Ayurvedic Weight Loss: The Best Herbs for your Dosha

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Your weight-loss program doesn’t have to be a grim regimen of cutting calories and exercising an hour a day to lose a pound a week. Instead, try embracing Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system for the mind, body and spirit. Ayurveda, or “the science of life,” offers a holistic program to achieve perfect health and ideal weight by balancing all elements of your life.

Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing system, views excess weight, or obesity, as a body out of balance. The goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to achieve perfect health and balance of the mind, body and spirit through proper nutrition, exercise and meditation. Restoring Ayurvedic balance is the means to losing excess weight. The first step is to correct any digestive problems. Then Ayurveda guides you to the appropriate selection of food, drink and herbs to improve metabolic efficiency.

Ayurveda is based on the theory of the three doshas or mind-body types, which have their own set of physical, mental and emotional characteristics. The three doshas are vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth). All people and things possess elements of each dosha, but one or more of the doshas may be predominant in your body and behavior. For example, you may be a vata-pitta, a pitta-kapha or a vata-kapha. Your unique combination of doshas is your constitution type, or prakruti, which establishes your physical, mental and emotional makeup. One way to achieve balance and ideal weight through Ayurveda is to identify your dosha, then make appropriate adjustments in diet, yoga practice and lifestyle.

What’s Your Dosha?

To determine which dosha is most dominant in your body, make a check mark over the individual characteristics (listed below) that describe you. The category with the most check marks will indicate your dosha. If you have almost the same number of check marks in two or more categories, your body type is a mixture of two or three doshas. This list of characteristics will give only a rough indication of your dosha. Accurately determining your dosha body type is best conducted by an Ayurvedic physician.

Body Type: Vata

• Physical characteristics: Thin, light-boned, angular build; slow to gain weight; dry skin and hair; eats and sleeps erratically; chilly hands and feet; low ratio of muscle to fat; fat accumulates below the navel (prone to potbelly on a lean frame).
• Mental characteristics: Quick mind; restlessness; creates and learns quickly; forgets easily; enthusiastic; imaginative; vivacious.
• Emotional characteristics: Prone to anxiety, worry, mood swings and nervous disorders.
• Diet: Benefits from grounding foods, such as grains and oils.

Body Type: Pitta

• Physical characteristics: Medium-sized, athletic build, well-proportioned; blond, red or prematurely gray hair; fair or freckled complexion; warm, ruddy, perspiring skin; good stamina; voracious appetite and tendency to overeat; tends to be warm or hot; sleeps well; eats meals quickly; likely to develop ulcers; gains and loses weight easily; apple shape when overweight.
• Mental characteristics: Confident, passionate, articulate, courageous, intelligent, ambitious.
• Emotional characteristics: Demanding, irritable, impatient, short tempered.
• Diet: Benefits from cooling foods, such as salads and sweet fruits.

Body Type: Kapha

• Physical characteristics: Large, heavy build; wide shoulders; voluptuous or barrel-chested; gains weight easily and has trouble losing it; thick, moist skin and lustrous hair; difficulty with digestion; prone to respiratory illness; excellent stamina; needs more sleep than vata or pitta; eats slowly; pear shape when overweight.
• Mental characteristics: Forgiving, affectionate, relaxed, slow and graceful, slow to anger, calm, tolerant, reliable.
• Emotional characteristics: Lethargy, procrastination, depression.
• Diet: Benefits from heating and invigorating foods, such as cayenne and other hot spices and herbs.

Kapha-Reducing Diet

Being overweight commonly indicates an out-of-balance kapha, but can also result from a pitta or vata imbalance. Individuals with a dominant kapha dosha tend to gain weight easily and have trouble losing weight. In many cases, they may be overweight because their metabolisms (digestive fire, or agni) are sluggish.

An Ayurvedic weight-loss program includes yoga practice and reducing kapha-aggravating foods in the diet, including heavy, sweet, sour, salty, oily and greasy foods. Pungent, warming spices and herbs are part of the kapha diet because they light the fires of digestion. The following are the essential components of a kapha-reducing diet.

1. Eat leafy green vegetables such as spinach, beet greens, dandelion greens and lettuce; radishes; sprouts; and fresh fruits such as apples, pears, cherries and berries.

2. Avoid all dairy products except skim or lowfat milk.

3. Limit or eliminate all red meat. Eat skinless white turkey or chicken breast meat instead.

4. Eat whole grains such as corn and barley, basmati rice, beans and legumes such as garbanzo beans and red lentils.

5. Don’t eat wheat; nuts; sweet, sour, salty, oily or greasy foods; or prepared or refined foods.

6. Eliminate sweet, juicy fruits such as pineapple, watermelon and papaya.

7. Drink warm beverages such as herbal teas or warm water sweetened with honey and lemon. Avoid cold beverages such as alcoholic drinks and sugary sodas.

8. Avoid foods with refined sugar. Use honey as a sweetener.

9. Include warming, pungent spices and herbs, such as ginger, black pepper, cayenne, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel and cinnamon, in your cooking.

10. Exercise regularly according to your dosha

All About Ayurvedic Herbs

Excerpted with permission from The Yoga Minibook for Weight Loss (Simon & Schuster, 2003) by Elaine Gavalas. Gavalas is an exercise physiologist, weight-management specialist and nutritionist.

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