In our society today, it is common to strive to achieve a particular weight according to a chart or graph, or based on a desire to look like a celebrity. However, according to Ayurveda, one’s ideal weight is based not on generalized statistics or fashion, but rather on the unique interplay of forces that determine each person’s individual constitution (vata, pita, kapha). Every weight control program should begin with an honest assessment of whether or not losing weight is in fact both achievable and in your own best interest.
Being overweight is generally a kapha-type disturbance, meaning you likely have an excess of the earth and water elements. An excess of kapha dosha often leads to the formation or accumulation of toxins (ama), which can lead to a feeling of lethargy as well as a host of health issues.
According to Ayurveda, if you have a chronic weight problem then you also most likely have imperfect digestion. Improperly digested food can accumulate in the body, creating ama (toxins), which then can settle into weak areas of the body and manifest into disease and disharmony. Proper digestion requires healthy agni¸ or “digestive fire,” and many of the recommendations contained here are aimed at strengthening agni.
By eating properly, improving agni and following the correct routines, ojas can be formed instead of ama (toxins). Ojas is the biochemical equivalent of bliss; it is the supreme nectar which ensures optimal health; it is that which gives us the strength to resist disease; it is the immune system on a subtle level.
Evidence of ama: Weakness, heaviness, lethargy, poor immunity, irregular elimination, fatigue, fluctuations in appetite, energy level, and mood. There is commonly a white coating on the tongue, especially in the morning upon arising.
Evidence of ojas: Lightness of the body, excellent energy, strong appetite and digestion, perfect immunity, regular elimination, physical strength and stamina and a general sense of bliss. Both physically and mentally, there is an experience of vitality and intense well-being.
The suggestions below are not intended to be “just another diet” or an unpleasant, demanding regime. Instead, the focus is on listening to and understanding your body’s cues in relation to the laws of nature. These guidelines are intended to assist you in living a balanced life that supports a healthy, ideal weight. Following these principles will bring about not only weight loss but also will enhance your overall health, helping to create a feeling of lightness in your body, increased energy, improved appetite, superior digestion, stronger resistance to disease, greater physical strength and stamina, and a sense of inner contentment.
It is imperative to develop healthful dietary habits if you wish to achieve and maintain healthy weight loss. It is important to honor our food and respect our bodies by choosing meals that will balance our constitutions.
Remember that lasting change requires patience, practice and discipline. Do not be too rigid
or impractical in your expectations. Set realistic, achievable goals for yourself.
Since being overweight is primarily due to a kapha imbalance, you will want to favor kapha-reducing foods. Since kapha is comprised of the water and earth elements, its qualities are heavy, dense and moist. To restore balance to kapha, favor the opposite qualities of light and dry in your food choices. Some specific recommendations include:
- • Favor foods that are light, dry and warm.
- • Eat lots of vegetables, preferably steamed, roasted or stir-fried.
- • Dairy: Low-fat milk is recommended. It is best to boil the milk before drinking it, which makes it easier to digest. Drink it while it is warm (cold milk increases kapha). Do not drink milk with a full meal or with sour or salty food, as this makes it difficult to digest. You might add one or two pinches of turmeric or ginger to whole milk before boiling it to further reduce the kapha qualities of the milk,
- • Fruit: Light fruits, such as apples and pears, are best. Pomegranates, cranberries, and persimmons are also good.
- • Sweeteners: Honey is excellent for reducing kapha. Also, fruit juice concentrates can be used to sweeten food.
- • Beans: All beans are fine.
- • Grains: Barley, corn, millet, buckwheat, and rye are best because they are light.
- • Spices: All spices are good except salt, which increases kapha.
- • Vegetables: All vegetables are fine. The following vegetables are especially effective in reducing kapha: radishes, asparagus, eggplant, green/leafy vegetables, beets, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, pumpkin, lettuce, celery, sprouts.
- • Meat and fish (for non-vegetarians): White meat from chicken or turkey is best. Fish is also fine.
- Eat meals at the same time each day, especially lunch.
- Make lunch the biggest meal of the day. If you wish to have dessert, lunch is the mealtime when this would be OK in moderation. Think of the sun as a kind of physical support for the function of digestion. As a result, eating at midday enhances our digestive capability, allowing us to be able to digest and assimilate food properly.
- Eat only between 10 AM and 6 PM with the largest meal at lunchtime; do not eat past 6:00 pm.
- Eat only until 75% full. When finished, there should be no more feeling of hunger and also no discomfort from overeating.
- All cold drinks should be avoided as they dampen the digestive fire (agni).
- Always strive to have warm food instead of cold. For example, eat a hot lunch instead of a sandwich, hot cereal instead of cold, grilled fish instead of tuna salad. Warm food is easier to digest, increasing the likelihood that it will be completely digested without creating ama.
- In order to improve agni (digestive strength), food should always be well spiced; bland food is more difficult to digest and more likely to lead to the creation of ama. Spices tend to decrease kapha as well as increase metabolic rate and help to convert food into energy instead of fat. Spices to favor include ginger (fresh or powdered), cumin, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, and black pepper.
- Deep-fried foods of any kind will aggravate kapha, so these should be avoided. However, it is not necessary to eliminate all fats. Almond, corn, safflower, olive and sunflower oils are generally fine.
- Home-cooked foods are generally greatly preferred over restaurant foods. It’s difficult to lose weight when you eat primarily in restaurants, as restaurant food tends to be far too oily, salty and sweet – the three tastes that increase kapha.
- Soft drinks, especially low-calorie drinks, are often preferred by those trying to lose weight. However, the carbonation disturbs the digestive process, produces ama, and distorts our natural sensations of hunger, giving rise to irregular and false signals. Try to eliminate carbonated beverages, substituting them with water, tea and fresh juices.
SAMPLE MEAL ROUTINE
Breakfast: Skip breakfast or eat something light such as toast and juice or fruit.
Lunch: This should be the heaviest meal of the day. The quality of the food should be given great emphasis here. Preferably, the food should be freshly cooked, wholesome, nutritious, and delicious – and ideally, there should be lots of vegetables.
Dinner: Eat smaller amounts and lighter foods than at lunch. Suggestions include hot soup and bread, hot cereals, vegetables and grains, or light (non-cheesy) casseroles. Avoid meats at night. Also, eat dinner by 6:00 pm.
ADDITIONAL DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS
- Follow a liquefied diet one day each week. This will help eliminate ama, strengthen digestion, and introduce lightness. It is best to do this until you have lost all the weight that is appropriate for you to lose. However, this is not a fast. You may have any wholesome, kapha-reducing food you like as long as it is liquefied first. Foods that work well for this include soups, herbal teas, fresh fruit or vegetable juices, warm milk, grains blended with water. Do not liquefy foods such as pizza and meat. You should feel energetic and light on a liquid diet, however, you may wish to moderate rigorous activity on the days that you have a liquid diet. An alternative to this is to fast one day each week or one week a year, consuming only liquids.
- An effective technique for cleansing ama from the system is simply to sip hot water frequently throughout the day. Just as you use hot water to wash dishes that are greasy or sticky, you can use hot water to dissolve ama gradually from your system. It is best to follow the following hot water routine:
- • The water should be quite hot (so that you have to blow on it to cool it).
- • The amount of hot water you drink is less important than how frequently you drink it. For best effect, sip hot water about every 30 minutes.
- • You may have other liquids during the day, but always have the hot water.
- • It may be easiest to keep hot water in an insulated container to keep it hot.
- • You may add some fresh lemon juice to the water.
- • You may find that urination increases during the first couple of weeks of the hot water program. This is likely because your body is flushing out toxins and impurities. After a few weeks, urination should return to normal, but ama will continue to be dissolved.
- Eat ginger (fresh or powdered) before meals to stimulate digestion and eliminate ama. Other uses of ginger to enhance digestion include:
- Ginger pickle: Grate a small amount of fresh ginger root. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on it and add a pinch of salt. Eat one or two pinches of ginger pickle (according to taste) a few minutes before your meal.
- Ginger juice: Peel a 1-inch section of fresh ginger and cut it into slices. Using your blender, blend the ginger with ¼ cup of water to make a juice. Sweeten with honey, and drink a small amount (according to taste) a few minutes before your meal.
- Ginger tea: If you don’t have fresh ginger, try this method. Put a cup of water in a saucepan. Add a pinch of powdered ginger and bring to a boil. Let it cool slightly and take several sips before your meal. You can gradually increase the amount of ginger, up to 1/8 teaspoon.
Exercise is one of the most important remedies for eliminating excess weight. Kapha dosha can be slow, solid and stubborn. Inviting movement into the body increases the body’s digestive fire, helping to melt away excess fat, liquefying kapha and burning ama. The real key is to reconstitute your metabolism so that your body functions in higher “gear” even when you’re not exercising. This is achieved by regular exercise that challenges but doesn’t strain your physiology.
It is much better for overweight people to do light exercise for a long period of time. There is a mistaken impression that if you are overweight you should exercise very intensely; however, intense exercise tends to be short-lived, and studies show that short bursts of activity burn carbohydrates, not fat. It takes longer, ongoing exercise to burn fat. In addition, trying to exercise beyond your capacity can be both demoralizing and can lead to injury.
Using your body should be pleasurable and never a chore; if you are finding your exercise program to be a chore, then rethink your choice of exercise and find something that you enjoy.
General guidelines for healthy exercise (beneficial for all body types)
1. In general, work to about 50% of your limit. Our total capacity represents all the energy available at that time from our physiology. What we want is not to expend all of our energy but produce more energy. At this point you should still feel energetic and comfortable, not strained or tired. With regular exercise, your conditioning will improve and your total capacity will increase.
2. Ayurveda recommends regular exercise, preferably seven days a week.
3. Use your breathing and perspiration rates as indicators of exercise intensity. In general, rapid breathing and heavy perspiration means that you are straining your physiology. No exercise should be so challenging that you can’t accomplish it while breathing through your nose. Your breathing should be slow and deep.
4. The best times to exercise are during the kapha times of day, which are from approx. 6:00 to 10:00 am and 6:00 to 10:00 pm. This is because your physiology is strongest and more tolerant at those times and the heat is less intense.
5. The best exercises for weight loss should meet two criteria; they should involve continuous activity rather than starting and stopping, and they should include motion by the large muscle groups in the lower half of the body, rather than just the arms.
6. Ayurveda promotes gentle physical activities that involve conscious movement of the body such as yoga, tai chi, walking and swimming. Do these exercises frequently and vigorously. For example, a good daily walking routine would be 30 minutes of brisk walking in the morning and again in the evening. If your schedule doesn’t allow this, try to do 30 minutes of walking in the morning, or even three sessions of 10 minutes each. Within a few days you will begin to see a transformation.
7. Find an activity you love and a partner to do it with, if possible. This will keep it fun while helping to keep you motivated and stimulated, enlivening your exercise routine so that it is something that you can maintain on a regular basis. However, if you don’t have a suitable partner or your partner can’t join you some days, be sure to go ahead and enjoy doing it alone!
DEALING WITH SWEET CRAVINGS
Cutting back on sweets is important but can be difficult for those with a kapha imbalance. However, if you can manage to get through one week without sugar, most people find that their sugar cravings will subside in this amount of time, making it easier to forego sugar. Also, there are herbs that can be added to customized herbal formulations which can help with sugar cravings, such as gurmar and Stevia. Honey is a good alternative for those who like sweets, as it has the property of actually reducing kapha (although according to Ayurveda you should not cook with honey, as this produces ama).
MASSAGE AND DRY BODY BRUSHING
Incorporate dry brushing into your daily routine, preferably before bathing. Dry body brushing stimulates the lymphatic system, increases circulation and aids in reducing kapha.
Make a firm resolve to achieve your ideal weight and maintain it for your entire lifetime. Do so with an understanding that it will not happen overnight, that this is a process that requires time. By progressing with slow and firm determination, you will be allowing yourself to not only reduce your weight but to create new, healthful patterns for living that will benefit you in countless ways. These simple Ayurvedic weight loss tips can support you toward your ultimate healthcare goal.
Marisa Laursen, C.A.S., P.K.S., A.Y.T., Faculty at the California College of Ayurveda