Obesity is a modern-day lifestyle disorder, referred to as 'Medorog' in Ayurveda. Unfortunately, diseases like Diabetes mellitus type 2, obesity, fatty liver, stroke, heart attack, and cancer are all self-induced in their real sense—which were a rare occurrence until 300 years ago. Even today, if you happen to visit a village, you will barely find an obese person— while 3 out of every 10 people in a city are found to be overweight. Post-1970s, sedentary lifestyle and the adoption of the western diet have led to a rapid spread of the obesity epidemic throughout the world. The problem is now affecting the younger generation, and it is not uncommon to find obese kids aged 5- 19 years. According to World Health Organization (WHO), if your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 25, you fall into the overweight category, while BMI more than 30 is classified as 'obese'.
Obesity is associated with several chronic diseases, such as:
1. Diabetes mellitus type 2: Increase in blood glucose levels
2. Fatty liver: If left untreated, it can lead to liver cirrhosis and complete liver failure
3. Hypertension: high blood pressure
4. High blood cholesterol levels, which is now commonly seen among people in their thirties
5. Heart attack
6. Stroke or brain damage due to blood clots in the brain
7. Gall bladder stones
8. Osteoarthritis: due to increased pressure on weight-bearing joints like knees.
9. Breathing disorders like sleep apnea (a serious condition when a person fails to breathe during sleep for a short period) and asthma
10. PCOD (polycystic ovarian disease): Cyst formation in the ovaries is seen in young girls due to hormonal imbalance in the body
11. Infertility: problems in conception.
12. Cancer risk sharply increases with obesity. Some examples include cancer of the breast, uterus, prostate, liver, pancreas, gall bladder and colon
13. Obesity can negatively impact mental health, causing anxiety and depression. This is especially seen in the younger generation
Causes of obesity:
1. Sedentary lifestyle and adoption of the western diet:
Do you remember anyone from your grandparents' age being obese? No!! That's because they didn't eat all the time. Meals were consumed at fixed intervals of the day as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Food was always prepared at home and eaten by all family members together, sitting cross-legged on the floor with bare hands.
Life goals have changed from living a healthy life to earning money and status. This has led to a change in cooking practices with the adoption of a western diet which primarily includes readily available fast food at restaurants and cafeterias. The latest trend is to prepare meals 2 days in advance and store them in the refrigerator to save time.
When modern times support home delivery of hot pizzas, burgers, sandwiches & pasta in less than 30 minutes, who would care to work hard and prepare a fresh, nutritious meal at home?
Consuming caffeine every few hours boosts energy levels and keeps everyone running tirelessly throughout the day. With ever-rising technological advancements, most people spend their day on a chair, glued to their computer or mobile screens while sipping the readily available tea or coffee with cookies at the office.
Be it for a spiritual reason like Ekadashi or a religious celebration like 9 days of Navratri festival, our ancestors observed food fasts once every 2 to 4 weeks; It was either a water-only fast, or a light sattvic meal was consumed once a day. While in the present-day world, the Navratri festival has become a perfect reason for people to crowd the restaurants and relish the fried pooris made from buckwheat flour, the popular sabudana-potato tikkis and chaats, and creamy milk-like kheers prepared from little millet. In the name of fasting, people consume fried and heavy food and end up overloading their digestive system.
Whether it's a birthday celebration, a festival, watching movies, or shopping in a mall— every occasion becomes a reason to be outdoors and relish savouries. In addition to this, people barely take out time for physical activity, exercise, yoga asana or pranayama.
2. Hormonal imbalance:
This is the second leading reason for obesity. Insulin, growth hormone, thyroid hormone and cortisol are the 4 main hormones that control the body's metabolism and keep a check on the fat stores.
The food you eat is converted to glucose by the digestive system, which enters the bloodstream and initiates the release of insulin hormone from the pancreas. Insulin drives the entry of blood glucose into the tissues, where it is converted to energy. This energy is utilized by the body tissues for their normal functioning. Insulin being an anabolic hormone converts the excess unutilized glucose in the blood to fat reserves, which are stored in the skeletal muscle, liver and belly fat. So overeating causes persistent elevation of blood glucose and insulin levels, which leads to constant deposition of body fat. This results in fatty liver, obesity and high cholesterol, increasing risk of diabetes mellitus type 2.
Working late in the night, waking up late in the morning, and lack of adequate sleep adds to the stress levels and causes an increase in the secretion of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) and insulin. It also disturbs the rhythm of growth hormone secretion and causes malfunctioning of the thyroid gland – all of which contribute to obesity.
3. Genetic causes:
If grandparents or parents are obese, then children in the family are likely to gain weight early in life. However, genes are not the sole reason responsible for obesity— a disciplined lifestyle with an appropriate diet can help you regulate your body weight.
Why does the 'Eat less and move more approach' doesn't help in the long run?
This is an age-old tried and tested formula which everyone applies for losing weight. But it helps only to a certain extent. Aggressive exercise, in the beginning, pumps up the metabolism, which helps you burn calories and shed few kilos. But after some time, the body adapts to the new routine, and the metabolic rate readjusts and falls to the initial level. So in spite of the same amount of aggressive exercise regimen and intake of few calories, there is no further decline in weight, you eat less, and you burn less. This is because the amount of body fat is dependent on the amount of insulin in the body. The more the insulin level in your blood, the more will be the body fat.
The level of insulin depends on two factors | What do you eat and how often?
1. What you eat:
All processed food items sealed in a packet that are prepared from refined flour and white sugar, like biscuits, cookies, salty chips, noodles, bread, aerated drinks, sugary squash and juices, pizzas, pasta, burger, chocolates, pastries, fried food— produce sharp peaks of glucose and insulin in the blood.
All-natural unprocessed food products like fibre-rich seasonal vegetables and fruits, food prepared from whole grains such as millets, nuts, curd, cow milk and its products like desi ghee, cold-pressed oils like coconut oil– should be a part of our daily diet. These are rich in fibre and decrease the absorption rate of glucose in the blood, thereby preventing sharp spikes of glucose and insulin in the blood. If eaten in the right amount and form, Desi ghee obtained from cow milk is very useful to shed body fat and keep cholesterol levels in check. It should not be used to fry paranthas— instead, adding it in cooked lentils (dal) or rice porridge (khichdi) as a topping in small quantities aids digestion.
Let's take an example of a juice box readily available in the market. One bottle of apple juice has heavy amounts of white sugar, which causes a sharp rise in blood glucose levels and insulin upon consumption. Instead, if you choose to eat an apple, it has a naturally sweet flavour of its own, and for being a fibre rich fruit, it gives you the feeling of satiety. Further, it is packed with essential minerals like iron, antioxidants, which saves you from the unnecessary weight gain from consuming the added sugar and the harmful chemical preservatives that come with it.
Make sure to chew your food at least 32 times and eat only 75% of your capacity. If you eat more, it overburdens your system and diminishes your digestive fire over time, resulting in the accumulation of unnecessary body fat.
We eat for two main reasons - first, to satisfy the body's hunger, and second - we associate food with pleasure, which increases our tendency to overeat.
A helpful suggestion for those who want to regulate the amount of food they eat in one meal is to reduce the variety of food products on your plate while eating. If your plate is loaded with 10 different dishes, it often gets enticing to eat more than what your body can handle. Meals should be sattvic, nutritious and eaten according to the fundamental principles of Ayurveda.
2. How often you must eat?
Munching food or snacks every 2 hours or at frequent intervals throughout the day leads to persistent elevation of blood glucose levels. This overburdens the pancreas to secrete insulin in the blood constantly. If you eat 2 meals at fixed times of the day, it automatically keeps your glucose and insulin levels under control and brings down the excess body fat.
Fighting Obesity | How Fasting Helps?
During fasting, you deprive the body of food alongside the external source of glucose, which brings down the insulin levels in the blood. The body senses a lack of energy and releases the adrenaline hormone, also known as the fight and flight hormone. Adrenaline helps burn the excess fat reserves in the liver and belly and converts it to glucose, which is further converted to energy and used by body tissues for their normal functioning. It is due to this hormone that the metabolic rate increases during fasting.
This is a natural way to detoxify all the systems in the body – digestive, endocrine, circulatory & nervous system- they get enough time to rest and repair themselves. After a day of fast, the body functions more efficiently, and whatever you eat is well absorbed by the gut. Regular fasting helps regulate blood glucose and insulin levels, increasing your metabolic rate, thus reducing excess body fat.
Various fasting methods:
1. Intermittent fasting (16:8): In this method, you eat 2 meals during a fixed 8 hour period of the day, once in the morning and the second in the evening. There is an interval of at least 15-16 hours between the evening meal and the following day’s breakfast.
Here in Rishi Chaitanya Ashram, under revered Master Gurumaa's guidance, the intermittent fasting method is being followed daily. The first meal is served between 9:00-10:00 am and the second one between 5:00-6:00 pm. You can take a light, nutritious snack, tea/coffee or a drink between 1:00-3:00 pm if you feel hungry.
The human body works in sync with nature, and our digestive capacity naturally slows down after sunset, which is why it is recommended not to eat anything after 6 pm. This way body gets time to rest and repair itself every night during that interval of 16 hours, and all the food consumed is digested and absorbed well.
2. Once a week water fasting: Water fast once every week increases the metabolic rate and helps break down the resistant belly fat. There is a simpler way for those who find an entire day of water fasting very difficult. To begin with, you can have a light breakfast in the morning, say at 9:00 am, and then have water for the rest of the day. Have your next meal by 9:00-10:00 am on the following day. This way, you end up fasting for a period of 23-24 hours continuously. This kind of fast can also be observed for 2 to 3 days a week for those trying to lose stubborn fat around the belly.
3. 48-72 hours of continuous fasting: This can be done once every 1-2 months if your body condition permits. The longer the duration of fast, the more powerful are its results.
Fasting Day | Things to keep note of
1. One must consume only plain or lukewarm water when hungry or thirsty. If water-only fast seems difficult, you can also take seasonal vegetable juices or soups, herbal tea prepared from fresh basil, tulsi or mint leaves, coconut water, or lemon water with honey. Fresh fruit juice is not recommended if you want to shed extra weight as these have high sugar content. It is recommended not to take caffeinated drinks like milk tea or coffee on the day of fast.
2. Fasting in itself is a form of medication, and you should not take any other medicine on this day.
3. The first meal on the next day after your fast must be light, nutritious and easy to digest. If you end up having a pizza, cheesy burger, pasta or fried food, you will not be able to reap the benefits of fasting.
4. It is a common misconception that one should rest on the day of fast as the body does not have enough energy for routine activities. In prehistoric times when human beings inhabited the caves, they had to go hunt for their own food. Nature has designed the human body in such a way that energy deprivation initiates the release of cortisol or stress hormone in blood which breaks down the stored body fat and converts it to energy. This energy was used by cavemen to go hunting even when they were food-deprived for days. Similarly, you have ample energy on the day of your fast to perform your daily activities, just like the rest of the week.
Fasting is not only the simplest and the easiest way to shed extra kilos; it is also the best approach to detoxify and rejuvenate your body naturally. Now scientific research has also shown the health benefits of fasting and how it helps in reversing lifestyle diseases like diabetes mellitus, fatty liver, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Just like everyone enjoys a Sunday after working hard 6 days at a stretch, your body also deserves rest at least once a week, and fasting is the best way to achieve that.
More useful tips to lose weight:
1. Eat 2 meals at fixed times of the day.
2. Meals should be sattvic, nutritious and must include fibre rich seasonal vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
3. Chew your food well (at least 32 times) and avoid watching television or a computer screen while having a meal.
4. Follow intermittent fasting and restrict yourself from eating anything after 6 pm.
5. Observe water only fast once a week.
6. Observe a longer fast for 48-72 hours once every 1- 2 months— but only if your body permits.
7. Going early to bed, getting adequate sleep, and waking up early before sunrise — they all go a long way in achieving health.
8. Practice Yoga Asanas and practice pranayama every day, and you will be amazed at the positive influence it has on your body and mind.