Something personal that I'll share is that part of what led me to yoga was my battle with an eating disorder. My freshman year of high school, I was hospitalized for anorexia nervosa, and in my long recovery after, I found that yoga benefited me both mentally and physically. It helped me regain my strength of body and mind, for which I am forever grateful. You may or may not know that with a mental illness such as anorexia or other eating disorders, you are never truly cited. It's similar to cancer in that sense- you're either in remission or relapsing or somewhere in between for the rest of your life.
Because of this, the way I eat and connect with food is a constantly evolving process. Presently, however, I believe that I've found a balanced approach to fueling my body that offers me freedom from mental or physical pain. I consider it to be well aligned with a yogic lifestyle, but it's probably not what you're thinking.
Here's the truth: I eat animals.
When you think of "yogic eating", what comes to mind? Green juices? Tofu salads? V*gnism?
I know I associated a "pure" life with a "cruelty free" diet for the majority of my life. How could I be okay with letting something die for my benefit? How could I condone factory farming and heartless slaughter? It became obsessive in the midst of my disorder- I felt "impure" or "dirty" if any animal product (even honey) touched my lips. It got to a point where I hardly ate anything at all, and when I did it wasn't nutrient-sufficient for my needs.
Today, however, I've come to view my diet and lifestyle differently. And when I say diet, I mean it in its true sense (what you eat, not "Get bikini body ready with these 5 easy tips").
Here's a good way to sum up what I eat, courtesy of whole-food advocates Whole 9:
I eat real food – fresh, natural food like meat, vegetables and fruit. I choose foods that are nutrient-dense, with lots of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, over foods that have more calories but less nutrition. And food quality is important – I’m careful about where my meat, seafood and eggs come from, and buy organic local produce as often as possible.
This is not a “diet” – I eat as much as I need to maintain strength, energy, activity levels and a healthy body weight. I aim for well-balanced nutrition, so I eat both animals and a significant amount of plants. I’m not lacking carbohydrates – I just get them from vegetables and fruits instead of bread, cereal or pasta. And my meals are probably higher in fat than you’d imagine, but fat is a healthy source of energy when it comes from high-quality foods like avocado, coconut and grass-fed beef.
Eating like this is ideal for maintaining a healthy metabolism and reducing inflammation within the body. It’s good for body composition, energy levels, sleep quality, mental attitude and quality of life. It helps eliminate sugar cravings and reestablishes a healthy relationship with food. It also works to minimize your risk for a whole host of lifestyle diseases and conditions, like diabetes, heart attack, stroke and autoimmune.
I eat animals, but I eat animals that come from a source that I'm confident fed them their natural diet, allowed them to live in their natural lifestyle, and killed them with reverence. I still love animals, and I honor and respect them for the gift of nourishment they give us through food. I've come to appreciate the natural cycles of life and death, and believe that consuming animal products is good for keeping my body healthy.
I joined a local CSA to get the bulk of my produce. I believe it's important to buy fresh, organic fruits and veggies whenever possible, and love supporting local agriculture as I do so.
I'm also careful to practice the yogic principle of non-excess, and avoid extremism. I'm not "low carb" or "high fat" or "high carb" or "low fat". I eat an appropriate amount of animal protein, a wide array of colorful, nutritious plants, and balance it all out with healthy, nourishing fats like coconut or avocado. I also don't count calories or macronutrients- I'm careful to listen to my body and eat for fuel. I like the saying, "count colors, not calories".
I'm passionate about a healthy lifestyle, but also think it's important to be non-dogmatic. I personally don't eat dairy, because of a lactose intolerance. But I don't condemn others who chose to eat it, just like how vegetarians should respect omnivore's choices and vice versa.
I'm lucky enough to be in a position where I can make food quality a priority- farm fresh eggs, local produce, grass fed meats. Not everyone has this available to them. I do, however, believe that everyone can, and would benefit from, moving to a whole foods lifestyle. Instead of investing money in heavily processed food products, you could direct your funds to better meats, or better quality produce. Even conventionally raised meat and non-organic veg would be moving in the right direction. And besides, wouldn't some scrambled eggs, sweet potato, and roasted vegetables in the morning sound more fulfilling and energizing than a piece or two of toast with jam?
However, that's my personal opinion. Food is highly personal. I have found what nourishes my body best, fuels my yoga and other activities, supports my beliefs on sustainability and humanity, and makes me happy and free of stress over the minutia of numbers or percentages.
As Michael Pollan says, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
This above, for me, particularly aligns with my beliefs around food because I cooked and shared this meal with my family. It served a greater purpose than nutrition.
So is this the yogic style of eating? No. But it's mine- and that's what yoga is about. Finding what works for you and your body. For some, that may mean veganism. For others, like my self, it may be conscientious omnivurism. Yoga teaches us on and off the mat how to listen to our bodies and what they need- and that's what defines yogic eating.