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Ayurvedic chef Divya Alter’s What to Eat for How You Feel is different than your average cookbook. (Ya know, the one you go back to for the same chicken masala recipe every time.) For the uninitiated, Ayurvedic (pronounced ay-er-vey-dic) cooking is the ancient Indian practice of healing the body with food. But even if you’re never going to give up fries, this book offers surprisingly practical tips about how to make sure the food you eat is actually replenishing and restoring your body. 

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know Before Trying the Ketogenic Diet

ayuverda kitchen
Twenty20

Make Your Kitchen a Sacred Space

The key is to keep stress and negative energy away from your meals. So stop thinking of your kitchen as the place where you slap together a peanut butter sandwich before you run out the door. Instead, it’s a meditation space. Put on music you love, light a candle, put a plant nearby and concentrate on the task at hand. Your to-do list can wait—stay in the moment and focus on nourishing your body.

ayuverda after eating
William and Susan Brinson

Pay Attention to How You Feel 30 Minutes After Eating

Not all food—even if it’s considered healthy—is right for every person, Alter explains. She recommends observing how you feel about half an hour after eating a meal. If you feel sluggish or nauseous instead of energized, it might not be the right balance of ingredients for your dietary needs. (It seems obvious, but pay attention. You’ll be shocked by how many signals your body is trying to send you.)

ayuverda energy
William and Susan Brinson

Identify Foods By How Much Energy They Give You

In Ayurvedic cooking, foods have three different energy levels: invigorating, lackluster and depleting. And although most foods fall into the categories you’d expect (invigorating = fresh, organic veggies; lackluster = frozen foods and leftovers; depleting = sugar and fried foods), it’s also about the way they make you feel after eating. The point isn’t necessarily to eliminate lackluster and depleting foods entirely, but to be more aware of when you’re eating them and the effect they have on your body.

ayuverda digestion
William and Susan Brinson

Eat For Your Digestion Type

Here’s where things get a little more involved. Ayurvedic recipes cater to three different digestive types: airy, fiery or earthy. The book explains this in more detail, but basically, if you have dry skin and an irregular appetite, you’re airy. If you have strong digestion and a warmer body temperature, you’re fiery. If you have oily skin and tend to sleep soundly, you’re earthy. There are dozens of recipes catered to each digestive type, and they’re further separated by season to put as little stress on your digestive system as possible.

ayuverda pizza
Twenty20

Don’t Mix and Match

Even if you have an iron stomach, there are some food combos that Alter says just don’t mix. For example, raw fruit with cooked food (we’re looking at you, pineapple pizza), yogurt with leafy greens or cucumber with lemon can upset the digestive system and cause unnecessary strain to your body.

ayuverda berry
Twenty20

The Time You Eat Matters

Sorry, night owls. The optimal time to eat breakfast is between 7 and 9 a.m., lunch between 12 and 1 p.m. and dinner between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. (yep, that early). Before bed, drink soothing tea if you’re still feeling hungry. This allows your body to fully digest your food and return to a calm, resting state before you fall asleep.

ayuverda hate
William and Susan Brinson

If You Hate It, Don’t Eat It

Here’s our favorite tip of all: If you absolutely despise kale, you shouldn’t eat kale. Your body purportedly goes into a state of stress when you force yourself to eat something you dislike, which Alter says will ultimately affect your digestion.

RELATED: How Mindful Eating Could Change Your Whole Damn Life

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