Growing up in the 1970s, I recall my daily breakfast consisted of Pop-Tarts, Fruit Loops, Cap’n Crunch or Lucky Charms. Snacks were usually junk food and soda. I have not always been an “enlightened eater!” As a teen, I suffered from mood swings and irritability, and I was plagued by anxiety, fear and doubt, not to mention a bad case of acne! Although I was an honor student, I made some pretty unenlightened choices during my teen years that I still regret to this day. Never did it occur to me that my moods, fears, insecurities and poor choices might have had something to do with the foods I ate.
As a young mom, I suffered from a paralyzing case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). What seemed then like a horrible curse became one of the greatest gifts life has ever given me. I was forced to change my eating. When I changed my eating, my whole life changed! I suddenly had more clarity, insight, perception, and understanding, not to mention boundless energy, steady moods and ideal weight. I healed myself completely with food, and a whole new way of seeing things flooded open for me. I felt awakened for the first time in my life. I was suddenly able to tap into my own inner wisdom, which was already there, but just shrouded by the toxins I had been dumping into my body for years.
As they say, “Once you are awakened, you can’t go back to sleep.” It has become my passion and my mission to show others that by changing your eating, you change your life…for the better! Food has a direct effect not only on the body, but on the mind and spirit too.
Today, as an Ayurvedic lifestyle counselor, yoga instructor and author, I understand much more deeply the connection between food and states of consciousness. Ayurveda has understood this relationship for thousands of years. The food we eat corresponds directly to our mental states and to the levels of consciousness at which we operate. According to Ayurveda, there are three gunas, or intrinsic qualities, that exist in all matter in the universe, including our foods and even us. The three gunas or qualities are: Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva. These three states exist in the foods we eat, and the foods we eat are directly reflected in our own mental, emotional and spiritual states.
Rajas is a quality of agitation, restlessness, and change. A rajasic diet includes caffeine, tobacco, fried foods, white flour, white sugar, meat or fish of any kind, hot, spicy foods, overly salty or overly sweet foods.
A diet consisting primarily of these foods over-excites the system, creating disharmony and discord. These kinds of foods promote irritability, moodiness, anxiety, worry, restlessness, poor concentration, distractibility, anger, aggression and hostility. With this diet, the ego can become unstable and inflated, causing one to make choices to further the self at the expense of others, lacking compassion and sensitivity. A rajasic person lacks the stability and integrity necessary to reach higher levels of consciousness.
Tamas is a quality of dullness, density and inertia. A diet of tamasic foods consists of junk, fast or processed food, artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives, canned foods, leftovers, frozen TV dinners, red meat, alcohol, stale, over-ripe or over-cooked foods.
Tamas carries the energy of ignorance, disease and decay. A tamasic eater may suffer from depression, delusion, or darkness in thinking. Someone who eats a primarily tamasic diet, invites upon themselves a tamasic state of consciousness. A tamasic person makes choices from a place of unawareness, dimness, and lack of perception. This person is disconnected from spirit, higher consciousness, and their divine nature. Their diet prevents them from being the best version of themselves.
Sattva is a quality of harmony, purity, and balance. This is the optimal way to eat and to live. Sattva is the highest level of cleanliness and wholesomeness. A sattvic diet includes fresh, juicy, nourishing foods. This is real food, grown on vines, trees, stalks or plants, and consumed at the peak of ripeness and freshness. This food is not sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, or genetically modified, but grown in harmony with nature. The food is filled with nutrients and micronutrients, and abounding with prana or life force.
A sattvic diet includes fresh whole grains, freshly prepared foods, lightly seasoned and lightly cooked vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, natural herbs, spices and sweeteners, fresh organic dairy from well-treated cows.
These foods are grown, prepared and cooked with the energy of love. The most sattvic foods in Ayurveda are considered to be fresh juicy fruits, raw honey, almonds, rice, sesame oil, ginger, ghee (Clarified butter), herbal teas and infusions.
A sattvic diet promotes joy, lightness, and positivity. It fuels clarity, insight, and creativity. It supports the highest states of consciousness, is said to bring about a state of self-realization, and to fertilize the seeds of enlightenment.
Since discovering and incorporating a more sattvic way of eating, my own life has transformed. My moods, thinking and concentration are calm, crisp and clear. Doubt and insecurity have evaporated. I no longer get moody or cranky. My children have said, “You’re not like the other moms; you never get mad and yell at us.”
The other pleasant side effects of this way of eating have been excellent health, ideal weight, boundless energy and spiritual growth. I notice a considerable sense of ease, positivity, and a brighter, lighthearted approach to life. I am aware of subtle energies, thoughts, and insights in myself and in others. Life has moved along harmoniously as things seem to just fall into place. Moments of synchronicity are frequent. My life path is clear. I live with a sense of peace, contentment and gratitude. Prayer, yoga and meditation are a daily ritual, and I am connected deeply to spiritual practice.
Food clearly has the power to open or close our channels of perception, awareness, and clarity. Food can either be poison or nectar to the spirit. You can choose to eat your way into darkness, or you can eat your way to enlightenment.
Take the following “3-Guna” self-quiz. See which of the three gunas is predominant in your eating. This will give you a good idea whether or not you are eating your way to enlightenment.
Eating Rajas, Tamas, or Sattva?
1 I most often eat: ___ homemade food ___ in restaurants ___ reheated, prepared, convenience, or fast food.
- I often eat my fruit and vegetables: ___ fresh ___ dried or canned ___ I don’t like fruit or vegetables.
- I often buy my food at: ___ the local farmers’ market ___ the supermarket ___ the convenience store.
- My diet is: ___ vegetarian ___ some meat ___ heavy meat.
- I tend to: ___ chew each bite 20 times ___ eat rapidly ___ overeat.
- I stop eating at: ___ 70-80% full ___ 100% full ___ 120% or more full.
- I eat: ___ at regular times each day ___ sporadically or skip meals ___ by ”grazing” all day.
- I order pizza delivery or pick up take-out: ___ rarely ___ once or twice a month ___ weekly.
- I drink alcohol: ___ rarely or never ___ 1 or 3 drinks a week ___ daily.
- I use tobacco: ___ never ___ only when I drink alcohol ___ daily.
- I use caffeine or stimulants: ___ never ___ a few times a week ___ several times daily.
- My favorite foods are: ___ natural foods ___ fried foods ___ fast foods.
- I sweeten with: ___ natural sweeteners ___ white sugar ___ artificial sweeteners.
- I prefer: ___ whole grains ___ white bread, flour, rice ___ chips and doughnuts.
- I enjoy drinking: ___ herbal teas or fruit juices ___ sports drinks ___ diet sodas.
- I crave: ___ fresh whole foods ___ salty or spicy foods ___ junk food.
- Usually my food is: ___ organic when possible ___ convenience ___ leftovers.
The first choice in each row is Sattva, the second is Rajas, and the third is Tamas. Total your check marks for each.
Total: __________ Sattva __________ Rajas __________ Tamas
Elise Cantrell holds a Master’s Degree in Education from The University of South Carolina and is currently a studio owner and instructor in Kohler, Wisconsin. She received her 200-hour YTT certification from White Lotus Institute in Santa Barbara, California, and her 500 hour level Certification at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Elise is also a certified Ayurvedic Health Counselor via the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, NM. Elise is passionate about cooking and eating natural foods, and has developed an eating plan inspired by the sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda. She has written a book based on this plan titled 40 Days to Enlightened Eating.