Emotional eating typically involves some pizza, a pint of ice cream, and a family-size bag of potato chips—but the food that appeals to you emotionally might not make you feel all that great a few hours later. Thanks to a new cookbook by Ayurvedic chef and restaurateur Divya Alter, it's easier than ever to strike the perfect balance, with meals that taste good and make you feel your best at the same time.
"Many people think of the word 'diet' as something restrictive or as a food fad, so that's why I prefer to think of an Ayurvedic diet as a way of eating that encompasses not just what you eat but also how you eat it," says Alter. Filled with easy-to-follow recipes that borrow from different food traditions, What to Eat for How You Feel is a guide to eating all your favorite foods without feeling sluggish or burned out afterwards—because you don't have to give up risotto to feel really, really good.
"Ayurveda teaches us that a good personal diet consists of the foods that will help you restore your body and mind to optimal digestion and balance." —Divya Alter
"A common misconception is that Ayurvedic diet is all Indian food, but it really doesn't have to be," says Alter. "Ayurveda is a universal science that originated before India existed, and can be applied and practiced everywhere on the planet."
Give Ayurveda a try with Alter's five simple tips below.
Tip No. 1: Figure Out What *You* Need
Not everyone likes the same foods or has the same physical ailments or needs, so the same diet might not work for everyone. "Ayurveda teaches us that a good personal diet consists of the foods that will help you restore your body and mind to optimal digestion and balance," says Alter. "There is no good or bad food in itself. A food or herb can be good or bad for someone—it just depends on one's individual needs at that time."
Tip No. 2: Consider How You Cook
Cooking is a science, and Ayurveda takes that into consideration. "In the practical application of diet, i.e., cooking, Ayurveda gives us two main principles to follow, says Alter. "Select invigorating ingredients of the best quality and combine them properly (called samyoga in Sanskrit), and use methods of preparation that ease digestion while preserving the food's nutritive intelligence (samskara)."
Tip No. 3: Bring in Every Flavor
The best way to fight cravings is to keep them satisfied, and the right diet can do just that. "Ayurveda recommends that we include all six tastes of food in every meal. Each taste—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent—increases or decreases psychological responses," says Alter. "For example, sweet taste, in balance, gives us the feelings of love, satisfaction, pleasure. When these emotions are low for us, we tend to crave sweets, although what we really need is sweetness in life. Too much sweet, on the other hand, can slide you down into laziness, lethargy, neediness."
Tip No. 4: Eat Fresh
Instead of focusing on eating the same, healthy foods year-round, consider how your body changes from season to season. "Prepare everything fresh, with the best-quality ingredients, according to what you can afford," says Alter. "Eat seasonally, not only with seasonal produce but also with balancing qualities: warm and energizing foods in spring, cooling and hydrating foods in summer, warm and grounding foods in late fall and winter. Find healthier substitutes for clogging, inflammatory, or artificial ingredients."
Tip No. 5: Listen to Your Body
Ayurveda isn't just about what you eat—it's also about how you eat it. "Some of us are used to eating while standing (or even walking), so a good diet practice would be to first sit down," says Alter. "You might also practice listening to your body—How do you feel right now?—and then selecting your balancing foods. If you're cold, eat something warm and grounding; if you're hot, choose something cooling and hydrating; if you're sluggish, pick some warm, spicy, and light foods." When you listen to your body, you can make the choices that will make you feel your best.
Ready to introduce a feel-good recipe into your repertoire? Try out Alter's pineapple smoothie, below:
1 cup filtered water
1½ cups peeled, cored, and diced pineapple
¼ cup soaked almonds, skins removed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons maple syrup (optional)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 black peppercorns, crushed
How to Make It
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add more water if you like. For optimal digestion, serve at room temperature. To store, refrigerate in a jar or closed container for up to 24 hours.
What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen by Divya Alter (Rizzoli), $23, barnesandnoble.com.