The wait is over for managing overweight

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The wait is over for managing overweight

The wait is over for managing overweight

Chasing the ‘0’.

by Ayurvedagram Bali, Kerala Ayurveda

Its morning. You have somehow managed to drag yourself out of the bed. Standing in front of the mirror, you wonder. ‘Are those love handles blowing out of proportion? Is my tummy still showing despite pulling it in, and the entire cosmos with it? Am I still going to fit in that partywear?”

Hey, this is not a bad thing to do! In fact, this is exactly what Ayurveda advises the moment you wake up. Like a computer booting up, your initial thought for the day has to be an analysis of your body. Ācāryas call this process ‘śarīra cintā’.

But when it comes to looks, it has become difficult to judge only from a health perspective, right? This is mostly because we are not only looking at our body through a mirror but also through the eyes of our friends, family, and even passersby. Many of us are never satisfied with our looks, supermodels included. But it is important to determine whether this dissatisfaction is a cosmetic or health problem.

Before the industrial era, the concept of health and beauty was highly diverse. The remnants of these are present even today. In Mauritania, plus-sized women are considered more desirable. According to old women of Mauritania, being overweight represent wealth, health, fertility, and beauty. To appear so, they force-feed their little girls who by the age of thirteen would be enough overweight to break weighing scales. In India too, voluptuousness was a symbol of health and erotica. But as the world began to converge culturally, being lean or even skinny became the new global fashion mantra. Today, this change in concept seems to have spawned a dilemma that is exactly the opposite of what was happening in Mauritania. We began fearing weight gain.

People are becoming desperate to lose weight even if they are not overweight. Many, especially young women, abhor every milligram in their bodies and do all kinds of unhealthy diets and exercises to get as lean as possible. Taking this frenzy to advantage, many have started exploiting the unsuspecting. You can see plenty of ads and testimonials on weight-reduction programs in all the online and offline media. Some may have a scientific approach and their own success stories. But mostly, money, time, and even health are lost in the pursuit of size “0”. It is not that these programs are spurious or unscientific. It’s our understanding of weight gain and loss that is more important. This article is all about helping you understand weight gain from an Ayurvedic perspective and to help you make the right decision to select an ideal weight reduction strategy with guaranteed long-term results.

A ‘savings’ without any interest

Have you ever wondered why we gain weight in the first place? From an evolutionary standpoint, most mammalian bodies are designed to store as much fat as possible. The human body too is an efficient fat converter. Any extra calorie in the body is soon converted to glycogen for temporary storage and eventually into fats for long-term storage. The origin of this attempt of the body can be traced back to the earliest points of evolution when food was scarce and predators were aplenty. Any piece of food (or extra energy) has to be conserved to ensure survival. As it takes millions of years to develop such traits it would take an equal amount of time to let go of that habit biologically. All we can do is train our minds to control our body and assure it that such scarcity is not likely to occur.

Am I really Overweight?

In a modern setting, this question is commonly answered by evaluating the Body-Mass Index (BMI). It is easy to calculate BMI. Divide weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. The classifications and the ranges of BMI as per WHO are as follows:

Classification BMI range – kg/m2
Severe Thinness < 16
Moderate Thinness 16 – 17
Mild Thinness 17 – 18.5
Normal 18.5 – 25
Overweight 25 – 30
Obese Class I 30 – 35
Obese Class II 35 – 40
Obese Class III > 40

 

BMI is only a quantitative scale. It doesn’t give any hint on the actual health status of that individual. On the contrary, Ayurveda offers more of a qualitative answer rather than a quantitative one. According to Caraka-saṃhitā, a major ayurvedic text, severe obesity can have the following health impacts:

  1. Difficulty in movement
  2. Difficulty in activities including sex
  3. Generalized weakness
  4. Disagreeable body odor
  5. Excessive sweating
  6. Increased thirst and hunger
  7. Reduction in longevity

An obese person is identified as having excessive fat deposition and muscle mass and the fatty areas appear flabby and pendulous. Even though there is an excess of fat and muscle, the strength of that person would be disproportionately less.

If you are beginning to feel any of the above signs or symptoms, then it is time for you to contemplate your body weight and take necessary action.

Managing body weight through Ayurveda

Ayurveda considers the management of excessive body weight to be much more complicated than the management of excessive leanness. But for an individual, both obesity and emaciation are equally dangerous as they are always prone to illnesses. This is a good testimony to the golden mean that Ayurveda always advocates. When you choose a weight-loss program, make the following your primary goal: it’s not about getting lean; it’s about getting healthy.

Generally, diet and exercise would be the main elements of any weight-loss program. Both of them should be done with care. Care should be taken not to overdo or to do it less than required. Doing it wrongly invites many more troubles. Equally important is the source from which you adopt these methods. Be it a book, a website, or a trainer, check for the qualification and accreditation. If it is not convincing or if it doesn’t suit your logic or belief, think twice before adopting that method.

Basic management principles

Ayurveda takes great care in managing obesity. It is observed that the more weight you gain, the more earth and water elements (pṛthivī mahābhūta and jala mahābhūta) are increasing in your body. As these two are the constituent elements of Kapha doṣa (the bio-energy promoting cohesion and thereby anabolism), obesity has to be identified primarily as a Kapha problem. In addition to compounding the body weight, this Kapha accumulation is also causing obstructions in the metabolic pathways (srotorodha) which leads to the derangement of Vāta doṣa (the bio-energy of control). The reason why the management of obesity is difficult is that the doṣas involved, Kapha and Vāta, are more or less opposing to each other. When you try to balance one, the other goes out of balance.

Another factor constantly kept in check while management of body weight is tissue fats (medo dhātu). As mentioned earlier, it is here that the majority of ‘energy for the future’ is stored in the body. Therefore, a good weight-reduction plan should invariably manage tissue fats as well.

Specific management measures

The exact management modalities of excessive body weight are decided by an expert vaidya (qualified Ayurveda practitioner) only after a thorough consultation. This means that like the management of any other condition, this too is a fully personalized approach. However, the following methods are commonly deployed:

Diet:

Diet and drinks for weight reduction, generally target balancing Kaphā, Vāta, and tissue fats (medas). To minimize the load on the system, a diet to bring about weight reduction is initiated with heavy-to-digest (guru) yet not very nourishing (atarpaṇa) foods.

In general foods for weight reduction should be dominant in pungent (kaṭu), astringent (kaṣāya), and bitter (tikta) tastes. Astringent taste is said to be abrading and fat reducing in action (lekhana, medo śoṣaṇa) and bitter taste is lightening and mitigates the problems of excessive tissue buildup (karṣaṇa & upacayahara).

It is interesting to note that several millets have gotten into the list of grains ideal to manage excessive body weight. As the incidence of obesity is steeply rising as a global problem, enhancing visibility into the benefits of millets and increasing their productivity by celebrating 2023 as the international year of millets, is certainly a step in the right direction. Check out this Kalpam Talk by Kerala Ayurveda on millets below:

Some other food ingredients that are found to be ideal for body weight reduction are green gram, horse gram, barley, pigeon pea, pointed gourd (Trichosanthes dioica Roxb.), moringa, Indian gooseberries, sour jujube (Ziziphus jujuba Mill.), honey, red chilies, black pepper, cucumber tree fruit (Averrhoa bilimbi L.) and garlic.

Herbs and Formulations:

Medicinal ingredients like Indian tinospora (guḍūcīTinospora cordifolia L.), triphalā (a combination of Indian gooseberries, Chebulic and Belleric myrobalans), bṛhat pañcamūla (a combination of five major roots), mineral pitch (śilājatu), nut grass (mustāCyperus rotundus L.), white-flowered embeila (viḍaṅgaEmbelia ribes Burm.f.), dry ginger, alkaline ingredients and iron ash are usually included in the management of obesity. They are often administered by mixing them with honey. Rasāñjana (extract of tree turmeric- dāruharidrāCoscinium fenestratum (Goetgh.) Colebr.) is identified in Ayurveda as the best single drug remedy for obesity (staulyaharam param). Exudate of the Indian bdellium tree (gugguluCommiphora mukul (Hook. ex Stocks) Engl.) a good binding agent for powders, is also reputed for its ability to bring down Vāta obstructed by medas. Hence it is found in several Ayurvedic tablets for weight management.

Ayurveda also has numerous formulations with specific anti-obesity actions. Varāsanādi kaṣāyam, Varaṇādi ghṛtam, Lohāsavam, Kūśmāṇḍāsavam, Navāyasa guggulu, Medohara vaṭī, and Guggulu pañcapalam cūrṇam are some examples of classical formulations. There are proprietary Ayurveda formulations as well. Kerala Ayurveda’s Liposem series is a good example of the scientific blending of traditional wisdom and modern research.

Therapeutic procedures:

Purification procedures (especially medicated enema- vasti) with formulations having drying (rūkṣa), heating (uṣṇa), and sharp (tīkṣṇa) properties are utilized for weight reduction. The exact procedure and the remedies used are decided only after assessing the strength of the individual and the condition.

A highly renowned fat-burning procedure that is commonly applied is Udvarttanam. It is a form of massage that uses medicated powder instead, or in addition to, oils. The hand movement is usually in the opposite direction of that of an abhyaṅgam (oil massage). Udvarttanam is not only considered an ideal remedy for kapha reduction and melting of fat but it is also found to strengthen the body and cleanse the skin.

Lifestyle modifications:

In a nutshell, all therapeutic procedures in Ayurveda can be categorized either as additive (bṛmhaṇa) or reductive (laṅkhana). As weight gain is a condition arising from additive factors (building up of tissues), reductive activities are to be increased as part of its management. This means that any activity that increases catabolism (breaking down processes) in the body has a weight-reducing effect. The item that tops this chart is none other than exercise. When done optimally, exercise will impart lightness, increase bodily efficiency, kindle digestion, melt the fat, and differentiate the muscles to strengthen them. Yoga is an ideal practice that can be seamlessly integrated with the concepts and practices of Ayurveda. Apart from bestowing weight reduction effects, practicing yoga under an experienced master can help you calm your mind and maintain focus on your weight-reduction goals.

Bringing down sleep hours, fasting routines, exposure to wind and sunlight, and heightened mental activities also have a fat-reducing effect. Such activities can also be incorporated.

All of the above are some general guidelines mentioned in Ayurveda. They are detailed here only for information. The master of health management should always be a vaidya and Ayurveda bestows full authority to a learned and experienced physician to chart and administer procedures suiting your specific nature and condition. All you have to do is identify an accredited vaidya, trust them, and follow them.

Being a pioneer in Ayurveda for over 80 years, Kerala Ayurveda Limited has an impeccable track record in the management of metabolic conditions including obesity. Experienced practitioners, therapists trained to perfection, the most pristine of herbal formulations, and therapy centers that are literally heaven on earth are all hallmarks of Kerala Ayurveda.

Balance is the Mantra

Usually, obesity is not an overnight problem. Yes, apart from an uncontrolled diet and lifestyle, there could also be hormonal, genetic, or iatrogenic factors (problems created by doctors- including side effects of medicines) that might have contributed to the weight gain. Some individuals tend to get naturally overweight owing to their particular body type. But strategic planning, positive changes in diet and lifestyle, and meticulous implementation can bring down this dilemma haunting the modern world. The first step to a healthier you is to choose a good weight-management program- one that is scientific, easily applicable, and compounding to a better health. It is also important to set incremental and realistic goals when adopting a weight reduction program. This is to keep you on track and prevent you from giving up easily. Never lose sight of the ultimate objective. Remember, it is not to become as lean as humanly possible but to stay fit and strong. Let us rely on Caraka Saṃhitā again to identify this ultimate goal in weight management. The book lists out the parameters of a person with a balanced body structure (sama māṃsa pramāṇa):

  • Symmetry, compactness, and efficiency of body parts
  • Firmness and acuity of functional and sensory organs
  • Resistance to diseases
  • Tolerant to hunger, thirst, sunlight, cold, and physical strain.
  • Proper digestion and absorption of food and proper elimination of wastes

Let these parameters be your ultimate targets. Also, keep in mind that this is not a one-time goal. Staying healthy and in shape is a pursuit. So, don’t get slack and lose your heart to relapse into the old lifestyle that made you gain weight in the first place. Focus. Stay strong and confident. Next time when you stand in front of that mirror, keep a confident smile ready on your face.

by Dr. Nimin Sreedhar,
Founder, dravya.app

Dr. Nimin Sreedhar
Dr. Nimin Sreedhar

About Dr. Nimin Sreedhar
Dr. Nimin Sreedhar, hailing from Vypin Island in Kerala, is deeply passionate about the ancient wisdom of Indian Sciences. Initiated into Ayurveda by the late Prof. C. R. Agniveś, he found his calling in this traditional healing system. A graduate of Nangelil Ayurveda Medical College, he also served as the College Union Chairman. Dr. Nimin’s dedication to authentic Ayurveda led him to fill a gap in the field – he recognized the need to bridge the demand for genuine Ayurvedic knowledge with the expertise of physicians and institutions. This drive led to the establishment of Ekavaidya Knowledge Services Private Limited in 2016, culminating in the creation of the ‘DRAVYA’ mobile app. This innovative app has garnered accolades and recognition, including awards from the Ministry of AYUSH and CII. With his extensive contributions to Ayurveda, Dr. Nimin Sreedhar continues to inspire and propagate this ancient science.