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
Ayurveda and Weight Loss Part 1: The Doshas and Weight Gain - Getting to the Root Cause
Ayurveda and Weight Loss
Part 1: The Doshas and Weight Gain - Getting to the Root Cause
Before we jump into the subject of ayurveda and weight loss from an Ayurvedic perspective, it’s important to understand how the 3 doshas operate in the mind and body in order to grasp how they affect weight gain and weight loss and then, of course, how we use Ayurvedic principles to correct the imbalance. In case you’re brand new to Ayurveda, the doshas are the three governing forces in Ayurveda that determine our physical traits, our personality traits, our emotional and psychological tendencies, and what type of diet, lifestyle, and environment is best for us. There are three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. The doshas are made of the 5 elements, and you can find a short video on my website about the 5 elements. The link to that video is in this slide right here, and it’s also in the comments. I would check that out when you can to learn a little more about the foundational principles of Ayurvedic medicine.
First and most importantly, let’s talk about Vata’s role in Ayurveda and in weight gain and weight loss.
Vata is made of the elements of air and ether. Air is the element that governs all movement in nature, in our bodies, and in our minds. Ether is the container for all the elements; it’s the space around us and through which we connect to others. I like to help people understand ether by mentioning that it tends to deteriorate the other elements when it increases and that it increases in our bodies and minds as we age. That’s why our hair, our skin, and our bones become thinner into old age and also why our minds often become more unstable as we age. So vata, by nature, is cold and dry (like air and space), mobile (like air), and also unstable (like the ever-changing air and the diminishing quality of space, or ether).
If someone has a lot of vata in, what Ayurveda calls, their “constitution” (the unique combination of the doshas with which they were conceived), they will naturally have thinner bones, thinner skin, and smaller features. They also will have a greater tendency to be unstable in their ability to complete projects, stay on course, remain still for long periods of time, or even to focus on one thing at a time. When severely out of balance, people with a great deal of vata dosha will experience greater tendency for fear, worry, and anxiety. Someone who has been working on balancing the vata in their constitution might overcome some or all of these challenges, but these will, most likely, always be tendencies for them.
These individuals, who naturally have a lot of vata dosha in their constitutions, often have a harder time gaining weight due to the variable nature of air and the diminishing quality of ether; their digestion tends to be variable, which makes it harder to absorb nutrients, and therefore, harder to produce tissue (fat, muscle, bone, etc.) from the food they eat. To help balance those individuals with a lot of vata in their consitution, Ayurveda prescribes a very nourishing and grounding diet with lots of fats, oils, nuts, root vegetables, grains, and even some meat and dairy to help them build tissue, AND Ayurveda prescribes lots of spices (think ginger, cumin, cinnamon, asafoetida/hing, basil, thyme, fennel, etc.) to help them digest, break down, and absorb the nutrients from these heavier foods from which they can then produce healthy tissue. To help balance their minds and allow them to focus, Ayurveda prescribes routine in and around their meals, their waking and sleeping times, and their daily habits and work schedule. Ayurveda asks that they slow down, breathe, and bring their consciousness back into their bodies and out of the “ether,” so to speak
Now, maybe you’re thinking, why is Meghan telling me about people who have a hard time gaining weight? What does this have to do with weight loss? Well, stay with me; we’re going there in just a moment.
So next, let me tell you about pitta and kapha doshas. Pitta dosha is made of the element of fire and a little bit of water element. You can think of the water as something that has to exist to contain the fire, like the mucous membranes that line our digestive tracts and protect us from the hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes secreted by the digestive organs to break down our foods. You can think of the fire element as any metabolic or transformative process in the body, like the breaking down of our food into absorbable nutrients and the creation of healthy bodily tissue from those particles; in the mind, you can think of fire as the transformation of sensory input into concepts, ideas, and even wisdom.
Pitta, by nature, is hot due to the fire element, a bit oily due to the water element, and also a bit mobile and unstable, due to the constant movement of fire. If someone has a lot of pitta in their Ayurvedic constitution, they will have moderate features, moderate bones, moderate skin…that fire transforms their food into tissues and then burns off the rest. It is very efficient. People with a great deal of pitta are able to be pretty moderate and focused in their studies, their projects, and in their work; they also tend to be passionate in their relationships. They have a great ability to focus, lead, and get the job done. When they are out of balance, however, this focus can turn into intensity, and their clear, sharp minds can become critical, judgmental, and angry. Again, someone with a great deal of pitta can overcome these challenges, but they will always have tendencies toward these imbalances.
Pitta people tend to be able to maintain their weight fairly easily due to the efficient nature of their metabolism and the strong nature of their digestion. Certainly, if pitta overloads the digestive tract, there can be weight gain, but as soon as they put their mind to it or get back to a balanced way of eating, they will usually have an easy time dropping excess weight. In fact, if pitta gets too intense or out of balance, that fire can turn into a conflagration, causing weight loss as it burns up the tissues of the body. Eventually, that fire will dry out all the water element containing it, creating dryness that looks like vata. That fire might even completely burn itself out, just like it does in nature, leaving a cold, dry environment, again looking like a vata imbalance. This is important to note in that it is one way the doshas can “trick” us. What looks like a vata imbalance, has actually resulted from a pitta imbalance. Keep this in mind for later…
When pitta is out of balance, we ask them to do similar grounding practices that we ask of vata; we also want to give them heavier, nourishing foods, but we don’t give them the heating spices that we give vata; we focus on more cooling herbs like cilantro, coriander, chamomile, and mint. We ask them to lighten up and take life a little less seriously by bringing some play and fun into their day. We might even ask them to loosen up in their daily schedules, work less, lower their intensity level, and laugh more.
Stay with me; we’re getting close to bringing ayurveda and weight loss all together for you.
Finally, we have kapha. Kapha dosha is made of earth and water, the heaviest of the five, Ayurvedic elements. Earth represents all the structures in nature, in the body (bodily tissues), and stability in the mind. Water represents anything with innate moisture in the body (bodily fluids) as well as flow in the mind.
If someone has a lot of kapha in their constitution, they will tend to have thicker tissues—bones, skin, hair—and bigger features—eyes, lips, nose, etc. They might also have more innate moisture in their body, producing more sweat, more mucous, and even more breast milk and menstrual fluids in women. Due to the abundance of earth and water in their constitution, kapha people are more easy-going and do things a bit more slowly than vata and kapha. They tend to be a bit slower in making decisions, completing projects, and even moving around in the physical world. While their mind moves a bit more slowly sometimes, they retain information very well, and they are dependable. Think tortoise over hare here. You can imagine, then, kapha digestion tends to be a bit slow as well, so it’s important for them to avoid overloading the digestive system by keeping portions a bit smaller and maybe even fasting sometimes to increase the ether or space in their system so they can move a bit more (more air) and increase their metabolism (more fire).
When kapha is out of balance, weight gain, lethargy, and lack of motivation (being “stuck” in the mud…which is what happens when earth and water combine, right?). They might even be really resistant to change, or stubborn and set in their ways. So, to balance kapha back out, we want them to do all the things modern diet culture tells us to do to lose weight: reduce our portion sizes, eat a plant-based diet and limit carbohydrates, move more to sweat, eat spicy foods that increase the metabolism, and sit less. We also want them to get out of their comfort zone and try something new; kapha tends to be very attached to a routine, so we will ask them to change it up and vary their day-to-day schedules. We might also ask them to let go of their attachments to possessions or even relationships no longer serving them in the hope that their bodies will follow, letting go of excess weight no longer serving them.
All right, so we’ve established that weight gain, therefore, is a kapha imbalance. Now, you might already be asking important questions, like, “I really identify with vata, but I consider myself overweight. So which am I? Kapha or vata?” Great question! That’s where we need to differentiate your nature with your imbalance.
Your Ayurvedic constitution is also called your “prakruti;” it’s the unique combination of the doshas with which you were conceived. Think of it as the expression of the elements through your genes. So if you have a lot of vata in your original constitution, or prakruti, you’ll always have tendencies toward “all the vata things,” like anxiety, worry, fear, inability to focus, variable digestion, dryness, etc.
These symptoms could also be considered your “vikruti,” which, in a nutshell, means your current imbalance. What are you working with right now? For someone with a lot of vata, that’s usually what I mentioned before: anxiety, constipation, gas and bloating after meals, dry skin, etc. For someone with a lot of pitta in their original constitution, or prakruti, their imbalances might look like anger, criticism, work-aholism, burning digestion, diarrhea, skin rashes, etc. For someone with a lot of kapha in their original constitution, their imbalances, or vikruti, will usually look like lethargy, sleepiness after meals, slow digestion, mucous in their stool, swelling/edema, metabolic issues, etc. Any constitution, or prakruti, could, however, have an imbalance, or vikruti, in any (or even all three) of the doshas. So could you be largely vata in your prakruti, but have a kapha imbalance, or vikruti, like weight gain? Absolutely.
One of the beautiful things about Ayurveda (one of the really important take-home messages I want to bring to you today) is that Ayurveda seeks to pinpoint the ROOT CAUSE of our imbalances. And this is important when we talk about weight gain in that I rarely see a kapha constitution come to me, needing or wanting to lose weight. Why, you ask? Well, I think kapha people have kind of figured out how to balance out their issues. They’re just not that hungry most of the time, and if they eat too much, they really pay the price. They’re also not always the most interested in change. I, therefore, see a great deal of vata and pitta constitutions coming to work on weight loss. They don’t like the current state of affairs in their bodies, and they want it to change…and fast! But here’s the kicker: this mentality (“I’m uncomfortable, and I want change now!”) is what caused the weight gain in the first place.
And now the big reveal…drumroll please…
YOUR VATA AND/OR PITTA IMBALANCE CAN CAUSE THE KAPHA IMBALANCE, OR WEIGHT GAIN.
Is your mind blown? OK, maybe not, but I think it’s really interesting to think that moving too much, doing too much, and overloading our senses caused our bodies to get bigger. So let’s make sense of that from an Ayurvedic perspective.
How does this type of weight gain work? It’s helpful to recall that vata is made of air (movement) and ether (space). It’s also helpful to note that any time we change, vata increases. Think of the nature of change: there’s movement from one thing to another (air element), AND you have to give up one thing for another (that creates a space, or void…or ether element). Even change that is considered “good,” like marriage, forces you to give up some freedoms that come with being a single person. Even getting a promotion at work forces you to give up some freedoms that come with less responsibility, right? On the other hand, we have change that is considered “bad,” like the death of a loved one. That can create a big space, or a great deal of ether, and, therefore, vata in our lives.
What happens when you make big changes all the time? Here’s an example I see a lot: getting a divorce, moving to a new city, starting a new job, and then getting involved in a new relationship. That’s a lot of air (movement/change) and ether (leaving/giving up things, people, and places).
Here’s another example: losing a lot of weight in a short amount of time. Let’s say you gave up carbohydrates for a ketogenic diet (there’s definitely some ether there in leaving behind carbs), adopted intermittent fasting (more ether/space in that your stomach is now empty for a large part of the day), and took up a very rigorous high intensity interval training program (LOTS of air/movement…and the kind that really aggravates vata with all the stopping, starting, and “bursts” of activity). OK, so you get the idea here: change and movement create vata.
Well, what happens when you don’t bring in opposite qualities to balance out the vata? You guessed it: it runs WILD! Did you know “dosha” actually means “flaw,” or more literally, “stain”? Yep, the job of the doshas is to express themselves fully; your job is to balance them out.
So what happens to the person who gets a divorce, moves to a new city, starts a new job, and then begins a new relationship and never slows down long enough to truly take care of themselves? I’m willing to bet they either get sick and/or they gain some weight. Similarly, what’s the tragic ending for the person, who did too much too fast by losing a bunch of weight in a short amount of time? They gained the weight right back…and then some. Ugh.
Bottom line: if you don’t balance out vata by slowing down, getting into a routine around sleeping and working, eating nourishing food in the right way and at the right times, your body will do it for you. You will be drawn to things that comfort you. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s food, glorious food. Because of the way we evolved through the millennia, the human brain craves sugar and fat to increase all those feel-good hormones in the brain and “store up” for another famine. If you’re depriving your body of food by dieting all the time, your ancestral brain thinks you’re in a time of famine. So when you finally break down and break open the bag of cookies, it’s going to persuade you to hoard those calories until it’s sure there’s no threat of starvation.
“Comfort food,” moreover, consists largely of the elements of earth and water, which create tissues and fluids in the body, necessary for survival. These elements and our bodily tissues also “ground” us.” So if you’ve been floating off into the ether on a vata “cloud” of activity and change, putting on weight is the body’s way of making you heavier and bringing you back down to earth, or ”grounding” you, so to speak. Again, if you don’t take the time to ground yourself through moderation, daily practices, and basic self-care, like sleep, your body will do it on its own with a big ‘ol, kapha, fat hug. So now you’ve still got a vata imbalance AND a kapha imbalance. Thanks a lot, right?
And don’t take my word for it, science tells us that when we don’t get enough sleep and/or stress levels rise, our hunger hormone increases (called ghrelin), our satiation (those that tell us we’re full) hormones decrease (called leptin), and our stress hormones (like cortisol) that tell us to actually hold on to fat to prepare for imminent danger or potential famine, increase.
I also want to recognize that if you’ve got a lot of pitta, or drive, in your constitution, this can cause you to take on too much as well. The fire of pitta’s intensity can burn brightly, creating a similar environment in which a person adopts extreme practices, extreme work hours, and even extreme ways of thinking. The air of vata is needed to fan the flames of pitta, so now vata and pitta become “partners in crime,” pushing a person to do more and in a smaller window of time. That fire can sustain this for a while, but this typically leads to burnout, which can look like a nervous breakdown, a complete inability to “do” anything anymore/depression, an autoimmune disorder, or even cancer. At the very least, we can be drawn to unsupportive coping mechanisms like overeating, which again, can cause a kapha imbalance on top of a pitta, or even pitta-vata, imbalance.
Thank you for reading part one of my series on Ayurveda and Weight Loss. If you'd like to take the live course version (recorded), please email me: email@example.com.
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Meghan Hays Ayurveda - Ayurveda Salt Lake City