Larissa Hall Carlson
Author, Ayurvedic Practitioner and Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist
Wintertime is perfect for savoring sweet delights. Sampling party treats and relishing family-favorite desserts enhance a sense of togetherness and provide a sticky, scrumptious cushion to combat the cold, windy, demanding winter season. It’s totally natural to gain a pound or two. This cushy shield helps protect against cold, dry vata dosha—the Ayurvedic energy which governs fall and winter. Favoring warm soups, stews, roasted root veggies, herbal tea and hot apple pie will ensure that the body stays warm, hydrated and juicy all winter—preventing vata dosha challenges like dry skin and lips, brittle hair and cracking joints. Embrace it! But... don’t over-indulge! A small protective layer is lovely, but comfort foods are well-known for packing on unwanted pounds and puffiness. If enjoying a few heart-warming treats escalates into a daily extravagance, then the body will take on too much kapha dosha—the Ayurvedic energy responsible for water retention and weight gain. Kapha dosha is increased by eating too many sweet, salty and sour foods—too many of those scrumptious winter comfort foods (think grandma’s organic vegan-sour-cream-and-garlic mashed potatoes or seconds of homemade cinnamonchocolate cake). Thankfully, Ayurveda has the remedy. Returning to a healthy weight after the winter indulgences includes gently reducing excess kapha dosha with simple diet and exercise changes to lighten up the body, while simultaneously harmonizing vata dosha with relaxing, grounding, stress-reducing lifestyle practices (as vata dosha also governs the nervous system).
Create a Meal Routine
During the long, dark days of winter and early spring, it’s easy to snack and splurge throughout the day. To stabilize digestion and boost metabolism, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of eating three seated, relaxed meals per day and avoiding snacking. If you’re really craving a snack or treat, enjoy a piece of fruit, like those delicious clementines you see everywhere this time of year, or seasonal pears, medjool dates, figs, pomegranates or persimmons. (Have you tried persimmons? They’re luscious!)
Favor a Bigger Lunch and a Smaller Dinner
Eat a full, satisfying lunch and a lighter dinner, and eat dinner earlier, closer to sunset. Give yourself at least two hours to digest between dinner and bedtime—this allows for a complete, successful first stage of digestion before slumber, which Ayurveda recognizes as a time of detox and cleansing. If you go to bed with a full belly, you won’t digest as well, and you’ll likely wake up feeling sluggish, puffy and groggy (signs of increased kapha dosha). Lunch should include richer foods, like organic stews and thick soups with legumes and winter veggies. Eat a substantial lunch—you’ll have all afternoon to digest it, and the nourishment will keep your mind alert and engaged all afternoon, preventing the three o’clock crash and sugar craving! At dinnertime, have lighter things, like miso soup, steamed vegetables or a simple veggie soup to support healthy digestion and elimination, as well as boosted metabolism. Keep an eye out for the earlyspring greens (e.g., mustard greens, fiddleheads, leeks and dandelion greens) to cook in simple soups or steamed dishes—the bitter greens are excellent for lightening up meals. This simple adjustment to meal time and size can speed up weight loss and help maintain year-round health.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep supports a healthy body and a healthy mind. Going to bed by 10 or 11 p.m. and waking up around sunrise allows the natural purifying processes of the body to take place during the pitta dosha time of night (10 p.m.–2 a.m.), and helps you wake up feeling refreshed and ready for morning exercise or practice. Good sleep also prevents cravings for an extra cup of coffee or gooey sweets to get you through the day.
Get Moving in the Morning
Get your heart pumping early morning to kick-start metabolism. Whether you choose vinyasa class, a sweaty jog or a spin class to reduce excess water and weight (excess kapha dosha), Ayurveda recommends exercising during the kapha dosha time of early morning (6–10 a.m.), which helps you feel lighter and clearer for the whole day.
Recharge in Late Afternoon
We often lose momentum for healthy eating in the late afternoon (2–6 p.m.), which is the vata dosha time of day. Reduce stress and rejuvenate in the late afternoon by taking a gentle, restorative or yin yoga class—or do your own savasana or yoga nidra. If you’re at work, give yourself 10 minutes for soothing meditation or nadi shodhana pranayama. All of these grounding yogic techniques will help keep vata dosha harmonized and prevent cravings for comfort foods.
Sip Warm Water
Start the day with a cup of warm water (add lemon or lime for extra cleansing effect—but avoid for sour bellies) to rehydrate and help flush out toxins that accumulate in the bowels and bladder during the night. Carry a thermos of warm water and sip on it throughout the day to continue to flush out toxins. People often snack—instead of drink—when they’re thirsty, and we’re often extra dehydrated during winter (excess vata!). Rehydrating with warm water will help you balance vata dosha and support healthy food choices.
Enjoy the wonders and delights of winter, make simple adjustments in early spring to lighten up, and favor Ayurvedic self-care practices for year-long health and happiness!