Reflections: Kitchari Reset
What I learned from eating only rice, beans, oats, and fresh produce for one week
This past week, Ashtanga Yoga Long Beach and Intrepid Ayurveda held our first-ever 1-Week Reset & Restore. This was an Ayurveda and Yoga-informed digestive reset consisting of a guided sattvic diet combined with simple self-care support. The reset revolved primarily around the traditional Ayurvedic healing dish kitchari, which is a rice and mung bean stew cooked down with spices, ghee, and vegetables to make a balancing, nourishing but easily digestible food. Besides eating kitchari 2-3 times a day (with oatmeal or fruit being an alternative breakfast option), we also restricted caffeine intake, sugar, snacking, dairy, and any kind of processed or prepackaged foods.
I’ll be the first to admit that although I’ve had plenty of kitchari, I’ve never actually buckled down and made it every day for one week. Nor have I completely avoided sugar and snacking, and while I have dramatically decreased my intake of coffee over the last few years, I was interested to see what would happen when I didn’t have my usual go-to comfort foods and beverages. Below is how I went about this week and my takeaways from the experience:
I had a mug of warm lemon water first thing in the morning and did my usual self-care routine. I limited breakfasts to oatmeal or fruit salad. Until lunch, I would sip on herbal tea. I would always prep my kitchari either early morning or mid-morning, and one batch would last both lunch and dinner (I don’t recommend refrigerating kitchari and warming it up the next day). On one or two occasions, I had steamed or baked vegetables as a meal, but for the majority of the time, I kept to the kitchari script. Breakfast was around 8 or 9 am Lunch around noon and dinner around 6 pm. If I found myself absolutely starving, I allowed myself a few pieces of fresh fruit, and that was enough.
How was the experience and what did I learn?
I’m surprised to say that there really weren’t many challenges. All meals were very satiating – with the rice, beans, and ghee all providing sustaining energy throughout the day. Although eventually, I started to miss snacks and desserts, it never became such a strong craving that I felt the need to give in. I realized I really don’t need chocolate or caffeine, I just wanted it. By giving myself a little space to ride out the craving rather than giving in to it, my mind realized it wasn’t really an emergency.
Because we are still in the midst of Covid-19 business closures, there wasn’t as much of an opportunity to dine out as there usually would be, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much. The only challenging feeling towards the beginning was eating enough in one meal to minimize snacking in between meals, but I quickly adjusted after a few days.
Eating the same thing every day has its benefits
Being limited to oatmeal, beans, and rice as staples made it really easy to meal plan. I spent a lot less energy worrying about what my next meal was going to be and therefore had a lot more room to work on other things, even while cooking at least twice a day. I do have the luxury of working from home, but on the days that my partner had to work, we made eating fresh kitchari at work possible by cooking the kitchari first thing in the morning and packing it in a piping hot thermos so that it is ready to eat at noon. I was also less distracted because I didn’t keep reaching for a coffee, snack, etc. Even though I was only eating kitchari for lunch and dinner, I kept it interesting by switching up the vegetables and spices each day. It was also very economical – I used just a half cup of rice and a half cup of beans each day, along with around 3 cups of vegetables. Having 3 fresh, home-cooked meals every day is not impossible!
An overall sense of evenness
The most striking result of this reset was the sense of stability that came with eating the same thing every day. I never had any digestive upset or irregularities. Cutting out coffee eliminated jitters and acidity. Because the meals provided a deep sense of nourishment, I felt less overall in need of anything. This was true also on an emotional level. Having a baseline of peace and well-being provided me with more mental space to contemplate my work and life creatively. If I felt anxious, I was more able to sit with the anxiety, see where it was coming from, and take the time to come up with productive solutions rather than sitting in a spiral of worry. And although I lightened my workout load this week, I actually found myself more energetic throughout my workouts, with an added feeling of strength. My handstands were stronger. I was more motivated to go outside each day to do some movement.
Deeper insights about food, community, and quality of life
Even though the reset was relatively easy to go through and allowed me to be aware of many of my patterns around eating, I also quickly realized how much of my life is enriched by social and cultural practices around food. Sharing food, breaking bread with others, and laughing over a meal can also be a huge expression of love. We all have our own reasons for being on this planet, and for me, I know that I want to be fully present with the people, animals, and environments that I have the privilege to interact with. That requires sharing food, exploring new things, and adapting to different customs and cultures. A reset is inherently insular – it forces you to be with yourself, to eat mostly alone, and to do self-reflection. That time is incredibly valuable because we get to take a look at our own habits and relationship with food, and evaluate what serves us and what does not. But it is not necessarily the end goal, and sticking only to an insular practice can lead to narrow-mindedness. Some of the happiest moments of my life have been laughing and sharing delicious meals with the people I love, or going out with friends to have deep conversations at a café. Not having the freedom to do so during the reset made me realize how important such experiences are for my quality of life. Sharing food is a vibrant part of the human experience that can be as sacred as silent retreat. I think having a balance of looking within and participating with the world are equally important, and done with mindfulness can be incredibly profound.
Have you ever tried a kitchari reset? What was your experience like?
If this reflection has piqued your interest at all, consider joining us for the next round this coming fall! Subscribe below to keep updated on upcoming events and workshops.
Thank you for reading!