In Ayurveda, you’re supposed to both eat for your dosha and eat seasonal foods. Here, advice on how to balance those two sometimes conflicting recommendations.
Should You Eat for Your Body Type or for the Season?
There is much confusion in the West about whether we should eat according to our Ayurvedic body type or with the seasons. When I wrote my book The 3-Season Diet, I suggested we should eat with the seasons. My premise was challenged as not being Ayurvedic. In the West, Ayurvedic body type questionnaires have convinced many Ayurvedic students that we should eat only according to body type.
Ayurveda’s primary text, the Caraka Samhita, says the following about eating with the seasons:
“A person who has the knowledge of appropriate food articles and activities applicable to specific seasons and also the discipline and inclination to practice them (in accordance with those seasons) stays healthy. Whereas a person without knowledge (or with limited knowledge) of wholesome regimen for different seasons or without the discipline or temperament of following these seasonal practices is likely to suffer from various diseases.”1
As the science of life, Ayurveda maintains the premise that humans thrive when living in sync with nature’s rhythms. As such, Ayurveda’s practices come from nature. In many cases, eating according to one’s body type would be an impossible task if it were not for modern trucking and refrigeration.
For example, a pitta body type is supposed to eat a year-round pitta-pacifying diet of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, but in many parts of the world, especially during the cold winter months, many fresh fruits and vegetable aren’t in season.. If you lived in Vermont during the 1800s, where would you find pitta-pacifying fruits and vegetables in January?
Why Eating Seasonally is Important
Ayurveda is based on the premise that nature balances itself throughout the year. During a vata-aggravating and cold, dry New England winter, nature gives the antidote to that cold with an abundant supply of nuts, seeds, and grains that provide warmth and healthy fats for insulation and energy storage. Eating cold, fresh fruits and vegetables, which are cooling in nature, would only aggravate vata in winter.
To find equilibrium, nature follows cold dry winters with wet, damp, kaphic springs in order to combat dryness and vata aggravation. Then the kapha congestive properties of spring are balanced by summer heat, which dries out spring’s mucus production, as does the green summer harvest. Summer heat is countered with a seasonal harvest of cooling fruits and veggies, and the heat of summer is followed by the cold of fall and winter. These are all parts of nature’s annual cycle of seasonal and circadian balance.
The Caraka Samhita also says that “Seasonal adaptation (ritusatmya) is described under seasonal regimen (ritucharya), which is the variation in diet and lifestyle to balance rhythmic seasonal variations of doshas (vata, pitta, kapha), strength, digestive agni and lymph (rasa). Knowledge and regular observance of suitable seasonal regime (diet and lifestyle each different season) is mainly for the maintenance of health and prevention of diseases.”1
Seasonal Eating is Now Circadian Science
In the last decade, studies have been mounting in support of seasonal eating. From Ayurvedic wisdom dating back thousands of years to our hunter-gather ancestors to our gut bugs, digestive enzymes, and neurotransmitters—it is hard to dispute the evidence and necessity of seasonal eating.8 Here are some of the research highlight:
- Microbes in the soil and our foods change from season to season.2,3
- The Hadzas, our last remaining hunter-gatherer tribe’s gut bugs change seasonally.4
- Sugar-digesting gut bacteria (Bacteroidetes) flourish in the summer when carbohydrates are in season.4
- Fiber digesting gut bugs (Actinobacteria) flourish in the winter when fibrous grains and tuber are generally eaten.4
- The starch-digesting enzyme amylase increases seasonal each fall when starches like grains are harvested.5
- The rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system boosts digestive strength each fall and winter in order to break down denser winter foods.6
- Brain derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), like ashwagandha and bacopa, plus neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are light sensitive, surging in the summer and declining in the winter—making moods more vulnerable to melancholy.7
We RecommendWe Are Circadian Beings—Let’s Act Like Them
Treating Illness with Diet
The Caraka Samhita adds that, “For diseased persons, the seasonal regime may need to be modified accordingly.”1 In India, diets were traditionally prescribed seasonally as a means of illness prevention, but when the body becomes sick or imbalanced, then the diets can be tailored to that condition. If you have a vata imbalance, for example, and are experiencing dry and irregular bowel movements, a warm oily, cooked-food diet could be prescribed no matter the season. Once the imbalance has been removed, diet suggestions would return to seasonal eating.
In my practice, I treat imbalances with specific herbs while helping to keep the body in circadian rhythm with a seasonal diet. This is common among Ayurvedic doctors in India. My prescription may also involve removing some target foods to ease symptoms.
Adjusting Diet for Ayurvedic Body Type
I’m not suggesting that body type isn’t important. According to Ayurveda, it’s quite important, but it’s secondary to the seasons when it pertains to diet. Your body type represents your digestive strengths and weaknesses, likes, dislikes and genetic tendencies. Because seasonal eating has been the default diet around the world since the beginning of time, many populations have created indigenous cuisines that are genetically adapted to a culture.
For example, Asians generally did not consume dairy and today still have difficulty digesting it. On the other hand, Northern Europeans have been consuming diary for thousands of years and many have genetically adapted to producing lactase, the enzyme needed to digest milk sugar as adults. This genetic adaptation is called lactase persistence.
Adjusting the diet for the body type simply emphasizes seasonal eating for your dosha. . If you’re in the season of your predominating dosha, you must adhere to that seasonal diet to prevent the excess accumulation of that dosha.
Not sure of your Ayurvedic body type? Take the LifeSpa dosha quiz to find out.
For example, a pitta body type in pitta season (summer) will be at greater risk of increasing and aggravating pitta if they are not eating cooling, in-season, pitta-pacifying foods. And if you are strongly vata, you should follow a strictly vata-pacifying diet each winter (vata season). If your body type is predominately pitta or kapha, then follow a stricter pitta diet in the summer and a stricter kapha diet in the spring.
If you are tri-doshic and have equal amounts of vata, pitta, and kapha, then follow each seasonal dietary shift to a T. If you are bi-doshic, for example pitta-kapha, you should eat a stricter pitta-reducing diet in the summer and a kapha-reducing diet in the spring. In the winter, while it’s still important to eat seasonally, your pitta-kapha body type will provide a certain amount of protection from itself, since pitta qualities are the antidote for vata coldness and kapha qualities are the antidote to vata dryness.
The Doshic Rules of Engagement for Seasonal Eating
In sum, here are the rules:
- Step One: Eat Seasonally with an emphasis on locally harvested foods.
- Step Two: Adjust a seasonal diet for your body type.
- Step Three: Treat doshic imbalances with Ayurvedic herbs while eating seasonally
Join Dr. John Douillard for the 3-Season Diet Guide. It’s free! This guide takes you through eating seasonally with month-to-month support and guidance.