Santa Barbara Wellness Directory

Losing Weight Naturally with Ayurveda

by Claudia Ward, L.Ac

I am living in the wrong place and at the wrong time. What am I doing in California in the twenty-first century? Everyone is obsessed with their weight and looks. At six in the morning my neighbors are running through the streets with instruments strapped to their wrists to monitor every heartbeat and every calorie spent. The gyms open at five in the morning, and possibly worst of all, emaciated, anorexic movie stars are our role models.

I was born into a family where everything revolved around food. My mother’s delicious, tempting meals and her luscious, irresistible pastries, cakes and desserts instilled in me a lust for cooking and a great passion for food. As a result, I have never been super-skinny. I have tried every diet on this planet and have become quite skeptical about the myriads of fad diets that come and go. There is more and more evidence that crash diets are not a solution for long-term weight loss. Weight lost on such diets is often quickly put back on once the dieting stops, and there is also evidence that some crash diets can have detrimental side effects to our health, sometimes long term.

I was therefore looking for a holistic solution that allowed me to lose excess weight and keep it off, while also improving my overall health. The Ayurvedic approach was the perfect answer. I would like to share some of the Ayurvedic principles that are helpful for losing those stubborn pounds.

Ayurvedic Suggestions For Attaining Ideal Weight Naturally

1. Improve Your Digestion:
The key to weight management is effectively metabolizing what you eat, eliminating wastes efficiently and letting the digestive system get a break between meals. Fasting will only further disrupt your metabolism by putting stress on the body. A strong digestive fire is the key to weight loss according to Ayurveda. Using fresh ginger and spices such as fennel, coriander, and cumin in food will result in a better digestion. Cravings and food addictions may be tempered, as the body receives the deeper nourishment it needs from proper absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Sipping hot water or ginger tea throughout the day will also eliminate cravings. Adding grated lemon or orange zest to your dishes not only tastes delicious and fresh but also improves digestion as well.

2. Eat according to your constitution:

Strawberries are Vata-PacifyingIn Ayurveda weight gain is a Kapha imbalance, however, the root problem is often not Kapha. Individuals with a Vata imbalance easily gain weight when stressed, overwhelmed or overworked. When Vata is out of balance addictions to food are common. Vata people need regular meals, warm nourishing foods, with warming spices and adequate amounts of ghee or healthy fats. No protein shakes, green drinks, raw salads or coconut oil! Even though touted as a health food, coconut oil is very cold in nature and clogs the channels. Crackers, chips and rice cakes should also be avoided.

Pitta individuals should never skip meals or they will get irritable! They need regular meals that are lightly cooked with plenty of dark green bitter vegetables, summer squashes, asparagus, green beans and mild spices such as fennel or coriander. Juicy pears are a good healthy treat for Pitta’s sweet tooth.

Kapha individuals are good-natured, stable and not easily stressed. They need to get moving, since they tend to be a little bit lazy. Warming spices and foods are recommended as well as bitter leafy greens and fresh herbs. Cold drinks, coconut oil and raw salads should also be avoided.

3. What to eat when:
Breakfast should be a warm cereal or stewed apples. Ayurvedic experts recommend eating your big meal at midday, which will give you long-lasting energy to power past prime craving time in the mid to late afternoon. If you're voracious at dinner you haven't eaten enough lunch. Dinner should be the lightest meal. I cannot over emphasize this point. Digestion is much weaker in the evening, plus lying down to sleep a few hours later further slows down digestion, metabolism and circulation. The body simply cannot assimilate large evening meals properly. The result is that much of the food is digested poorly and eventually creates toxins, fat and excess weight. Especially avoid in the evening: cheese, yogurt, rich desserts, red meat, leftovers and large salads.

Green Beans, Fresh Fenugreek and Asparagus Are Great for Losing Weight

4. Conscious Eating Habits:
How you eat your food is even more important than what you eat. Even foods, which normally cause imbalances, will be digested reasonably well if the proper rules are followed. Likewise if you eat the correct food in the wrong way your digestion will be compromised. Agni (digestive fire) is damaged and formation of ama or toxins will follow. I have a problem with protein and green drinks or shakes. I call them astronaut food. They will only slim down your wallet and may be detrimental to your health if consumed in excess. From an Ayurvedic standpoint they will damage agni, derange Vata and disturb the body/mind. If you believe you do not have the time to enjoy a fresh, lovingly prepared sit-down meal, take a look at your life and shift priorities. Every meal should be a sacred ritual. Take a moment to breathe, relax and say a blessing at every meal. No phone, TV, newspaper or work while eating. Your body digests food best when you relax, so eat slowly and sit quietly for 10 minutes after you eat to aid digestion.

5. Cleanses:
I am not in favor of juice fasts or harsh cleanses, simply because they put the body under too much stress. Stress of any kind triggers the fight-or-flight response. In this state, the body not only craves carbohydrates for fuel, but also holds on to fat, particularly around your middle. I do recommend panchakarma, (the massage, steam treatments and internal cleansing therapies of Ayurveda) to be done twice a year to prevent toxins from accumulating and eliminating their buildup in bodily tissues. Panchakarma will result in healthier eating habits, balanced weight and increased energy levels.

6. Exercise:
Enjoy your exercise activity and it will be easier to stick to it. Also, remember that all of us don't benefit from the same amount or type of exercise. Choose your exercise program according to your constitution. The ideal exercise options to balance Vata should incorporate slow movements, not be too tiring, and help settle the mind and body. Slow dancing, low impact aerobics, tai chi, leisurely swimming in warm water, walking and yoga are examples of Vata-balancing exercise activities. While walking is universally beneficial, Pitta persons might also gravitate towards water sports while Kapha individuals need to add something really energetic such as brisk walking or jogging.

7. Stress reduction:
There are many ways of stress reduction such as aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture, meditation, tai chi, chi gong, breathing exercises, and simple yoga poses that will boost your energy and stimulate your metabolism.

8. Ayurvedic Herbs:
An Ayurvedic practitioner may suggest herb formulas that gently detoxify the system while kindling the digestive fire, allowing proper digestion, absorption and assimilation. Excess Kapha in the form of fat and water can be successfully reduced as the herbs contribute to stronger pancreatic, splenic, hepatic and renal functions. Strengthening and cleansing these organs may lead to a more efficient metabolism and regular elimination. These herb formulas should always be prescribed by a licensed health practitioner. However, the following herbs and spices can be safely added to anyone's daily diet:

Triphala - Triphala can be used daily for rejuvenation and detoxification. Popular for its unique ability to gently cleanse and detoxify the system while simultaneously replenishing and nourishing it, this traditional formula supports the proper functions of the digestive, circulatory, respiratory and genitourinary systems. Most people can benefit from adding Triphala to their regime.

Fennel removes mucus and fat from the intestinal tract, and is a natural appetite suppressant.

Fenugreek seeds burn fat and help absorption. They are useful for dissolving fat within the liver. Fresh fenugreek leaves can be found at the farmer’s markets in late winter/ early spring. They are one of nature’s super-food due to their beneficial effect on fat metabolism, blood sugar and also their cancer-fighting properties.

Fresh Curry Leaves
Improve functioning of the stomach and small intestine. They are mildly laxative and thus can tackle multiple digestive problems caused by food intake. They are directly added to food or as an extract in the form of juice added to buttermilk and consumed at the end of lunch/dinner. Ayurvedic research shows that curry leaves may control noninsulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Fresh curry leaves are also known to reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good one (HDL). You can find them at the farmer’s market.

For Ayurvedic herbal and dietary recommendations suited to your constitution, seek the advice of a qualified practitioner.

About the Author

Licensed Acupuncturist and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist in Santa Barbara, CA - Claudia Ward, L.Ac, Dipl. C.H., CASClaudia Ward, L.Ac, Dipl. C.H., CAS
is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist in Santa Barbara, CA.

She specializes in nutrition based on the principles of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Western medical research. Her treatments focus on Ayurvedic therapies, detox cleanses, acupuncture, autoimmune diseases, women's health, and chronic pain management.

Claudia combines acupuncture, therapeutic massage, cupping, Ayurvedic therapies, reflexology, essential oils, and herbal recommendations in her work.

Claudia's Acupuncture page in The Wellness Directory


Read the article "Oh Baby! Prenatal and Postpartum the Ayurvedic Way"
- by Gina Tolleson, Santa Barbara News-Press, July 31, 2006

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