Ayurveda Approach to Overeating or Binging

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According to Ayurveda, compulsive overeating or binging comes from cravings. An ideal weight loss program addresses imbalances in one’s physiology and in one’s diet that may be at the root of cravings and binge behaviors. Cravings can arise from imbalances in our body or from actual nutritional deficiencies. It is better not to try to suppress cravings, because they will only return with increased intensity. Instead, in order to eliminate cravings we need to learn to identify what our body really wants, and then thoroughly satisfy that need.

Ideally the first step in dealing with food cravings or binging would be to consult with an Ayurveda expert (or with your doctor) to make sure that your nutritional needs are being addressed. If you are a vegetarian, are you getting all the necessary amino acids? Vitamin B12? Remember that absorption of B12 can diminish with age. Even if you are eating animal products, if you are over 60 you might want to get your B12 levels checked. If you are not a vegetarian, are you getting enough fruits and vegetables? Keep a log of what you are eating at breakfast, lunch and dinner in order to objectively assess whether or not your diet is balanced and healthy.

If you are eating a balance diet, the second question is, are you absorbing the needed nutrients from your meals? Proper digestion is the key to transforming your food into all the essential elements your body needs to function properly. (See Raj Blog post “Digestion, Digestion, Digestion“)

The third question is, are you getting all 6 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, astringent, pungent and bitter) in your meals? Not only does eating all 6 tastes ensure that all the major food groups and nutrients are represented, it also gives us the feeling of satisfaction. As we eat, our taste buds send messages to our brain letting it know that we have taken in the energy and nutrients that we need. The six tastes are the codes that inform our brain of our meal’s nutritional content. If we take foods that correspond to each of these tastes throughout the day, our meals will provide us with a wide assortment of health-promoting nutrients. If we do not take in the proper nutrients, our brain sends us hunger signals.

The average American diet is short on astringent, pungent and bitter tastes. If our brain does not get the signal from our taste buds that all the important nutritional content has been consumed, the brain will continue to send signals telling us to eat more. Due to longstanding habits, our intellect may misinterpret these signals. A lack of bitter taste, for example, may lead to the consumption of chocolate or coffee, when, in fact, the body is craving the bitter taste of spinach. If we are alert to having all six tastes in our meals we are much less likely to find ourselves searching through our cupboards for “something more” an hour after dinner. (See Raj Blog post “Creating Balance Through Taste

When you feel the desire to eat, ask yourself if you are truly hungry. Notice the sensations in your body. Do you feel hunger or something else? If you are indeed hungry, eat. If you are not sure, try the following:

  1. Notice any physical sensations that come up. Where are they coming from? Do you feel some tension or discomfort? When you feel a sensation, your mind will naturally be drawn to the area of the body that is feeling uncomfortable. This is nature’s way of facilitating the healing process. Because attention by itself has healing power, it brings wholeness to the area. With a few minutes you may find that the discomfort completely subsides.
  2. Drink some plain warm water to see if that settles your system. Also, make a habit of drinking water throughout the day. People often mistake thirst for hunger.
  3. Schedule a consultation with an Ayurveda expert.

For information on consultations with an Ayurveda expert, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

( Picture of fruits and vegetables in basket. Source: Google Advance Image Search.
Creative Commons. The image is used under the terms of Googles Creative Commons rules:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en. This photograph and credit do not constitute an endorsement of this blog or products mentioned.)

Ojas and Ama: the Dynamics of Staying Healthy with Ayuveda

Today let’s talk about ojas and ama. According to Ayurveda, ojas is the most subtle and powerful substance in the body. Maharishi Ayurveda takes ojas to another level: the material expression of the self-interacting dynamics of consciousness. It is what allows the nonmaterial intelligence to communicate with the material physiology. In other words, it is the substance that connects the mind and body to consciousness.

Ojas is the finest, the most refined by-product of digestion. It nourishes all body tissues and has a direct influence on the nature and quality of physical, mental and emotional life. It is the subtle substance that maintains life itself. When your physiology produces the optimum quality and quantity of ojas, you feel healthy and blissful. Your mind/body is getting the sustenance it needs to function at optimum levels. Ojas is characterized by health, happiness, lightness, immunity and overall strength in the body.

Ojas’ primary location is the heart, from where it circulates to and pervades the entire body.

The opposite of ojas is ama, the sticky end product of undigested food. Ama lowers immunity as it spreads throughout the physiology and it clogs the channels that carry nourishment to the cells and the channels that remove wastes. It also blocks the micro-channels that are part of the immune system, making us susceptible to infection. Maintaining a healthy digestive fire, or “agni”, is one of the most important principles of Ayurveda. A strong and effective digestion allows us to absorb the nutrients and essential elements needed by our physiology and at the same time effectively burns of waste products. If our agni is weak and our food is not digested properly, toxic residue, or ama, builds up in our tissues and cells.

For this reason, the number one recommendation for maintaining robust health is to put attention on maintaining good digestion. As the season transitions from summer to fall, the influence of Vata increases and the quality of Vata in our own physiology can become imbalanced. Vata is the responsible for all motion-related process in the body, including digestion and elimination. Fall and early winter are especially important times to be alert to our diet and digestion.

Enhancing ojas and removing and preventing the build up of ama are the basis of good health, and it is the goal of all treatments and therapies of Maharishi Ayurveda.

Panchakarma, the traditional detoxification and purification therapies of Ayurveda, are designed to eliminate ama and increase the flow of ojas. The Ayurvedic texts describe this process as “strota shuddi”—”opening the channels of communication”. Panchakarma keeps every part of the body in contact with nature’s innate balancing and healing process.

Regular consolations are also helpful. An Ayurvedic expert can evaluate the levels of ojas and ama in your physiology using the Ayurveda technique of Pulse Assessment. Seasonal transitions are a good time to schedule a consultation and get recommendations to tune up your diet and lifestyle so that you can avoid colds and the flu in the coming season.

Over the next two weeks I’ll look once again into how to maintain good digestion and also review the mechanics of Panchakarma. For more information about Panchakarma or to schedule a consultation, visit website for The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

The Ayurveda Key to Health: Good Digestion

Doshas are the fun part of Ayurveda. Everyone likes to talk about doshas—or, more to the point, everyone likes finding out about their individual doshic balance. Because this information gives you clues to how you, specifically, interact with the universe around you. Some people do well with coffee, others shouldn’t touch it. Some people get enlivened by running at 6:00 in the morning, others do better with a leisurely walk or a nice swim. Understanding your constitution allows you to make informed choices and gives you a degree of control over your health and happiness.

The topic of good digestion doesn’t have the same charm, even though it is considered foundational to good health. The truth of the matter is that of all the action steps that you can take to stay healthy, maintaining good digestion and avoiding the accumulation of ama are at the top of the list­—above balancing the doshas.

Ideally, all the food we eat should be fully digested so that it can either be absorbed into the body as nutrients or expelled as waste. Unfortunately, due to various influences (e.g. irregular life style, stress, weather, inappropriate food, and bad eating habits) not all the food we eat gets fully digested. When this happens the half-digested or not-fully-metabolized food gets circulated in the body as toxins. Ayurveda has named this kind of toxin “ama”.

Ama is heavy, oily, and sticky and can interfere with the normal functioning of both the body and mind.

Negative impact of ama and a poor digestion

1. Even if we are eating fresh, healthy foods we are not able to get the needed nutrients from our food.

2. Ama clogs the channels of the body’s cells, organs and tissues. In the digestive tract poorly digested food can create a slimy material that lines the bowels, interfering with the absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Ama in the blood vessels can result in the accumulation of lipids and other substances, leading to the formation of plaque and a restriction of the blood flow. Ama in the joints can lead to arthritis. Ama in the cell membranes can hinder the exchange of nutrients. Ama within cells can hinder the action of hormones and other biochemicals.

3. Undigested food particles are looked upon as ‘foreign invaders’ by our immune system, triggering an antibody and histamine response.  This negative immune response in the body’s tissues can lead to serious disorders and disease.

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How do I know if I have ama?

Common signs of ama in the body are:

Thick, white coating on the tongue

Sluggish, bloated and sleepy feelings, after a meal or in the mornings, even though you have slept well

Strong cravings for fast foods or junk foods

Bad breath, skin breakouts, sweat, gas and bad-smelling stools

Dull skin and/or whites of the eyes, or yellow teeth.

Clouded thoughts, lack of focus, or feeling unmotivated in life

Weight gain

Frequent colds, flue, infections

Constipation

How do I reduce ama?

Eat warm, freshly cooked foods that are easy to digest and are suitable for your body time and for the season

Eat slowly. Chew your food well. Put you full focus on your meal (and not on the TV or computer)

Eat your main meal at noon when the digestion fire is at its peak

Maintain a regular routine. Eat at regular times, three times a day. Go to bed on time, rise early in the morning.

Sip hot water throughout the day. Heat helps melt the ama and water helps to flush the ama out of the body.

Use spices such as ginger, cayenne, cardamom, cinnamon and fresh ground pepper as recommended by an Ayurvedic expert

Undertake seasonal panchakarma treatments (the traditional detoxification treatments of Ayurveda.

Panchakarma Treatments

Spring is the ideal time to detoxify our bodies. As the warm weather begins to melt away the snow a similar process takes place in our bodies. The ama that has accumulated all winter begins to melt and enters into our circulatory system. This sudden influx of ama can clog the shrotas, the microcirculatory channels of the body and can cause the body to over-react to pollen and other allergens. Supporting you body’s natural detoxification with Panchakarma treatments can help avoid spring colds, flus and allergies.

For more information on panchakarma, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

www.theraj.com