Modern Misconceptions about Weight Loss
Weight gain or obesity is one of the most complex physical and mental concerns today. Unfortunately the obsession with having perfect weighing scale numbers is more of a cosmetic nature than a medical one! Being overweight or obese is like giving an invitation to a lot of major health issues in the near future including heart problems, hypertension, diabetes etc. But instead of taking the health risks seriously, a lot of people get drawn into the trap of quick fix weight loss programs, just to boost their vanity and get in shape so that they conform to some fictitious standards of physical beauty. Naturally, the weight loss industry is booming by playing on the fears of people who are desperate to lose weight. This has given rise to a lot of modern misconceptions and myths about weight loss.
Where modern perceptions of weight gain are getting more skewed day-by-day, Ayurveda, our timeless medical wisdom, takes a holistic approach to weight gain or sthaulya and suggests altering diet and lifestyle choices for effective, healthy and long-lasting weight control. Ayurveda does not prescribe to short-term, 2-minute instant weight loss (that you gain back in double time once the diet program is over!) methods but helps the individual follow a clear, time-tested, all-round path towards optimal health. Read on to know some of the modern myths about weight loss and how Ayurveda can clarify them (as well as ayurvedic tips for weight loss).
Ayurveda and weight loss
Ayurveda terms sthaulya as a lifestyle disorder or trapanjanya vyadhi and can thus be corrected by adopting healthier diet, lifestyle, stress reduction, daily exercise as well as therapeutic herbal remedies.
According to Ayurveda, Prakriti (established at birth and formed as a result of the interaction between the tridoshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha) is what determines the weight of a person. Sthaulya is the result of abnormal buildup of fat tissues or meda dhatus in the body known as meda dushti. Meda dushti covers numerous medo vikaras/fat tissue problems which together form medoroga or sthaulya.
As per Ayurveda, fat/meda accumulation blocks the channels in the body causing jatharagni mandya leading to slower digestion, more food cravings and extra food consumption. Improper digestion and blocked channels (as a thumb rule nutrients reach in a sequence – rasa, rakta, mansa, meda, ashti, maja, shukra. If a channel is blocked at one place then nutrients can’t reach beyond it) prevent proper nutrition reaching the dhatus and conversion of medo dhatu/fat tissue into asthi dhatu/bone tissue (nutrients can’t reach the rest of the dhatus after asthi) resulting in accumulation of fats. Sthaulya is primarily a kapha dosha disorder and happens when there is excess of kapha in the body.
Some common myths about weight loss busted by Ayurveda
The all-consuming worry, to have the perfect weight, tempts a lot of people to give in to those programs promising drastic weight reduction in a short time. These plans often help perpetuate a lot of misconceptions about how to shed those kilos (mostly in an unhealthy manner). Here are some common weight loss myths that Ayurveda can help clear…
Skipping meals can help reduce weight
Carbohydrates and weight are firm enemies
Stress is not directly related to weight issues
Radical exercising is the way to lose weight
Drinking lots of water helps shed more kilos
Fancy diets are the best way to get rid of unwanted weight
Actually having long intervals in between meals only reduces the muscle mass and does not reduce the fats, so Ayurveda suggests eating two to three nutritious meals a day depending on Prakriti and Ritu, (chewed slowly for proper digestion), at regular timings, without snacking in between, to ensure that the digestive fire/agni stays strong. Unsupervised skipping of meals for weight loss or having little portions of food can have an unfavorable impact on the digestive fire, promote imbalance in tridoshas, aggravate the vata dosha, result in loss of Ojas/energy and more.
It is a misconception that one has to completely cut off carbohydrates from the daily diet to lose weight. Eating more protein rich foods and fresh vegetables and fruits is highly recommended but drastically reducing the carbohydrate intake can have an adverse impact on your energy levels as the body gets almost 60% of the daily calorie requirement from carbs. Also, extreme reduction in carbohydrates means that your body starts burning fat instead of carbs for energy which is actually not a good thing as it can cause some other health problems such as low blood sugar, mood swings etc.
Ayurveda advocates eating as per the ritu/season and suggests that when carbohydrates are naturally available. Especially, during fall and winter eating wheat, rice (khichdi made from rice and moong dal, and varieties of rice that are easy to digest such as brown rice, red rice, sona masuri rice, hand pounded rice etc. and not heavy on the stomach are recommended as they don’t result in weight gain), sweet potatoes in moderate quantities can help pacify the vata dosha and should be a part of the meal. Conversely, during spring and summer, carb rich foods are not organically available and should be avoided. Also, reducing the consumption of refined carbohydrates such as breads, biscuits, sweets, oily foods, sweetened drinks that contain a lot of sugar etc. helps reduce stomach fat.
In fact, they are closely related, and stress may well be one of the main perpetrators of weight gain. Ayurveda says that stress does cause weight gain and aggravates the vata dosha, affects the digestive fire/agni and the metabolism in the body. It can lead to food cravings, constipation, imbalanced hormones, adrenal fatigue (lethargic functioning of liver and kidneys), bloating & swelling etc.
Ayurveda suggests a vata & kapha-reducing diet, regular practice of yoga and pranayama to counter stress and calm the mind and body.
Although having a set exercise routine is essential to maintain good health, the thought that pushing one’s body towards extreme physical workouts can help reduce weight quickly is incorrect. In fact, any strenuous exercise beyond the body’s limits can lead to overstrain and muscle breakdown if there is no proper recovery time. Lack of diet that is conducive to healing, can lead to loss of lean body muscle mass and further accumulation of fats/medo dhatu (if junk food intake is continued). Grueling workouts also cause tiredness, reduced energy levels and can prevent weight loss.
In absence of a healthy diet, over exercising won’t help in losing weight. Ayurveda suggests that all workouts should be based on Prakriti, ritu/season and one’s exercising capacity (which may vary due to many factors such as age, weight, gender, existing medical conditions etc.). In addition to exercise, including a nutritious ayurvedic diet will help increase the body’s metabolic activity and strengthen the digestive fire.
Another myths about weight loss is that drinking lots of water leads to reduction in body weight. Ayurevdic strictly does NOT promote excess drinking of water. In fact, Ayurveda says that drinking water in large quantities affects the digestive & metabolic functioning of the body, weakens the agni and aggravates tridoshas leading to many health problems, including obesity.
As per Ayurvedic belief, the quantity of one water a person drinks is based on Prakriti, ritu and thirst. Drink room temperature water when thirsty, at least half hour before meals (only take small sips during meals to aid digestion). Consume water 40 minutes after a meal, immediately drinking water after meals aggravates kapha dosha and leads to weight gain or sthaulya.
Many people fall into the trap of fad diets that promise instant weight loss. These ultra low calorie, extreme diets can help weight loss, but that weight loss is not healthy and therefore not sustainable. These high intensity, starve yourself diets, may help the person lose a large amount of body weight in a short amount of time (by cutting out entire food groups) but can have severe side effects and prove detrimental to overall health in the long term. Not only can these diets promote rebound weight gain, but they can also leave the person feeling listless, irritable, nauseous and sore.
Ayurveda recommends a healthy diet based on your dosha type (balanced vata, pitta and kapha dosha are vital for maintaining weight and especially eating a kapha dosha pacifying diet (foods that are warm, dry, rough, light and digestible) is helpful in controlling weight as obesity is mainly a kapha disorder. Eat a full lunch as the digestive fire is strongest at noon, keep dinner light and eat before 7 pm, chew food slowly to aid digestion (it also alerts the mind when our stomach is full to avoid overeating).
Vyayama nityo jeernashee yavagodhuma bhojanaha
Santarpana krutaihi doshaihi sthoulyam muktva vimuchyate
Ayurvedic treatment for weight loss stresses the need for daily physical activity, eating only after the last meal has been digested, regular intake of barley/yava and wheat as sure shot ways of curbing obesity. In addition, a healthy lifestyle that includes regular sleeping and waking timings, mediation, yoga & pranayama, intake of Ayurvedic herbs known to aid weight loss naturally (triphala, turmeric, ginger, ashwagandha, cinnamon, aloe vera, methi/fenugreek, etc.), staying hydrated (drinking warm water cleanses the digestive tract, promotes proper bowel movement and waste disposal) help control weight in a holistic manner.
To wrap up, Ayurveda believes in improving the overall wellness and vitality in a person by incorporating sustainable changes (diet & lifestyle) to lead healthier, happy and long lives. There are a lot of misconceptions about weight loss and its practices. Following Ayurveda prescribed way of healthy ahara and vihara is the ideal way to avoid weight loss mistakes and manage those kilos via a wholesome approach.
Book a consultation with an Ayurvedic Vaidya for expert advice on weight loss management, personalized health management plans and more.
Disclaimer: Any dietary/lifestyle changes in your routine should be incorporated only after thorough consultation with your Ayurvedic Vaidya or medical doctor.