Over the last decade, the discussion around weight loss and which foods to eat for health, has become more and more confusing. With new information flooding the market every day, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern which foods will give us a strong and healthy body, let alone help us to our perfect weight.
When it comes to the perfect weight, the common belief is that an obese or overweight person is over-nourished; that weight increase stems from over-delivery of nutrients to the tissues.
Ayurveda looks at this ‘weighty’ problem differently. In Ayurveda, the 5000-year-old Indian medical science, we have determined that in more cases than not, obesity is more likely a sign of malnourishment where only fat gets accumulated, and all the other tissues of the body do not receive the proper nutrients to be healthy and strong. That means that our system doesn’t convert nutrients from food into healthy living cells.
Obesity is an imbalance in the system, an imbalance of the digestive and metabolic fire, agni. Agni is responsible for the proper transformation of the nutrients from food into vital energy. If our agni doesn’t do the job, these nutrients can get stuck and won’t get absorbed.
Body and mind are equally involved when it comes to weight gain. If a person has mental or emotional troubles, too much stress, trauma, or other concerns, it can cause the accumulation of fat in the body. We know that stress can increase the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to increase dangerous belly fat.
The tissue that’s affected directly by weight gain and being overweight is meda, the fat tissue. The common approach in our Western countries is to go on a strict diet to lose weight, or to implement even more drastic measures such as liposuction, surgically implanted slim bands, or gastric bypass surgery.
Crash dieting and extreme exercise also fall into this category. Often these behaviors can be a precursor to eating disorders and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Extreme measures affect the whole body, all of our tissues, and deplete the whole system, not just meda, the fatty tissue. In order to deal with weight issues and handle obesity we need to look at both, our physical habits and our emotional state of mind.
The most common reasons for obesity are:
1. A sedentary lifestyle: Lack of exercise, many hours in the car or a job that requires us to be in front of a computer all day are a good foundation for weight gain. Also sleeping during daytime goes against the natural cycle of our body and can cause metabolic dysfunction.
2. Overeating: Supersizing our meals has become a common habit. Our dinner plates are getting bigger and often we don’t stop eating after the first serving. Portions out of control equal body weight getting out of control. When food intake gets out of proportion – too much, too often, too rich – we are starting a chain of problems.
3. Eating the wrong type of food: Foods that are heavy, oily and sweet in quality can cause digestive stagnation and weight gain.
4. Eating too frequently: Eating often throughout the day causes accumulation of undigested food in our digestive system. The timing of food is critical in the development of obesity and weight problems. The circadian rhythm, our sleep-wake cycle, is very important when it comes to digestion and assimilation of food.
5. Hormonal imbalances, such as hypothyroidism (low metabolic fire in Ayurveda): When weight gain or the inability to lose weight persists, it is a good idea to see a medical or naturopathic doctor to have some blood tests done to make sure everything is in order. Getting thyroid levels checked and even having a full hormonal panel analysis can give a good picture of why we are unable to lose weight.
As much as in some cases there may be a medical reason getting in the way of losing weight successfully, often it’s a matter of changing our behaviors and attitude around food and eating. Small adjustments in how we eat and what we eat can make a big difference. Here are some general Ayurvedic guidelines for healthy eating:
• Eat three meals a day.
• Only eat after the previous food is digested.
• Set a specific time and place to eat.
• Eat with a proper frame of mind, in a happy or relaxed mood. Avoid eating when angry, scared, or upset.
• Create a pleasant eating environment, i.e. with flowers, candles, or relaxing music.
• Wash your hands before you eat.
• Feed somebody before you eat.
• Eat until your stomach is about 75% filled! Don’t overeat.
• Don’t eat too slow or too fast. Take your time and chew your food at least 32 times. According to Ayurveda, food starts digesting in the mouth.
• Enjoy and taste every bite of food you eat. Enjoyment of your food will keep you from over eating.
• Eat only when you are hungry. If you start eating three meals a day at set times you will start to feel hungry at these times.
• Try to eat your last meal of the day three hours before you go to sleep.
To lose weight you want to choose foods that are packed in nutrients, yet easy to digest. Western diets often suggest raw food and salads to regulate body weight. These raw foods however can be very hard on your digestion and any undigested food may be stored as fat.
Ayurveda suggests cooked foods and warming spices when you are trying to lose or regulate your weight. Such foods may be cooked fruit and fruit compotes, cooked grains and dals, steamed vegetables, healthy fats, such as ghee, sesame oil, coconut oil, olive oil or flax oil; and spices that increase agni, your metabolic fire, like cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, cardamom, fennel, coriander, cumin, hot peppers, and turmeric.
You don’t need to starve yourself to lose weight. Choosing the right foods, tuning into your body and your hunger, and developing a relationship with your body will help you know when you are hungry and when to stop eating. This is the key to a healthy and well-nourished body, and a happy and balanced mind!
Claudia Richey is a fitness expert and Ayurvedic wellness practitioner. She is the founder of DoshaFit®, merging ancient Ayurveda with modern exercise science, and the creator of “The Breaking Free Program” which teaches women to manage their weight and live a healthy life according to their body-mind type. Claudia teaches trainers and health coaches to help their clients succeed using the DoshaFit® way of life. www.doshafit.com