Hot Yoga Session 16: Adjusting Diet to Match Improved Health

This post is part of my January 2012 30 Days of Hot Yoga series. This month I’m taking on a personal challenge to complete 30 sessions of hot yoga at Baptiste Studios in 30 days in celebration of my 30th birthday. Wish me luck!

I’m just so amazed with how the human body works. Physically, just two weeks into this new exercise routine, I’m able to work and move and stretch and articulate my body in ways I never imagined. I’m flexible – something I never would have used to describe myself before now (despite regular exercise and stretching for all of my life).

And I’m not just talking about touching my toes.

When the instructor suggests we lean a certain way, pull our hips a different way, and keep our toes yet another way – I can do it. Even more – I feel myself almost growing into each pose. And the heat, the environment, it all supports that growth. Like a plant. A vine. With each change in sunlight, my body moves to capture each bit of that light.

What comes with this improved flexibility – this motion, movement, this strength that I’ve never known – is a complete change in my taste, cravings, and eating habits. First, I’ll talk about schedule.

I’m fully adjusted to my daily routine. All of my calories for the day are typically consumed between 9am and 3pm and yoga is either at 5:30 or 7pm. Before and after that all I want to do is hydrate. Sometimes, if I’m within a couple hours of class and need more fuel, I’ll eat simple carbs – like pasta or bread – something I know I can digest quickly and that I know will stay with me for a few hours.

strawberries straight from our garden

In terms of food, I find myself loading everything with salt. This is probably the biggest surprise for me because I’ve never really cared for chips or salty snacks. Now, just halfway through this 30-day challenge, I can’t get enough. And I’m okay with it. As with all of the changes this month, the more I ask around, the more I find that this is just another change that I need to embrace.

Occasionally, if I didn’t eat enough the day before (it usually takes a day or two for it to affect my performance), I feel light headed between noon and 3pm and need extra calories. That’s usually when I go for a large ethnic dish (usually Indian or Mexican) – lots of vegetables, rice, and beans or chicken. I want nothing to do with raw food, and I think that has a lot to do with how I digest it. I think it takes my body too long to digest it. On the rare occasion I have tried a salad, I almost immediately feel sick and end up running for a bag of chip or some bread.

Another interesting development that probably won’t come as a surprise to consistently healthy eaters: the smell of fried food repulses me. I don’t do oily anything anymore. No oil. No grease. No fried food. The smell that wafts from local eateries bothers me so much, in fact, that I avoid walking by them. And while I love this change in terms of how it represents my substantially improved overall health, I am slightly disappointed that the joy of eating bad food is lost. Sort of. But – not really.

I’ve also reduced my dairy intake and replaced cow’s milk with almond milk in my protein shakes. Out of habit, I’ve been eating cereal with milk when I get ready for work. But lately, I’m finding that I would rather skip it and make oatmeal instead. It’s a lot more satisfying and if I make a lot of it on Sundays, I have enough to get through the next few days. It has to be steel cut oats, though. The instant stuff just won’t cut it (unless I’m reaaallly hungry).

In general, my meals consist of vegetables and light grains. It’s always simple. Always cooked. With very little added to it. I’ll eat a head of broccoli and plain white rice most days. That’s enough for me. Or a bag of spinach and rice. Or just the spinach. Sometimes I’m just not patient enough for even a quick meal. My body is working hard and it needs to be cared for.

The other surprise is that I don’t want artificial sugar. Candy is nearly repulsive. Don’t get me wrong – I won’t turn away cake. But I don’t love it the way I have in the past.

if you keep good food in your fridge you will eat good food

One of the side effects of being so aware and in touch with your body each day is an increased awareness in food, not as a pleasure or a treat or even as an experience, but rather purely about fueling my body for it’s next big challenge. Each food choice is about what each meal will offer my body. And that’s kind of amazing. And I hope I can keep that view long past this 30-day challenge.

Because if I can keep that mindset – if I can view food as fuel and energy – then I know I can stay healthy and fit for life. Let’s hope it sticks!