Why We Eat - Ayurvedic vs. Conventional Nutrition

One of the most profound differences between Ayurvedic and conventional nutrition can be summed up by one basic theory: Why we eat.

This may seem small, but our intention each time we sit down to eat a meal can make a huge shift in our eating patterns, relationship to food and energy levels as well as determining what foods we choose to eat.

Why We Eat
In conventional nutrition and lifestyles, the "why" behind eating can be many, many reasons. We eat what we like (personal preference), out of habit, because we are bored or angry or want to be distracted. We eat because of our body image: I want to portray myself as a skinny/healthy person, so I eat salad.

In Ayurvedic medicine, the reason for eating is simply to take in prana to live.
In Sanskrit, prana means "life force."

All of the foods we choose, therefore, we choose because they give us prana to live.

Choosing Foods
Of course, often we eat simply because we are hungry - but then what are our intentions and reasons behind the foods we choose?

Conventional nutrition puts the majority of emphasis on calories and food groups. "I put in x-number of calories each day and I only eat these food groups." or "I limit my intake from (or totally avoid) that certain food group."

While we may tailor the number of calories suggested per day to an individual (mostly just for weight loss), where those calories come from are not always individualized. Similarly, certain diets will limit or eliminate an entire food group and suggest this approach for everyone.

In Ayurveda, nutrition is measured by the qualities and elements that a food provides. For example, rice cakes and crackers contain a lot of the air and space elements. Fresh, ripe peaches contain plenty of the water element.

We determine how much of a certain food each person should eat by looking at their individual constitution. A person who is already very dry and light should eat more fresh, ripe peaches to hydrate them (and less crackers) to bring balance to their natural body type. Further, some body types should eat far more calories than others. There is never a one-size-fits-all answer to diet in Ayurveda.

Of course, taste is always a consideration in choosing foods. However, it is not the only one, and when our bodies are in balance, we crave what our bodies need to remain in balance. When the body has had too much sugar, it will signal you to stop eating sweet foods. If the body needs bitters to cleanse the blood, it will crave greens. But still, the "why" behind eating is to take in prana to live. Balance supports the flow of prana.

You Are What You....
The saying "You are what you eat" is famous in conventional nutrition. And Ayurveda would agree - mostly. In Ayurveda, we go one step further and say "You are what you are able to digest."

After all - what's the point of eating if we aren't digesting that food into life energy?


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