Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Food culture, cravings, and why we're overweight

Some more personal musings on why I think in this society as a whole here in the western world we generally struggle with too much weight, from a scientific-ish perspective.

I was parusing the Kapha diet list, as I often do, and noticed something in common with the foods Kaphas should avoid:

Vegetables ~ cucumber, olives, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, zucchini
Fruits ~ bananas, dates, figs, melons, oranges, plums, watermelon
Legumes ~ soy products
Dairy ~ almost all dairy
Grains ~ yeasted bread, oats, pasta, rice, wheat
Nuts & Seeds ~ all nuts, peanuts, halva, sesame, tahini

If I think to cultures that historically have struggled with providing enough calories or tissue-building sustenance, including Europeans, Asians, Middle Easterns, North Africans, their food staples tend to be those of the list above, which promote weight gain! These cultures also love deep frying, a sure-fire way to hold on to kapha tissues like fat in our bodies.

As well, I think maybe on a genetic level, humans (like most animals -- think of your overweight house cat) are built to absorb these Kapha-heavy calories efficiently and hang on to them dearly, in case of famine, cold weather, et cetera. Maybe the ease with which we adopt a sedentary lifestyle supports this body drive. This is why I think it's so hard for us to resist our cravings for things like fried foods, sweets, breads, and carbohydrates -- emotional stuff aside. The most popular fast foods and restaurant chains after all are based on these Kapha foods -- pizza, subs, fries, burgers, pasta, chocolate bars, chips, and so on.

Interestingly, the foods that are most Kapha-friendly (so, foods that don't promote weight gain) are South American in origin:

Corn, quinoa, white potatoes, ancient grains, plantains, all beans, limes, grapes, cilantro, chilis, onions, garlic...

It would be interesting to take a comparative look at cultures around the world that haven't been affected by globalization and modern trends and see what the diet is and respective health and fitness of the population.

Now that many of us (likely anyone with the means to have internet access to be able to read this post) have an enormous choice in what we eat, how warmly we're protected from the cold, and how much activity we have on a daily basis, we can choose to eat in a way that truly supports our individual dosha, rather than generally as a population put on as much weight as our agriculture will allow and our genes are programmed to do. We can be conscious of our cravings and physical desires (or lack thereof) and decide compassionately what we give in to and what we challenge for the sake of our health and happiness. And with this great personal power comes great responsibility! Or rather, it's always harder to choose against our perhaps-genetic desires when they're simply a generation or two behind today's reality.

Hope this has been an interesting insight! : )


veronika said...

I think you're right. I'd like to add that being in a relationship can make any svelt individual a chunky monkey. It's like...I caught 'em so now I can relax. A lot of non western cultures don't have the luxury of renting movies and snacking while curled up with thier significant other. Or worse, T.V shows on dvd! Those I can watch for hours if I get hooked...and I'll eat and make jokes with Dane all night...who needs to leave the house?! and that is how I whent from an unhealthy 5'10" size 4, to a very healthy size 8. Still just a 6 on top...chocolate doesn't make your chest grow...just your rear.

redwood00 said...

Wow, it's nice to see a sensible page! Nice layout, informative and useful. And to think I just googled a word because a friend of mine is very interested. Anyway thanks for the info, and the bookmark.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Claudia for these wonderful recipes,
this is JUST what i was looking for to help continue my healthy living.
My husband is more Kapha and I am more of the Pitta type. How do you suggest we strike a middle ground, recipe wise?
Thankyou and wishing you much good luck:) in everything.

Claudia said...

Thanks for the lovely comments!

For a balance between a kapha and a pitta, choose foods that are drying and mildly spicy (like beans and lentils with turmeric, cinnamon and garam masala), and rice, potatoes, dry fruits, raw foods, salads, etc, and avoid foods that are too heavy, moist, greasy, fatty, sugary and salty. Basically keep in mind that the common ground between Ks and Ps is water, so to balance the water you try to dry it out! But since Ks are cold and heavy (needing spiciness) and Ps are hot (needing cooling), you want mildness when it comes to spice and temperature. Hope this helps!

shaktilana said...

fabulous site! i have just returned from a month long ayurveda & raw foods intensive. my predominant doshas at present are very high vata/kapha. my food cravings are so seriously those listed. i wanted to believe it was because i was attempting to re-group/ground and get ready for a busy transition back in my "real" world.
please, can you suggest some ideas that would help me lower my vata/kapha, yet also create some really good internal heat for a northern climate.


Claudia Davila (Fran) said...

Welcome, Shaktilana!

Your retreat sounds wonderful, hope it was a great building experience for you. It's funny because, with fall just around the corner, my cravings have also been for the foods listed here! As a V/K you have the interesting challenge of balancing your Vata with Kapha and vice versa without having too much of one or the other! I think the middle ground might be to have Pitta foods, specifically hot and moist foods. How about spicy soups and dahls and stews? Keep things hot, with ginger and garlic and chilis and black pepper, and keep portions small but do snack (healthily!) between meals. Have some raw foods in there to keep the Kapha happy :-) Hope this helps!

shaktilana said...

Thanks, Claudia.

It sounds like I am not to look at lowering the vata & kapha, which is what I have been focussing on ... mind you, I have been focussing on them in the way that has those foods amping up my doshas. Can you share any insights about the relationship to needing to ground ones self when they return from such a shift in physical and mental consciousness - really, a month long raw foods diet is quite altering, and fabulous. How might I now find myself back in a state of balance, or remotely inspiring after indulging in all those foods that throw my vata/kapha out of balance?! Even in the form of disciplines - physical. Much gratitude!!

Claudia Davila (Fran) said...

You know what, I bet it IS that you're craving these rich comfort foods in order to ground yourself! That makes perfect sense. Your experience was a very Vata-enhancing one: raw foods increase Vata, as does travel and having new and exciting experiences. This kind of event does need grounding. Don't feel bad having some Vata-pacifying foods to help with that grounding. But perhaps for a "mental/physical grounding" you could try meditation or energy work that brings energy down from your head, through your heart center, and down to your feet and through the ground deep into the earth. Walking in nature and taking in earthy surroundings like trees and hills and meadows might feel very good too, or if that's not possible try visualization. Besides that, just slow down. Hatha yoga will do the same for you, as well as expressive dancing (not too excited, though)!

How does this sound for you?