Observing the 20 Energies and Real Intuitive Eating

Every day in May is precious.

Where I live, the months of February through April are often the most challenging – January and the post-holiday, beginning of year hope always seem to fly by, but it’s in February, and March, and April that every day can feel like a grind. 

It’s not the sunshine that May can bring that necessarily turns it all around for me. I do love the sun and warmer days, but I also enjoy the rain. 

It’s the flowers and the fully leafed out trees that late winter and early spring lacks. The sheer density of foliage that has returned by early May.

A heavy blanket or extra padding of plant life that soothes my nervous system as I go out into the world, making everything hard, more bearable, and everything mundane or merely good, elevated. 

The twenty Gunas valued in Ayurvedic medicine.

One thing that is inevitably helpful from day to day, whether it’s in those more difficult late winter and early spring months, in May, or in the heat of peak summer, is tuning into and adjusting my food and lifestyle choices based on the energies around and inside me. What I’m referring to are the 20 Gunas in Ayurvedic wisdom. These are a set of 10 pairs of opposing qualities or energies that describe the different attributes inherent in all substances. 

For instance, a rock is hard. Feathers are soft. 
A rainy day is wet. A clear, sunny day in August in Oregon is dry. 
Fresh ginger is heating. Coconut milk and coconut water are cooling.  

What is so powerful about observing these qualities in your body and everyday life, and then using them to make subtle food and lifestyle adjustments, is that it’s a way to bring balance to your body, mind and health.

This daily adjusting is especially helpful as a preventative measure, but should also be used when there is clear illness or disease. Our body’s prefer to operate at homeostasis. Even with everything we do in our everyday that knocks the body out of homeostasis, its object is always to return to ‘baseline’ as quickly as possible. When there are too many blocks in its ability to do so, that’s when illness and disease, abnormal lab values, pain and aches, and injuries occur.  

The 20 Qualities are:
Heavy | Light
Cold | Hot
Soft | Hard
Oily | Dry
Smooth | Rough
Dense or Solid | Liquid
Slow or Dull | Sharp
Stable | Unstable or Mobile
Cloudy, Sticky or Slimy | Clear
Gross or Big | Subtle or Small

Observing and using the 20 qualities or gunas is a way to help the body system return to homeostasis. How you do that is for every quality that is out of balance, utilize the opposite quality instead. 

For instance, if I am currently experiencing hot, itchy skin rashes or acne, I know that adding more heating substances, foods, and heating spices will further increase the heat condition. Reducing the amount of spices in food, the type of foods that are hot in nature, and increasing cooling foods will help to clear the heat. Adding cooling, bitter vegetables like broccoli and asparagus and more cooling spices and herbs like fennel, coriander, mint and cilantro,  instead of eating a dish with garlic, onions, ginger, mustard seeds, and chili peppers will slowly (or sometimes quickly) assist in coming back to equilibrium. 

Or say I have a tendency towards being constipated and gassy, and I eat lots of dry, airy foods. Snacking on popcorn, granola, chips, crackers, yeasted bread, and raw, crunchy salads, which I eat while on the go, or eat while talking. All are dry and/or contain a lot of air.
A way towards balance is to increase the moisture — both through adding liquid into the foods consumed, and cooking foods until they’re soft, and by adding liquid fats and oils instead of dry, crunchy roasted nuts or seeds, etc.

A Daily Check-In

One way to begin to use this method is by doing a short daily check-in. Take a few minutes near the beginning of each day to journal or jot down the answers to these questions:

– What is Present today? 
– And What is Needed?

Getting more granular, it can sometimes be helpful to do a quick scan or review of different body systems, the mind and emotions, and the weather to help. Is something feeling dry? Hot? Slimy and mucousy? Slow and sluggish? Adjust your food and lifestyle choices with the opposite qualities, and see where it begins to bring more balance. 

As we weave into the summer months in the northern hemisphere, it’s often that the qualities on display in the environment become hotter, dryer (or more humid, depending on where you live), and this can be mirrored in the body more rapidly, especially when we likewise choose heating and drying foods. Here’s a recipe for summer that can give you a good example of how to balance the heat and dryness with cooling spices, coconut and gently cooked, more liquid-containing meals. 

Observing what’s occurring internally and externally and adjusting to quickly reach equilibrium is the very definition of true intuitive eating. It’s tuning into what the body needs rather than what the mind craves. 

If you’d like to know more, I work with clients in individual nutrition consultations, and as a Licensed Dietician / Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist, use medical nutrition therapy, integrative health measures, and a root cause approach to heal imbalanced health conditions. 

If you’d like to learn more about how you can improve your symptoms of imbalance, I’d love to speak with you in a quick phone consultation

Coconut Macaroon No-Bake Cookies

GUTSY Performance Nutrition Coconut Macaroon No-Bake Cookies

I have a handful of routine no-bake cookie and energy bar formulas I frequently use to make tasty (and still nutritious) treats and snacks. In the winter, I often make a gingerbread variation. Or for routine mid-afternoon snacks, I’ll make a date / hemp protein / apricot / nut or seed energy bar variation.

A couple years ago, I taught a cook-along class with my local Oregon Oiselle running group, and we made one of the recipe variations of these no-bake cookies as a dessert. A couple weeks later while on a run, one of the attendees mentioned she’d adapted the recipe just slightly to make it even easier to whip together, and she was using it for long run and ultra training fuel.

With the combination of milled oats and ground nuts, coconut oil, and a quickly absorbing sugar source (honey or maple syrup), these will indeed make a good fuel option for longer (slower) runs or cycling rides, where the digestive system can take its time a bit and handle a little more complex carbohydrates and fats as fuel.

And I’m all for taking a recipe and making it your own.

I give a variation to make these sort of like no-bake truffles that are coated in a dark chocolate shell, but realistically, I almost never do that. I don’t tend to be a big chocolate person (I do like chocolate! I just rarely crave it or set out to make chocolate infused foods.) But if that sounds good to you, the chocolate / coconut flavor pairing is generally a good one.

Hope you enjoy – as a dessert, a post-workout quick fuel, afternoon snack, or training fuel – or whatever way works for you!

GUTSy Performance Nutrition Coconut Macaroon No-Bake Cookies

Coconut Macaroon No-Bake Cookies

Nothing like a traditional macaroon but rich in coconut and almond flavor, these are tasty little bites to have as a quick snack or end of day dessert – or training fuel for longer, lower intensity (easy day) efforts.

Prep:  10-15 minutes | Makes: 6-7

½ cup + 2 Tbs. / 70 grams rolled oats
¼ cup / 28 grams almond flour
¼ cup / 20 grams unsweetened coconut flakes
⅛ tsp. salt
2 Tbs.  / 32 grams raw coconut butter
½ Tbs.  / 7 grams coconut oil
2 ½ Tbs. / 50 grams maple syrup or honey
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Optional: melted dark chocolate

  1. In a food processor, combine the oats until broken down in a rough flour-like consistency. Then add the remaining ingredients and process until everything comes together.
  2. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of the dough and roll into balls in using your palms until they are firm and won’t fall apart when you pick them up. Put them on a plate or in a storage container.
  3. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week. They will last longer, but won’t taste as fresh. Allow them to come to room temperature before enjoying.

Note: if you’d like a slightly more decadent dessert, melt a small amount of chocolate in a double boiler and dip each cookie into the chocolate. Set in the fridge to firm up.

Creamy Cauliflower and Fennel Fettuccine

I have a weekly ritual of taking a walk around our neighborhood on Mondays, a day that’s typically reserved for no other activity – my rest day from running. The walks serve many purposes because I find it super helpful to do some form of easy, short activity to help me recover better from the previous week’s training load. And the slow walk is a break from work, a time to slow down and notice in more detail the subtle seasonal shifts that are continuously happening all around us. Plus, some of my neighbors tend to put up humorous and light hearted seasonal décor, or I’ll stop and have a little chat with a couple neighbors if they’re out and about. It’s always a win win.

But I also sometimes dread those Monday walks. It’s frequently cold. It’s frequently rainy. It’s frequently windy. And sometimes I love them and the sun shines, like yesterday.

When I can, I enjoy the walks even more when I can convince William to go with me. He often works from home on Mondays and the walk together becomes an especially nice work break.

Yesterday, I was reflecting on how many more flowers have arrived in just a handful of days here locally. The crocuses, the daffodils, the red flowering currant outside our dining room window, and now the first starts of tree blooms. After a long, cold and continuously snowy winter, we all need the bright bursts of coming flowers.

When it comes to eating, this time of year can feel like a chore for many of us too. Your digestion might have slowed down, where everything feels heavy and meals just sit there in your GI. There’s a lot of dampness in the air and that, combined with heavy winter meals can lead to a lot of congestion, mucus, and that heaviness and sluggishness – maybe even an energy crash – after eating. Or maybe you just have no appetite and everything sounds meh.

The first flowers can tell us, it’s time to shift with the season, towards more bitter foods – the brassicas, spring greens, onions and garlic, fresh ginger, black pepper, a pinch of chili flakes to get things moving, and generally more vegetables.

If you’d like inspiration that’s not too green and herbaceous, try out this seasonal pasta. As written, it will need a good quality protein to round out your meal – I’d choose a nice grilled white fish – but you can also make it completely plant-based by adding chickpeas or a chickpea/lentil-based noodle. Chickpeas are also one of the most drying beans – which can make them excellent this time of year for many people. I hope you enjoy – and happy spring!

Creamy Cauliflower and Fennel Fettuccine

Prep:  15 minutes  | Cook: 20-30 minutes  | Serves: 4

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
¼ cup breadcrumbs (gluten-free as needed)
Optional: ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ cup parsley, minced
½ tsp. mineral salt
pinch of black pepper
1 tsp. fennel seeds
½ a large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small head cauliflower, chopped
1 bulb fennel, cored and chopped
¼ cup raw cashews, chopped
1 ½ cups water, divided
8 oz. brown rice fettuccine noodles 

  1. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 tsp. of the olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and the breadcrumbs. Stir constantly until breadcrumbs are golden.
  2. Transfer the breadcrumb mixture to a bowl and stir in the parsley. Set aside.
  3. Add 2 tsp. of olive oil to the same skillet and heat over medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and fennel seeds and heat until the aroma from the seeds comes up. Then stir in the onion and cook until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  4. When the onion and garlic are soft, remove half of the mixture to a bowl and set it aside.
  5. In the skillet, add the cauliflower and 1/2 cup of water to the remaining onion and garlic mixture. Cook, covered, for about 5 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft.
  6. When the cauliflower is cooked, transfer the mixture to a blender. Add the cashews, 1/4 cup water, pinch of red pepper flakes, and the remaining olive oil. Blend until smooth and creamy. Then set aside.
  7. Put the onion and garlic that was set aside back in the skillet, along with the chopped fennel. Over medium heat, sear the fennel for 2-3 minutes on each side. Then add the remaining 3/4 cup of water, stir, cover, and cook until tender and soft, about 20 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain pasta but reserve about 1/4 cup of pasta water.
  9. Add the pasta back to the pot along with a couple tablespoons of pasta water. Toss to coat, then add in cauliflower puree, along with the braised fennel mixture. Stir to mix.
  10. Divide the pasta into bowls and top with the breadcrumb mixture and a pinch of minced fennel fronds if you have them.
  11. Serve with a healthy protein, such as grilled fish, or swap the brown rice fettuccine for a lentil/chickpea based pasta to make this a balanced meal.