The Ashram Diet

November 7, 2015
By

Chapter 1
INTRODUCTION

“Eat food.
Not too much.
Mostly plants.”
MICHAEL POLLAN
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This book has been thousands of years in the making.
The work began many, many centuries ago in the ashrams (spiritual retreats) of India. The yogis who lived in these ashrams developed the most perfect healthcare system in the world, designed for nurturing the mind, the body and the spirit. This knowledge was passed on from one generation to another, from teacher to disciple.
During this period, India was in a state of ferment. The entire country went through tumultuous times, with hordes of invaders from Europe and Central Asia, seeking the fabulous treasures of the East. Wars were fought all over the country and there was much turmoil. Hence, the yogis kept their knowledge carefully hidden inside the confines of the ashrams, located in remote places far away from strife.
Only small fragments of this sacred knowledge leaked out from time to time. One tiny splinter became the science of hatha yoga; it had so much power that it spread rapidly across the Western world. Today, hatha yoga is practiced in practically every country of the world.
Another fragment is the Ashram Diet. It is equally powerful but remains largely unknown outside the confines of the ashrams. People do travel to the ashrams far more frequently than in the past and many have come back with wondrous stories about miraculous cures from lifelong ailments thanks to the wonderful food that they enjoyed, and the intense spiritual atmosphere of the ashrams.
However, today, very few people outside the ashrams know how to prepare this food correctly, which is as much of an art as a science. At one time, many Indian homes prepared this type of food but this is no longer the case. The new generation has taken to quick recipes and fast food and the ancient knowledge is disappearing very rapidly.
This book is designed to fill the gap in this knowledge, and explains the dietary principles behind the Ashram food. In many ways, these principles are well in advance of anything that the modern science of nutrition has to offer.
The Ashram Diet has truly magical properties. People who have spent just a few weeks in the ashrams of India have come back completely transformed. Their entire outlook on life has changed. They have eliminated wrong eating habits and, as a result, they have rid themselves of all kinds of chronic ailments. Invariably, they feel happier and more integrated with their body and mind. Nowadays, many people keep going back again and again to the ashrams.
A close relative of ours suffered from severe heart problems, leading to quadruple bypass surgery when he was in his early forties. Mostly, the problems were due to an unhealthy lifestyle, and eating too much rich Indian food. After the surgery, the relative stayed in an ashram in India for a month and switched to the ashram diet and the ashram lifestyle. With the grace of his spiritual teacher, he went on to have a long, successful career in Canada.
We experienced this magic first hand when we stayed for just a few days at an ashram near Bangalore, India. The entire ashram, located on a small hill in placid surroundings, has a magical quality. The food is amazingly good.
During our stay, we had three meals a day and we ate as much as we wanted at every meal. We did no hard physical exercises, only some very gentle yoga at sunrise, and yet we both lost weight in just a few days. We felt more energetic than ever before in our lifetime.
Towards the end of our stay, we had a moment of insight. The Ashram Diet, we realized, may be the perfect solution to the biggest health problem facing the modern world – the growing obesity epidemic. Obesity is the root cause behind many chronic health ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, and all kinds of cardio-vascular problems.
Why Follow the Ashram Diet?
We firmly believe that the first and foremost quality of food is taste. The tongue is the most sensitive organ in the body and the sense of taste tells you if something is good or bad for you. If the food is tasty, it will be processed well by the saliva glands and by the rest of the digestive system. If it is not tasty, the food will not do you any good even if it contains exactly the right amount of nutrients that your body needs.
So, if you like tasty food, the Ashram Diet is just right for you. We do, however, distort our natural sense of taste when we eat processed food, or, food that is over spiced and overcooked. The Ashram Diet will bring your taste glands back to their original condition.
Lack of flavor is also the reason so many diet plans fail. These plans are mostly based on eating foods that are supposed to be “good for you” but don’t taste very good, or, have no taste at all. You can only follow such a diet for a short time, by a supreme act of will power.
Sooner or later, you fall off the diet and you re-gain the lost pounds, until you switch to another diet. After a few weeks, you try another diet. This is an endless cycle; the wide variety of diet books in the market simply shows that most of these diet plans do not work.
The Ashram Diet is very different. It is not something new – it has been around for a very long time, so it has withstood the test of time. It is not a diet plan and there are no restrictions on food quantity. Everything you eat is delicious and there is endless variety of food to choose from. It also marks the end of snacking – you just eat three delicious, full meals a day and there is no longer a need to snack on junk food.
With the Ashram Diet, the body develops its own intelligence and tells you how much to eat at each meal, so you do not need portion control. You do need to count calories, the body knows exactly when to stop.
In many ways, it is the natural diet for mankind: totally vegetarian, and without any unnatural processed foods.
You need a little knowledge and some basic cooking skills to prepare this food correctly. You will not find this knowledge in other books on Indian cuisine, as these books mostly deal with banquet style Indian food – the rich, greasy kind you find in Indian restaurants, which is not healthy Indian cuisine by any stretch of the imagination.
We also find that many of the books on Indian cuisine give abbreviated instructions, leaving out all the finer details that are essential for bringing out the real flavor of the ingredients. We do not take these shortcuts in our book, and we have not overloaded the book with hundreds of recipes. You only need a few good recipes, with proper instructions, because once you master the art, you can create your own recipes – as all good Indian cooks do.
In the past, many Indian homes followed the Ashram Diet. People had a simpler life style, they mostly ate at home and parents encouraged their children to eat healthy, following traditional principles. Traditionally, all Indian mothers were good cooks.
All this has changed now, with the all-pervasive influence of a more modern lifestyle. People eat out much more, the traditional way of life has long disappeared. Processed food is readily available in India. With both parents working, people settle for convenience rather than quality.
The result?
Growing obesity and growing health problems in the country that once practiced the most advanced health care system in the world.
It is necessary to change with the times, as we cannot go back to a past that no longer exists. But the changes should in the right direction, taking the best of traditional wisdom and current scientific knowledge. This book tries to achieve this perfect balance, using modern techniques blended with ancient knowledge.
Who Should Read This Book?
If you are simply looking for a few good vegetarian recipes to supplement your everyday meals, this book is just right for you. It will guide you towards the best of vegetarian cuisine: food that tastes good and is good for your health, too.
If all you want to do is lose weight, then this book is just right for you. You will lose weight very quickly, just as we did during our brief stay at the ashram in Bangalore, India. You will not starve, either, as you eat to your heart’s content but only three square meals a day. Also, the weight loss will stay with you for a long time, as you acquire a taste for unprocessed healthy food.
If you want sustained good health, then this book is even more important for you. It will teach you how to cook simple, delicious meals, following the ancient yogic principles of cooking, using all natural ingredients.
If you practice yoga, like millions of people worldwide, then this book is essential reading. Yoga and the Ashram Diet go hand in hand, complementing each other perfectly. When you follow the Ashram Diet, your body loses its toxins and you move towards a state of inner purity. When this happens, you are automatically drawn towards yoga practice. If you follow yoga, you will gravitate towards simpler, healthier food and the Ashram Diet is just right for you.
If you are a spiritual seeker, then you absolutely need this book. The right diet is the foundation for any spiritual practice. If you eat the wrong foods, you cannot even meditate, as the mind is too restless. Without meditation, it is difficult to proceed towards higher states of consciousness.
If you care for the environment you live in, the Ashram Diet is just right for you. It is based on a vegetarian diet and there are innumerable studies that prove that a vegetarian diet is far better for the environment than a meat-based diet. No animals are harmed when you follow this diet.
Benefits of the Ashram Diet
Like any strong medication, the Ashram Diet has its side effects, but they are all good.
If you follow the Ashram Diet for a few weeks, you will lose the need for stimulants such as coffee, and alcohol. These stimulants give you a temporary spurt of energy and well-being that does not last too long. If you can get this energy from natural sources, where is the need for stimulants?
You might still drink coffee and tea, like the authors do, but in far smaller amounts.
The Ashram Diet will help you regain your health, if you suffer from a chronic disease. If you have high blood pressure, the Ashram Diet will help you lower it. If you suffer from heart disease, or cardio-vascular problems, the ashram diet will help you reduce arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
It is good for managing diabetes also, as the diet contains only complex carbohydrates that are slowly assimilated by the body. It is excellent for stomach problems, as the complex carbohydrates help keep inflammation in check. It is good for lactose intolerant people, as the bulk of the recipes do not use milk products.
The Ashram Diet is a great help if you are recovering from any kind of surgery. It helps your body heal very quickly, especially when coupled with mild exercise. Rice is very soothing for the stomach, and the addition of lentils and vegetables will give you the energy you need to recover your health.
There is, however, one serious side effect to the Ashram Diet: it is highly addictive. If you follow it for a few months, you may not want to go back to processed foods or animal proteins ever again.

The Golden Rule
There is one golden rule that all ashrams follow:

Eat three good meals a day.

It is a simple statement but it has the power to transform your life completely if you apply it to your daily life. If you eat only three meals, you end the cycle of constant snacking and as the yogis of India discovered a long time ago, snacking is the easiest way to put on weight.
Almost all snacks are processed; the processed food industry relies heavily on snacks to create a demand for its products. The so-called “healthy snacks” are still processed food.
Most doctors, nutritionists and “health gurus” advocate eating five or six meals a day and this has become the conventional wisdom of the day. However, conventional wisdom is generally wrong.
At one time, people believed that the sun revolves around the earth but this was proven wrong by careful observation. For a long time, people believed that heavy objects fall faster than light objects in a vacuum, but actual experimentation showed this belief to be false.
If you try out the three-meals-a-day principle in your own life you will observe that it really works.
According to yoga, the body needs a long interval between meals, to give the digestive system a chance to recuperate. You must wait till the first meal is digested before you eat again, otherwise you disrupt the process of digestion. Also, if you eat when you are really hungry, your body processes the food much better.
The golden rule does not restrict how much you eat, but each meal must be of “good” quality.
So what is a good meal?
You will have to read the rest of the book to find the answer.
The Ashram Diet – A Personal Journey
How do we know that the Ashram Diet really works? The only real way to find out is to try the diet and this is exactly what one of the authors did, for a period of thirty days, as an experiment.
The results were definitive: this diet really works, even though in real life it is not always possible to follow it one hundred percent.
Before starting the experiment, the author kept to his normal eating habits that included quite a bit of junk food. He diet was mostly vegetarian, but did include eating out once or twice a week. He enjoyed the occasional glass of wine or beer but his real addiction was for Tim Horton’s coffee. The day did not seem right without a coffee break or two, with a daily dose of a small “double-double”. For those readers who live outside Canada, this is code for a small coffee with two helpings of sugar and cream – a Canadian favorite.
It was a bit of a challenge giving this up and switching to three meals a day with no “double-double”. The first couple of days, he felt very hungry before the meals but he persevered and his metabolism adjusted very quickly to the new routine. During those early days, he realized how big a role food plays in our culture. He also realized that it is very rare that people eat for the right reason: to satisfy hunger.
People eat out of boredom and people eat while socializing but in our society of abundance, they hardly ever eat when they are hungry.
The author did not follow the diet to the extreme; he quickly found out that this is difficult to achieve in real life. During this period the author made a day trip to the Massena, USA and a longer three- day excursion to Boston, USA. It was not always possible to get Ashram style food, but he stuck to one basic rule: eat only three meals a day with no snacking between meals, not even a beverage other than water.
He did not give up his morning coffee; he just took it with less cream and less sugar and only once a day. Also, he did not eat any processed food during this month. He said goodbye to potato chips, sodas, most fruit juices, most cereals and, of course, beer, during this trial period.
At each meal, he ate as much as he wanted. He ate from a wide variety of food sources, as this ensured that the body got all the essential nutrients that it needed. He did not do much physical exercise, other than a daily walk, as he wanted to test the effects of the diet by itself.
The first day or two, there were withdrawal symptoms, as junk food disappeared completely from the diet. After this, he felt much better. He worked up a good appetite and started eating more at each meal, and, he started enjoying every meal as he paid more attention to the taste of the food. He was also more productive at work, as he wasted less time in coffee breaks during the work day.
Within the first three days, he lost one pound. He lost another pound in the second week, and the weight loss has been slow but steady since that date. Even more important, eating three meals a day has become a habit and it now seems the normal way to live.

Cautionary Note

As with any other diet plan, consult your doctor before starting the Ashram Diet, if you have chronic health issues. Also, do not give up your prescription medication – the doctor has prescribed it to you for a good reason.
There may also be health conditions where you cannot subsist on three meals a day; in such cases follow the doctor’s advice but try to introduce as many elements of the Ashram Diet as possible in your daily routine.

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