food, yoga

Eat to feel better: a cookbook review

vegetable stew with potatoes, fennel
Veg goodness; fennel is good for us fiery ones

“A – Y – U – R – V – E – D – A”.

I was on a video call yesterday with my doctor, getting most of an annual physical and I shared with her some of the health changes going on, in this household.


Ok it’s not just dogs. And pandemic year effects, as well as cabin fever in this cold, cold February.

I had to spell it out for her after I mentioned that I’d lost a little weight and had reined in some hip pain that had plagued me for several years. “It was this .. cleanse sort of program, informed by Ayurveda, in which we limited our intake of processed foods, coffee and alcohol for 5 weeks…” (The doctor was familiar with the term, once I spelled it out.)

Back in May, when I took the “Five to Thrive” 5-week women’s health program, one of the books recommended to us was What To Eat For How You Feel by Divya Alter. In the months since, I’ve been digging into it, trying a few of the recipes and guidance it provides.

If Ayurveda is a new term for you: it’s a healing system developed in India 3,000 years ago, which focuses on balance of body, mind and spirit in the individual. I’ve had a fair share of instruction on Ayurveda, as a yoga teacher and also from experiences like Five to Thrive. So: I can’t speak to whether this book would be a great introduction to Ayurveda, with regards to food.

The book has been helpful to me: it’s divided into three sections, aligning to the seasons. Each section has about 20 recipes that optimize use of in-season produce and provide explanation for why these ingredients may be good choices for bringing or maintaining smooth and beneficial digestion (i.e. why you would eat cooling foods in a hot summer or spicy foods in a cold, dark winter). 

And then!

Each recipe offers modifications. Sounds crazy but hey, it’s just like in my yoga class: “do this on your forearms if it feels better to you.”

Some examples: If the base recipe version is likely to be too spicy for you, there’s an option that swaps a cooling herb like fennel for cinnamon. If the base version is likely to be too heavy for you, try this less gooey grain or opt for water instead of dairy milk.

Like some of the other Ayurveda-informed books I’ve recently read (Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life or Body, Mind and Sport), you don’t need to know your dosha. The book’s narrative removes some of the jargon in order to help you see and implement its base simplicity. 

I’ve found the 3-4 recipes I’ve tried to be delicious and fairly easy to make. I had a few struggles, trying to source a few Indian-cuisine ingredients. (Tip: lime zest makes a pretty good substitute for curry leaves!)

This is the first Ayurveda cookbook I’ve bought. It’s giving me some great hands-on experience with eating to feel good and finding balance on my plate. The adventure continues, in our kitchen!