While weight-loss strategies dress the covers of magazines and best-selling books, little is written in an effort to help people gain weight.
According to Ayurveda, it all starts with being aware of two things:
- Your body type or constitution (prakruti)
- Whether your body type is in or out of balance (vikruti)
Vata body types with an imbalance tend to be the most vulnerable to weight loss. Vata body types are generally on the thinner side, with a lighter frame. They are typically more sensitive—they feel everything with a strong radar and also tend to have a more sensitive digestive system.
When vata is out of balance, one can become oversensitive and experience bouts of anxiety and worry. We may frequently feel cold and have dry skin that just can’t seem to be soothed. Our inner digestive skin can become dry, we can become occasionally constipated or food sensitive—and, in many cases, we lose weight and have trouble gaining it back.
All three body types, vata (winter), pitta (summer), and kapha (spring), can experience vata imbalance and have trouble gaining weight. Vata types, governed by the air element, simply lose weight more easily than pitta types, who are governed by the fire element, and kapha types, who are governed by the earth element. (Take our body-type quiz to learn more about your type and your potential imbalance.)
Top 10 ways to gain weight and balance our vata:
1. De-stress your gut.
Ninety-five percent of the body’s serotonin is made and stored in the gut. This suggests that we process our stress through the gut, a.k.a “the second brain.” Meditation or prayer has a powerful effect on the proliferation of beneficial intestinal bacteria that support better gut health and digestive function. (To learn my one-minute meditation technique, click here.)
2. Feed your gut.
The gut or large intestine is the “seat of vata,” or the nervous system, in the body—and in order to gain weight, the seat of vata must be balanced. Ghee shines brightly as one of the most balancing Ayurvedic superfoods for gut health. Ghee is the world’s highest food source of butyric acid—the fatty acid made by good bugs in your gut that are in charge of maintaining the health and integrity of the intestinal lining. To gain weight, we must care for the intestinal wall to ensure the healthy assimilation of nutrients. You can cook with ghee, toss steamed veggies with it, mix it into nut butters, or use it in place of butter or coconut oil when baking.
3. Balance vata with food.
Vata-balancing foods are winter-harvested foods that are predominately higher in protein, fat, and starch. This includes nuts, seeds, whole and unrefined grains, starchy root veggies, and oils. Eat more sweet, sour, and salty foods that are warm, heavy, and oily. (Check out our free, monthly seasonal-eating guide and start eating with the seasons this winter (when the body naturally wants to gain weight.)
4. Fire up the furnace.
Weak digestion is the main reason for the inability to gain weight, with the exception of those in disease states. The stomach, gallbladder, and pancreas all team up to completely break down our food. Most digestive concerns manifest when one or more of these organs are imbalanced. My favorite way to re-kindle these three digestive organs is with ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, and fennel. These five spices are Ayurveda’s most effective, kind, and gentle support for a healthy upper digestive system. You can cook with these, spice your food with them, make a tea out of them, or take them in a capsule before meals.
Once you have achieved digestive support from these spices, I recommend boosting the stomach hydrochloric acid and pepsin production with herbs like ginger, black pepper, and long pepper to finish the digestive reset. Strong stomach acid is required to break down more nutritionally dense foods and thus nourish the body in an effort to gain weight. (Learn more about these five digestive spices here.)
5. Bulk up with the right fiber.
Gaining weight requires a healthy microbiome with good, fiber-eating microbes. Before we can gain weight, we must help the good microbes that are in charge of digesting, assimilating, and detoxing. In the winter, soluble fiber from chia or flax seeds, oats, and slimy herbs like slippery elm, marshmallow, and licorice are good options. Hunter-gatherers ate up to 100 grams of fiber each day, while modern humans eat only 15-20 grams each day. One tablespoon of organic ground flax or chia seeds two times a day is a good start.
6. Eat more nutritious food.
Until your digestive strength returns, consider eating four meals per day. Sit down, relax, and take time to digest each one of them. Eat slowly, until you are about 75 percent full. Make lunch the larger meal, but make each meal balanced—and make them count! Once your digestion is stronger, and you begin to gain weight, I suggest returning to three healthy, substantial, and relaxed meals per day.
7. Build ojas—Ayurveda’s calorie-rich, rejuvenation food.
Ojas means vitality, virility, radiance, stamina, bliss, and joy. In Ayurveda, certain rejuvenating herbs and superfoods are considered ojas-builders: ashwagandha, shatavari, ghee, raw honey, coconut, dates, saffron, milk, and almonds. After each meal, mix these ingredients into one cup of non-homogenized, vat-pasteurized goat or cow’s milk (or your no carrageenan, non-dairy milk of choice) and warm the mixture over low heat until it reaches a boil. (Learn more here.)
8. Ayurvedic food combining—eat dessert first!
Ayurvedic food combining is simple. Eat the heaviest food first, and end with the lightest food. This ensures that you will have the digestive strength to deliver the heaviest, most nutrient-dense foods first, when digestion is the strongest. Start with dessert or the sweetest or heaviest food on your plate, then eat the meat or protein and fat, followed by grains, and finish with the veggies.
9. Dairy works.
If you can tolerate it, dairy (cow or goat) is the ideal weight-gain food. Ideally, you should source non-homogenized, grass-fed, vat-pasteurized, and raw (if legal in your state). It is best taken warmed over low heat. The role of milk is to help the infant or calf gain weight and grow fast. Rich in growth hormone, it is a complete food with a natural balance of carbs, fat, and protein. For those who have trouble with drinking milk to the tune of three glasses per day (this should be used only in the case of weight-gain concerns), consider yogurt or hard cheese. These are fermented and predigested, but are loaded with protein and fat.
10. Avoid stimulants.
Coffee, smoking, energy drinks, and dark chocolate will drive your adrenals to make energy. Caffeine has been shown to help weight loss and is contraindicated in weight gain. Stimulants also deplete melatonin and disturb the natural circadian rhythms that boost digestive strength during the day and reset metabolic hormones at night.
Author: Dr. John Douillard
Image: Unsplash/Sonja Langford
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Callie Rushton
Social editor: Cat Monkman