Enlightenment in nature

Why do some people stay on a diet of burgers and fries, while others gain weight eating brown rice and vegetables? The answer is that people react differently to various foods, depending on their metabolism! Just like fingerprints, each of us has a unique metabolism—which is how we convert food into energy for running the body’s processes. In fact, many chronic illnesses may be simple symptoms of an underlying disturbance in metabolism. Your body type could be the key to your health.

Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder among the affluent in our country. At any given time, approximately 40 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men report that they are presently trying to lose weight. Lakhs of rupees are spent every year on weight loss treatments. Still, with the current medical treatment, the failure rate remains to be high. And in most cases, there is a strong tendency to regain weight; about one-third of lost weight is regained within a year, and almost all within five years.

According to one study, by 2010, an estimated 130 million people in Asia-Pacific region will be suffering from obesity as a result of change in lifestyles, which involve less exercise and more food. Let us know the detailed causes

Causes of Obesity

Obesity is a condition of the body, characterized by over-accumulation of fat under the skin and around certain internal organs. Sthaulya is the ayurvedic term for it. It is often referred to as Medoroga, as the medas or fat is the main cause for this condition.

According to Ayurveda, there are seven basic tissue elements in the human body known as dhaatus. These are present in every human body in a particular proportion, and any change in their equilibrium leads to diseases. Fat or the medas is one of these seven dhaatus.

Like other dhaatus, medas also serve many purposes. The most important one being, it helps to create and maintain body heat, without which life would be impossible. It also acts as a cushion to protect the deep, delicate organs and tissues from shock, injury etc. Besides these factors, it is essential in filling up many hollows, rounding out the sharp angles of the skeletal structure of the body, by bringing about distinctive lines and curves so fundamentally necessary to a beautiful form.

The degree of obesity in a person is dependent on the accumulation of fatty globules or cells. As long as the accumulated fat remains stored up as adipose tissue, it does not harm, however inconvenient it may be. But when it begins to enter into the cellular elements of the body, especially the muscles, it becomes a source of danger.

There is a simple test to know whether you are obese or not. Just pinch a fold of flesh on your abdomen. If it is more than two inches thick, you are accumulating more fat than is needed.

One cannot expect to enjoy and maintain good health in a state of excessive obesity. It leads to sluggishness, heaviness in breathing and lethargy, keeping us from physical in-activity and causing serious malfunctioning of various organs. When such a stage is reached, obesity is considered a disease. That is why it is said, “Your waist line is your life line”.

Excessive obesity is caused by heavy intake of sweet, cooling and unctuous food, want of physical exercise, abstinence from sexual intercourse, sleeping during the day, lack of mental exercise and last but not the least—heredity.

Ayurvedic concepts regarding the course and cause of disease are quite interesting.

The obstruction of the fat, the movement of food is confined to koshtha (abdominal viscera) resulting in the stimulation of the digestive power and absorption of food. The individual digests food quickly and becomes a voracious eater. In the event of disproportionate increase of fat, the body becomes vulnerable to many diseases. Owing to an excessive increase of fat and muscle tissue, the buttock, abdomen and breast become pendulous and the body strength becomes disproportionate to physical growth.

Obesity may be classified into different divisions. The commonest type is alimentary in origin. The person eats too much or does not exercise regularly. It is the question of proportion. With the same amount of food and more exercises, obesity would not occur. Very small quantity of surplus food taken every day for a long period will cause accumulation of fat in the body.

Some people are more prone to accumulate fat than others. Some can apparently eat excessively, with no exercises and yet show no tendency of putting on weight. This is due to the basic body type i.e., vata nature, pitta nature or a combination of both.

Often, the real cause of obesity is wrong eating habits and laziness, initiated in early life, at home. There is also a natural tendency to increase weight during the middle age, but this should be slight and gradual.

Lastly, obesity can also be caused due to alterations in the metabolic processes. In most cases, there is some disorder of one or more of the secreting glands. Treatment has no effect, and they must be treated according to the basal condition.

Sometimes, a person puts on weight after menopause. It may also arise after childbirth, due to overeating on part of the mother or due to inactive or sedentary life. Other causes are waterlogged condition of the body, intake of drugs, which produce changes in the tissues. Consumption of alcohol in large quantities is also responsible for accumulation of fat because many alcoholic drinks contain sugar and also because part of the body heat is derived from the alcohol and a corresponding amount of the starchy and sugary food is converted into fat.

Signs and Symptoms

Reduction of longevity, premature ageing, low sex drive, poor sexual performance, unpleasant body odour, excessive sweating, breathlessness on exertion, difficulty in breathing, excessive hunger, excessive thirst, difficulty in walking, tiredness, general debility, loss of vitality and mental confusion.

Complications due to Obesity

Obesity is not merely a cosmetic problem. This is a medical condition involving complex mechanisms. Diabetes, fistula and lipomas occur in people with kapha constitutions. Arthritis is more common in the vaata groups. Pitta types suffer from complications like hypertension, hyperacidity, hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating) and kidney disorders.

Treatment Plan

Depending on your body type, the medication varies. If you are diagnosed as vaata type, then purification procedures for vaata, like cleansing enemas, will be carried out. After this, you may be subjected to mild oil application and fomentation. Only minimum oil application is used for treating obesity, enough to protect the body from the heat of fomentation.

External oil application is carried out with oil containing hot herbs like calamus, ginger and mustard. Fomentation or sweating methods will be done externally or internally. External fomentation can be done by various methods, like whole-body fomentation via a steam box. After fomentation, oil enemas will be given followed by cleansing enemas. The latter usually contains a decoction of dasamoola, honey, salt, some specific herbs and water. However, most of the ayurvedic physicians prefer alternate oil and cleansing enemas.

If you are diagnosed as kapha type, then for alleviating kapha, external massage with powders of agaru, calamus, ginger or mustard will be done. These substances help to remove excess fat deposited under the skin. They also help to restore the elasticity to the skin and improve complexion.

Treatment of aama, which is an important treatment modality, will be done by two methods—one by administering the herbs which remove aama (aama paachana) and secondly by increasing the conversion power of agni by giving substances that stimulate digestion. The herbs used for this purpose are dry ginger, black pepper, gudoochi, turmeric, cyperus, triphala etc.

In obese persons, though the digestive fire may be optimum that of the adipose tissue level is impaired. To improve its power, herbs like trikatu, shilajit, cyperus, kashtha, barberry, calamus, ativisha, katuka, chitraka, karanja, turmeric, guggulu, arjuna, catechu, camphor, neem, rohitaka, shinshipa, apaamarga, brahmi, bilwa are used.


As far as the diet is concerned, you can use basmati rice, barley, green gram, red gram and horse gram.
Honey is the only sweetener that is allowed while treating obesity, but it should be original honey, directly collected from honeycombs.
Drink warm water instead of refrigerated water.
For cooking purposes, use sesame oil or mustard oil with spices like turmeric, black pepper, ginger and rock-salt.
Use vegetable with astringent, bitter and pungent tastes. If you are particular about your weight, then, fasting for one to two days a week or partial fasting and drinking fruit juices, warm water and honey, will be helpful.
Avoid eating substances prepared with refined wheat flour like white bread, cakes, pastries and abstain from dairy products and sweets prepared from milk and sugar. You should also avoid cold drinks, alcohol and deep fried foods and non-vegetarian diet.
Follow an active pattern of life by increasing work and mental activity. Staying up late at night is beneficial as well. You should avoid taking too much rest, sleeping during the day (particularly after meals), applying oil to the skin, and bathing with cold water.
Whatever the ultimate cause of obesity in your case, the immediate cause is energy imbalance, and weight reduction can be achieved only by reducing energy intake or by increasing output, or by a combination of the two.

Article by: Dr. Murali Manohar Chirumamilla, M.D. (Ayurveda)

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