If you’re grappling with weight management, you’re not alone. More than 70% of Americans are overweight and the pandemic only made matters worse with stress, comfort eating, a topsy-turvy, sedentary lifestyle, and less sleep. Weight-loss diets, fads and misinformation abound amid an obesity epidemic with worrying health consequences like hypertension, type-2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and certain types of cancer. Do take heart though, even modest changes in lifestyle and weight management can provide immense health benefits.
Weight is not always an indicator of health. Some people naturally have a larger frame, others may not be able to afford healthy food, or someone may have an ailment or be on medication that causes weight gain. Weight discrimination can cause disordered eating, low self-esteem, and reduced life expectancy. Ayurveda addresses overall wellness and community health concerns for personalization in weight management.
The Ayurvedic concept of weight management
We all have different constitutions according to Ayurveda (read more here). If Vata Dosha dominates, people tend to be naturally petite, Kapha makes one well-built and Pitta is somewhere in between. Well-nourished muscle and fat tissues result from a nourishing diet, adequate sleep, regular exercise, a healthy lifestyle, and alignment with natural rhythms. Weight is not just a simple calorie calculation of how much we eat and how much we exercise, digestion and metabolism are key. Some imbalances can cause weight gain. The Ayurvedic approach to weight management involves addressing the root cause over symptomatic and short-term relief (read more in our previous blog post).
Obesity is called Sthoulya or Medoroga and is considered one of the eight major imbalances in the Charaka Samhita, caused by Santarpanotta or over nourishment. Obesity could be caused by any of these factors; irregular digestion, slower metabolism, Ama build-up (toxins), Kapha-increasing food, alcohol consumption, inadequate exercise, daytime sleep, genetics, stress, or other psychosocial factors. All Doshas can be out of balance.
Fat tissue (Medas Dhatu) isn’t metabolized properly, accumulates and successive tissues aren’t well nourished. Ama obstructs Vata in the alimentary canal which fans digestive fire and hunger, triggers overeating, and leads to a vicious cycle. In Ayurveda, winter is Kapha season, digestive or metabolic fire (Agni) is high, and we need to take greater care to avoid weight gain and plan ahead mindfully!
Weight management: misconceptions and myths according to Ayurveda
There is one approach to weight loss that works for everyone
According to Ayurveda there is no one size fits all approach to weight loss. Ayurveda is individualized and addresses the root cause of disease. It assesses imbalances and arrives at a comprehensive protocol. For someone with osteoarthritis, an eating disorder, or a post-menopausal person, the weight management approach is completely different. Knowledge of one’s constitution is empowering and helps one live mindfully to manage weight. For instance, Kapha people tend to be well-built and can focus on being active and accepting themselves.
Often people ask if any one Dosha is responsible for weight loss. When all Doshas and digestion (Agni) are in balance, the tissues are nourished, elimination is regular and the mind is pleasant, we are healthy. Finding that individual balance is responsible for proper weight management, not one specific dosha.
Weight management is all about food
False. Eating habits are just a part of weight management. Weight management also includes aligning with nature, following circadian and seasonal rhythms, having adequate, timely sleeping habits, and exercising regularly. When you eat is more important than what or how much. Ayurveda has guidelines for personalized eating based on the six tastes. There isn’t a judgment like “carbs are bad, or fat is a no-no” (read more here). Altering family and community health goals, meal planning, sitting down to eat, eating together, outdoor time, and a less sedentary lifestyle can bring balance.
Eating certain types of food aids weight management
Low carb, high protein, low fat — all these restrictions and regulations can boggle the mind. Every individual needs to address their unique needs. For weight loss, Ayurveda recommends avoiding junk, cold, raw, processed, and incompatible food. Additionally, you should avoid white flour and sugar, reduce alcohol, desserts, fried food, yogurt, and fatty meats. Instead, Ayurveda suggests favoring cooked vegetables, mung beans, barley or aged rice, corn, digestive spices, and warm water.
Drinking water can help with weight loss
This is true and false! The key is to drink water appropriately. Drinking warm water in the morning and sipping water throughout the day are recommended. Too much water can douse the digestive fire (Agni) and drinking water after meals can cause weight gain. Water should be sipped throughout meals and avoided half an hour before and after the meal.
Weight loss can be achieved through rigorous exercise
Exercise is important, but as with food, it’s not the end-all-be-all. It also must be tailored to each individual based on their dosha or imbalances. Daily exercise is recommended in Ayurveda as part of Dinacharya (daily regimen). Exercise has a myriad of health benefits and helps stave off obesity and chronic disorders. Preliminary studies in integrating Ayurveda with Yoga for weight loss are promising. Ayurveda advocates balance. Extreme exercise can cause injuries and aggravate Vata. For example, a Vata person may need breaks, strengthening, nature walks, and moderation, while a Pitta person would need to tone down competitiveness.
Eating less and moving more helps weight loss
Weight management must be approached comprehensively. Eating less and moving more can help a healthy person with temporary weight gain, but not extreme or chronic cases. The quality of digestion, metabolism, and psychosocial factors also need to be addressed.
Weight management is about willpower
This is like asking someone with anxiety to just relax! Ayurveda recognizes the complex physiological and psychosocial factors involved in weight gain and addresses weight management holistically.
Stress is related to weight management
This is not a myth! Stress can cause weight gain. The body goes into a fight or flight mode, cortisol levels (linked with weight gain) increase, and it stores simple carbs, sugar, and fats to be metabolized in the crisis. People may eat well and exercise but gain weight anyway if they are stressed. Techniques like yoga, breathwork, and meditation aid stress management.
Losing weight quickly is motivating and lends to lasting results
Weight loss should be monitored. Quick rewards can come with associated risks and may not be sustained! Long-term, comprehensive solutions are recommended. Habits change in one lunar cycle and enlisting community support can hasten the process.
Weight management: frequently asked questions and what Ayurveda says
Where does one lose weight first?
It depends. If you have a Vata imbalance, you may carry weight below the umbilicus and lose weight there as Vata gets balanced. Targeted exercises can help lose weight and add tone to a particular part of the body.
Do weight loss supplements help?
Will cleansing help me lose weight?
Cleansing can contribute to weight loss, but weight loss is not the sole goal of cleansing. Seasonal cleansing is recommended for overall health and longer term weight management. Our Wellness Center offers an annual Personalized Spring Cleanse.
We recommend working with an Ayurvedic professional to cleanse safely. You can learn more here about the pros and cons of cleansing.
Will honey help me lose weight?
Honey is reductive. If it isn’t contraindicated, a glass of warm water with honey and lemon (if tolerated well) in the morning can help with weight loss (in conjunction with lifestyle changes).
Triphala must be used in a therapeutic context with an assessment of why there is an extra amount of belly fat. It helps balance Pitta-Kapha, bloating, and constipation, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. There are studies linking it with weight management.
What’s the strongest weight loss herb in Ayurveda?
It depends! Generally scraping, heating and sharp (lekhana, ushna and teekshna) herbs like triphala guggulu, triphala, trikatu, garcinia, black cumin, ginger, pepper, turmeric, garlic, lemon, cinnamon, fenugreek or cinnamon could aid weight loss but as part of personalized recommendations. For instance, garlic is contraindicated for someone with a pitta imbalance like hyperacidity.
Do popular weight loss diets and fads help?
With 45 million Americans going on a diet every year, multiple studies show that weight loss fad diets rarely work. One study showed 85 % of dieters who lose weight gain it back within a year. Fads can be outright dangerous and weight-loss diets need a comprehensive and individualized approach to be sustainable.
Can an Ayurvedic consultation help?
Yes. Weight loss is a therapeutic intervention in Ayurveda. The protocol involves Shamana (dietary, lifestyle modifications, and herbal supplements) and Shodhana (cleansing therapies like Udvartana, Lekhana Basti or a full Panchakarma). Read more about what happens in an Ayurvedic consultation.
Is Panchakarma a good way to lose weight?
A Panchakarma (or seasonal cleanse) can lead to weight loss and is considered an effective, non-invasive therapy for obesity. Check with an Ayurvedic professional to determine if panchakarma is the right protocol for you.
How can I permanently lose weight?
Through long-term, sustainable changes. Weight management also involves addressing allied imbalances that may be causing weight gain in the first place.
The three pillars of health, (sleep, nutrition, and a balanced lifestyle), are the comprehensive approach to Ayurvedic weight management. This approach is not a one-size-fits-all but instead takes into consideration the individual’s body constitution and imbalances. Life and weight management are a journey of knowing, accepting, and valuing ourselves while working towards the goal of getting healthier in mind, body and spirit!