An Ayurvedic Approach to Weight Management

Are you tired of suffering through one diet after another without getting the results you want? Fed up with the endless yo-yo effect of losing weight again and again, only to gain it back? Perhaps you’re just ready for a more holistic approach to weight loss – one that feels healthy and balanced rather than promising unrealistic results.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve struggled with your weight, how much you want to lose, how many times you’ve tried to shed those pesky extra pounds, or if you’re just looking to reset after a brief period of feeling out of sync with your diet or lifestyle. Chances are, you’ll find the Ayurvedic approach to weight management surprisingly unique, insightful, and refreshingly sane. The tenants of Ayurveda provide us with a simple approach that’s easy to follow, very doable, and incredibly effective. But along the way, you’ll also be reclaiming a vibrant sense of health and well-being – physically, mentally, and emotionally. So, if you’re willing to give an entirely different strategy a fair try, then prepare to usher in both a new relationship with your body, and an inspiring journey toward improved overall health. Welcome to the Ayurvedic approach to weight loss. You can do this. In fact, you may find it enriching your life in ways that no other “diet” could.

The Ayurvedic Difference

In a nutshell, Ayurveda illuminates a simple set of principles that support improved digestive health, a stronger metabolism, and ultimately, a balanced weight. It teaches us not only what to eat, but also how, and when, to eat. It clarifies how to exercise for best results, and details which herbs will support proper digestion. As a genuinely holistic tradition, Ayurveda also offers us a myriad of quality self-care practices that can reduce or eliminate the psychological and emotional imbalances that might otherwise prevent us from achieving our goals.

One of the most beautiful things about Ayurveda is that it meets each of us exactly where we are. Perhaps you’re deeply motivated – truly ready to revolutionize your habits in order to achieve your goals as quickly as possible. Or perhaps you’re a bit tentative and need to implement changes slowly, gradually – as you’re ready and able. It really makes no difference. You can adopt Ayurveda’s diverse set of therapeutic strategies at your own pace and still reap the rewards. Obviously, the more discipline and commitment you bring to the table, the faster you’ll see and feel improvements. But the fact remains that Ayurveda does not focus on short-term gains, only to fail us later. Rather, it offers a clear and time-tested path toward optimal health; the benefits are available to each of us, no matter how quickly (or slowly) we make the journey.

Rest assured that the Ayurvedic path to a healthy weight will not feel like a tortuous and short-lived deprivation regimen that can’t possibly be maintained. Nor will you quickly lose a few pounds only to see them creep back on. Instead, you’ll be embracing a completely sustainable and holistic approach that promotes true wellness – from the inside out. The weight balancing that occurs is almost a side effect – the natural outcome of resolving the underlying imbalances that led to an accumulation of excess weight in the first place. What’s more, you won’t need to starve yourself, or unrealistically limit the variety of foods that you can enjoy. In fact, you’ll be eating a wholesome, healthy, and deeply satisfying diet – using practical guidelines to ensure your success. But this approach goes well beyond diet, recognizing that there are many other factors that can affect our health and digestive strength. The Ayurvedic path to a healthy weight truly is unique.

Five Simple Commitments

Consider making just five simple commitments to help you achieve your ideal weight:

  1. Practice 15 minutes of yoga every morning
  2. Eat 3 satisfying meals daily
  3. Follow a kapha pacifying diet
  4. Exercise at least 3 days per week
  5. Establish a daily routine to support your commitments

These commitments are simple. They are intuitive. And while it’s entirely possible that you will require a bit of discipline in the beginning, it won’t be long before the body’s natural intelligence begins to resurface – replacing unhealthy cravings with more balanced urges. From then on, these commitments become easier and easier, until maintaining this routine is second nature.

The Details

Here’s a closer look at each of the five commitments, what’s involved, and why each of them is so critical to your success.

1. Practice 15 Minutes of Yoga Every Morning

Practicing yoga may seem a surprising first step in a comprehensive set of weight balancing recommendations. But, it is no coincidence that it’s the first, nor that you are being asked to practice yoga first thing every morning. Yoga is an incredibly powerful practice that benefits the entire being – body, mind, and spirit. It awakens, lubricates, and cleanses the body, massages and stimulates the organs of digestion and elimination, tones the joints and muscles, increases circulation, kindles healthy internal heat, activates the digestive fire, and facilitates detoxification. But the practice of yoga also balances the mind and emotions, calms the nervous system, and activates prana – the vital life force within each of us. Ultimately, starting your morning with a few minutes of yoga sets the stage for a balanced and successful day – one less influenced by unnecessary stress and unhealthy cravings, and instead guided by clarity, insight, and a natural inclination to honor one’s Self and one’s body.

You are much more likely to succeed if your commitments feel achievable. And truthfully, 15 minutes of yoga is more than a realistic timeframe; it is enough to be transformative. There is certainly no harm in doing more, but commit to at least 15 minutes. Every day.

If you are new to yoga, a simple series of Sun Salutations is a great place to start. This practice is dynamic, rhythmic, and flowing. Sun Salutations balance the entire system, and can be modified to be more or less challenging – depending on the condition of each individual. Start with a series of four and slowly build up to ten or twelve, if that feels appropriate to you. If 15 minutes is up after eight or ten sun salutations, it’s also fine to stop there. The important thing is to work with the breath and to cultivate presence throughout the mind and body as you flow through the poses. If you already have a well-established yoga practice and would like to adapt it to more actively support your weight balancing efforts, please explore our kapha pacifying yoga page.

Whatever practice is right for you, attending a yoga class on occasion (or even regularly) can provide a valuable sense of community, as well as the added depth of being guided by a qualified instructor. Yoga classes can therefore inspire a more engaged home practice and support you in maintaining this important commitment.

2. Eat 3 Satisfying Meals Daily

Any routine that is tortuous to maintain is destined to fail. Eating 3 satisfying meals each day will support you in being able to sustain your commitments. But, this recommendation also makes sense physiologically. In the Ayurvedic tradition, the concepts of fire, transformation, and digestion are intricately linked. There is an art to starting and tending a fire, and the same is true for the digestive fire.

Imagine for a moment trying to start a fire by holding a small match up to a sizable log. Hopeless, right? Even once a fire is burning, it’s entirely possible to smother the flames with too much fuel all at once, or with little bits of fuel too frequently. Now imagine how absurd it would be to expect any fire to go on burning without additional fuel.

In much the same way, maintaining a healthy metabolism requires appropriate kindling, and a regular and reliable source of fuel – with appropriate spacing in between. On the one hand, we have to stoke our digestive capacity gently, also being careful not to refuel too often. On the other hand, if we stop eating entirely, the digestive fire will die down. In other words, eating too little can actually further slow a sluggish metabolism. Eating three healthy, digestible meals each day without snacking in between strikes an important balance. It ensures that the digestive fire is adequately stimulated and actually encourages it to grow stronger.

What you eat will matter; that’s where your next commitment comes into play. But when and how you eat is equally important. The following guidelines will help to maximize your progress:

  • Avoid snacking between meals.

While this is often the most challenging adjustment to make, eliminating snacks is powerfully supportive of weight loss. The digestive fire is strongest and most efficient when it can fully digest one meal before being asked to digest anything else. Therefore, it is best to separate meals by at least four hours. Interestingly, fat metabolism is kicked into high gear during this natural fast between meals. Without it, the body does not tend to use accumulated fat as energy (1). So avoiding snacks is a fantastic way to invite your body to burn through the accumulated excess. If the desire to snack arises, have a cup of hot water with 1 teaspoon of honey and a squeeze of fresh lime juice instead (2). Or, if you must eat, try a few raisins or some carrot or celery sticks (2).

  • Make lunch the main meal of the day and eat it sometime between 11am and 2pm.

Digestive strength is strongest at mid-day, so this is the best way to capitalize on your body’s naturally increased digestive capacity.

  • Make dinner as light as possible and work toward eating it by 5 or 6pm.

This allows the stomach to empty before you go to sleep and reenergizes the natural detoxification process that occurs overnight. Even if it’s not possible to eat as early as 5 or 6pm, you will be more successful if you avoid eating anything after 7pm.

  • Offer your full presence to each meal so that your body can register tastes, textures, and ultimately, satisfaction.

Eating is a sacred act, an act of love. It is therefore best to eat in a calm, peaceful environment, free of emotional upset, intense conversation, television, or multi-tasking of any kind. Be present with the gift of nourishment that your body is receiving. And listen for the subtle signs within that you are satisfied – ideally, completing your meal before you feel full. These practices reduce the likelihood of overeating or battling unhelpful cravings between meals.

  • Optional: You can further support the digestive fire about 30 minutes before lunch and dinner by chewing a slice of fresh ginger (about the size of a nickel) with a pinch of sea salt, a few drops of lime juice, and about ¼ teaspoon honey.

3. Eat a Kapha Pacifying Diet

Excess kapha is inherently involved in being overweight, but it can also cause attachment, greed, resistance to change, lethargy, excessive sleep, heaviness in the mind and body, congestion, depression, a sluggish metabolism, and water retention (among other things). Eating a kapha pacifying diet helps to clear excess kapha from the system. This, in turn, supports the body in achieving a more balanced weight, and improved overall health.

In essence, a kapha pacifying diet seeks to neutralize excess kapha by emphasizing foods that are light, warm, dry, rough, and very digestible. In general, choose whole foods that are freshly prepared and seasonally appropriate over processed foods or old, stale foods. Beyond that, there are a number of additional practices that can effectively balance kapha. We’ve created two resources to support you in learning how to reduce kapha with your diet. Please click on the links below to learn more.

Proper food combinations can also be tremendously helpful in supporting improved digestion. This ancient understanding of which foods should and should not be eaten together is quite foreign to many of us in the modern world. That being the case, it is best to embrace proper food combining slowly, by first becoming aware of improper combinations and making manageable changes slowly, one at a time. Click here for more information about proper food combining.

It’s also important to remember that an Ayurvedic diet does not require us to give up everything we’ve come to love. Simply finding moderation in our choices can be a great first step in restoring balance. Because cravings for detrimental foods will subside as our health improves, our bodies become better and better able to recognize wholesome, life-affirming foods and increasingly reject dietary choices that compromise our well-being. This process takes time, but it’s important to be both patient and persistent. Ultimately each step toward positive change supports our overall progress.

4. Exercise at Least 3 Days Each Week

We’re all aware that exercise is an important component of any weight loss strategy, but your routine needs to be fun and invigorating for you – and it has to be doable. The great news is that workouts as short as 15-20 minutes can be tremendously beneficial. For those of us with busy schedules, committing to a shorter exercise program can significantly reduce our sense of overwhelm, setting us up for success around this important commitment. Of course, if your preferred exercise routine is longer, that’s fine too.

How and when you exercise can also have a tremendous impact on the efficacy of your exercise program. Ayurveda teaches us that certain times of day are more conducive to exercise than others. These are the kapha times of day (approximately 6-10 am/pm), when atmospheric conditions lend a little extra strength and stamina to the system. For the best results, plan your activities within this window in either the morning or the evening. Obviously, if those times will not work for you, find one that will; exercise at any time will be better than none at all. Ayurveda also recommends that we exercise only at 50-70% of our capacity, ideally, breathing through our nostrils the entire time. This prevents physiological stress, allowing the body to benefit more deeply from our efforts, and can be applied to walking, hiking, running, cycling, yoga, swimming, and cardio workouts at the gym.

Another approach is to alternate between short, intense bursts of physical activity and carefully interspersed recovery periods. This allows the body to rest between periods of intense activity, and is thought to more accurately mimic our evolutionary activities as hunter and gatherers (3). In recent years, a method of exercise known as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has emerged around this concept. HIIT may be particularly useful for those of us with less time to devote to exercise. Workouts range from 8-30 minutes, and usually involve a short warm-up period, a series of 3-10 short sprints (20-60 seconds each), interspersed with short recovery periods of 10-60 seconds in between. The entire routine is then followed by a brief cool down period (4). Interestingly, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that HIIT may actually be more efficient and more effective at boosting metabolic function, reducing insulin resistance, burning fat, and supporting weight loss than more traditional cardio workouts (5, 6).

Regardless of your preferred activity, the most important thing is to make your exercise regimen an inspiring and energizing part of your week so that you are motivated to keep at it. Please check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

5. Establish a Daily Routine

In the context of our busy modern lives, establishing a daily routine can actually be the key to success with this approach. Not only does it ensure that our commitments become a natural part of each day, and that we develop helpful, supportive new habits; a sense of routine also has an important soothing effect on the nervous system, supports a calmer, more centered state of being, and helps to reduce stress. On an intuitive level, it makes sense that reducing stress would support weight loss, but there are compelling physiological reasons that this holds true. While those specifics are beyond the scope of this article, the take home message is that, where stress is concerned, establishing a daily routine may be the single most important commitment you make.

A daily routine is one of the central tenants of Ayurveda, and there are a wide variety of traditional practices to choose from. That said, it is very important not to overcommit. Start with the basics and add to your routine only as you become accustomed to your new rhythm and are inspired to expand your routine.

The following elements of a daily routine are particularly important in supporting weight loss:

Establish Routine Sleep and Wake Times

Ayurveda has some valuable insights to offer about the timing of our sleep. The evening time (from about 6-10pm) is a kapha time of day and is especially heavy, slow and dull – an ideal time to let our systems settle down and prepare for sleep. Many people actually feel a natural lull in energy during these evening hours. However, pitta takes the reins after 10pm, so if we are not already headed to bed (or asleep) by 10pm, we may feel reinvigorated and it can be extremely difficult to go to sleep at all. In the interest of aligning with the cycles of nature and getting good rest, an earlier bedtime is undoubtedly better. What’s even more interesting is that kapha time cycles through again in the early morning (from about 6-10am). This time of day lends extra strength and stamina to morning workouts, but has the potential to leave us feeling sluggish and groggy, if we’re not up and at ’em ahead of its arrival. This is why it’s so important to wake up by 6am. Not only will you feel more alert and awake, your body’s metabolic capacity will be better supported as well.

Getting enough rest is critical to your health. As a result, sleep and wake times should not be established independent of one another, but should be considered in tandem to ensure that you get the sleep that you need. For example, if 5:30am is your ideal wake time and you know that you need at least 7 hours of sleep in order to feel your best, then you should be in bed no later than 10:30pm. If, on the other hand, you need 8 hours of sleep in order to thrive, then your bedtime should be 9:30pm. In the event that you would like to radically change your habits, consider adjusting your sleep and wake times by about 15 minutes at a time, working with each new time for several days before adjusting it by another 15 minutes.

There are 3 important things to consider when establishing your sleep and wake times:

  1. You need to get enough rest.
  2. It is best to wake by (or even well before) 6am.
  3. You are likely to rest better if you retire by 10pm.

Many people find that the success of their daily routine depends largely on when they go to bed because it either supports the flow of the daily routine they’ve outlined, or it sabotages their ability to follow through on good intentions. Consistency and discipline around sleep and wake times can therefore be invaluable.

Set Aside a Time to Practice Your 15 Minutes of Morning Yoga

It’s only 15 minutes, but it is incredibly important to carve out a specific time each day for your yoga practice – so that it doesn’t fall by the way side. The best time to practice is early in the morning, before breakfast. If that simply won’t work for you, find another time of day when you can practice on an empty stomach.

Eat Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner at About the Same Time Each Day

Eating your meals at consistent times from one day to the next ensures that there is adequate space between meals and reinforces the predictability of a routine – both for your metabolism and for your nervous system. Classic Ayurvedic meal times are roughly 8am for breakfast, 12pm for lunch, and 6pm for dinner. This exact timing may not work with your schedule, and it’s important that your meal times are compatible with your daily routine. That said, your body will benefit from eating lunch (your biggest meal) between 11am and 2pm, when the digestive fire is strongest. Similarly, eating a light, early dinner will be the most supportive of your weight loss efforts.

Create an Exercise Schedule

The primary objective behind creating an exercise schedule is to make sure that it happens, but there are also enormous benefits to creating predictable new habits. It might require some experimentation to determine what works best for you, but once you find a rhythm, stick with it and be persistent. Being consistently active will help you immensely.