It's the season again when we all want to start shedding the extra pound.
I often treat patients who far from obese, might be fully or slightly overweight. And I have to say that it’s always a real challenge, especially for those with the least to lose. Traditional diets, if able to make you lose a lot quickly, are 99% failures in that the patient puts it back on once the treatment ends. Some of us (Kapha individuals mostly) have tried so many diets with some temporary success, followed by a worthening of the condition. Fat seems enduring and here to stay, or worse, happy to come back. So why do we get too much fat? and most of all: how do we make friend with our extra Fat in order to be able to lose it. Because being at war with one’s own body, just doesn't work.
“What is true is that the interaction between the adipose tissue and the body is far more complex than once believed” (Research 2020 Endotext.org).
Only in the late 1990’s, did research establish the link between fat tissue (or adipose tissue) and an enhanced risk of metabolic diseases, particularly type 2 diabetes. In addition to metabolic diseases, extreme excess fat or obesity is associated with ~40% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States. Today, obesity and being overweight are seen as an epidemic. In 2015–2016, nearly 40% of adults and 19% in youth in the USA were obese. the World Health Organization reports that obesity has nearly tripled across the world since 1975, and in 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight and over 650 million were obese… The causes are to be found in our increase comfort, sedentary habits, lack of manual work, industrialisation, a culture of over production & over consumption as life goals.
The discovery of Leptin and how our fat cells decide of their own reproduction
The earliest recognized function of our fat cells was the storage of energy. It was not until the mid-1980s that we discovered that fat cells produce proteins, lipids and inflammatory cells which are related to our immunity and hormones, impacting our entire metabolism.
Among the discoveries was the fact that fat cells contain Leptin, a hormone they produce themselves (therefore just underneath the skin) which regulates our appetite and the amount of Fat in our bodies. The more fat, the more leptin. The more you lose weight, the more you’ll be hungry… which makes a diet obviously difficult. Leptin is sometimes called the satiety hormone. It helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance, so the body does not trigger hunger when it does not need energy. However, when levels of the hormone fall, which happens when an individual loses weight, huge increases in appetite are triggered and food cravings appear.
Leptin also affects immunity, bone formation, bone metabolism, wound healing, Skeletal muscle, liver, and intestines, fertility, body temperature, glucose and lipid regulation. Research into the role of leptin in anxiety and depression is ongoing…
Make peace with Fat: the benefits of Fat tissues in Ayurveda
Vasant Lad notes that "Meda dhatu, or the fat tissue, is a loose connective tissue that includes fat, lipids and steroids such as cholesterol and other types of lipids". Fatty tissues are watery and unctuous, slimy and soft and oily, typical of the Kapha dosha. It has a vital function: “Snehan” or lubrification.
Fat and cholesterol provide the lubrification needed for the well-function of bones and cartilage – “extremely low cholesterol is one of the causes of cracking and popping joints and might lead to arthritis and low libido”.
Gram to Gram, sugars cannot give the same amount of energy as Fat does. Fat molecules have the properties of the Kapha dosha. Made of water and earth, they bring bulk and preservation to the body. That is when Fat is in good proportion. This isn’t true when the individual is overweight.
Meda is present beneath the skin as subcutaneous fat, and maintain body temperature, it is closely related to the muscle tissue. So, if Fat is imbalanced, muscle will be too. According to Ayurveda, a by-product of fat are the flat muscles and ligaments. In addition, in Ayurveda, Fat is the tissue that changes the slowest in the whole body. That goes to explain why drastic and short-term diets have no chance of a positive result and why planning to lose weight slowly on the long run is a better bet.
Ayurveda & Leptin
In Ayurveda all cells have an intrinsic fire, or enzymes, which are responsible for all transformation processes. The fat tissue is no exception and has what we call Meda Agni. But in an overweight person, this Agni (the fire and its transformative function) is pushed away towards the digestive system because the excess fat doesn’t leave it room to perform its job. The person’s appetite increases because Agni is now in excess in the stomach, asking to have something to digest and signals hunger to the brain. “As a result of the lack of fire in the adipose tissues, overweight people have cold clammy skin”. Their gastric fire (Jathara Agni) is high but Meda Agni (the transformative fire energy within the fat tissue) is low. And if Meda Agni is low, everything a person eats, turns to fat.
What to Do…
First of all, opt for the long run. The immediate reward isn’t real. Going from over-eating to starving will have the effects explained above: the sudden loss of weight triggers the leptin to increase your appetite making it a daily struggle and a frustrating challenge to your will power. Decide to change little by little on a long period of time. I believe from experience, that a full year gives time to the body to realise the new balance is here to stay, healthy and durable.
Don’t starve. Give your Agni something real and healthy to digest… but don't indulge in 2 plates of a same dish.
Avoid excess sugars, sweets and salt as well as cold drinks
Drink water or herbal teas till the urine is clear. Don’t over drink as it will dilute the strength of your digestive fire.
Increase your consumption of good slow releasing sugars such as basmati rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, honey, mung beans, split dal. Eating slow releasing sugars of this type will counter the cravings and the associated snacking.
Avoid all processed foods and sugars: shop fresh and cook.
Use Ghee, pepper, cumin, fenugreek, coriander, cinnamon when cooking.
Have a Ginger lime and honey tea after each meal 3 times a day. The recipe is here
For those who know they have a Kapha dominance, think about eating twice a day instead of 3 times: Around 10am and 5pm if possible or around those times. But the point is that Kapha doesn’t need to eat 3 times a day as long as he/she eats well.
Have loads of cooked vegs.
Avoid fruits as a desert and avoid fruit juices
Eat a majority of cooked foods rather than raw
Avoid all dairies and cheeses with the exception of fresh goat cheese, a bit of cottage cheese. Avoid Yogurts and milk and chose almond milk if necessary. And if you are going to have bread, have flat breads which are as yeast free as possible, like pitta bread, chapati, or soda bread.
Avoid mixing animal proteins
Cereals are best excluded with the exception of oats which are drying, millet and quinoa
Keep meats and fish for lunch time or have an early diner (6 to 7pm) and try to leave 4 hours between meals. The consumption of meat would be a 3 to 4 times a week deal. if anything you'll considerably help the environment!
Avoid red and fatty meats, fried foods and all alcohols.
Do not nap!
You have to exercise 10 to 20 minutes minimum everyday: this can be walking to work, swimming or dancing, yoga or else and doesn’t not have to be intensive or torture cardio session… but you need to shake it all thus keeping the circulation going.
Food and love are interconnected: if you’re in love, you ain’t hungry. If you love your body and thank it for its continuous miracles, it will stop thinking that there is a crisis it needs to compensate for by stoking up fat.
MOST IMPORTANT: apply a sesame oil or a Kapha Oil in winter and maybe something more cooling if it’s hot outside, (like Coconut oil) to your skin daily: think about the leptin. Applying oil every day is your way to communicate with it. After all it’s the captain of your fat: it’s just there below the skin and it’s convinced you have to keep your current weight. Talk to “her”: Remind her that you need to let go of what is no longer needed. Massage the skin with kindness and love (love for yourself) as many days of the week as possible if not every day. Make this your selflove routine and talk to the body, thanking it for its endless intelligence. When you truly believe this, the body will change. If you truly believe it, your whole hormonal system believes, the hypothalamus sends different signals and remind the whole metabolism there is no war to be fought here.
Do not be at war with your body, your fat, the world. Peace is the key. And don't beat yourself up when you indulge occasionally. Avoiding stress and resolving emotional scaring will play a great role. Be patient, kind and compassionate towards yourself, acceptant of the world around.
It’s the change of habits and lifestyle on the long run that will bring about the expected changes. It’s time to find pleasure in health rather than indulgence, in frugality rather than in abundance. A bowl of rice with vegs and spices can be very satisfying in colours, tastes and extremely rewarding. Satisfaction or "Preenana" in sanskrit is crucial. It’s also beneficial to see an Ayurvedic practitioner to be supported with herbal medicines which will first restore the digestive fire before starting the process if you suffer from bloating, constipation or other digestive imbalances.