Ayurveda and Weight Loss - Part 2 Sustainable Solutions to Attain Your Healthiest Weight
Ayurveda and Weight Loss Part 2 - If you haven't read "Part 1," on Ayurveda and Weight Loss, you can do that by scrolling down to my last post. Now that you understand the root causes of weight gain, let’s talk about why you’re probably here: what can I do about this weight gain? How do I bring myself back into balance?
Ayurveda Diet - From an Ayurvedic perspective, we always want to address the root of the problem. So you’ll want to consult with a practitioner to determine your prakruti, or your underlying constitution. Are you a vata working with a kapha imbalance? Are you a kapha, working with a kapha imbalance? You get the idea. Online quizzes are helpful, but don’t often differentiate clearly between prakruti and vikruti (underlying constitution and current imbalance). More About Ayurvedic Diet
And then you’ll also want to look at a what, exactly, has happened in your life that is causing you to gain weight? What do your daily habits look like (do you have any, or is everything changing from day to day)? After that, we bring in the diet, lifestyle, and daily habits that will work best for you, as each individual is unique with different needs.
That being said, I’m going to give you some solutions today that ANY constitution can use to heal their relationship with food and the underlying causes of their kapha imbalance, or weight gain.
1) Take back your relationship with food. Working on digestion is one of the highest (maybe THE highest) physical practice in Ayurveda. Your body is your vehicle for contributing love and light to this world. Ayurveda wants you to treat it as such. And how do we build that body and its tissues? Through food we eat, of course. We literally are what we eat. Eating, therefore, is a sacred act. We do it at least three times a day; therefore, you have at least three opportunities every…single…day to get back in touch with and even take control over the type of body and the type of tissue you build. HOW you eat is even more important than WHAT you eat with regard to building healthy digestion and strong bodily tissues. Here are the guidelines to create a healthy eating environment at least three times a day:
A. At the same times each day, sit down, eliminate distractions, and create a calm environment. Let’s unpack that guideline b/c there’s a lot there.
B. Before eating, take 3 deep breaths, a moment of silence, or say grace (if that’s in your comfort zone/tradition). This is a real game-changer for me. If I can remember to do this, it’s so much easier to follow the remaining guidelines. My digestive system is so much happier, and I experience less indigestion in general. I like to put my hands over my food, close my eyes, and take three deep breaths while feeling gratitude for every being, who contributed to my meal (the people who picked the produce, the animal that gave its life, the truck drivers who brought it to the store, the workers in the store, the person who cooked it (probably me!), etc.).
C. Chew thoroughly. This one can be groundbreaking. If you’re like me and have a lot pitta and a strong appetite, you probably have a lifelong habit of shoveling your food and eating very quickly. This is not such a great approach for creating healthy tissue. As strong as your digestive system might be, it’s going to have a really hard time digesting whole pieces of food. Slowing down and chewing your food can help to eliminate all kinds of problems, from reflux to gas and even chronic diarrhea. Give your digestive system some help and focus on chewing your food to an even consistency before you swallow. Again, if I take those three deep breaths before I dive in, I remember to do this way more often than not.
D. Only eat until you are about 70% full. Here’s the key to finding an ideal, supportive body weight that’s right for your frame. If you can give yourself the space and patience and time to find what this means for you, it can be incredibly rewarding. This ensures that you never feel stuffed and never overload your digestive system, which can create toxicity and, eventually, illness and weight gain in the body. Again, this can really take some time, especially if you never sit to eat, take designated meal breaks, or have no routine or rituals around food. You probably don’t pay much attention to natural hunger and fullness signals either. And that’s okay! You’re going to now, right? Good.
E. .Wait at least three hours before eating again to allow your system to properly digest your food. According to Ayurveda, there are three stages of digestion, and they happen in the stomach, the small intestines, and then the large intestines, in that order. If your last meal is still being worked on in the small intestines, where a great deal of nutritional absorption takes place, and you go and eat something else because you’re bored (or anxious, or whatever), your body has to take energy away from that digestive process to then go back up to the stomach and work on whatever you just ate. So now neither process is getting the right amount of attention, and this is usually when problems like gas, bloating, reflux, and diarrhea like to rear their ugly heads.
And I would like to add a caveat: wait until you’re actually hungry again to eat, especially if you’re working on this 70% full principle. It can take some time to get this right. If you don’t eat quite enough, you might be genuinely hungry two hours after a meal. In the name of trying to keep your body from thinking that famine is coming, there’s not need to deprive yourself in the name of trying wait three hours. Go ahead and eat again, but sit down, take a few breaths/say grace, chew thoroughly, and stop at 70% full.
One more thing here: if it doesn’t bother you to go a little longer than 3 hours to eat again, waiting a bit more can give your body an opportunity to use stored fat as fuel. This can aid in your weight loss efforts. I want to point out, however, if you have a lot of vata in your constitution, or prakruti, this can backfire. Going a long time without eating for vata can increase ether (emptiness), causing you to feel ungrounded, even dizzy, and then possibly reaching for whatever junk food is available and possibly even binging on it. Instead, vata does better with smaller, more frequent meals, eaten when truly hungry. This is difficult for vata, but it’s worth cultivating in that noticing true hunger and fullness signals gets vata out of the clouds and back into their bodies, which was the problem that created the weight gain in the first place, remember? If you’ve got more pitta and/or kapha in your constitution, or prakruti, you might do better with going a little longer between meals. Bottom line: pay attention to your body. Set an alarm or alert on your phone or calendar to remind you to check in with yourself throughout the day, if needed.
F. Sit for 10-15 minutes after a meal, or take a stroll. This is a tough one for me in that I’m ready to get “back to business” after I eat. I’m ready to do another task or get back into whatever I was doing before the meal. But I’m getting better and better at reminding myself that sitting and reading something fun (for me), like a magazine or good book, is a real privilege that I can carve out the time for. If the weather permits, taking a five-minute stroll is a great way to aid in digestion (the movement of walking helps with peristalsis, or the movement of the smooth muscles that line the digestive tract). We’re not talking power walking or working up a sweat—it’s a “stroll.” (Okay, vata? Okay, pitta?) Get too fired up about this, and you’ll probably have cramping or diarrhea. Take it easy, enjoy the scenery, notice your breath. Again, we’re trying to get you back into your body, noticing its processes, and its needs.
G. Take no more than ½ cup water or liquid with meals; any more will interfere with the digestive process and your ability to note when you’re at that 70% full mark. If you have something like soup or stew with your meal, you don’t need that beverage at all. Additionally, beverages should be taken warm (especially if you have a lot of vata in your constitution in that vata is cold and dry, so we don’t to add more of that cold quality) or room temperature (even if you have a lot of pitta in your constitution in that the digestive system and metabolism have to “roar up” to bring that cold water back to body temperature, thus causing a temporary surge in heat…and pitta, as you know, is already hot enough). On that note, drinking water between meals is really important in your weight loss efforts. Every organ needs water to function efficiently. We also, a great deal of the time, mistake thirst for hunger. Sipping water or even herbal tea (something non-caffeinated) throughout the day is important for keeping all tissues of the body hydrated and also to keep you satiated between meals/snacks. Guzzling water will just overtax your kidneys in that you can only absorb about ½ cup of water at a time. So keep a reusable water bottle or thermos of herbal tea on hand at all times, and sip frequently.
H. .A few tips if you know you’re dealing with an underlying vata imbalance, or you experience a great deal of dryness, anxiety, and variability in your digestion (gas, bloating, constipation, and even alternating diarrhea and constipation):
2) Take back your relationship with your emotions. If you recognize and pay attention to them, you might not feel the need to “eat them” instead. What I mean by that is, we often use food as a comforting coping mechanism, when we have emotions we don’t want to recognize or deal with.
One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with my emotions is to write them down first thing in the morning and/or before I go to bed. If you’re resistant to the idea of journaling, that’s okay. Sometimes, in the morning, I just write down my dreams. Sometimes, I just write down what I have to do that day or some ideas for a project that’s on my mind. I used to hate the idea of journaling. I really don’t know why. I guess because, like so many of us, I didn’t really want to address my feelings. The mind can be a scary place, no? What I’ve found is that, if I approach this “journaling” with a light-hearted attitude, it’s so much easier. I wake up, do a few morning self-care practices, pour myself some tea, and bring it and my notebook with me outside to write for a few minutes and watch the hummingbirds come to our feeder. I promise myself that I can read the morning headlines and check my email (and drink my tea because it’s cool enough by then) right after I do a few minutes of journaling. I get an immediate reward for taking just 10 minutes to write down what’s in my head, and the pay-off for the rest of the day is HUGE. Since my thoughts are now down on paper, they’re not whirling through my head all day, sending me into a thought or action spiral that results in sitting down with a bag of chips or candy because I needed some emotional comfort. I already took care of myself…and before I even checked my email. It’s a win-win.
Find what works for you. For many of my clients, writing down their thoughts or to-do’s before they go to bed is what works best. I call this a “mind-dump;” dump out the contents of your mind before bed so they don’t wake you up at 2 or 3am. If you still wake up at 2am, you can now tell yourself not to worry; you already wrote that down and can look at it in the morning. Writing is a very effective tool for dealing with emotions, and can help you avoid “eating your feelings” later. I encourage you to try it. Set a time each day that you’ll do it. I tack it on to my morning tea, but you can tack it on to anything you already do every day.
3) Take back your relationship with stillness. This is going to be hard for vata in that they don’t feel comfortable without motion of the body or mind; they see this mobility (remember the mobile quality of air?) as part of the creative process. And maybe it is, but in order to have balance (remember balance?), you have to bring in opposite qualities of the doshas in order to prevent them from running away with us and causing disease. So we have to find a way for vata to be okay with being still, again, so we don’t end up eating our feelings later because that’s the only way we get comfort and balance.
This will be hard for pitta as well in that they often don’t see the value in sitting over “doing” and productivity. But maybe a pitta mind will respond to something like, “Hey, if we spend just 10 minutes in stillness each day, we can be even more productive later.” Same for vata: “If we calm and ground now, we will have even more energy and freedom for creativity later.” Bottom line, if you don’t create stillness somewhere, your nervous system never gets a break, and you never train the mind to focus on the present moment. We age faster, turn to food for comfort, and we miss opportunities that come our way because we’re distracted all the time.
So find a way, each day, to sit in silence, whether it’s through a meditation practice (it can be guided, which, I know, isn’t exactly silence, but at least you’re not the one doing the talking), a breath practice, a restorative yoga session, or even sitting at a window, watching the birds go by. Whatever it is for you, do it everyday, and again, tack it on to something you already do everyday. For me, I tack this on to my morning shower and self-oil massage practice (called abhyanga in Ayurveda). I need to allow some time for the oil to absorb into my skin before I get dressed, so I put on my robe, and I sit to do my breathing (pranayama) and meditation practices. This keeps my blood pressure down, clears my energy before I interact with clients, and gives me a sense of calm and focus that seeps into every part of my day. If I do this in the morning, I am less prone to making unsupportive food choices later.
4) Take back your relationship with movement. This can be a tough one. We grow attached to our exercise routines, often because we are trying to burn calories, are afraid of gaining weight, or we need to “make up for” previous food choices (ie. punishment). I encourage you to find a way of exercising that you enjoy—that you look forward to. For me, that means I want to change it up each day. One day a week I do yoga, then Pilates, then circuit training using my own body weight (ie. calisthenics), then a hike, then an Eliptical or treadmill workout. This keeps me engaged and having fun. I do make sure that there are two things that are always the same: 1) I do my exercise at the same time each day. This ensures that vata isn’t running away with me; I’m creating grounding routines, and the nervous system isn’t left to guess what’s going to happen, staying on high alert all the time, trying to conserve resources and hoard food and calories. It knows we workout at 7am each day (or whatever time you decide works for you). 2) I use Ayurvedic principles to keep my intensity levels in check. Ayurveda says that exercise should only be intense enough to just begin to break a sweat. Then, you cool down. For me, that’s about 20-30 minutes of exercise, and I make sure that I’m always able to breathe through my nose. Once that is no longer possible, I’m pushing too hard, and my nervous system is going to have to work way too hard to bring me back down to homeostasis (too much air/movement and too much fire/intensity). 20-30 minutes might not sound like much, but I do it everyday, so over a week, I’m getting 140-210 minutes of exercise, which is right in line with what the American Heart Association recommends (150 minutes a week) to prevent a myriad of diseases.
Think of it this way: if you’re trying for an hour a day, you’ll probably only hit the mark a few times (or maybe even only once). 20-30 minutes each day not only adds up to more than 60 minutes once a week, I’m creating a grounding, nourishing, reliable routine that balances out vata—that balances out the underlying cause of my weight gain. Remember? Yep, it’s all about balance so that we break the cycle of punishment with exercise and reward with food. A little each day goes a really long way.
So I hope this gives you some tools to work with in your personal journey. I hope, too, that this gives you an idea of what a sustainable way of living can look like. It’s all about the journey and not necessarily the destination. Use these tools at every meal, at every workout, every day, and you might not even care what the number on the scale says anymore. You’ll develop a sense of confidence in your ability to take care of and nourish yourself. Over time, your body will let go of what’s not serving it anymore, and this could be anything from excess weight to a health condition you thought you might be on medication for the rest of your life. The possibilities are endless when you start to put faith in your own ability to heal.
Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to set up an initial Ayurvedic consultation to learn more about bringing your body, your mind, and your heart back to balance.
Meghan Hays Ayurveda offers Ayurveda Salt Lake City - Ayurvedic Consultations Salt Lake City and is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner. To Schedule Your Initial Ayurveda Consultation, please Book Now
Meghan Hays Ayurveda - Ayurveda Salt Lake City