The Chakra-Based Diet
Most diets involve giving up foods we love, and it’s hard to get excited about the things we won’t get to enjoy. Seattle-based nutritionist Dr. Deanna Minich offers a glass-half-full approach: Instead of focusing on what you’re taking out, she helps you discover new foods to add in. Her book The Rainbow Diet explores the benefits of eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables: “Health should be pleasurable and fun, which is why I focus on color,” Minich says.
Minich merges nutrition, modern science, ancient spiritual healing practices, and her own clinical experiences into a holistic approach toward healing and wellness that’s simple and delicious. The goal, Minich says, is “living in such a way that all of you—your entire spectrum—radiates: your body, emotions, thoughts, heart, inner truth, intuition, and spirit.”
A Q&A with Deanna Minich, Ph.D.
As a clinical and research-oriented nutritionist, I’ve never believed that one diet fits all. Unlike most traditional, restrictive diets, the Rainbow Diet is about finding the foods, supplements, and eating styles that fit your unique personal physiology and psychology.
Many leading organizations will promote broad nutritional guidelines, such as “reduce saturated fat,” or tell you to limit your calorie or dietary cholesterol intake. However, based on our individual biochemistry and genetic variability, these kinds of guidelines may not be suitable for everyone. Every way of eating needs to be fine-tuned to an individual’s physiology, genetics, and environment. Many conventional diets are also fragmented in that they focus on the foods you eat but don’t take your lifestyle into account. You may also end up feeling deprived when dieting, since it requires giving certain things up.
The Rainbow Diet is about organizing a coherent framework that takes all aspects of your life into consideration, aligning your body, psychology, eating, and lifestyle. It provides a map to help you achieve your optimal level of nutrition and focuses on what you can bring into your life to nourish you at a deep level. Someone who lives this life is authentically connected to what feeds their soul.
These systems based on the ancient chakra system and are the foundation for all of my teachings. The seven systems represent all of the organs throughout the body and are in constant communication with one another. Each system is based on an endocrine gland and its accompanying body parts, ultimately connecting to a variety of physiological functions.
Each system is also associated with certain foods and lifestyle practices—mental, emotional, and spiritual in nature—that may energize or balance that center. Seemingly separate issues—nutritional, anatomical, psychological, and spiritual—benefit from being treated together. The Seven Systems of Health target every aspect of your body and life and allow for a personalized treatment plan, whether that be detoxing, enhancing vitality, or something else.
Each system corresponds to a color of the rainbow and plays a role in your overall physical and mental health. Color is something that unites us all, and it generates powerful psychological and emotional reactions. I use the ancient East Indian chakra system, which uses colors for understanding the endocrine system. After studying colorful carotenoids and phytonutrients, I understood the powerful “color connection” in nutrition science. Color represents the plant compounds that are in our foods, and they all serve a specific purpose. Nature is very intelligent, and this system helps decode its complexity so we can use it for our own health.
I use color to assess an individual’s systems and to help choose a specific healing diet, based on where the person’s imbalances reside. By choosing foods from the spectrum of color, we feed ourselves emotionally and physically as we absorb the various nutritional properties embodied in the wholesome colors of the food. Each body system relates to a color, which in turn relates to a host of healing foods. The Seven Systems of Full Spectrum Health are:
This chart can give you an idea of some of the barriers to health and possible solutions that I identify. For example, if a woman’s immune system is suffering, she may be experiencing some complications with her Root system. She could consider consuming more red-colored foods—for example, those that are high in vitamin C—along with other supplements to boost her body’s natural defenses. Since this system relates to one’s physical self, maintaining healthy boundaries to protect one’s body’s adrenal and immune system is important. She could also explore her sense of personal boundaries in life and consider whether there are things in her life that are putting her body under stress. She might also reflect on improving relationships with her “tribe” or how she might further her sense of community.
It’s important to incorporate each of the seven colors into your diet each day. Each color serves to nourish and replenish the different systems, so it’s critical to eat a variety.
The process begins with a questionnaire I designed called the Spectrum Quiz, which assesses where you land in terms of living a rainbow life. It determines which areas of your life need healing or focused attention. Regardless of whether or not you are experiencing unwanted symptoms, I encourage everyone to do it, because it’s a great tool to get a baseline assessment.
I recommend taking the quiz in a natural, relaxed state. This will produce the most accurate results, highlighting where your optimal state of health resides. Your responses may change depending on your circumstances. For example, if you take it while you’re at work and stressed, you may answer differently than you would if you took it at home before bed, when you were calm and relaxed. Allow about fifteen to twenty minutes to go through all the questions, and answer as honestly as you can in the moment.
It’s important to see how your colors change when you move from one health state to another. Try taking the test again when you are feeling a bit more on edge in the midst of a busy day. This will tell you where you have some vulnerability. Going forward, I suggest you take the test every month so you can see your progress or see how other categories fluctuate.
After you take the quiz and receive your scores, you can read about how each color looks in your life and whether it’s balanced. If you are unbalanced, there is a seven-day program to help get you on track.
Unfortunately, most people don’t have colorful diets. They tend to eat brown, yellow, and white foods. It is extremely beneficial to eat wholesome, colorful fruits and vegetables since they are rich in phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural chemicals found in plants and are incredibly valuable to our health. Plants of different colors have different phytonutrients that nourish your body in a variety of ways. For example, lycopene is a red phytonutrient found in tomatoes, anthocyanidins are purple and found in grapes, chlorophyll is green and appears in green vegetables, and the list goes on. Our bodies require this array of colors to maintain a healthy balance. Most people have a phytonutrient gap, so it’s important to reintroduce colorful fruits and vegetables into our diets so our health doesn’t suffer.
Depending on your Spectrum Quiz results, some colors may be more out of balance than others. I’ve seen that people experiencing a Red/ROOT imbalance usually struggle with finding something grounding, whether that be a home, family, friends, or community. They may struggle with physical-world issues, such as acquiring a home or shelter, making a living, or carrying on family traditions. They often find it difficult to bond with family members or make friends. They may find it hard to immerse themselves in a group of friends or peers that is meaningful or provides a feeling of unity and cohesion.
In my experience, those with an unbalanced Orange/FLOW system often feel “stuck,” or find they’re unable to facilitate action in life. When this system is blocked, their ability to create or express is often suppressed. They may also be more prone to emotional eating. This system may affect fat storage, so their bodies may feel swollen or dehydrated, indicating an impairment in the control of bodily fluids.
Those with an unhealthy Yellow/FIRE may feel that life has been drained of any “sweetness,” or that they’re beset by burdens. It may be difficult to interact with the outside world in ways that are nourishing, leaving them feeling fatigued and burned out. Often situations, no matter how small or large, may tax their internal reserves.
Whatever the issue or concern may be, I recommend getting one of the seven colors in your system every day. Within every color, we also need a variety of foods, so it’s important to see how each color makes you feel. Take note of that.
I love seeing people regain their body’s natural balance and health! Not only do we see improvements in health, but we see improvements in attitude, relationships, and all aspects of life. People who bring color back into their lives say they start living differently—their life takes on more vibrancy and vitality. What we eat changes the way we feel.
For instance, when someone has a healthy Green/LOVE system, they are nurtured by their loving selves to express love, give thanks, and be grateful. This system relates to the heart and lungs, representing compassion and loyalty. When balanced, they embrace love as the underlying foundation for everything they do. They love themselves and others and are able to give and receive in equal measure. They might also be able to provide themselves with good practices of self-care, helping them overcome obstacles to growth and healing.
Another timely example that’s very important today is the Aquamarine/TRUTH system. When balanced, this system allows us to express our truth and speak others’ truths. We are able to be open to our authentic selves, approaching choices and decisions with confidence.
When each of the seven systems are in balance, we can experience the following:
Being present in our body
Honoring our emotions
Keeping in line with work-life balance
Embracing self-love and love of others
Speaking our truth in compassionate ways
Tuning in to our intuition
Connecting to all of life with meaning and purpose
The seven-day plan involves dedicating one day per week to each of the seven systems. Each day, you focus on the colorful foods and eating practices that correspond to the color of that system.
For example, on day one, you eat red-colored foods and the foods that correspond to the ROOT system, such as red-colored foods high in vitamin C, root vegetables, and dietary protein, among others. Since the ROOT is associated with your physical structure, such as your joints, bones, muscles, legs, and feet, you want to eat foods that support those body parts. You would also engage in some of the ROOT activities that will help ground you and your body to the earth. An example would be visiting a farm, eating sitting on the ground, noticing when foods make you feel “grounded” or “ungrounded.”
On day two, you eat orange-colored foods and the foods that correspond to the FLOW system, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, or citrus fruits. The FLOW system represents your body’s hydration status and ability to absorb nutrients. It relates to the colon and kidneys, overseeing the flow of materials in and out of your body. It’s also important to drink a lot of water to help keep things moving. Since the flow correlates to emotions and ideas in the body, you should engage in some of the FLOW eating practices, such as understanding certain food cravings or creatively preparing a meal.
This process continues for seven days, each day focusing on a new system of health. While everyone’s experience is unique, the most common outcomes I’ve seen are improvements in physical symptoms, such as fatigue, pain, and poor sleep, as well as with emotional and mental issues, such as overthinking, perfectionism, and emotional eating.
It has been said, “As within, so without.” In other words, our internal environment mirrors our external surroundings. Thus your restoration to wellness, both in mind and body, lies in your awareness of what envelops you, how you engage with the world, and how you interact with food and eating.
In the grand theater of life, food takes center stage. It serves as our most primal need for survival, the bond we have with the Earth, and our intimate connections with one another. We bond ourselves to the web of all living beings on the planet through the process of eating and being participants in the food chain. As a result, our incessant interaction with food takes on immense power and can define who we are.
By understanding the role food plays in our lives and how it nourishes our minds, bodies, and connections, we can better understand ourselves. When we start changing what we’re eating, we start changing how we’re living. The beauty of this is that it can start as soon as your next bite.
With that said, you can’t force people to change their relationships with food. You can only give examples and hope that they are inspired. If someone has a negative relationship with food, there is more to the story. Listening to them and understanding their challenges is a good first place to start. From there, we can tap into small, micro changes. Slower changes are more meaningful than fast starts, which don’t tend to last.
The power of food and the ways in which it affects us—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually—was acknowledged thousands of years ago by ancient traditions like Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Both of these traditions strongly emphasize balancing the energetic properties of different foods in the diet.
In TCM, foods are selected according to their warming, cooling, drying, or moistening effects on the body. If a person eats too much of a certain type of food, it creates an imbalance in the body. For example, it’s believed that if a person is inflamed or feels warm, they may experience symptoms such as excessive sweating, anxiety, headaches, or a swollen tongue. In order to counterbalance that excessive energy, they are advised to choose more cooling or raw foods to calm the blood and heat. On the other hand, if a person is on the cooler side, they may experience symptoms such as poor circulation, bloating, indigestion, low energy, and sore joints and could appear slightly pale. In TCM, a practitioner would recommend that this person choose warming foods to improve their circulation and raise the warm energy in the body.
Unlike ancient healing traditions, industrialized societies fail to educate or promote the healing abilities of certain foods. Luckily, this trend is beginning to change with the emergence of functional medicine, or integrative medicine, which acknowledges the inner workings of the body systems and focuses on the individual as a whole.
This is my motto: To reap the benefits of food, be present in its presence. In fact, this point may be even more essential than the actual food. Although the substance and benefits that the food provides are important, the attention we bring into the process of eating itself can be equally significant.
Our conscious relationship to food begins the moment we choose it. This process involves appreciating and giving gratitude for every step involved in the production of the food, thereby honoring its sacredness. The act of eating food is unifying because it connects us to all of life. The gratitude we express for a plant or animal giving up its energy for the sake of our own is woven into our evolution as conscious beings. When we chew our food, it is imperative that we be present in that experience, knowing that we are participating in the process of transforming energy. Each bite captures the entire lineage of the food, from a level of physiological breakdown, to raw energy used by the cells, to the finer essence of the individuals involved in growing, manufacturing, harvesting, choosing, and preparing it. Every morsel contains something more than calories. We can tap into this if we are fully present in the moment of our interaction and exchange with food.
Dr. Deanna Minich is a functional nutritionist, health educator, and author with two-plus decades of experience in nutrition, mind-body health, and functional medicine. Minich holds master’s and doctorate degrees in nutrition and has lectured around the world to patients and health professionals. She is a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and currently teaches for the Institute for Functional Medicine and the graduate program in functional medicine at the University of Western States. She’s the author of Whole Detox and The Rainbow Diet.
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies. They are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop. This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.