As with any disease in Ayurveda, becoming overweight begins with the incorrect consumption of foods and lifestyle habits. These choices result in problems with Agni (digestive fire) and increased Ama (toxins). Elevated Ama disturbs the metabolic process and creates more fatty tissues (Meda Dhatu Agni) rather than other types of tissue that is necessary for our bodies to regenerate. Understanding root causes of obesity as well as implementing hot water fasting, sound sleep schedules and exercise can help aid in a healthy and supportable lifestyle.
Sometimes we think we are hungry for food, but we really are hungry for love. Lack of love in our lives causes us to turn to foods that the mind interprets as sweet, calming and heavy – producing loving chemicals. The mind always wants to return to the secure feeling we felt as infants with the combination of food and the comforting presence of a nurturing parent. There is security, routine and familiarity that comes with any addiction, including food addiction. Actively rewiring our brains through daily lifestyle changes over time will create new routines, but harnessing the resources and motivation to make the initial change can be difficult.
Controlling our response to hunger is a lifetime challenge. Some people feel irritated or anxious when they haven’t eaten, but it’s good to feel a little hungry! This energy of agitation when we are hungry can be harnessed into productive energy. After a meal, it should be normalized to feel slightly hungry afterwards. We should only eat until we are about 75% full, because the stomach acids need to fill up the remaining space for proper digestion. Your body also signals to you that you are full when you burp (this is the stomach pushing out extra air for digestion).
Sometimes when embarking on a new journey, it can be a little overwhelming. Here are a just a few Ayurvedic suggestions to help you maintain a healthy weight besides than healthy eating:
Hot Water Fasting
In Ayurveda, it is so vital to let our internal organs rest. Fasting once a week tones and strengthens the digestive system. It is best to fast on a day where you don’t have to work, or do anything strenuous. You can ease into fasting once a week by starting out with eating dahl (lentils or split mung bean stew) on the fast day, and then transition at your own pace to sipping hot water. Hot water raises body temperature, which increases the rate of metabolism, which allows the body to burn more calories throughout the day. Drinking hot water throughout the week, half an hour to an hour before meals helps stoke the digestive fire.
Sleep is one of the core foundations of maintaining a healthy weight. Improper sleep disrupts eating habits, which causes the body to use more energy than it needs to and results in lethargy. Sleep also influences our emotional state, which in turn influences the cravings and choices in foods we make. In Ayurveda digestion occurs during Pitta time (10:00pm-2:00am). This digestion process happens not only physically, but also mentally. The day’s events as well as emotional experiences and thoughts are digested during this time. Improper digestion of mental and emotional experiences can be a cause of weight gain, because our minds are searching for comfort through food if those experiences are still lingering and painful. Vata time is from 2:00am-6:00am, which is the time when the Pitta contents of digested wisdom are dispersed to the cells. The cells receive instructions for how they are supposed to help support us. It is crucial for your brain and body to digest mental and physical inputs during Pitta (digestion time) and Vata (dispersal time) so your cells can have the proper intelligence to make you function at your best self.
The culture we exist in glorifies and sensationalizes exercise. Phrases like “Go hard or go home!” and “feel the burn!” are constantly bombarded at us, which can make us feel intimidated about beginning a new exercise journey. We are taught that we should be working ourselves to complete exhaustion at the gym, and to constantly surpass our limits despite pain. This is not the Ayurvedic way of seeing exercise. In Ayurveda, it is recommended that we exercise to about half of our capacity. This looks like breaking a mild sweat on the forehead, underarms and on the spine; as well as dryness in the mouth. The best time of the day for exercise is during Kapha time (6:00am-10:00am) due to the stability and strength that Kapha time brings, it counteracts the lightness and mobility of exercise. Exercising is necessary to relieve body tension, and revitalizing the muscles. This should be the guiding intention you have when exercising, not just for weight maintenance purposes. This can be as simple as walking for a half hour each day.
Ayurveda is not a “one size fits all” lifestyle. It is a holistic medicine, meaning that it treats your whole being and not just the physical symptoms of disease. Maintaining a healthy weight requires you to keep a healthy mind and soul. Continue to be creative, do spiritual work, spend time with positive people and follow along with the tips above. It is possible for you to manifest the physical changes you wish to see in a sustainable and healthy way.