In today’s society obesity is an epidemic. It is a risk factor for many chronic diseases and is increasing to widespread proportions globally. There are more than 1.5 billion overweight adults worldwide, of which 400 million are clinically obese.
Once considered an affliction of affluent societies, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, especially in urban areas.
Most available methods to treat obesity are unnatural, may have serious adverse effects, and fail to address the lifestyle choices which lead to weight gain in the first place. Body Mass Index (BMI) is an accurate representation of body’s fat content as it takes height into account. BMI of 25 of more is considered overweight and BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. Find out your BMI using an online calculator at: http://nhlbisupport.com/bmi/.
According to recent estimates, about 33.3% of U.S. adults are overweight and 35.9% are obese. That means only about 30.8% adults have normal body weight in the U.S.
To some extent, we can generalize that the difference between intake (as in calories from food) and output (as in energy spent in physical activity) is directly proportional to weight gain. So, as we put this in an equation we find: [Intake – Output = (1/k) x Weight Gained].
Where “k” represents the person’s rate of metabolism. It is related to the observation that there are people who do not eat much, but still gain weight (likely from slow rate of metabolism) and then there are people who don’t put on weight irrespective of eating frequent heavy meals (likely from a faster rate of metabolism).
Ayurvedic philosophy describes this rate of metabolism (k) as the metabolic fire, called Agni, the fire of digestion. People with a strong metabolic fire, have a stronger digestive capacity and are not likely to become overweight or obese, and people with weak digestive fires have a slow and weak digestion, and are likely to gain weight easily. Unhealthy lifestyle habits, continued over years, lead to excess body fat accumulation.
According to Ayurveda, people with predominant kapha constitutions are predisposed to accumulate excess body fat. The metabolic fire can be rekindled with yoga (specifically Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation) lifestyle changes, and herbal supplements.
Sun is the primary source of all energy on our planet. It is considered the ultimate source of fire in Ayurveda and the source of body’s metabolic fire, which is said to be located at the umbilicus, the site of Manipur chakra, the fire element, and corresponding to the endocrine organ pancreas.
The pancreas plays a key role in metabolism. It is both an endocrine gland producing several important hormones (insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide), and a digestive organ, secreting pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes, in the small intestine. Some suggest that after sunset the body’s metabolic fire weakens so we should not eat after sunset as that food is inadequately digested and leads to weight gain.
It is a common observation that the later we eat at night and closer to sleeping, more is the weight gain. Surya Namaskar is a classic yoga exercise consisting of 12 asanas preformed sequentially, and synchronized with breathing. It is considered a comprehensive and ideal practice for physical and spiritual wellbeing. Surya Namaskar is performed as a prayer to the Sun, ideally at sunrise and in open air, facing east. It has aerobic and dynamic components, and has been shown to improve strength, body composition, and general body endurance. Performing 6-8 rounds will achieve the energy expenditure of light exercise intensity, and a 10 minute practice may improve cardio-respiratory fitness in unfit or sedentary individuals.
The herbs used to stimulate metabolic fire include a classic combination of three herbs called Trikatu, which includes black pepper (Piper nigrum), long pepper (Piper longum), and ginger (Zingiber officinale) powders. Since the recommendation of herbs is based on a patient’s individual body constitution, (their unique balance of the three energies: Vata (air), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (earth)), the dose and frequency of intake of this herbal supplement cannot be generalized. It is typically recommended only after careful evaluation of a patient’s constitution, lifestyle, and medical issues. In general, people trying to lose weight should prefer: small frequent meals, eating slowly and mindfully, consuming more fresh fruits, salads, sprouts, vegetable soups, mild green or black tea, whole wheat pasta or tortilla, mung beans, and lentils. They should use ginger, garlic, black pepper, cumin, coriander, and turmeric for cooking. They should avoid: overeating, fasting, alcohol, cheese and dairy products, meat, white bread, banana, rice, processed and canned food, fried foods, desserts, and artificial sweeteners.
Other Ayurveda based lifestyle recommendations to control weight by strengthening the metabolic fire can be found. Remember that balance and moderation is the key and your BMI is the most important indicator of health.
Dr. Peeyush Bhargava is originally from India and lives in Houston. He is trained in both Modern Medicine and Ayurveda. He has been practicing Medicine for more than 15 yrs and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. www.vedic-healing.com.