digestion, absorption, or elimination issues, you want to prioritize the HEGs over the other habits. The energy and time you invest here will empower you for the rest of your life. Digestion, absorption, and elimination should be smooth and pleasant. That is our target. These guidelines will help you get there.
These three HEGs deserve special attention.
Eat during daylight hours
Our digestion evolved from our diurnal, pre-electricity era as humans. We like to see our food, which we could only by the light of the sun. We prepared food during the day so we wouldn't attract predators. Due to this, our human bodies produce more bile, or digestive artillery, when the sun is high in the sky. Don't eat at night—leave three hours between your last meal and bedtime. If you're eating at night, go back to Habit 1—earlier, lighter dinner. If you're wintering in the Arctic, just make sure your big meal is during daylight.
Be like Goldilocks
This guideline is to fill your empty stomach with one third food, one third water, one third space, or room for digestion. Leave room for agni to churn and burn. That means not eating to fullness or stuffing yourself. When you stuff yourself, you steal energy for today and tomorrow. Do that repetitively for a few weeks and your stomach will stretch. Your sense of satiation will require more food and you'll be in an endless cycle of stomach expansion.
Stop the madness. Eat less. Use a smaller plate. Leave a few bites of food on your plate.
Do whatever works for you to leave room for agni to churn and burn. Leave room for spirit, or your soul, to throw an after-dinner dance. Find other sources of pleasure instead of overeating—like a brisk walk after meals or a cat nap following your midday meal.
Take only water between meals
Do you know what hunger feels like? Some of us put food-to-mouth throughout the day at the fancy of our mind and emotions. I get it. I've been there. I used to eat little pieces of dark chocolate between meals. I also know, firsthand, that eating between meals, instead of drinking water or getting a breath of fresh air, is a terrific way to gain cellulite, waste bodily energy, and inculcate a scattered mind.
If you look closely at impulsive eating, you'll see it's habituated. There are triggers, habits, and rewards already at play, albeit unintentionally. When you see the pattern behind your actions, or the man behind the curtain, you can call your own bluff and put better triggers, habits, and rewards into place.
The hunger-satiation cycle is like the breath. You can't take a deep breath unless you're ready to be filled. You aren't ready to be filled until you're empty. You can't be empty if you're always inserting a little something into your pie hole.
When you're truly hungry for a meal, your tongue is more accurate and taste buds sharper. The meal didn't change. Your preparation to eat changed. Your senses were optimized to the experience of filling up, because your gut enjoyed being empty for awhile.
When you eat before you're hungry, it doesn't taste as good. The digestive cycle gets overloaded and backed up, creating gas and bloating. You restock your blood sugar too quickly, so your body doesn't shift into fat metabolism. When you're metabolizing from your blood sugar, your thoughts and emotions are stressed, chaotic, intense, and negative. When you're in fat metabolism, your thoughts and emotions are stable, mellow, and positive. You design how you feel and think by how frequently you eat.
We often confuse hunger with thirst. The consequences of overeating far outweigh the consequences of over-hydrating. The symptoms of dehydration (e.g., feeling low energy, dizzy, and cranky) mimic those of hunger. It's been estimated that 80 percent of our food cravings are thirst cravings in disguise. Before agriculture arose 10,000 years ago, we humans grazed on leaves, fruits and stalks all day in large part for hydration.
When in doubt, drink water.
If you're truly hungry, you'll know in about 20 minutes with the chicken-scratching sensation in your breadbasket. Only food can satisfy true hunger. Thirst kicks in only after you're partially dehydrated. Again, when in doubt, apply the "Yes, and" rule: Yes, I'm hungry, and I'd better drink a cup of water and wait awhile to make sure it's really hunger.
Uprooting outdated cravings—an intro to detox
If you crave foods that work against your body, you have a disconnect. Your mind and your tongue are disconnected from what your bodily tissues desire. "Dumb" cravings are caused by ama. The ama acts like an evil imposter, taking over your emotions and your taste buds so that you crave and like that which generates more ama. You're trapped in a negative feedback loop.
The only escape route is detox. Ayurveda understands detox less as a broom and more like a fire. By giving agni space to burn, air to fan the flames, and lighter fluid to get sparky, the gunk in your cells gets incinerated. On a cellular level, agni gets sparked and incinerates the ama within or pushes the gunk back into circulation for removal via the poop, urine, menses, sweat, or snot.
To start detoxing, do less harm. Our bodies are astonishingly intelligent. A little cooperation is noted. Even before you start a "No" list, go with the "Yes, and." Yes to green juice. Yes to vegetable soups. You won't have as much room for everything else.
If you lighten your toxic load even a smidge today, by tomorrow less gunk goes into deeper tissue.
Soon you feel better. You get curious about what a clean slate feels like.
There is also the deep-dive approach to detox. Even a short deep-dive detox—or quick immersion into what you should be doing—can efficiently lodge you in your new norm. When you emerge from a deep-dive detox, you're smarter, lighter, clearer, and less in denial about what doesn't work for you at this cycle in your life. You simultaneously reset your mind, your taste buds, your food prep habits, and your menu-ordering habits.
Let go of the obvious, like alcohol, chocolate, coffee, smokes, crack, and processed food, along with wheat, meat, corn and sugar for just a spell long enough to wipe the slate clean and smarten up your palate.
Within the world of detox you have choices—fast or slow, intense or gentle, cooked or raw, whole foods or liquids, juices or soups. The basic idea is always the same—during a detox you simplify what you take in through your five senses. You purify and rest. As you emerge, you nourish and protect your new foundling state of clarity, serenity, and purity.
Make your detox doable. As with any habit shift, you've got to want it, and you've got to feel competent you can execute. Doable detoxes, or system resets, should be done twice a year if there is physical or emotional ama, or the desire to uplevel or retreat. Use the Do I Have Ama checklist in the free Body Thrive Workbook. If you have ama, go to Yogidetox.com for your free recipe book and start guide. And if you want to experience the Power of the Posse, join us from anywhere for the next live Yogidetox.
Eat the Six Tastes Daily
How you experience depends on your five senses. The outer ecosystem becomes your inner ecosystem through your senses. Taste is the most obvious, as your body is fed nutrients to build bodily tissue through food. Your tongue has six sections to absorb the six tastes. All six of the tastes are needed for optimal digestion.
If you aren't eating all six tastes daily, your cravings will be off. If you don't include bitter, you may have excessive sweet cravings as these opposites balance each other. The easiest way to integrate all six tastes in your day is in your midday meal.
The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Each taste performs specific actions to design healthy functional tissues. Ayurveda codifies seven levels of tissue: plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bones, bone marrow, and procreation fluids. Good tissue formation of all seven tissues is a prerequisite for building ojas; therefore, you need the six tastes to optimize immune function. The six tastes enhance the culture of the universe of you.
However, if you leave out bitter, which refines and tightens the tissue, your cells will lack cohesion and tone. This is modeled in the Western diet, which lacks an abundance of dark leafy greens and leads to obesity (a disease of excess building and lack of reduction).
The chart below is an easy visual to understand the tastes that build tissue and the tastes that reduce tissue. If you're too heavy, increase the reducing tastes, and if you're too light, then vice versa.
Where to find the six tastes
"Bitter is better," I've heard Dr. Lad say dozens of times. Bitter is the taste of dark, leafy greens. Sauté or lightly steam spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, or dandelion greens. Dozens of different leafy greens are edible and have unique nutrient complexes. Diversify the greens in your salads. Add greens to smoothies.
Pungent is that spicy kick that breaks down heavier nutrients, releases stuck energy, including congestion, and increases circulation. Expand your spice repertoire, or simply start with a grind of fresh pepper or a cup of ginger tea. Certain greens, like mustard and arugula, and roots like radish or daikon, are strong in pungent taste.
Astringent helps your tissue pucker and firm up. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice or a side of beans is enough to indulge your astringent taste buds.
Sour taste perks up your agni, enhances other flavors, and has a hydrophilic impact on your tissue. Fermented foods are the best way to get sour taste. A small scoop of homemade sauerkraut, a cup of miso soup, or a homemade yogurt sauce will meet your sour requirements.
Most likely you get plenty of sweet taste. Sweet taste is anything that tastes nourishing. Grains, meats, breads, pasta, root vegetables, sweet fresh and dried fruits, and of course sweets fall into this category. Notice that vegetables need to be divided into roots and greens. Roots are sweet and increase body weight; greens are bitter and decrease body weight. If you crave an excess of sweet, look to increase bitter.
Salt enhances the appetite and enhances the other tastes. Use high quality mineral salts and seaweed salts. If you have bloating or water retention, use a little less salt each day to rebalance your salty taste buds.
Review the list above, and add the missing tastes to that bigger middle-of-the-day meal or very early dinner. The tastes, of course, are subject to the law of polarity. Like increases like, and the opposites reduce each other. The more you use hot sauce, the more hot sauce you'll crave. Same with salt and all the other tastes. Design your body by using the tastes that have the actions you want. Use the Kaizen approach to add tastes that are missing from your meals. A squeeze of lemon or dash of cinnamon is all it may take.
With practice, your palate won't let you leave out a taste. As your palate smartens up, you are less likely to use your sense of taste poorly, thus averting the second cause of disease. Furthermore, you'll be more attracted to the tastes that are seasonally dominant and prevent seasonal imbalances that would contribute to the third cause of disease — living out of sync with the cosmic clock.
Personal calamities with the HEGs
By my teen years, I had snot regardless of the season. My dad nicknamed me "Foghorn." Running out of tissues at high school frequently led to classroom calamities. My doctor proclaimed the cause was allergies.
From the Ayurvedic perspective, the cause was ama. Ama is often a major factor in allergies and other immune disorders where you react to your ecosystem. I grew up violating the quintessential Ayurvedic habit by eating a late dinner, often with ice cream for dessert.
As a young adult studying Ayurveda, I did an experiment to see if my allergies were caused by my choices or my ecosystem. I detoxed with Ayurvedic kitchari, rice and mung bean stew, and the standard home panchakarma (Ayurvedic cleansing) practices for seven days. I had nasya administered, an Ayurvedic detox therapy where you snort warm herbal oil that is designed for your particular imbalances.
Snot flowed out of me profusely for two or so weeks. After the blowout, the snot was gone. All of it. Gone. In 14 days. After, I had no need for drugs or tissues.
My first detox was a challenge, but the detox itself turned out to be the easy part.
The hard part was saying no to ice cream after the detox. This is where asatmendriyartha samyoga — disrespecting your senses — came in big time. There is an effort, a tapas, that appears with transformation. If that effort demands too much discipline all at once, you fail.
I'm embarrassed to admit that soon after, I was eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
My cognitive maturity was way ahead of my emotional maturity. The snot returned.
Bulldozing a bad habit is harder than constructing a good habit. I could have applied "Yes, and" and had a spoon of raw honey and a cup of ginger tea after dinner. Then if I still wanted ice cream, I would be appeased by less. Shift your focus from uprooting a negative habit to feeding a better habit.
After years, I transcended the ice-cream-to-snot pattern. I added the habit of detoxing every six months. My tongue grew smarter as I became ama-free and wanted nutrients, not filler. My palate slowly, but surely, matured.
When you engage a deep time perspective on your own samskaras and how deep their nocuous roots grow, you can collaborate with yourself and nurture a cooperative approach to their dissolution. Be honest with what you should do and what you can do now. Instead of sabotaging your stoke, add a habit. You'll avoid subtly beating yourself up for your lack of integrity when your willpower fails.
Stay tuned for the next portion of "Body Thrive" in two weeks!
The author, Cate Stillman, is the founder of Yogahealer.com. She empowers thrive-seekers to uplevel their health, their careers and their lives in real time. Cate teaches wellness pros to grow their impact and their income and live their best lives.
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