One: Don't Practice Deprivation
Whether it's fasting or skipping meals or denying your cravings -- it's the quickest way to start a vicious cycle of weight gain. Instead, eat three meals a day -- a small breakfast and dinner and a more hearty lunch, and add a healthy mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack if you feel hungry. Ayurveda does recommend portion control though -- the quantity of food you consume at a meal should be no more than what you can hold in your two cupped palms, and you should get up from the table before you feel satiated and completely full.
The key to weight management is effectively metabolizing what you eat, eliminating wastes efficiently and letting the digestion system get a break between meals. Fasting will only further disrupt your metabolism by not giving it anything to "work on" on the days you fast. Same with skipping meals - if your digestive system does not get something to work on at around the same times each day, it will not function at peak efficiency when you do eat. And the way to handle cravings is to gradually educate your taste buds to desire only what is good for you, by actively choosing more foods that are right for you each day and eliminating those that are not. Denying cravings only leads to binges when your body can't take it any more.
Two: Work with your Digestion Rhythms, Not Against Them
Many of us today follow an eating pattern that isn't healthy: we skip breakfast, eat a hurried lunch at our workstation or on the go, and then eat a large dinner, often too close to bedtime.
According to Ayurveda, your digestive agni - the "fire" in your stomach that cooks the foods you eat and makes them into rasa, the nutritional essence that builds healthy cells and tissues, is most active around noon. That's why Ayurvedic teachings recommend that the largest or heaviest meal of the day be lunch. A typical Ayurvedic vegetarian lunch includes two or three servings of cooked veggies, a lentil dish, a whole grain, a chutney (a relish made with spices and fruits or vegetables), and lassi, a beverage made by blending fresh yogurt and pure water. Breakfast and dinner should consist of more easily digested foods. For breakfast, eat a helping of sweet juicy fruit, and warm cooked cereal. For dinner, eat light one-dish meals, or vegetable or lentil soups. A small handful of soaked and blanched almonds or walnuts makes a nutritious mid-morning or afternoon snack. If you follow this meal pattern, your digestion is generally never taxed beyond its capacity, and your body efficiently metabolizes the food you eat.
Three: Keep your Internal Machinery Clean
You take your car in for an engine oil change periodically, you sharpen your lawnmower blades at the start of each growing season, you give your house a good spring cleaning each year - shouldn't you be giving the systems of your body at least a similar degree of attention?
It's true that your body is built to eliminate wastes on its own, but it may need a little help occasionally. The cleaner you keep your insides, the more efficiently your digestion works to deliver nutrition to the cells and tissues and move toxins out of the body. If toxins build up in the body, all the internal systems become less efficient, and one effect can be that you put on weight and feel heavy and lethargic even though you are eating right. Ayurveda recommends herbal formulations such as Triphala to gently aid the process of internal cleansing.
The original Ayurvedic texts were written long before the wheel or television came around to make couch potatoes of many of us. Walking was a necessity, so everyone got lots of exercise each day. Today we need to consciously work out to incorporate the same level of activity into our daily routine.
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 activity according to your natural constitution / build and your tendency to gain weight. While walking is universally beneficial, Pitta persons might also gravitate towards water sports while Kapha individuals need to add something really energetic such as racquetball.
Five: Get Enough Sleep Each Night
Research studies have connected sleep deprivation to obesity as well as to poor eating habits, a sluggish metabolism and depression, all of which in turn also contribute to weight gain. Ayurvedic healers recognized this connection between sleep and digestion long ago, hence the Ayurvedic ideal daily routine, which urges you to be in bed before 10 p.m. and wake up before 6 a.m. for the best quality and quantity of sleep.
Eating a lighter meal at night, and finishing the meal at least two hours before you go to bed will help you fall asleep quicker. Manage your work and R&R time so you don't have to stay up late to meet work deadlines or to "wind down" with late night T.V. To help your physiology adapt to higher levels of stress or more demands on your body and mind, take Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is known for its adaptogenic capability and as a tonic for the nervous system.
Shreelata Suresh is a yoga instructor from the Bay Area, and she writes on yoga and Ayurveda for different publications. To subscribe to free newsletters on Ayurveda, or for more information, please visit http://www.ayurbalance.com.
Information provided in this article is for the sole purpose of imparting education on Ayurveda and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult your physician.