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The truth behind the 'yogic diet'

Maggie Giuffrida is a graduate of The University of Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism. She is a contributing writer for SheKnows, specializing in health and fitness. Maggie is a certified yoga instructor and health and well...

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Since yoga went mainstream, and even before then, there has been some debate over what exactly a proper "yogic diet" consists of and whether or not it's necessary to follow such dietary rules to be considered a true "yogi."

So, to better understand this great yogi debate, let's dial it back a couple of notches and find out where the stereotypical "yogic diet" stemmed from.

Since the practice of yoga teaches that food is the creator of prana (life force) and sustains the body and its health, many yogis choose foods which reflect that level of conscious development. For example, some yogis adhere to a vegetarian diet, which facilitates the development of sattva — a quality of love, awareness, connection and peace with all sentient beings. The basis of sattva is the concept of ahimsa, or non-harming, and a sattvic diet avoids any foods that involve killing or harming of animals.

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"Some yoga philosophies advise that we practice 'ahimsa' (ah-him-suh), or non-harming," said Sadie Nardini, author of The 21-Day Yoga Body and founder of Core Strength Vinyasa yoga. "Many in the yoga world practice compassion by choosing not to eat anything with a face — no animals or animal products (including cheese and eggs) and no fish."

That being said, is a strict vegetarian diet good or even possible for all aspiring yogis? Absolutely not, according to Sadie. "There are no rules when it comes to eating and yoga — only people's opinions of what it means to have a more mindful diet," she says. "There are no dietary guidelines in the foundational yoga philosophies, but any that today's yogis espouse are mostly a personal, ethical or moral interpretation of the meaning of 'non-harming.'"

Sadie went on to say that many people who try to follow the yogic lifestyle closely are likely to become vegans or vegetarians, since eating animals or drinking booze is sometimes seen as "non-yogic." However, she was adamant that such a diet is not a prerequisite to becoming a more conscious person in the world. She added that others interpret the concept of non-harming to themselves, and that may mean that they thrive on a different diet than the person next to them.

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"There has never been and never will be a definition of 'yoga' as a philosophy that everyone can agree on," says Sadie. "Therefore, I think it's time that the yogier-than-thou types amongst us stopped being critical of others for their choices, and get back to using the words 'for me' in their statements: 'That way of eating is non-yogic... for me.' Now, we're all back on the same page of loving one another as we are, and being compassionate to the world, and non-judgmental toward our fellow yogis. Live and let live!"

With all that in mind, there are some dietary guidelines most yogis will agree on, such as choosing whole, organic and non-genetically modified foods — which, as Sadie points out, "can help erase many of the processed, toxic and unnatural foods that are factors in weight gain, fatigue and disease."

A few more examples of such healthy foods are:

  1. All types of fruits and vegetables
  2. Whole grains, quinoa, oats, wheat and rice
  3. Beans, legumes, tofu
  4. Plant-based oils, like sesame, sunflower and olive oil
  5. Nuts and seeds
  6. Natural, raw sugar, maple, molasses
  7. Herbal teas, water with lemon and/or lime
  8. Sweet spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, mint, basil, turmeric, ginger, cumin and fennel
  9. Lean protein such as chicken, turkey and fish, as well as some cuts of beef, including sirloin, flank steak and extra lean ground beef
  10. Food prepared with love and gratitude

Sadie also advises her clients to listen to what their bodies are telling them. Many people, she says, are built to be vegetarians because they feel sick when eating meat. However, other people only constrict themselves to this diet because they think they have to in order to be a true yogi, but as a result, they get sick and weak and their bodies crave meat.

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"I was a strict vegetarian for six years and never felt worse," Sadie admits. "Adding organic meat back into my diet is the reason I am able to be strong and vibrant and go out and help the world improve their fitness, empowerment and health. I don't see that as non-yogic."

I will add that I agree with Sadie's sentiments. There is no such thing as a "right" or "wrong" yoga diet. After all, yoga teaches us to listen more carefully to our body's wants and needs, and for some people, that just might mean drinking a little wine and eating a little meat!

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