How to Personalize Our Diet and Lifestyle

We take everything personally. Even when we say we are not. From the seasoning on our pizza to the fragrance in our scented candles, every choice we make carries a trace of our personality.

Personalizing, or choosing according to our body’s needs, is almost second nature for us. With food, at least. For the most part, what we include in our diet (or don’t) reflects our body’s relationship with specific foods. Even our random cravings are not so random. They are a direct reply to our body’s needs. Needs as unique as our metabolic personality, that is the unique way our body functions.

Not quite so with lifestyle, however. We start with the right one (the right amount of food, sleep, and activity). But sooner or later, influenced by factors like occupation, milieu, and health, our lifestyle changes. Often, that also alters our food habits. Slowly, our body goes out of its natural rhythm and loses its balance.

We can bring ourselves back on track by prioritizing our real needs. It doesn’t require a major rehaul of everything we are doing or eating – we couldn’t possibly have gone that wrong! – just small shifts on a regular basis. Since all functions in our body are interconnected, a small tweak in one functional area can help balance other areas too.

Personalizing Is the Same as Balancing

Before we set about personalizing, here’s an easy formula.

Personalizing = balancing with the opposite quality

Now for the explanation. How each of us functions is rooted in who we are or, if we narrow it down further, one influencing energy or quality we have.

Broadly, each of us is a mix of three different functional energies:

  • An intense fiery energy that drives us on
  • A light and quick creative energy that helps us change and adapt
  • A slow and steady accumulative energy that keeps us grounded

What makes us unique is the ratio in which we express these energies. We could express predominantly one, a mix of any two, or even a nearly equal mix of all three.

Personalizing is often as simple as balancing our predominant energy/ies with food and activities that have the opposite quality.

  • An intense person needs coolness.
  • A light and quick person needs stability.
  • A slow and steady person needs lightness and warmth.

Personalizing for the Intense Type: Looking for Cool Things

Those of us who have a predominantly intense energy are always speeding at the top gear. We keep pushing our limits, our aim being “faster, higher, stronger.” Our favorite phrase is “bring it on!” So we work long hours, work out vigorously, spice up our food, and burn the midnight oil every day. Until we come to a halt with a crash.

What we need is moderation in everything we do. In fact, this first level of personalization – finding the middle way – is essential for all of us, not just the intense type. The second level is getting more of what cools us down, function by function. Let’s start with sleep.

Sleep

The intense energy delays sleep. However tired we may be, we lie awake in bed thinking up elaborate plans of action for the next day or solving problems that plagued us all day. The personalizing or balancing fixes depend on how far we have veered away from the moderate way.

  • Sometimes, a chilled bedroom and cotton bed sheets may be all we need to discard thoughts and embrace dreams.
  • Sometimes, we may need more – a cool bath, a cup of passion flower or chamomile tea, and a session of deep, slow breathing before bed.
  • Some of us, however, may also need to rejig the evening routine, incorporating more calming, passive activities such as listening to music.

While we personalize, let’s not forget the general rules for good sleep.

  • Find the magic number. How many hours do we need to wake up fresh and keen to begin the day? It doesn’t have to be 8.
  • Put sleep first. Let’s block off those hours first. Everything else can follow.
  • Catch up on sleep. Daily. We don’t starve ourselves on weekdays to pig out on weekends. Or drink 1 liter of water all week and 8 on Sundays. We can’t make up for the sleep lost on weekdays by sleeping in on weekends.

Mind and Mood

The intense mind is sharp and dynamic. But pushed beyond its center of balance, it makes us irritable and uncooperative.

  • Instead of trying to tick all the boxes on our ambitious lists, can we prioritize? It’s okay to push some tasks over to the next day and some to the waste bin, even. In short, can we do less than what we’re doing?
  • Everyone takes deep breaths when agitated. Let’s be more specific and try the cooling or the hissing breath. They do more than cool our tongues. They reduce the beta waves in our brain that are linked with a state of agitation and increase alpha, theta, and delta waves, associated with relaxation and deeper consciousness.
  • Meditation helps. So it must be part of the daily routine. But at a time of crunch, even this quick exercise could help. Closing our eyes, let’s visualize a vast blue sky, a stretch of clear blue water, or a silent forest.

Digestion

Digestion being our strong suit, we are able to eat just about anything, even foods that are heat producing – usually, meat and hot spices like chillies and black pepper. Of course, in moderation. But if we had to personalize a platter, it would include more of

  • Cool, heavy, dry, and mild foods – like baked white potatoes and cooked lima beans
  • Cooling herbs and spices like fennel, cilantro, lemongrass, and cardamom – in fact, if we want to personalize a ready meal, all we may need to do is season it with these coolers
  • If there’s no way to escape a spicy meal, we could chew on some fennel seeds and cardamom afterward.

They help even more when we follow these general rules of eating right.

  • Number of meals: We should eat 3 main meals, with lunch being the largest, and a couple of snacks at most. The deciding factor ought to be hunger, not habit.
  • Mealtimes: The lunch ought to be had between 12 and 2 pm and dinner before the sun sets
  • Meal attitude: We ought to eat mindfully, chewing every bite carefully. And only when we are calm.

Metabolism

We have a fast metabolism. Which means we use up energy quickly, even when we’re resting. So we need frequent refueling. But more than that we need to learn to distribute our energy well. With our kind of single-minded pursuit of things, it’s easy to get emotionally exhausted.

  • Sometimes, all we need to do for energy is sleep at the right hour and for the right number of hours. We may be doing everything else right.
  • Sometimes, we may also need to take a look at our diet. It should have energy-rich food, but not those with a lot of sugar or other refined carbs. We need an energy plus nutrients package, which can be found in complex carbs like whole grains and fibrous veggies. Meats? Yes, but not every day. They turn up the heat.
  • And rather than powering through every task or every exercise routine, let’s take small breaks every now and then. It’s bound to keep us calm and even boost our performance.

Bones and Joints

It’s difficult to know what’s happening with our bones and joints until they suddenly turn stiff or painful. Given our high metabolism, our bones keep breaking down and restructuring themselves more frequently. Nothing to be scared about if we have a good diet, a good dose of the sun, and a good regimen of weight-bearing exercises.

  • Bones need calcium and vitamin D. We could pick out a couple of items from this list for every meal: tofu, cottage cheese, white beans, kale, mung beans, celery, cilantro, prunes, oatmeal/oat bran, shrimp, and mushrooms (white, stir-fried; shiitake, stir-fried; portabella, grilled). But that’s not all. We also need the support of a healthy regular diet.
  • Exercising in the sun is a good way to take care of our bones. But both the sun and exercise can make us feel hot and tired very quickly. We could personalize by combining the two in a clever way – say by swimming or taking our dogs for a walk. And even if we do go for a run or an intense gym session (which we love to), let’s focus on quick cool downs.

Personalizing for the Light and Quick: Looking for Stability

Those of us who have a predominantly light and quick energy are always on our feet. Our minds too are perpetually jumping from one thought to another, trying to meet the demands of the fast-paced world.

We can often be heard saying, “That’s boring. I need something else.” On good days, that makes for a creative way of looking at the world; on bad days, that makes us indecisive, anxious, and fidgety.

What we need is to stay grounded. Warming and moist foods, gentle yoga and isometric exercises that give us steadiness, and meditation are what we need.

Sleep

Sleep is not our strong point. It becomes fragile the moment things seem even a little beyond our control. We need to be soothed into sleep.

  • Some days, all we need are a warm and snug room, a warm bath before bed, a cup of valerian tea, and oil massage on the feet. A moderately heavy dinner with sleep-friendly foods like tart cherry juice or almonds could also help.
  • It might seem useless in the beginning, but daily meditation makes it easier for our minds to disengage. We don’t need to force our mind to be blank or focus on one thing. We can simply let it flow and keep bringing it back periodically.
  • Some of us may also need to incorporate more calmness into our days through deep breathing, nature walks, and yoga.

Mind and Mood

On our best days, we are fun, creative, and bursting with ideas – typically, days we wake up well rested, have a full tummy, and work on something that interests us. On our worst days, we are overwhelmed, frantic, and unable to focus. Besides the usual things most people do to keep their mind balanced, here’s what we could do.

  • Rhythm gives our thoughts a pattern to follow. So we could get some rhythm in our activities, whether it’s listening to music, exercising, or practising deep breathing. Which is why, we would find it easier to continue with a Zumba lesson rather than a regular gym routine. When it comes to trying deep breathing, what works for us best is alternate nostril breathing.
  • Brain puzzles are a good way to sharpen our focus. We just need to make sure they are neither too easy nor too difficult. We lose interest quickly.
  • We also need to question ourselves periodically – are we doing something in line with our strength and interest? If not, our mind will be perpetually discontented.

Digestion

The light and quick digestion is erratic. Some days we nibble on our food, some days we hog. But other than that, we have little reason to complain. Most foods on our recommended list are delectable.

  • A well cooked warm and moist meal with a mix of flavors but with more of sweet, sour, and salty foods is what our palate prefers.
  • While most people may be overly cautious about their fat intake, we needn’t be. Fat is good for us. A drizzle of healthy fat (butter, ghee, or olive oil) can personalize most foods for our body. We should also choose fatty cuts of meat without any compunction.
  • Seasoning with warming herbs and spices like bay leaves, ginger, garlic, cardamom, and black pepper can also keep our digestive fire consistently stoked.
  • Let’s also remember to drink water and juices to keep ourselves hydrated.

Metabolism

We don’t have as much energy as we think we do. But we also do squander our energy working haphazardly or thinking erratically. So frequent refills are necessary. If we don’t, we push ourselves into a state where we are physically exhausted but unable to calm down mentally.

  • We don’t link water with energy, but more often than not, we feel drained when we are dehydrated. And we do tend to get dehydrated if we are not cautious about our water intake.
  • Working out is an obvious way to build energy stores. But we need to be careful about not overdoing it. We don’t deal well with exhaustion. So yoga is a better choice than working out in a gym. Even in yoga, postures that help us stay grounded and make us hold our pose are better – for instance, cat-cow pose or seated forward bend. Other than that, strength-building isometric exercises like plank, side plank, or glute bridge also help build muscle strength and stability.

Bones and Joints

We have bones that are more prone to wear and tear than restructuring. So one meal we eat should be for our bones.

  • We could choose from calcium and vitamin D foods like Salmon, sardines, tofu, fresh figs, almonds, pistachios, chia seeds, sesame seeds, parmesan cheese, yogurt, spinach, sweet potato, watercress, orange juice, oatmeal, tuna, oyster, shrimp, and eggs. But that’s not all; a balanced diet comprising all other nutrients is essential.
  • While we mustn’t do heavy exercise, it will help to lift some weights. Strength exercises make our bones sturdier. Even better is to do strength training in the sun, not just for the vitamin D but also for the warmth.

Personalizing for the Slow and Steady: Looking for Lightness

Those of us who have a predominantly slow and steady energy like to do things at our own pace. Naturally, our favorite line is “Can it wait?” There are many advantages to being so calm and sorted all the time. But a major disadvantage is lethargy and gloominess.

We need things that helps us pick the pace. Usually, things that make us feel warm and light.

Sleep

We are blessed sleepers. We fall asleep quickly and sleep heavily for a good 7–8 hours. The only problem is that sometimes we may sleep a little too much for our own good. It doesn’t even feel refreshing. On normal days, we need to do nothing different. But if we’ve been oversleeping for a while, here’s what we can do.

  • We make sure we’re working out daily, twice if possible. Working out gives us more energy and dispels gloom. We oversleep on days we feel depressed.
  • Keeping the bedtime fixed, let’s bring the wake-up time forward by 15 minutes every week till it’s closer to sunrise. (Yes, even on weekends.) Once our body regains its natural day-night pattern, our sleep will get back on track.

Mind and Mood

We are generally calm, happy, and unruffled on most days. Not even a lot of work or emotional events can faze us. But this calmness also hides an inertia and lethargy, which in turn can make us prone to gloominess. If only we knew how much more we are capable of doing.

  • We need activity, both physical and mental. And we need to keep trying to push our limit. So if we enrol in a gym, we should look out for one that holds boot camps and healthy competitions. Yoga and meditation too would have more effect when performed in groups.
  • Even though everyone advocates slow breathing to balance the mind, quick breathing is more our thing. Quick breathing exercises, like bellows breath, make us more energetic and upbeat. If we want to meditate, we should personalize it. Practising mindfulness while walking can benefit us more than meditating in a seated position.

Digestion

Digestion is definitely not our trump card. It is usually slow, and we remain full for long after a meal. That’s not entirely bad news since it also curbs our tendency to snack. But it’s not a happy feeling either. We need two types of foods: those that are quickly digested and those that help in digestion.

  • A plate personalized for us should be warm, light, and not so moist. The foods that dominate would taste spicy (garlic, onion, wasabi, etc.), mildly astringent (pomegranate, chickpeas, etc.), and mildly bitter (kale, turmeric, etc.).
  • When we have a ready meal in front of us and not much choice, we can personalize it by having a smaller portion and using warming herbs and spices like black pepper, paprika, and cinnamon.
  • A walk after a meal is essential. It keeps the food moving through the digestive tract.

Metabolism

The slow and steady metabolism is, well, slow and steady. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have energy. Quite the opposite. We have more stamina than most others. But we do not utilize the energy we have. As a result, we gain weight easily.

  • Exercising is the best possible thing to rev up our metabolism. But we like to take things easy, so it’s easier said than done. Rather than exercising alone, we ought to buddy up or take membership in a gym that gives us personal attention.
  • We should focus on cardio, which makes us use our whole body – say, running, jogging, sprinting, high-intensity interval training, dancing, cycling, and even sun salutations. The objective is to sweat.
  • Variation in our exercise regimen is also essential. Otherwise, we tend to get too comfortable in a routine and stop pushing ourselves.
  • A warm shower after exercise can help us maintain the energy.

Bones and Joints

This is usually not our problem area. We have sturdy bones that are not prone to degeneration. That said, because we don’t usually exercise, we can experience stiffness and muscle weakness.

  • Strength-training exercises are essential but we don’t need to make a huge space in our routine for these. We could do plyometric exercises like burpees, jumping squats, and weight lifting between running or jogging.
  • Vitamin D and calcium foods we can eat daily include tofu, white beans, spinach, kale, pumpkin seeds, okra, black beans, watercress, Brussels sprouts, mustard sprouts, rhubarb, oat bran, eggs, shrimp, and mushrooms (white, stir-fried; shiitake, stir-fried; portabella, grilled).

Immunity

Our immunity is a reflection of our good habits. So if we make sure that all the other functions are balanced, our immunity is balanced. For instance, poor sleep can visibly weaken our immunity, as can poor digestion or a disturbed state of mind.

So if we personalize our lifestyle and diet according to our metabolic personality such that we get enough sleep, eat the right kind of foods (almost every food group has something to offer for our immune system), work out adequately, get some sun, and maintain hygiene, we needn’t do anything special for our immunity.