Why Is Diet So Important In Ayurveda?
“Let Food Be Thy Medicine…”
Food is medicine!
The right foods, spices, and herbs are the first step in maintaining balance within our systems. From an Ayurvedic standpoint, illness begins with toxins (or ama, in sanskrit) built up in the body. This buildup of toxins doesn't just happen overnight without reason- it begins with poor digestion.
When we eat things that aren't compatible with our digestive systems, we end up not digesting our food well, and therefore not absorbing their nutrients well. The things we eat and drink (and when we ingest them) will also have an effect on our digestive systems themselves, which has consequences on their health and efficiency. When our digestive systems aren't functioning optimally, the microorganisms in our guts don't either, which can also affect hormone levels.
When ama (toxins) builds up in the digestive system, it will eventually move into the body and effect other systems as well. You can probably see the domino effect happening here. The food that we fuel our bodies with is important for our physical health, but it can also have a direct effect on our mental and emotional health. (That being said, our mental and emotional health can have a direct effect on our physical health as well, but that's another post.) Our whole selves are affected by the nutrition, or lack-thereof, that we put into our bodies.
Our diet is essentially the first line of both offense and defense for our whole-health.
There are of course certain genetic and environmental factors that effect our health which we have little to no control over, but so many of the negative effects of these things can be countered or corrected by a healthy diet, one that our bodies can optimally digest and utilize as fuel. Our bodies have a job to do, and that job is HUGE. They have to maintain every single cell within us (about 37.2 trillion) to perform all the functions that keep us alive, like innervating the heart to pump blood; the diaphragm to let us breathe; organs to process, filter, and excrete all wastes; keep immune cells plentiful and strong so we don't get sick when a foreign invader make it's way in; etc. etc. etc. Three etc's because we could go on for days about all the things our bodies have to do. Point is, the job is an enormous one, and we're REALLY lucky that our bodies are so very good at their jobs, because with the way we often treat them, if they weren't so good at it all, we'd all be dead.
When our bodies are performing at their best, they do their jobs well and are capable of fighting off illness and maintaining their functions all on their own. When we eat poorly and don't take care of our bodies, they can't do their jobs as well, and we end up having to go to the doctor for various symptoms that start to show up. (And then your doctor tries to treat just the symptoms, rather than the root cause, which doesn't really help!)
Heads up: lengthy ranting analogy ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you already get it ;)
Think of it like any other job. If you have a job to do, but you doing your job depends on Larry and Sally getting their jobs done, then you really want them to do their jobs well. If Larry and Sally don't do their jobs well, you can't do yours. Plain and simple. But let's say Larry and Sally start screwing around at work. They come in most days, but only do about half the work they're supposed to do, and what they give you is basically crap. So what do you do? You either don't do your job, or you have to pick up their slack and do your job PLUS Larry's job PLUS Sally's job. But of course you have to do your job! Your salary, and therefore your means for survival, depends on it!
So now you're stuck working crazy overtime, doing the work of at least two and a half people but getting paid only for the job of one, and you're exhausted and pissed because you have sucky co-workers. Imagine also that you CAN'T FIRE these people. They're the CEO's kids AND in the strongest union ever so there's no way to get rid of them no matter what you do. This sucks, you hate it, and the flames of your rage can't be dampened. There's no way to hide it. It's okay that you can't hide it though- no one could. Even if you're the nicest person with the best work-ethic ever, you'll eventually start getting actively angry and throwing random outbursts and blowups at Larry and Sally, or you'll start expressing your immense displeasure via a plethora of passive-aggressive remarks and/or actions.
After a few weeks of this, the overtime gets to you- you start oversleeping and showing up for work late, you find yourself falling asleep on the job, and your overall productivity and product are suffering. More time passes and your work has become less and less satisfying, and your product has become the epitome of mediocrity at best. And when you've finally reached your wits end, you just up and quit.
This is the plight of so many bodies in the world. They have the MOST important job in the world, and here we are, Larrys and Sallys galore, slacking on the job and not doing our part. And our bodies do let us know when we're slacking, whether passive-aggressively or just aggressively, through things like skin problems, minor or major digestive issues, an overall lack of energy, little hints in the eyes, fingernails and tongue, headaches, muscle issues, etc. etc. etc. Again, three etc's.
The point is, our bodies have a really big and really tough job to do.
So the LEAST we can do to help them out in their jobs of keeping us alive and well is make food choices that allow them to do their jobs more easily. They need plenty of the right nutrients to perform all the glorious functions that keep us moving through this world, and it's our job to give them those nutrients in the most readily available form. And then when we DO slack on the job, it's also up to us to listen to our bodies' complaints, recognize the error of our ways, and correct it. Not the easiest thing to do in the world, but my goal here is to help you in this process, and with a little effort it will indeed become easier and more intuitive.
An enormous portion of our health issues stem from poor or improper nutrition, and could be avoided altogether if we just put a little effort into educating ourselves and taking the time to take care of our whole selves. <3