Yoga for Dieting

The way that yoga relates to food is different than any other type of specific exercise simply because of the awareness that it places on your body. When you head to the gym to run on the treadmill for a couple hours you aren’t looking for a mindful spiritual practice or a way to bring more peace into your life, you’re looking to burn as many calories as possible and get the best body you can in that time.

So when you come out of the gym, looking for something to eat after your workout your choices are going to follow that same pattern of thought. Which is why so many people leave the gym and grab a power bar or a suger-laden smoothie. No exactly the healthiest choices in the world - and they also aren’t choices that inspire good eating habits.

The Focus of Yoga Dieting

In the world we live in today so much of our focus is on looking good and staying thin - obsessively and almost to the point of ruining our bodies or causing irreparable damage to our health. We have pills, exercise machines, support groups, therapists, supplements and so on but more than anything else - we have diets.

On any given day more than 45% of American women and 23% of American men are on a diet. Every year dozens of new diet books are released, each of them toting their own unique miracle cure as to why their regimen and no other will solve all our dieting and weight loss problems. All of them have dozens of great testimonials and scientific studies to back up the results they claim and when it really comes down to it - almost none of them really work.

It’s not the fault of the author or the scientists and it’s especially not the fault of you, the consumer, who buys the books or tapes and genuinely wants to change their eating, their health, or their life. The problem is with the approach. All of these books and new fad diets look at our food and our bodies are problems to be solved, broken things to be fixed, and questions to be answered. They teach us that food is evil, food is our enemy, and above all food is not to control us. We are to control it.

To be clear, if you're practicing yoga for dieting, food is not an enemy - quite the contrary in fact. We all know that without our food we wouldn’t be able to stay alive. Our bodies would stop working and we would stop functioning. What this means is that instead of turning against our food and pointing fingers at it, as if it’s to blame for all our problems, we get to change our approach and a great way to do that is through the mindset yoga teaches. Yoga dieting is much more than just dieting - it's about balance.

Yoga for Dieting: Food Choices

Many yogis are vegetarian or vegan, and some are even raw, but not all of them choose to follow the same path. Just because you practice yoga doesn’t mean you have to be any of the above, as well. However, the one thing that yoga does absolutely change is how you view your body, which in turn changes how you view what you put in your body. When you’re tuned into a new kind of awareness about your physicality and you’re learning what it needs and can do it’s a very natural extension to begin being more aware of what you eat and how it affects your body.

So much of what we learn every day in our yoga class is about valuing our bodies (and ourselves) exactly the way they are. Many of the greatest teachers of yoga advise us to love that we wish to change. So instead of heading to the gym to spend an hour staring in the mirror wishing your stomach was smaller or your legs were more toned we go to our studios to spend ninety minutes marveling at the gift that each of us has in our own body. We get to focus in and remember how lucky we are to have a body that’s working to any degree at all (and if you’re reading this right now - you’re body is working on some level).

Our yoga practice shifts our understanding of what “beautiful” means and what “in shape” should look like - this is the goal of yoga for dieting. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on the ways that we treat our bodies and the nourishment we give or deny them. Our yoga is a daily reminder that we are not fighting our bodies - we’re in partnership with them, and so our relations with them shouldn’t be a struggle or a contest but rather an unspoken agreement of respect and compassion.

How to Apply Yoga Dieting

Here's an application starting point: Be mindful and conscious about the way we eat and how we hold food in one space or another in our lives. It means being grateful not only for your body but for the food you have to put in it. It suggests that instead of reaching for soda, candy, fast food, or junk that has been processed beyond recognition that we pause to ask if what we’re about to eat truly serves our body.

Yoga reminds us that our bodies are meant to help us grow, play, and learn and that in turn we must provide them with the very best fuel available for growing, playing, and learning. If you take the time during a yoga class or a meditation to be still and ask what your body truly needs you’ll have plenty of answers and I assure you that none of them will be about a diet or fitting into the next size smaller.

It’s far more likely that instead you’ll find the answers to be the most simple and easy of all. Eating in ways that serve your body doesn’t require counting calories, complicated math, weighing food portions, or playing with silly chart or point systems. It’s much more natural and intuitive than that. All it really means is paying attention. Pay attention and listen.

Start Paying Attention to Your Yoga Diet

Pay attention to when you feel hungry and what for. Be aware of the following questions:

  • Are you hungry or are you bored?
  • Are you hungry or are you dehydrated (which often manifests as hunger)?
  • Are you hungry or are you upset, in pain, tired?

Pay attention. Be still, take some time to meditate and ask yourself a few questions about what you’re feeling right in that moment and what your body is trying to tell you. It will take some practice at first to be sure, but soon you will have a very heightened awareness of what’s going on with your body and why but listening and being mindful are the first steps to get you there.

Once you can accurately tell what your body needs and wants and whether other things are interfering or showing up as those needs and wants (like emotional eating, or yo-yo dieting) you’ll be able to truly give your body what it wants. And I promise, it doesn’t want an energy drink, it doesn’t want a bag of chips, and it doesn’t want to be starved on and off for months at a time. Our bodies are designed to tell us what we need, when we need it if we just pay attention to the signs we’re given. And the bottom line is that our bodies don’t need or want diets.

If you put your car on a “petrol diet” your car isn’t going to run very well is it? Well depriving your body of food won’t do it any good either. Instead, by making healthy choices and eating better foods (in partner with your yoga practice) your body will be able to return to a state of natural balance all on its own.

Changing Your Eating Habits for Yoga Dieting

The process of changing your eating habits into healthier ones, without the concept of dieting worming its way in can be a bit of a change in thinking for some people, but it’s a worthwhile one that will serve you for the rest of your life. It’s all about changing how and what you eat as opposed to how much of it. Instead of restricting calorie intake or certain fats or sugars it’s more important to simple eat more of the things that are good for you. I know it sounds strange - to be eating healthier by eating more but thats really the way it works.

Make a point to do the following on a daily basis:

  • Drink more water
  • Eat more fruits
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Eat more whole grains and legumes

If you choose to eat meat and dairy, eat the kinds that are lean and not overly processed. Go natural and organic when you can and even take it one step further and try growing some of your own food. You’ll quickly earn a great respect for your food when you’ve taken the time to nurture and grow your own.

The concepts here aren’t complex or difficult to live on a daily basis. If you find yourself confused, wondering what it is your body needs that day, what you should eat or how much, save yourself the trouble and go simple. Have an apple. Drink a glass of water. Steam some vegetables. And most of all be patient with yourself. It may be a while since you last really took the time to pay attention to what your body deserves from you and it’s a learning process that doesn’t ever end.

You’ll always have new challenges related to your body and health to learn from, and that’s not a bad thing - its an opportunity to grow. If nothing else just be conscious about what you’re doing with your body on a daily basis and that alone will make a huge difference in your health and erase and wayward thoughts of dieting for certain.