Winter is a great time of year for slowing down and taking it easy. However, this “taking it easy” can often turn into a sluggish, sedentary lifestyle before too long. This paired with the common factor of wintertime comfort foods (pizza, pasta, casseroles, etc) and endless holiday treats can often lead to gaining the “inevitable” ten plus pounds before springtime manifests. Whether you are looking to lose the weight that has already been put on, or you are just looking to maintain the weight you are at, Ayurveda has many recommendations to keep the weight off all winter long!
Although everybody’s weight gain may have different contributing factors there is almost always an increase of Kapha playing a role in this issue. Therefore, if we know that Kapha is increased in our system, we must be careful to pacify this vital energetic force and bring balance back to our body. This can be done in many ways but by using the three pillars of Ayurveda, diet, lifestyle and herbs together, success is surely to come.
This article contains a long list of effective ways to lose and maintain weight. However, making too many changes at once can easily lead to burnout, resentment and eventually going back to old habits. To avoid this pattern, I would ultimately suggest choosing 2-4 recommendations to begin (ideally still using one of each of the three pillars mentioned above) and only adding more goals on when you have accomplished and are comfortable with the current recommendations you are working on. I cannot stress enough how important this is for making long-term changes.
Finally before we get to the good stuff, I will also say that although Ayurveda is not known for their “quick fixes” (thank God!), this science does create long lasting changes. It is not as simple as popping a pill, and it is not an understatement to say that it does require sufficient self-effort. However making these changes will not only help you lose or maintain weight, it will bring you more energy, strengthen your digestion and give you a stronger sense of wellbeing in your daily life. It may not happen overnight, but making these changes will lead you in the right direction. In fact, each week you will begin to look and feel better, bringing you more incentive to continue with the program and accomplish your final goal.
How to Avoid Winter Weight Gain with Ayurveda
1. Keep active! Create or continue a consistent movement schedule all winter long.
Exercise has innumerable health benefits and is essential for every-body, all year round. It is a key factor in both losing excessive weight or maintaining a healthy level. As an added bonus, it will even help boost waning winter energy levels and ward off those wintertime blues. Regular performance of exercise strengthens the digestive fire and increases the metabolism, aiding in long-term weight loss.
If you are struggling to keep up with a consistent exercise routine due to the cold weather outside, it will be necessary to discover some indoor exercise options. Luckily there is a wide spread to choose from! Some great ideas include joining a gym, taking exercise classes, taking a dance class, taking Yoga or Pilates classes, at home exercise videos, at home Yoga videos, going for a brisk walk mid-day (after lunch is best!), or swimming indoors.
Whichever activities you decide on, in order to ensure success, it will be essential to create a schedule. At the beginning of each week write in the exact days and times for each activity. Do things that you enjoy, as this will increase your likelihood of continuing with it long-term. I would suggest aiming for three, 30 minute exercise sessions each week to begin. Continue to increase this amount until you are allowing time for 30 minutes of intentional movement (aka exercise) 6-7 days a week.
2. Avoid eating after dark.
Our bodies our naturally set to mimic our external environment. This means that as the day becomes dark and the world begins to slow down, our bodies (including our digestion and metabolism) are slowing down as well. Therefore, not only should dinner be our lightest meal of the day, it should also be eaten before darkness falls. If this is not a possibility for your schedule, try to discover ways to make it so. For example, if you work until 8 pm each night, you may need to bring your dinner to work in order eat it at a proper time. If nothing else, aim to eat before 7pm and avoid heavy foods such as refined grains, meat, and dairy at this time.
If eating before dark leaves you hungry before bedtime, have some light and healthy snack options around. Although ideally all food should be avoided after the dinner meal, here is a short list of healthy snack options until your body becomes used to this new eating routine:
- Vegetable or bone broth
- Piece of fruit
- One spoonful of almond butter (not the whole jar!)
- Herbal tea with honey
- Warm golden milk (see recipe here)
- Warm water with honey and lemon (or lime)
3. Keep the digestive fire strong.
The dark, cold winter mixed with heavier food choices and a more sedentary lifestyle can create sluggishness in the digestion. This in turn creates a slow metabolism, toxic accumulation and eventually weight gain. In order to avoid this common issue, it will be essential to keep the fire strong all winter long. Here are a handful of tips on how to increase the digestive fire and improve your overall health:
- Drink Ginger Tea between meals
- Take a digestive appetizer before meals (see recipe here!)
- Take a short walk after meals
- Make lunch the largest meal of the day
- Avoid late night eating and heavy foods for dinner (i.e. bread, pasta, white rice, meat, dairy, sweets, etc)
- Eat lots of warm, mushy meals such as oatmeal, porridge, and kitchari
- Avoid cold, raw and rough foods such as raw veggies, raw juice, crackers, dry cereal, and dried fruit
- Use lots of digestive spices such as Agni Churna or Ayurvedic Breakfast Spices
- Avoid iced or cold beverages
4. Avoid grazing or excessive snacking.
When the digestive fire is low, one of the most important food rules is to avoid grazing and even snacking in between meals. This is because our bodies need proper time between food intake to digest the previous meal. If we are constantly putting a little something here and there into our systems, our digestive fire is constantly at work which leads to a taxed digestion and eventually burnout.
If snacking is your MO, then it is time to make this change! I would ultimately suggest making sure to eat three consistent meals each day, at their proper times, in order to make this recommendation a reality. Here is an ideal meal schedule:
- 7-9am: Breakfast (medium in size; warm, mushy meal such as our Spiced Quinoa Porridge)
- 12-1pm: Lunch (largest, most nourishing meal of the day; best time for heavier foods such as meat, whole grains and dairy)
- 5-6pm Dinner: (lightest meal of the day; lots of well cooked veggies and limited heavy foods such as meat, dairy, refined grains and sweets)
Finally, keeping this schedule in mind, make sure to always avoid skipping meals! I cannot stress this enough. Skipping meals is sure to lead to grazing, snacking, eating poor food choices and eventually overeating (due to extreme hunger). Eating the three meals daily (snack-free), ensures regularity in the digestion and will ultimately boost the metabolism and aid in weight loss.
5. Drink hot water between meals.
In Ayurveda it is not only important to avoid iced beverages, but equally important to consume hot (or at least warm) water throughout the day. This simple, yet heathy practice is beneficial, as it is known to boost the fire and slowly flush toxins from the GI tract.
Imagine you have a dirty dish to wash, maybe even with oil on it. If you try using cold water, the dish will not get clean and the oil will only solidify. If you use room temperature water, you may eventually get the food, oil and dirt off, but only with a bit of elbow grease and multiple rinsing. However, imagine now using hot water on this dirty, oily dish. Washing becomes much easier and your dish will not only become clean, any oily residue is sure to come off. This is the same scenario as our GI tracts, filled with food matter, toxins, and oils. Sipping on this hot water, steadily between meals will slow by slowly flush away this “dirt”, creating open food pathways, boosting the metabolism and strengthening the digestive fire.
In order to begin this practice, I suggest starting each day with 1-2 cups of hot water, before any food intake (but after scraping the tongue). After that, aim for 1-2 cups of hot water between each meal, with an ultimate goal of about 6-8 cups of hot water altogether. Feel free to add in lemon, lime or ginger as needed.
6. Discover healthy comfort foods.
This may sound like an oxymoron, but there can be such things as healthy comfort foods. The unhealthy culprits would be pastries (cakes, cookies, etc), ice cream, chocolate, pizza, pasta, bread, and cheesy casseroles. While aiming to avoid these throughout the holiday and winter season, it is best to have a list of some healthier, but still “comforting” options available. Here are some ideas for you:
- Healthy, homemade muffins (try our Sweet Potato Muffin recipe)
- Healthy, homemade cookies (try our Ayurvedic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe)
- Quinoa and Veggie Stir Fries or Casseroles
- Warm mushy meals such as Kitchari
- Stews and soups (aim for broth based rather than creamy)
- Porridges and oatmeal (try our Ojas-Increasing Oatmeal recipe)
- Homemade, 100% whole grain breads (in moderation!)
- Dark chocolate with no added cane sugar (try “Lily’s” brand sweetened with stevia)
No matter what your comfort food preference, just remember, homemade is best! This allows one to avoid hidden ingredients, unhealthy oils, preservatives, additives, refined sugars and refined grains.
7. Avoid daytime napping, especially after food!
One of the biggest culprits for increasing Kapha, slowing down the metabolism, and creating sluggishness in the digestion is daytime napping, especially when after a meal.
If there is sleepiness during the day, try to perform a few restorative Yoga poses (such as legs up the wall) or gentle stretches, take a short walk outside, splash some cold water on your face, or take a few moments to perform some deep breathing exercises. If this still does not work, make sure to wait at least 2 hours post-food before lying down and avoid making this a daily habit. Lay on your left side, as this will help to boost, rather than smother the digestive fire.
Overall make sure that you are eating at proper times, eating healthy foods, not overeating, staying hydrated and getting sufficient sleep at night (this also means going to bed by 10pm each night). If these activities are all up to par, the energy should be sustaining and napping should not be needed during the day. Of course if you are pregnant or in the postpartum period, nap away!
8. Take an herbal supplement to increase digestion and metabolism.
Finally, taking an herbal supplement that is specific for weight loss, detoxification and boosting the digestion and metabolism is a great addition to these other changes suggested. Although making the proper diet and lifestyle changes are 100% essential in any weight lose or maintenance program, taking the appropriate herbal remedies can help expedite this process. Here are my favorite products for losing weight, balancing the appetite, strengthening the digestion and detoxifying the GI tract:
- Trikatu Churna: A spicy formula for increasing the digestion and metabolism, aiding in weight loss, and removing excessive Kapha and congestion.
- Mahasudarshana Churna: A bitter formula for reducing Kapha (and Pitta), detoxifying the system, and balancing the appetite, and reducing sweet cravings.
- Kapha Honey Infusion: A tasty syrup for boosting the digestive fire directly before meals, pacifying Kapha imbalances in the digestive tract, and reducing sleepiness after food.
- Triphala Churna: A tri-doshic (meaning it’s good for all body-types) powdered formula for detoxifying the liver and GI tract, promoting healthy elimination each morning, and supplying powerful antioxidants to the system.
- Daily Detox Formula: A powdered formula specific for increasing the digestive fire, flushing toxins from the system, cleansing the liver and blood, and boosting the metabolism.
- Detox Tea: A savory herbal tea perfect for drinking between meals to help digest the day’s food while flushing toxins from the system.
- Awaken Tea: A stimulating herbal tea used to speed up the metabolism, spark the digestion, flush toxins, boost the mood, and increase overall energy.