Obesity, according to Wikipedia, is a “medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have a negative effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems.” It goes on to say that “Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis etc.” Being overweight, although not as morbid as being obese, also comes with its share of health and cosmetic woes.
Obesity, according to Ayurveda, is a kapha aggravation. Please refer to this link for more information on kapha.
There are several facets to weight loss in Ayurveda:
1. Digestion (Agni)
Central to almost all diseases in Ayurveda, is the role of the digestive fire (or agni). The state of the agni or digestion is at the root of obesity as well. A weak digestion (typically characteristic to kaphas) leads to improperly digested food that results in toxin build-up and fat accumulation. These further feed into the vicious cycle of weakening the digestion, which ends up resulting in more fat deposits and more toxins. An overly strong digestion (typically characteristic to pittas), on the other hand can lead to burning of food that can also result in some parts of the food remaining undigested. Some people have variable agnis (typically characteristic to vatas) i.e. periods when the digestion is weak, periods when the digestion is too strong, both of which are not good for complete digestion of the ingested food. A good, balanced agni or digestion is one which digests the food completely, and nourishes the body’s tissues in a balanced manner, without resulting in toxic buildup and fat deposits.
So, what are the ways to increase or strengthen or balance the agni?
- Consuming warm/hot foods and liquids (including water) always. Cold foods and drinks extinguish the digestive fire – it is much like dousing a fire by pouring cold water on it.
- Eating lightly cooked foods rather than raw foods.
- Using digestive spices in your cooking like cumin, coriander, fennel, black pepper, ginger, asafetida, fenugreek, turmeric, pink salt etc.
- Eating moderately in general and not to your full capacity at each meal.
- Sipping water during meals and not drinking water at least an hour before or after a meal.
- Make lunch the biggest meal of your day and dinner the lightest.
- Keep a schedule and stick to it for meals, waking up, going to bed etc.
- Wake up early in the morning and sleep early at night.
- Exercise sensibly, practice yoga, breathing/pranayama, meditation and relaxation techniques on a daily basis.
Home Remedies for Digestion:
Cumin Coriander Fennel Tea (CCF Tea) (a good digestive)
Take 1 tsp each of cumin, coriander and fennel seeds. Boil 8 cups of drinking water. After the water reaches a boil, drop in the seeds and switch off the flame. Cover for at least 10 minutes. Strain and transfer into a thermos. Drink through the day. Don’t carry over this tea to the next day. You can drink this tea on a daily basis. This tea is balancing for all doshas.
Ginger-lemon-Himalayan pink salt mixture (good for boosting a dull digestion)
You know you have a dull agni, when you don’t feel enough hunger before a meal. Mix 1 tsp of fresh ginger, 1 tsp of lemon juice and a pinch of pink salt. Chew on this for boosting a dull agni.
Pomegranate juice (good for pacifying a digestion that is too strong)
You know you have an overly strong agni, if you feel hungry very shortly after a meal. Grind pomegranate seeds to make a juice that is helpful for pacifying an overly strong agni.
2. Toxic Build Up (Ama):
Ama is another word for the mental, emotional and physical toxins that we continuously accumulate in our bodies through incorrect perceptions, attitudes, diets and lifestyles. These toxins cause symptoms like heaviness, sluggishness, lack of strength and clarity, blockages in the body channels or emotions, water retention, and weak digestion. The most common causes of ama buildup are overeating, eating before the previous meal has digested, lack of exercise, emotional/stress eating, cold foods, heavy dinners etc.
So, what are the best ways to eliminate ama or toxic build up in our bodies?
- There are many herbs in Ayurveda that primarily focus on detoxifying the body viz. triphala, manjishtha, neem, guduchi etc. They are great remedies for eliminating ama. There are various detox teas available in the market as well.
- Ayurveda has a special procedure for detoxification, called panchakarma, that is done by trained professionals to tailor a detox procedure that is specifically suited to a person’s constitution/prakriti and current doshic imbalance/vikriti.
- Regular and profuse sweating is an effective detoxifying method and can help with reducing ama. Exercise is useful for reducing ama.
- Fasting is another great way to burn up ama and toxins in the body. Season change time is a good time for doing a detox. Here is another post I have written about fasting and detox in general.
- The breath is a great tool for purifying the system, increasing prana/life force in the body and also detoxifying and removing toxins and ama from the body. Regular pranayama and breathing techniques as well as yoga asanas specifically twists, help in reducing ama.
- Ayurvedic Garshana or Dry Skin Brushing is a dry massage performed on the skin to refresh and stimulate the skin and lymphatic system, increase blood circulation and also remove accumulated toxins in the body. It is typically performed by using raw silk gloves. A soft sponge or a dry brush could also be used for the same purpose.
Home Remedy for Removing Ama:
Triphala tea is a great detox remedy. It is made up of 3 fruits – haritaki, amalaki (amla), bibhitaki.
Take 1 tsp of triphala powder and mix it with 1 cup of hot water. Steep for 10 minutes. Drink it when cool enough to drink. You will notice that your bowels are more frequent and loose the next morning. Hydrate yourself well. Do not use this if pregnant or nursing. Otherwise, you may use this once a week.
Watching portions, calories, eating specific portions from different food groups etc. is the modern wisdom for weight loss. According to Ayurveda, it is believed that we need to include all 6 tastes in every meal to ensure proper digestion of food viz. sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent. Eating according to one’s constitution or prakriti (and doshas) and according to the seasons is crucial in Ayurveda. What foods are good for one person may not be good for another person and vice versa. The article on Ayurvedic Nutrition gives more information on diet. The Recipes section of this website also has some recipes with an Ayurvedic analysis at the end giving the tastes included, doshic influence and effects on the mind (gunas) of each recipe.
Try to eat 3 meals a day i.e. breakfast (medium), lunch (large), dinner (small). Don’t snack in between meals. Eat an early dinner, preferably by 7pm latest and keep at least a 2 hour gap between dinner and bedtime.
Khichidi (mung beans with basmati rice/brown rice, seasonal vegetables and mild, digestive spices) is a great tridoshic food that can be used safely by all doshas for weight loss and detoxification.
There are many lifestyle factors that help in accelerating weight loss. In general, Ayurveda broadly recommends a daily routine/dinacharya that one should follow in general for maintaining good health. Check out this link for more details on an Ayurvedic daily routine.
Oversleeping in the mornings slows down digestion. Waking up early in the morning is crucial for weight loss at many levels. It is also a great time to meditate, do some exercise and plan for the rest of the day. Scraping the tongue regularly is another one of those subtle changes that go a long way towards weight loss and maintenance of good health – removes coating on the tongue, improves taste, prevents overeating, removes ama etc. The importance of a regular, sensible exercise routine cannot be stressed enough in all health systems, but Ayurveda doesn’t recommend overdoing the exercise bit – work out till you build up a sweat is the general recommendation. Kaphas can and should push themselves a little bit more and sweat it out. Relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditations, yoga asanas, pranayama all help considerably in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and expedite weight loss in general. Go to sleep early at night, latest by 10pm, and get at least 7-8 hours of good, restful sleep. This helps in maintaining healthy levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can lead to weight gain when out of whack.
Ginger, lemon, honey tea for weight loss
Mix 1 tsp of fresh ginger juice, 1 tsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp of honey in warm water and drink early in the morning on an empty stomach. Ginger is pungent and warming and help with stimulating digestion/agni. Honey is also warming and increases body heat, and unclogs body channels with its scraping (lekhana in Sanskrit) action. Be very careful during hot summer months since this is a very heating recipe!
This is not a tummy tuck or liposuction treatment, that is promising instant results. You will start to see weight loss results immediately or gradually, depending on the state of your agni, amount of ama in your system, state of your metabolism, your ability to stick with a proper diet and lifestyle, the levels of stress in your life and many other factors. But you will instantly start feeling a sense of well-being. Just eating clean and exercising right, will give your mood a lift and bring about a general feeling of lightness. Add to it some relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation, and herbs and you’ll start seeing the inches melt away slowly and even some reduction in weight on the scale. Now, although your weight on the scale is a measure of how you’re doing on this journey, give yourself due credit where you deserve it, even though you may not see huge reductions in your weight on the scale. Rejoice in the clearer skin, feel good about your regular workouts, enjoy how your clothes fit you better, be thankful about your increased focus and reduced exhaustion and lethargy. Stick with it, and you will see a change for the better!