Are you underweight? Ayurveda has a solutionDr. Surya Bhagwati
With much of the world in the grips of an obesity ‘epidemic’ it can be challenging to find any help if you’re underweight. The very idea of wanting to gain weight is greeted with derision and scorn, as if there’s something wrong with you for wanting to add some pounds. Unfortunately, the maintenance of healthy body weight goes both ways. While obesity may be more widespread, being underweight can also pose a serious health risk. Recognizing and taking steps to correct low body weight is therefore essential to maintain good health. However, it’s just as important that you gain weight in a healthy manner as sudden and unhealthy weight gain can be counterproductive. This is where Ayurveda comes into the picture, as the ancient medical system has plenty of wisdom to offer on healthy weight gain.
Ayurveda on Being Underweight
Before we proceed, it is worth noting that low bodyweight can also be a result of some underlying clinical condition or as a result of ongoing treatments like chemotherapy. In these cases, you would require specialized treatment and care to address the underlying cause. However, our focus here is on weight gain for underweight individuals who are otherwise healthy. In general, low body weight without any underlying ailment is regarded as a vata disorder, as vata has qualities that are light, dry, and active – in other words they are lightening. An important goal of underweight treatment is therefore to make dietary and lifestyle changes that pacify vata. Simultaneously, you will also need to adopt practices that strengthen and balance and agni, so as to improve digestion and absorption of nutrients. After all, malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies are common in individuals who are underweight. The hyperactive nature of vata must also be countered to ensure normal metabolism and bodily functions.
As Ayurveda is a holistic discipline, it is not just concerned with physical symptoms, but also with the state of mind and spiritual wellbeing. Vata disorders are also characterized by overstimulation and hyperactivity of the mind. When in such a constant state of alertness, it becomes harder for your body to be receptive to nutrition. Additionally, when you are always anxious or worried, you are less likely to pay much heed to what you eat and you are also more likely to miss or skip meals. To address this problem, you will again need to take steps to rejuvenate the mind and instill calmness through diet and lifestyle changes, as well as through the use of herbs.
Ayurveda for Weight Gain: Diet & Lifestyle Tips
Most underweight individuals will need to follow a vata pacifying diet that includes foods and eating habits that support vata pacification. You therefore need to eat foods with opposing qualities of this dosha – those with hot, oily, lubricating, and stabilizing effects. These properties can be found in foods that have sweet, sour, and salty tastes and should be included in your diet. For the same reason, food and drinks should be consumed warm or hot, while cold food and drinks should be avoided. To fight the drying and lightening effect of vata, you should increase your hydration not just with water consumption, but also with moist and oily foods. Heavy and oily foods can balance the lightness of vata, but should be consumed cautiously to avoid stressing the digestive system. For detailed recommendations on specific foods to include, you should check out a vata balancing diet guide or consult your Ayurvedic physician.
Bulking it Up
Just as reducing food intake and cutting calories aids weight loss, so too will increasing calorie intake help with weight gain. However, this need to be done in a gradual manner as uncontrolled weight gain from bingeing on empty calories will be extremely detrimental to your health. When increasing food and energy intake, you need to focus on quality, not just quantity. Don’t fill up on junk food like burgers, chips, packaged juices, and colas. Instead, focus on nutrient dense foods from all the food groups to ensure your meals are balanced. This means, consuming more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean protein, and healthy fats from ghee, nuts, seeds, and dry fruits.
License to Snack
As we’ve mentioned before, being underweight doesn’t give you license to binge on junk food, but you should consume meals more frequently. Never skip meals, but make it a point to get some added nutrition and calories between your main meals. Snacking is the easiest way to raise your caloric intake and increase nutrition. This is best achieved with healthy snacks that are nutritionally dense and high in calories, with nuts, seeds, and dry fruits being some of the best choices. They should be consumed in moderation however, because of their drying effect. Healthy homemade smoothies and fresh fruit juices or milkshakes can also be extremely useful. Always choose fresh and whole ingredients when preparing snacks, favoring vata pacifying foods and you won’t go wrong. Good fruit choices for vata disorders include mangoes, peach, melons, avocado, figs, papaya, and so on.
Herbs Spices and Supplements
When it comes to increasing healthy body weight, you can’t overlook the role of herbs, spices, and nutritional supplements. Herbs and spices play a dual role, helping balance vata and offering therapeutic benefits. Suitable choices would include ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, garlic, lavang, jayfal, turmeric, and ashwagandha, as these are generally warming and can help to counter vata aggravation. They also provide therapeutic benefits through their immunomodulatory effects, which is vital as immunity is often compromised when underweight. The chyavanprash formula is a good example of a blend of Ayurvedic herbs that boosts immune system. They also support healthy metabolism and optimal digestion to ensure efficient utilization of energy from food and absorption of nutrients. You would find most of these ingredients in any effective Ayurvedic medicine for weight gain. To make the choice easier for you, we have also put together our very own Weight Gain Pack, which features a natural digestive supplement, as well as chyavanprash in a convenient capsule and toffee format.
Exercise & Rest
Physical activity is often overlooked when it comes to weight gain as we tend to regard it as essential only for weight loss. However, some amount of physical activity is essential for your wellbeing and it is also vital to building muscle mass. Increased food and nutrition without physical activity will only lead to unhealthy weight gain. At the same time, the focus should be on low or moderate intensity exercise and strength training with yoga, as excessive exercising with high intensity cardio will be counterproductive for your needs. Meditation and pranayamas are also essential practices as they will help to calm the mind, countering the hyperactivity of the vata disorder. To achieve this goal, you will also need to ensure that you get adequate sleep and take regular rest breaks to relax and rejuvenate.
If you experience sudden weight loss or do not find any relief despite using these suggestions and the Weight Gain Pack, there is a high risk that you might suffer from an undiagnosed condition like hyperthyroidism or Addison’s disease.
- Charaka, Charaka Samhita, trans. Dr. Ram Karan Sharma and Vaidya Bhagwan Dash, vol. 1, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 2009
- Tirtha, Swami Sadashiva. The Ayurveda Encyclopedia: Natural Secrets to Healing, Prevention & Longevity. 2nd ed., Ayurveda Holistic Center Press, 2007
- Cavanagh, Danny, and Carol Willis. Essential Ayurveda: A Practical Guide to Healthy Living. Ayurveda UK, 2004
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