Q&A with Anjum Anand
Web editor Debra Waters caught up with chef Anjum Anand and discovered that following an Ayurvedic eating plan means you’ll not only never need to diet again, you’ll feel – and look – better both inside and out.
In a nutshell, how would you explain Ayurveda, doshas, and the benefits of an Ayurvedic diet?
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian science which means the “science of life” and was meant to help everyone understand the body, how it works and thereby how to keep ourselves healthy. It encompassed diet, yoga and other exercises and emphasized a balanced and moderate lifestyle with little stress that would allow humans to live to 100 years in good physical and mental health.
The basic principle in Ayurveda is that everything in the world is made up of five elements; ether, air, fire, water and earth. In the body, earth is the solid matter, bones, skin, etc. Water is present in all our cells whilst fire can be perceived by our body’s own heat and also in the combusting of our food. The air element generates all movement in the body (without air or wind, water and earth are static) and ether is the space it all happens in.
In the body these elements are known as doshas. We are all born with our own unique combination of these doshas, it is our DNA and it dictates who we are, how we look, and our predisposition towards certain illnesses. The doshas are not distributed equally and generally one or even two doshas will exist in a higher proportion to the others. This/these predominant dosha becomes your dosha or body type; it will always remind you of which element(s) that are naturally high in your body.
The new book has a questionnaire to help you figure out your dosha and once know this and understand the basics of Ayurveda and how it sees the body, the rest is easy and immensely rewarding. It allows you to balance your body so that you can feel and look the best you can.
Ayurveda seems to be more of a way of life than a fad diet: would you say Ayurveda is based on common sense or is there a methodology in following it?
A bit of both really. Ayurveda is based on common sense but you need to look at the body in a slightly different way to understand it. Once you have done so, it all makes complete sense and actually explains a lot of things that are often left unsaid in the modern world. How we should eat, how much, why and when. Why is it you best friend is skinny while she eats twice as much as you. Why do you stress, sweat or sleep more than your sister? Ayurveda can help explain all the differences between us.
Next year is said to be all about food for mood, and Ayurveda fits this trend of benefiting the mind as well as the body: do you feel that a holistic diet is imperative to good health?
I think looking at our life in a holistic way is key to good health. Once you understand that our body, mind and soul are connected, you look for the source of the problem before you mask it with medicines. Stress is one of the biggest culprits in many illnesses so learning to remain calm and keep the mind healthy is as important to keeping our bodies healthy. As an example, prolonged stress (mind) can cause you an ulcer (body), which, if you have to live with long enough, will eventually depress your spirit. It is all connected and must be treated as such.
What causes the disruptions that create dosha imbalance? Is a Western lifestyle particularly to blame?
The primary causes for disruption is food and lifestyle. Bad eating habits, continued stress or negativity, living life in the fast lane or conversely being too lazy, all extremes are bad for you and continuing this unhealthy habit for a long period of time will show up in your body in the form of some illness or another.
A modern Western lifestyle has a lot to answer for in our struggle for health and happiness. Any bad habit that you have over a long period of time or you might even think is a good habit but it doesn’t suit your body type will end up causing ill health. Working too hard, being too competitive, exercising too much, eating too many salads, eating large portions, always eating on the run, eating too much meat, drinking too much alcohol, sleeping too much, not sleeping enough, anything excessive is bad for you. And modern life often allows us to do exactly what we want to do without the need to moderate ourselves. Moderation is the key to balance and balance is key to health.
There are practical steps to follow in the book: the part on Agni is especially interesting; what are your top three tips from this section that people could incorporate into their daily routine?
1. Don’t eat until you genuinely feel hungry
2. Stop eating when you are just full, ideally 50% full
3. Listen to your body – for example, when you eat something and feel bloated, realize that something in that meal doesn’t suit you.
Once people know their dosha type is it quite easy to adapt the diet to eating out, for example?
Once you understand the principles it is easy to take with you everywhere. Firstly, everything in moderation is fine, so even if you do have the odd blowout meal, you can balance it the rest of the day or the following day by eating simpler food in small portions. Depending on your body type, you would be advised to eat or avoid different foods.
Ayurveda believes we need to eat the right foods and digest them properly. These rules go everywhere with you and once you understand the principles it is really easy to apply to any food offering. Also, even if you make a bad choice at one meal, balance it in the next. The book offers you guidelines for eating in restaurants and also how to ensure that your digestion and metabolism is at its strongest.
Can your dosha(s) change throughout your life? And once your doshas are balanced can you start eating restricted foods again?
We have all three doshas in us and are generally born with one predominant one. Many find their mind is one dosha and their body seems like another. Your natal dosha will never change; you will always have that particular combination. However, you can have an imbalance of another dosha if you change your lifestyle. So a person who has a kapha imbalance and be predisposed to put on weight and certain health issues can go on a long, restrictive diet and exercise everyday for years. They will lose weight and might end up with a vata imbalance and many people who lose lots of weight often talk about feeling like they are a different person. Ideally, you should always try to balance your own dosha and avoid any real imbalances. When you are balanced, food is not restricted; rather, it is monitored.
Also, as we age, our dosha naturally changes. When we are young we go through a kapha phase. As a young adult, we have more pitta energies and as we become elderly we come to a natural vata stage. So as we grow, we are adding more bulk and earth, which make up kapha. Once we become adults we enter the real world and do become more focused and goal orientated (pitta qualities) and as we age we do tend to get more vata qualities such as dry, wrinkled skin, our hair becomes drier etc.
How long do you need to follow the diet before you start to see/feel results?
It really depends on the person, how seriously they do it and how imbalanced they are.
Although it’s an Eastern philosophy, your recipes are global: was this to show how versatile the diet is?
Most Ayurvedic diets are based around Indian meals but they don’t have to be. Ayurvedic meals are ingredient-led so I used the dosha-appropriate ingredients to create dishes for the three body types that are easy to make for a midweek meal. I also really wanted the book to have a wide variety of flavours so one didn’t get bored of the same tastes day after day – as this is a lifestyle and not a fad diet I really wanted to avoid the tedium that often sets in with a typical diet plan. I want the recipes to form part of people’s new cooking repertoire for good.