Post-holidays we hear plenty about weight loss. The typical message we receive about how to lose weight is to work out more (the harder, the better) and eat less (the lighter, the better). Indeed, for some people this approach is the ticket, but in Ayurveda we look at weight loss differently because even with weight loss there’s no “one size fits all.” In this article I’ll discuss a scenario for weight gain that has become increasingly prevalent in our society as a result of high levels of stress, and how it would be addressed through Ayurvedic Medicine.
Fat tissue, called “medas dhatu” in Ayurveda, is ruled by the Kapha dosha. Kapha is composed of the water and earth elements and thus has the qualities of those elements – it’s heavy, moist, soft, cool, slow and stable. Kapha is the bodily humor that provides stability, stamina, grounding, protection and lubrication. When we put on weight it means that there has been an increase in the Kapha dosha in our body. But is Kapha alone always the culprit? The answer is “no” and it’s extremely important for us to understand the root cause of weight gain in order to truly heal the imbalance. Below are two common examples of weight gain and how they differ.
A purely Kapha form of weight gain often results from a lifestyle and diet that contain too many of the heavy and stable qualities of Kapha – eating too much heavy, oily and/or sweet food in conjunction with sedentary habits. Because we treat with opposite qualities in Ayurveda, reducing the excess weight would require the opposite qualities of Kapha – lighter foods, reducing herbs and a more mobile lifestyle, among other things.
The second scenario, which has become more prevalent in our society, is when a person gains weight as a result of becoming too depleted or ungrounded. In response, the body puts on weight in order to stabilize the system. In this case, Vata dosha is the root of the imbalance and this type of weight gain is referred to as “Vata pushing Kapha.” In this instance, a lifestyle that is too stressful, ungrounded, mobile, overwhelming or driven depletes the body and mind (a Vata imbalance). In order to protect the depleted system, Kapha dosha tries to ground and stabilize the body, resulting in weight gain. (For example, many cases of hypothyroidism/low thyroid functioning – of which fatigue and weight gain are symptoms – are manifestations of this scenario.)
In recognizing the weight gain, the person may do increasingly rigorous workouts and eat light foods or restrict diet in order to combat the excess weight. But Vata is already too mobile and light, and “like increases like” so these habits further increase Vata dosha and can actually aggravate the root cause of what’s feeding the weight gain to begin with. In addition, for an already depleted system, the increased activity and lighter diet can serve to cause further depletion, fatigue, “burnout”, etc. leading to a scenario in which the person continues to feel frustrated by the excess weight, but is also increasingly more fatigued and depleted.
For those who notice weight gain and are also dealing with issues such as fatigue, burnout, anxiety, overwhelm or high stress levels, a gentler, more rejuvenating approach that addresses the underlying Vata imbalance is the key to weight loss. Gentle to moderate exercise and yoga, moderately grounding foods, stabilized routines, bodywork and practices that calm the mind are just a few examples of the treatment approach most beneficial for Vata pushing Kapha weight gain. As with all imbalances, a weight loss program should be customized to you. When you nurture the specific needs of your unique constitution, you will find your equilibrium.