22.11.2013 Ayurveda

Weight Loss Through Ayurveda

Ayurveda promotes weight loss through efficient digestion and mind-body harmony. Story by Ayurvedic physician Ruchika Ryan

Ayurveda, "the science of life", emphasises ahara or proper diet as the basis of health and happiness. Ayurveda creates health by enlivening the body's inner intelligence to create harmony. Unlike modern nutritional theories, which tend to recommend a "one size fits all" approach, Ayurveda stresses the personalisation and customisation of diet. To personalise the diet according to Ayurveda, we need to follow these steps:

Know your body type

Everything in the universe is created from a certain ratio of the five elements, Air, Fire, Water, Earth and space. This is known as Pancha Maha Bhuta (Pancha means five, Maha means great, and Bhuta means elements). Ayurveda recognises that our body is also made up of these five basic elements. As the ratio of these elements varies from person to person so their diet should also be different. There are three basic types of doshas/body types based on the ratio of these elements - vata (air/space type), pitta (fire type) and kapha (water/earth) type or a combination of any two or three of them. By understanding our body type, we can then adjust our diet, lifestyle and daily routine to ensure optimum energy, radiance and health.

So, the first step towards achieving weight loss through Ayurveda is to know your body type. When you understand the dominant elements inside your body and their influence on your metabolism, you can then find ways to increase the opposing elements to create a balance. For example, if you are a kapha body type you can eat pitta vardhak (elevating) foods to increase your agni or digestive fire. Your agni or digestive fire needs to burn nice and brightly to assimilate all the nutrients from the food and get rid of the toxins. When in balance, these five elements would normally sustain life. But when out of balance they will create discomfort and threaten life. This elemental imbalance in the body will show up as a dysfunctional expression like lethargy, obesity, hypertension and other conditions.

Eat a balanced diet

Ayurveda is a powerful self healing paradigm that allows us to understand and correct imbalances and conditions that lead to illness and obesity. Eating a balanced diet will keep you healthy, that's a simple statement of fact. So this science does not understand the complex "facts" behind such diets as blood group, cabbage soup, no-carbs, orange juice and many more such fads. The holistic healing art of Ayurveda believes in the balance of five basic elements of which we are all composed. Eating a balanced diet containing all the nutrients (in adequate quantities) that our body needs for proper functioning is a lifelong commitment, and no one can survive on an orange juice diet for a lifetime. Such diets leave you with cravings and hence the lost weight bounces back faster than the time you spent losing it in the first place. Eating a balanced diet while losing weight has be planned according to your basic elements - activity, lifestyle, fitness levels, likes, dislikes, genetics and so on. Moreover, it should be part of your daily routine, just like brushing your teeth.

Watch what, when and how you eat

Ayurveda identifies six major tastes we need in our diet every day - sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Each of these tastes has specific health giving effects. By including all six, we will be most completely nourished and satisfied. When we consistently eat only a few of the tastes, it not only causes health problems but also triggers cravings for unhealthy foods. For instance, fast food contains mostly sweet, sour, and salty tastes. If we eat a steady diet of fast food, we can develop a craving for sweets. Adding more pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes can help tame out-of-control desires for candy and doughnuts.

The six tastes also affect the basic body types or three doshas. Different foods cause specifically vata/pita or kapha either to increase or decrease. The doshas increase and decrease on the principle of "like attracts like". If you have a predominance of vata, you will have the tendency to accumulate more vata. Foods that decrease a dosha are said to pacify that dosha, and foods that increase it aggravate it. Sweet, sour, and salty foods pacify vata. Sweet, pungent, and bitter foods pacify pitta. Pungent, bitter, and astringent foods pacify kapha.

Foods for Balancing Kapha

Energy Needs

Warm, Dry, Light (Avoid Cold, Oily, Heavy)

Tastes

Pungent, Bitter, Astringen

Strategy

Eat low fat, low calorie, less total food; hot spices, occasional fasting, less frequency, largest meal midday

Emphasise

Dry and astringent fruits (apple, raisin), vegetables, especially raw, dry grains (rice cakes), hot spices (black pepper, chillies), cooked beans with warming spices, spicy herbal teas (ginger)

Avoid

Sweet fruits, nuts, milk products, oil

Foods for Balancing Pitta

Energy Needs

Cool, Dry, Heavier (Avoid Hot, Wet, Light)

Tastes

Sweet, Bitter, Astringent

Strategy

Mild, bland food, served cool, raw, no hot spices, low oil, eat when calm, three regular meals

Emphasise

Sweet fruits, sweet and bitter vegetables (greens), beans in general, natural sweeteners (maple syrup), mild cheeses (cottage cheese), sweet and cooling drinks (apple juice)

Avoid

Sour fruits, pungent vegetables (onion), nuts, hot spices (chillies), fermented milk products (yoghurt), oils

Foods for Balancing Vata

Energy Needs

Warm, Moist, Heavier (Avoid Cold, Dry, Light)

Tastes

Sweet, Sour, Salty

Strategy

Nourishing, easy to digest, warm, filling, heavy, moistening, strengthening, small frequent regular meals, mild warming spices, calm and concentrate while eating

Emphasize

Sweet fruits, cooked vegetables, cooked grains (oatmeal), nuts, natural sweeteners, mild warming spices (basil), milk products in moderation, especially warm

Avoid

Dry fruits, dry grains (rice cakes), raw vegetables, cabbage family (broccoli), beans in general, any food which causes gas

We must have noticed that in recent years a lot attention has been paid to what to eat with very little attention on when and how to eat. We have been counting calories, reducing fats, increasing proteins, cutting out carbohydrates and basically experimenting with every possible weight loss plan and dietary variation with little or no success. In Ayurveda, it is suggested that our best medicine is foods harvested in-season. Nature provides us humans with a similar antidote to the cold of winter in the form of soups, stews, meats, grains and fats. It is the high protein, high fat time of year.

In spring, the rules change. It is a rainy, muddy season when allergies are rife. Nature again provides the antidote with low fat, mucous reducing foods such as leafy greens, sprouts, berries, root veggies and grapefruit. All are fat burning and detox foods, making them the perfect foods for this season.

In the summer, the rules change again. During the hot summer months, nature harvests cool fruits and veggies to help keep us from getting overheated and dried out.

Simply put, try not to think of what not to eat; think of what to eat more of. There are no bad foods, just foods that are better for you when they are in season.

When to eat

The physical body that we see in the mirror is called ananmaya kosha (roughly translated as food body), according to Ayurvedic philosophy. It's a straight reflection of the food we eat and when we eat it. To bring about a difference in the way we look in the mirror, we have to change what and when we eat.

We should eat six meals day to feel good and lose weight. With sunrise, the metabolism peaks and the cells demand nutrition, so never start your day with tea or coffee, rather feed your body with real food say a fruit. So, the foundation to a great body is laid by what you eat and drink within the first 10-15 minutes of waking up. Then eating frequent meals every two hours keeps our digestive system happy and prevents us overeating. But when we are busy and miss meals, the blood sugar dips and soon we begin to think about comfort foods or what we call "injectibles" such as chocolate or coffee. These comfort foods mask the digestive fire or agni, which ultimately leads to a weakened digestive system, gradual weight gain, mood swings and focus problems.

To begin the weight loss process, try eating three substantial meals a day and three mini meals in between. But remember to eat more when you are more active and less when you are less active. Always fine-tune your eating to your activity. With the sunrise the body's metabolic rate or agni picks up so eat 60% of a day's food between 10am and 2pm, as the digestive power is strongest at that time. Supper comes from the word "supplemental" or "soup." Begin to eat an earlier and lighter supper. It is through this process that you will begin to give your body permission to start burning fat instead of sugar and carbs. So do your best to follow this routine and your unnecessary cravings should disappear in about two weeks and weight loss will eventually follow.

How to eat

Sitting down and eating a meal is becoming rare in today's world. Eating in our cars on the way to soccer practice, in front of the TV, or while on the phone, reading a book or flipping through a magazine is actually abusing even the healthiest meal you eat. Watching TV is not relaxing, but rather a taxing activity for the body, especially the eyes and the brain.

This disconnection between mind and body while eating is more harmful than we realise. When you are relaxed, the digestive process is more effective. The mind and body are nourished, and you can experience the taste of the food and assimilate the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of a balanced meal.

Ayurvedic scriptures state that one should sit down, relax and enjoy a balanced meal without any distraction. And do not forget to sit in vajrasan for 5-10 minutes after meals, as it helps in increasing the blood circulation to the stomach, hence helping your digestion.

Practise yoga regularly

Yoga is one of the most common holistic therapies utilised for weight loss. Practising deep breathing and yoga asanas for at least one hour a day helps stabilise the mind, as well as helping build immense strength and determination for weight loss. Dhanurasana, sarvangasana, chakrasana, paschimottanasana, halasana, bhujangasana and ardha matsyendrasana are some of the yoga asanas you should practise for weight loss. Moreover, doing deep breathing exercises such as kapalbharti, pranayama and anulom-vilom increases oxygen supply to the cells of our body and helps in burning the fat cells.

According to Ayurveda, when we're balanced, we desire foods that are good for us. But if our mind, body, or spirit is out of sync, our connection to our body's inner intelligence goes awry.

So, love your body, whichever body type you are. It is your body and it deserves much more respect. I really think that we treat our cars with much more respect than we treat ourselves. Adopting a healthy lifestyle needs unconditional love and acceptance of your own self and your body.

Ruchika Ryan

Ruchika Ryan is an Ayurvedic physician

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