originally published in Natural Health magazine ,  Oct-Nov, 2001  by Tricia O'Brien

HANKERINGS FOR UNHEALTHY FOODS, LIKE CHOCOLATE BARS or potato chips, don't come out of the blue. They're a sign your body is out of balance, according to practitioners of Ayurveda, India's 5,000-year-old healing tradition. You're born with balance, but bad habits like depriving yourself of the foods you need or ignoring high stress levels can upset that balance and cause you to gain weight.

Your body perceives imbalance as an emergency, and it reacts by tapping carbohydrates for energy and holding on to fat, explains John Douillard, Ph.D., D.C., a Boulder, Colo.-based Ayurvedic physician and the author of The 3-Season Diet (Three Rivers Press, 2001). When you're burning carbohydrates for fuel, you're especially prone to cravings for junk food because your body wants more carbohydrates, especially simple ones, to keep itself running.

The best way to beat your cravings and lose any extra weight is to train your body to burn fat instead of carbs. To make that happen, and to bring your body back to balance, Douillard and other Ayurvedic practitioners say you need to follow these four golden rules.

golden rule #1

Eat Foods Appropriate to Each Season.

Eating foods when they're in season helps your body connect with nature. When you're synchronized with nature's cycles, Douillard has observed, you reduce the chances that your body will go into emergency mode and burn carbohydrates instead of the nonemergency fuel, fat.

You'll also start to yearn for healthy foods as they're ripening and will be less likely to crave chips or soda. Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., medical director of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Center at the Raj in Fairfield, Iowa, says it's okay to give in to unhealthy cravings sometimes. But she recommends that you try to interpret your cravings and give your body what it really needs. If you're longing for something sweet, try a juicy pear instead of a candy bar.

Seasonal eating means separate menus for spring, summer, and winter. (What happened to fall, you ask? Ayurveda divides the year into six seasons. Douillard combined those six into three main seasons to simplify matters.) The idea is that you can eat whatever you want and as much as you want as long as the food comes from the correct harvest. This doesn't mean you're restricted to locally grown foods; you can supplement with foods harvested around the world in that same season. Northern states, for example, don't grow much produce in winter months, but northerners can eat grapefruits, which are harvested in winter in other parts of the world.

Knowing a little about growing seasons makes it easy to choose the right fruits and vegetables for each time of year. But to figure out when to eat foods like fish, poultry, and rice (which don't have an obvious growing season), it helps to understand some basic Ayurvedic principles. Practitioners classify foods according to the way they affect your body, and one way they arrange them is by their warming or cooling energy. Some foods warm you up, and others cool you down. Dairy products, for example, are considered cooling foods that are best eaten in the summer to balance the heat of that season. Chicken and fish are warming, so you should eat them most often in winter. Foods like rice are naturally balanced, meaning they fall somewhere between hot and cold, so you can eat them in more than one season. For more examples, see "The Right Foods for Each Season," page 126.

The summer season stretches from July to October, so right now, naturally cooling fruits and vegetables should make up the bulk of your diet. Sixty to 70 percent of what you eat should be carbohydrates, and the rest should be split evenly between fats and protein. The carbs will give you energy for the last of summer's long, busy days.

In November, begin the winter diet, which emphasizes warmer, heavier foods, including good fats from nuts and cold-water fish. Foods like these may lead you to gain extra pounds in winter, but Douillard says you'll lose them easily because the spring diet ignites your body's ability to burn fat. (If you skimp on heavier foods in winter, you'll crave inappropriate foods the rest of the year, he says, leading to more weight gain.) Your diet should be 40 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent carbs.

The spring diet, followed from March to June, is low-fat and low-calorie to detoxify your body and help you shed winter's excess. Plan meals around foods like sprouts, berries, and bitter greens. Douillard says you should shoot for about 60 percent of your diet from fats, 60 percent from carbs, and 30 percent from protein.

These dates for the seasons are approximate. Pay attention to the length of each season in your area. If you live in the Southwest, for example, where winters are short, adhere to the winter diet for just four to six weeks and move to the spring diet sooner.

golden rule #2

Adjust Your Diet for Your Body Type.

According to Ayurvedic teaching, each of us has one of three doshas, or body types. These types are based in part on your body shape, but they also take into account your temperament, sleep habits, and dietary preferences. Ayurvedic practitioners know these types as vata, pitta, and kapha, but Douillard prefers to think of them in terms of seasons; he says you can be a winter, summer, or spring type. Most of us possess characteristics from all three types, but one or two usually predominate. Which of the following profiles best matches you? (For more help determining your dosha, take the quiz "What's Your Type?" next page.)

Vata/Winter You feel cold even when the mercury rises. You tend to have a thinner build and to perform tasks quickly. You're intellectual, and you're prone to worry when under stress.

Pitta/Summer You often feel hot, even in winter. You have a medium build and perform most tasks at a moderate speed. A driven competitor, you appear self-confident and are a good public speaker. Stress makes you irritable or angry.

Kapha/Spring If you tend to retain water, this could be you. You have a larger frame and are sociable, easy-going, and less vulnerable to stress. You usually move slowly, but you have high endurance. You're a go-with-the-flow type, with a slower metabolism.

To get the best results from the seasonal diet, you need to fine-tune it according to your body type. That's where Douillard's names for body types come in handy. If you're a winter type, you need to pay close attention to the winter diet and try especially hard not to eat out-of-season foods in winter months. The same goes for summer and spring types. The second way to fine-tune is to extend the diet for your personal season, starting it a month early and ending it a month late.

golden rule #3

Eat Your Biggest Meal of the Day at Lunch.

"One of the best ways to end cravings is to have a full tank of gas," Douillard says. Ayurvedic experts recommend eating your big meal at midday, which will give you long-lasting energy to power past prime craving time in the mid to late afternoon. If you're voracious at dinner, Douillard adds, you haven't eaten enough lunch.

Ayurvedic practitioners believe your body digests a big meal better in the afternoon than at night. And if you eat too much at dinner, your body will be so busy digesting that it won't be able to detoxify, a process that should occur around midnight.

Douillard recommends starting your day with a light breakfast so you're ready for a big meal at lunch. Dinner should also be a light meal, like a bowl of soup or a salad.

Douillard acknowledges that a big lunch isn't always possible, but he suggests practicing the 51 percent principle: Eat this way most of the time and you'll benefit. Try to have a large lunch twice during the work week, and on both days of the weekend.

Ayurveda teaches that when you eat a meal, you should be doing just that, not working on a crossword puzzle or watching television. "Make mealtime a ritual," says Virender Sodhi, M.D., N.D., an Ayurvedic physician and naturopath in Bellevue, Wash. Create an inviting atmosphere and prepare your own food when possible. Your body digests food best when you relax, so eat slowly and make an effort to use your entire lunch break. Douillard adds that if you sit quietly for 10 minutes after you eat to aid digestion, you won't get sleepy.

Relaxation and mindfulness have other mealtime advantages, too: You will notice when you're satisfied and be less likely to overeat. "In Ayurveda, we encourage people to honor those signals by not putting anything in their mouth unless they are getting strong hunger signals from the body," says David Simon, M.D., medical director of the Chopra Center for Health and Well-Being in La Jolla, Calif., and co-author of Grow Younger, Live Longer: The 10 Steps to Reverse Aging (Harmony Books, 2001). He uses an appetite scale of 0 (empty) to 10 (what you might feel on Thanksgiving) and suggests that you stop eating at about level 7.

golden rule #4

Practice stress reduction.

Stress of any kind triggers the fight-or-flight response. In this state, your body not only craves carbohydrates for fuel, but also holds on to fat, particularly around your middle. To help you lose weight, try these three ways to keep stress in check.

Breathe deeply. "Many people don't breathe properly, which isn't good for metabolism," says Lonsdorf. Most of us take shallow upper-chest breaths that stimulate the stress response. But when you breathe deeply, you take in more oxygen and pull it deeper into your lungs, accessing the nerves in your lungs' lower lobes. These nerves contain receptors that create a calming, rejuvenating effect, Douillard says.

Try it anytime you need to ease stress: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths in through your nose, using your diaphragm. (If you place your hand on your abdomen, it should move out as you inhale and in as you exhale.)

Exercise gently. Working out at full capacity is another kind of stress that can cause cravings and weight gain, Douillard says. He recommends exercising at a moderate level, below 60 percent of your maximum heart rate.

You'll know you've hit the right pace if you can breathe deeply through your nose during your workout, he says. If you combine deep breathing with exercise, you will avoid triggering the fight-or-flight response, so your body will burn fat instead of carbohydrates.

It may take a few weeks to master nose breathing while you walk or run. In fact, some people feel light-headed when trying it for the first time. If you feel dizzy or winded, stop, take a few normal breaths, and then try again, Douillard says.

Meditate. Meditation is a staple of Ayurveda that also reduces stress. Meditating for 20 minutes twice a day can produce powerful effects. "First thing in the morning, it calms and relaxes the mind," says Lonsdorf. "And then in the evening, it takes away the day's stress." Transcendental meditation (TM) is one form of this practice. To find a TM workshop near you, call the Transcendental Meditation Program of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at 888-532-7686

what's your type?

KNOWING YOUR AYURVEDIC BODY TYPE CAN PERSONALIZE your diet to eliminate cravings. To determine your type, read each question and circle the answer that best matches you. (I have cut out this part from the newsletter to save space. If you would like to take this test, just click here and scroll down)

Suggested reading:
The 3-Season Diet: Eat the Way Nature Intended: Lose Weight, Beat Food Cravings, and Get Fit, by Dr. John Douillard

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