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Intuitive Eating and Ayurveda

Although intuitive eating has been around, as a concept since the mid nineties, it has been given more attention in recent years, as a way for individuals to find peace in their relationship with food. I first came in contact and began practicing intuitive eating during my dietetics studies, when the founders book first came out. In my more than 25 years in the nutrition field, I have seen and experienced many different ways of eating by individuals and cultures. I have always tried things on myself first and observed responses in those I have worked with. Food is a particular issue for people and society because it is linked to so many elements of life: interpersonal, cultural, demographic, family life and all of these connections carry a tie to the emotional life of the individual. And, as food is a subtle, unseen need within a being, but is also physical matter, it lies at a very unique juncture. Much like air or water. It is something that is material in the physical world and becomes consumed and divided into various forms in the body - fulfilling many different needs and requirements. Just as we don't sense the true value and depth of what is being received by the body through the breath, so likewise we move quickly through that which is offered us in the form of food. For women I have worked with who struggle from various degrees of disordered eating, one of the difficulties is the ability to form a quiet, sense based relationship with food. It becomes a matter to be taken or discarded, desired or refrained from. Much of this relates to worth. To not feeling able to stop, to slow down to really give to oneself, to really be nourished and to really question what that nourishment looks and feels like. This impulse then becomes mixed up into an inner melange of messages. Only when we start to slow the inner turmoil, and to give things the time they need can we start to understand on a physical level what the body is having to digest on a regular basis. That is, what the person as a whole is taking in to their inner environment.

Intuitive eating is beginning to have some pull in part because people are feeling the effect of the barrage of information and messages around food - whether it be wellbeing, health, looks, body shape, disease fighting, diets, etc. It is based on assumptions about what is right and what is wrong, always missing the underlying subconscious thread which is - something from the outside is going to fix what is wrong on the inside. And yes, food is a powerful medium. Without it life ceases, and poor quality nutrition does effect the body in profound ways - just as many foods can be a great support to the psychobiology. So the question then becomes what is our connection, relationship and personally gained knowledge about food.

From the beginning of life, messages and demands are laid around how and what to do when. When a baby is hungry and needs to breastfeed, it is a pure request - it is a simple straight forward need. And a baby should be fed when it is calling out of hunger - or held when it is crying out for attachment. This honours their ability to be in touch with their inner world. Likewise, demanding that children not go to the washroom when they need to because of an external constraint - real or created, begins the process of dampening the pure relationship to bodily need. Demanding that a child eat when not hungry or finish what is on their plate by coercive measures is another way that inner messages begin to become overridden and senses dampened. There are countless examples that can be made, but the reason behind them is to illustrate the gradual mixing and confusion that is created in the body from very early on. Likewise, the options available are dependant on many different factors - availability, cultural form, accessibility, familial habit, doshic tenancy, geography, etc. So, if the sense for a taste does arise, it can be manifest in different ways. For example, it is thought that due to the lack of "astringent" tastes in the American diet, there is a biological need to fill this lack which is then satisfied by the very astringent drink coffee. Likewise, there is the story of the young American woman near the turn of the century who was brought to a psychologist because she had an insatiable obsession with eating newspapers. It was at the level of addiction and it was thought that she had some kind of psychological issue. Fortunately for her in those days of western medicine where many women ended up in asylums or with a lobotomy or hysterectomy, she fell on a doctor who looked into the matter. The discovery was that the woman was anemic and therefor was craving the iron that was used in the printing ink at the time. When her iron intake was supplemented, this need to ingest the ink disappeared altogether. So, part of understanding food and nutrition is questioning what it is that we reach for intuitively. Many of the individuals that I have worked with have severe issues with disordered eating, and one of the most difficult things for them to recover is the pure intuitive connection to their bodily needs. The messages have been denied for so long that sensation is quite injured. Ayurveda states to never repress bodily urges: hunger, the need to urinate, the need to defecate, the need to sneeze or to cough, the need to pass gas. The movements present in the body must be allowed to flow in their pranic direction. One of the issues with intuitive eating that most of the population face is the fact that the messages between the body, mind, action and consumption have been construed. This is not meant to be a negative picture about human ability. In fact, human beings have a great capacity for understanding regarding their psychobiological, human needs. In fact, the Rishis who recorded and translated being knowledge into text and translated it into a concise science (Ayurveda), had very finely and deeply developed sense abilities. They came to understand the whole of the human being related to the world and universe in which they live. These were highly developed individuals who received this information through great preparation, conditions, observation, study, practice, and receptivity.

On the outside, it may appear that Ayurveda and Intuitive Eating are on opposite sides of the table, as Intuitive Eating asks that we leave behind rigidity or rules regarding food. Whereas Ayurveda is a deep science that has distinguished that certain practices can bring the human being back into a balanced state of wellness, should they be suffering, or can be undertaken to maintain a balanced natural state. In fact, many western individuals who have gone around the whole gamut of dietary views, in the end turn to Ayurveda for it's long standing, time proven deep well of knowledge which in the end frees their bodies from cravings, irregular eating patterns, disabled digestion and metabolism, and the pervading sense of anxiety that has circled the world of western food and nutrition. What is the fear? The underlying western fear base which drives many behaviours around food, the sense of not being able to rest and be stable - a certain kind of inner destitution. Intuitive eating seeks to free people from this drive, stating that if we listen to our intuition and let go of the rest, the body can then find it's own rhythm. This step is so crucial, to find the place of being able to feel confident to listen to ones own body. But the next step after that can be confusing for many. Some clients have told me - I don't know what to try anymore, or - I'm having trouble hearing what my body needs and I just feel suck. Slow and impaired digestion (one of the outcomes of chronic dieting), mistrust, over and under eating, emotional eating. There are real questions about how to translate food needs into practicality, as in what and how to create a meal. In part, this is our western burden, and also the chance of being able to carve a place - because of the disconnect to a traditional menu. There is so much choice that it can be overwhelming.

Also, the western understanding of human nutrition is still quite piecemeal and experimental, it is not connected to a larger context of the human being. Today, nutrition is starting to become more respected as a means to health. It is starting to be seen that without proper nutrition, other healing modalities will only reach a certain point. Doctors are starting to see the need for studying nutrition, dieticians are starting to recognize some of the input that has come from the wholistic field, and dieticians and nutritionists are starting to recognize that not all foods are created equal even if their chemical compositions say they are, and not everything is good for all people.

Ayurvedic Medicine includes food and nutrition as one of the backbones of a sustainable healthy lifestyle. In fact, the system is so advanced that one can spend a lifetime studying it and still stand to discover new insights into it. It is not easily streamlined into a population system as it is based solely on the unique individual and applied through a vast knowledge of herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, fats, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, minerals, and so on. To understand the individual, diagnostic techniques such as pulse reading are used in order to find the persons dosha (constitution), of which there are three, plus the subdoshas. A general diet will not be assigned. The whole person will be assessed, through pulse, eyes, face, tongue, skin, skin, breath and so on. This allows the doctor to see the individuals true nature as well as where there may be an imbalance. In this way food becomes a support to healing once specifics are prescribed according to their dosha (prakruti) and their current state of imbalance (vrikruti). This can be the beginning of the individual beginning to find their place, understand their unique constitution, and start to make the connections between what they have habitually done through their diet and the effect on their psychobiology. Once the individual can start to feel supported and at rest in themselves through various protocols, including a daily routine that supports their specific constitution (dinacharya), the channels for listening to the body can open. For some individuals, only then does intuition become accessible. For example, to stop eating when full, to feel the state of the body, and to observe what things are useful, from a doshic perspective, to help find balance (ie. adding ghee and warming foods when feeling anxious - a Vata dosha irritated state).

Human beings are cyclical in nature. We are not separate from our environment, we are made up of it and we are influenced by it. Peace on your journey.

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