So by now you know that the Yoga Diet isn’t really a diet. It’s a mash of mindful eating strategies and ancient yogic wisdom. A smattering of personal experience and a great deal of what I have learned in listening to others about eating, nutrition, weight and how all of these things impact the self. In previous posts you’ve learned what kind of eater you are and that being overly restrictive is just as soul crushing as being a chronic over-eater and that indeed the only way to be is to be; To follow your own instincts. You’ve learned that exercise is not the path to the mystical Shangrila of health and fitness and that the weight loss industry is hoping that you will spend money on products and information but not all that concerned about you losing weight or becoming healthier.
Let me be clear. The Yoga Diet isn’t just about loosing weight. It is about being healthy, vibrant, accepting of oneself and others. It’s about living better for longer. I truly think that we each have the personal wisdom to get to this place. Are there multiple barriers to utilizing this wisdom? Yes. Unfortunately there are many, but they are not insurmountable. I promise that everything you need to get to that healthy, vibrant you is already inside of you. The key is to listen to your body and feed its needs rather than its wants; to shed all of that diet culture conditioning, and to accept yourself for your successes and for your failures. I’d like to give you a few guidelines for accomplishing this. We’ll call these guidelines the Yoga Diet Rules.
The cornerstone of the Yoga Diet is Svadhyaya, or self-study. This is crucial to obtaining a healthy body and body image. Over weight and obese people tend to underestimate how much they have consumed and overestimate how active they have been, but we all are guilty of eating mindlessly. Practicing mindful eating is a form of self-study. Ask yourself before you sit down to eat: “Am I hungry?”, “How hungry?”, “What sounds good” or “Does this food appeal to me?’ (yes you have to ask, you’ll be surprised), “Why am I eating this?”. There is a step by step process that precedes any consumption that may seem silly at first but will become automatic soon enough.
Step 1 – Evaluate Hunger
Step 2 – Determine what you really need to eat
Step 3 – Enjoy every bite
Step 4 – Stop eating when you are no longer hungry (full is too far)
The great thing about really experiencing the food you put in your mouth is that you will feel satisfied with less. Really it’s true. Next time you sit down to that guilty pleasure or even a plain old sandwich, use all of your senses to consume it. Take your time seeing, smelling, chewing and swallowing each bite. I’m positive that you won’t go back for seconds even if it is the yummiest thing you have ever laid eyes on. There is a high probability that you won’t even finish your serving if you are following the rules. When you take your time and eat mindfully you notice important signals from the body such as satiety and fullness. We’ve been taught to ignore feelings of hunger and fullness since we were small children at the dinner table but as adults we must relearn to monitor our bodies. When we learn to eat only to satiety counting calories becomes obsolete, again, trust your innate wisdom. Sometimes instinctive eaters ignore these signals and that’s okay. You have a right to make that choice because you are in control and making a conscious decision. You always have a choice, but make it a choice instead of resorting to your default mode.
You should eat whatever you
want need to eat.
There are no bad foods on the Yoga Diet. If you truly want it you should have it and accept no substitute. If you want ice cream, do not, I repeat, do not settle for grapes or rice cakes or something equally unsatisfying. Chances are you will eat the grapes and feel deprived and soon enough you will have the ice cream. You could have saved yourself all of the misery and the calories and just had the ice cream. The Yoga Diet is about listening to the wisdom of your body. Lets just assume that the body knows what it needs to be healthy and that you just have to get out of the way and do its bidding. This sounds preposterous I know. You are saying “I want a Big Mac every day and stuffed crust pizza and a Frappuccino and …. ” I believe that most of the time we don’t really want this. We are listening to environmental cues, advertising , and peer pressure instead of serving the needs of the body. For example, did you ever eat lunch at noon not because you were hungry, but because it was lunch time? Did you ever walk into a party and start noshing on the hors-devours just because they were there even though you just had dinner a couple of hours ago? We’ve been letting advertising tell us for years what we want and what we like and we’ve paid a heavy price. There are however many appropriate environmental cues that can give us good information about what our bodies need. The seasons for example. Chances are you crave light, cool things in the summer. That is what your body needs. If you are a woman there is a high probability that you crave foods with a meaty texture and a rich taste during your cycle. That is what your body needs to replenish the iron and other nutrients lost during menstruation. It is often very difficult to determine what an appropriate signal is and what is harmful. That subject is for another blog post. For now just make sure that your consumption follows the rules above.
Every human being deserves kindness and compassion. That means you too. Lama Thubten Yeshe saya “Each one of us is a union of all universal energy. Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it.” In other words, no one is perfect… yet. Practice forgiveness of your mistakes and blunders. New opportunities to do better await you at every turn.
Activity is mandatory, exercise is optional
Hard core “exercise” is not the Holy Grail of fitness. Research shows that humans are better off when they are merely active throughout the day rather than cramming all of their exercise into 60 minute sessions two or three times a week. Those cramming sessions are not the path to a smaller you. You may build cardiovascular fitness, and larger muscles thereby becoming more fit and hopefully healthier. But if your goal is to lose weight you should focus on your diet. NO REALLY, focus on your diet and being as active as possible. This can mean exercise, taking the kids to the pool or the park, mowing the lawn, walking your dog, rolling in the hay ;0, even doing laundry. For many, exercise is a form of stress relief. I am acutely aware of this as a yoga instructor. For many it is a release, again, I concur. I love that fitness, and yoga and even better my classes can serve this purpose. I want you to keep doing it for those reasons but do it as if it will never help you shed another pound. You’d be amazed at how freeing this concept is, and how it can increase your passion for your chosen movement.
Asana, or yoga poses work best when they serve as a staging area for your life. On the mat we practice svadhyaya/satya – mindfulness, Asteya– non-attachment, and even tapas- the endurance of opposites or austerity and intention. Over time and with practice these observances transfer into our lives and even onto our dinner tables. In yoga asana practice we burn calories, build muscle mass, improve cardiovascular fitness, decrease stress, facilitate stellar posture and create leaner longer muscles. Can your exercise do all of that? Just sayin’. I might be a little biased but I really believe that yoga is tailor-made for people who want to lose weight. It’s low impact and it addresses the many issues that lead weight problems.
In yoga we practice an idea or abstinence called non-attachment or asteya. It’s weird I know but this is my favorite of all the yamas and niyamas, the first two steps of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. There are many ways to interpret asteya but my favorite definition is “Always try your best, but don’t be attached to the result.” There are so many things that are beyond our control in life but we can always control our actions and how we choose to think about them. So for now let the result go and just work on trying your hardest. Namaste yogis.