Why do We React to Food Differently?
As you look back in your life, do you notice a pattern of your body weight? Do you forget to eat or do you reach out for food when you are upset? Do you know someone who eats exactly like you but doesn’t gain an ounce while you struggle to keep the weight off? Where do you feel discomfort when you have digestion issue? Is it your stomach, intestine or colon?
Your Ayurvedic Constitution
According to Ayurveda, there are three body types (doshas or constitution) that correspond to our physical and personality traits: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Understanding your dosha is the first step in gaining tremendous insight in your body as you learn the right diet, exercise routine and lifestyle that are optimal for your health. You may find an Ayurvedic practitioner to accurately determine your dosha or you may take the online dosha quiz to get an idea. Most people are a combination of two doshas, but one typically predominates.
Don’t get too hung up on the detailed analysis of your dosha quiz as you might find different results each time you take the quiz. You want to know your dominant dosha so that you start paying attention to how you body reacts to different foods at different time and you become more connected with the food that you eat. As time goes by and you get to know yourself better, the quiz result will become closer and closer to your true self. For example, when I was younger and less self-aware, I thought I was Pitta-Kapha, but having looked back at how I reacted to eating in my younger years, I realized I am actually Pitta-Vata.
Let’s look at your diet based on your body type:
Vata is made up of ether and air. It is light and dispersing. Those with predominantly Vata are naturally thin and difficult to gain weight. Foods containing a lot of ether and air which are raw, dry and cold should be avoided.
Vatas favour sweet, salty and sour tastes. They should eat moist, warm, oil and heavy (grounded) foods. When Vatas are out of balance, their poor digestion will cause bloating and constipation. They tend to forget to eat when they are overwhelmed or upset. Looking back at my own life, I realized that my Vata imbalance that had caused me to not feel hunger when I broke up with my boyfriend during my final exam in university many years ago.
Check out Overweight Vata Podcast.
Pitta is made up of fire and water. It is intense and radiating. Those with predominantly Pitta are medium build, can gain and lose weight fairly easily. Their digestive fire is strong and sometimes they think they can eat anything. I am very Pitta (more than 50%) and I had had very huge appetite during my younger adulthood. This is a very common problem for most Pittas because we think we have been eating this much of food in the past without putting on the extra weight and we should be able to still do the same. The reality is our body becomes more efficient as we get older and it requires less food. So if we don’t adjust how we eat, we can still gain weight easily. This is exactly what happened to me when I was in my 30’s and I started to pile up a couple of pounds every year, going from size 0 to size 6. Not until this spring when I started intermittent fasting (meal spacing that cycles between at least 13 hours of fasting and eating) that I finally regained control of my healthy weight.
Pittas favour sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes. They should eat sweet juicy fruits, cooling vegetables like cucumber, kale and lettuce while avoiding hot and spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine. When Pittas are out of balance, they suffer from acid reflux or heartburn.
Check out Overweight Pitta Podcast.
Kapha is made up of water and earth. It’s heavy and dense. Those with predominantly Kapha are heavy build and find it harder to lose weight. I have a Kapha girlfriend who loves to have healthy snack frequently in small quantity, and she likes her sweets too. You can see the snacking (or meal stacking) and sweets are aggravating Kapha. It will be very difficult for her to maintain a healthy weight unless she starts to intermittent fast and obey her dosha-favoured diet.
The Kaphas favour pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes. They should eat a lot of vegetables and high fiber foods like legumes while minimizing dairy, oily foods and sweets. When Kaphas are out of balance, their slow digestion may lead to weight gain.
Check out Overweight Kapha Podcast.
Meal Stacking May Cause Disease
Regardless of your body type, if you are constantly eating (i.e. snacking or meal stacking), you will have food at different digestion stages along your gastrointestinal tract — an apple from an hour ago in your stomach, a cookie from 3 hours ago in your intestine and your lunch from 4 hours ago in your colon. This constant buildup of food depletes our energy to actually do a proper job in digestion, absorption and elimination. When food builds up like this, we start to accumulate ama (toxins from undigested food and usually caused by weak digestion). If you have more Vata in your constitution, ama will accumulate in colon, Pitta in small intestine and Kapha in stomach.
You want to pay close attention to ama because it is the first stage of disease according to Ayurveda’s six stages of disease.
So how can you prevent ama from building up?
Have your largest meal between 10 am and 2 pm – when your digestive fire is the strongest. Eat when you are truly hungry (not emotional hunger) and space your meals for proper digestion, absorption and elimination. According to Ayurveda, Vata should eat 3 to 4 times a day, Pitta 3 times and Kapha 2 to 3 times, and no snacking in between meals. This is also called intermittent fasting. This concept is foreign to some people who have been told to constantly graze to boost metabolism.
Besides meal stacking, dosha imbalance may also happen when you violate your daily habits like eating late heavy dinner when the digestive fire is weak, going to bed late with full stomach obstructing digestion and proper body cleansing, eating junk food or not eating mindfully.
What is your take?
Should you care how you eat for your body type? Intermittent fasting or meal stacking? Experiment it for yourself, connect and listen to your body, and notice how you feel. Check in with your body when you crave certain food. Is it the pure craving or is it dosha imbalance? Our body is very intelligent, if you attune your diet and lifestyle to your body constitution and the natural rhythm of life, you will start to find your healthy weight and have a radiant longevity.