12 February 2012

Ayurveda and weight loss: my latest excursion to Kripalu

Last weekend I attended a program called "Ayurveda and Weight Loss" at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. It was taught by Dr. John Douillard, author of The 3-Season Diet: Eat the Way Nature Intended: Lose Weight, Beat Food Cravings, and Get Fit. It was a fascinating program, one of the best I've been to at Kripalu since I started going there in the late 1990s. There's lots to share, but I'll try to focus on the weekend's highlights. 

Program Overview
First off, Dr. Douillard was a great presenter: engaging, funny, and informative. He shared both sides of an argument and its research before offering his recommendation. He also took a lot of time to answer questions from the audience. Everything he said resonated with me and at the same time kind of blew my mind--I guess that's what happens when in hindsight, real solutions seem so simple and obvious.

Dr. Douillard defined Ayurveda, on which his book is based, as "the science of living life in harmony with nature". Our lifestyles often work against nature, resulting in experiences of physical and mental highs and lows. As these accumulate over time, we become exhausted and the body breaks down. Working with nature makes life a heck of a lot easier, so at a high level, it's what all we want to do!

Program Takeaways
At a high level, Dr. Douillard's message is that:
  • We've trained ourselves to stop being good fat burners, and need to restore that capability. Rather than avoiding foods, the majority of us should be able to digest anything as if we were 18 years old. Better digestion means we feel sustained with less food, which ultimately leads to a healthy and maintainable weight.
  • We should eat three meals, making lunch the largest and longest meal so that it aligns with the circadian rhythm of the day. Snacking conditions your body to crave food every 2-3 hours, to burn the snack rather than fat from the previous meal, and negatively impacts sleep because you're suddenly asking your body to fast for 8 hours.
  • There are no bad foods. Some are just better than others, based on your individual body constitution and the seasons. Look to the harvests of each season, because they are designed to balance and maintain the health of your body. (Use this quiz on Dr. Douillard's web site to find your body type, and check out which foods are best for Winter.)
  • Stress has a significant impact on how well the body's organs function, and when digestion is affected, weight is too.  It's important to engage the parasympathetic nervous system throughout the day by eating meals mindfully, really taking time to relax, and by leveraging close-mouthed, deep breathing techniques even during exercise.
  • Staying hydrated throughout the day is vital. Drinking 1-2 full glasses of water all at once, before you eat or whenever you have a craving can work wonders. 
Throughout the weekend, Dr. Douillard complimented information like this with highly accessible explanations of the physiological and emotional workings of the human body. Understanding the deeper rationale behind these recommendations is what really sold it for me. If you want to learn more, check out his web site.

Some Personal Experiences
This past week I've been going with nature, and I can tell you that personally, I have experienced it to be easier. I initially felt defensive and fearful about giving up my snacks, since I've managed my hypoglycemia that way for years. But after eating mostly the "best" foods off Dr. John's Winter grocery list, I've started to learn just how much is in my mind versus truly in my body. I've re-tried and liked foods I thought I didn't, and I love having a little dessert with lunch because that means no 3-4 pm chocolate or carb cravings. I'm starting to feel less hungry for breakfast and dinner, and my mind feels more calm and peaceful. What's more, I'm having to grocery shop less, and what I buy is always the best quality because it's naturally in season.

I'm going to continue exploring all of this, since it just makes sense to me. I welcome techniques into my life that make living simpler, enabling me to just be.

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