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Lose Weight Permanently with Ayurveda
While Americans have experienced an unprecedented rise in weight gain and cardiovascular disease in the past 20 years, Europeans seem to be immune from this epidemic.
In France people eat an extremely high fat diet; in Germany and England, meat is eaten at every meal; in Italy they enjoy a high-carb diet rich in wine, bread and pasta. All four countries have low rates of heart disease and obesity.
In America we have condemned all these foods as unhealthy when we eat them in excess — yet in Europe they seem to eat them with impunity.
It seems the biggest risk factor for weight gain and heart disease is ... being an American. So let’s take a look at what we do differently as Americans that may be contributing to our out of control weight gain and heart disease.
In Ayurveda — India’s traditional system of medicine based on living a balanced life in harmony with the changing cycles of nature — there are three factors that rule how healthful your diet is: What, when and how you eat.
Clearly, for the past 30 years we have put most of our attention on what to eat with very little attention on when and how to eat. We have been counting calories, reducing fats, increasing proteins, eating more, cutting out carbohydrates and basically experimenting with every possible weight loss plan and dietary variation ... with little or no success.
In 1992 the National Institute of Health reported that 99 percent of all people who go on a diet gain all the weight back in three to five years. In addition, most diets leave us craving what the previous diet told us we shouldn’t eat if we want to lose weight.
For example, 30 years ago Dr. Atkins first introduced his high protein diet to help people feel good and lose weight. It was called the “hamburger and cottage cheese diet.” This diet was basically a “no carb” diet; the body was forced to burn fat because there was no available energy from carbs.
Soon, just like the mice during a recent MIT study, everyone began to crave carbs. When the MIT mice were reintroduced to carbs in their diet, they gained all their weight back and then some.
What is most interesting is what happened next. While America was craving carbs after being on a high protein diet, the next-best-selling diet offered relief from these cravings. Pritiken came along and announced his 80 percent carbohydrate diet, which claimed to make people feel good and lose weight — the same claims as the high protein diet. It was an instant success. Americans were craving carbs and it was too good to be true that you could lose weight eating the exact foods you were craving.
Most diets since have offered little more than symptomatic relief for what the previous diets have left us craving. What is interesting when we compare our eating habits with the Europeans' is that we find that the European diet is similar to the Ayuvedic approach to eating -- it's a more have a balanced perspective on the how, when and what to eat.
What to eat
In Ayurveda it is suggested that our best medicine is foods harvested in-season. Squirrels eat a naturally high protein, high fat diet in the winter, emphasizing nuts and grains. Nature provides us humans a similar antidote to the cold of winter — soups, stews, meats, grains and fats. It is the high protein, high fat time of year.
In the spring, the rules change. It is a rainy, muddy season we sometimes call allergy season. Nature again provides the antidote with low fat, mucous reducing foods such as leafy greens, sprouts, berries, root veggies and grapefruits. All these foods are fat-burning and detox foods, making them the perfect spring foods.
In the summer, the rules change again. During the hot summer months, nature harvests cool fruits and veggies to help keep us from getting overheated and dried out.
Simply put, try not to think of what not to eat; think of what to eat more of. There are no bad foods — just foods that are better for you when they are in season.
In Europe, people buy foods in season at markets connected to the local farmers. In my book "The 3-Season Diet," you'll find grocery lists for Winter, Spring and Summer. Simply circle the foods on those lists that you like and eat more of them when they are in season.
When to eat
While we have been told that we should eat six meals day to feel good and lose weight, we should stop! Ask yourself with each and every new “best-selling” diet, “Is this diet offering symptomatic relief from some previous diet or out-of-balance way of life?”
In this case, yes it is. We have become a fast-food and comfort-food culture that rarely stops and eats meals. We always seem to be on the run. When we miss meals, the blood sugar dips; and shortly thereafter we begin to think about comfort foods or what I call "injectibles" such as dark chocolate or coffee. Our blood sugar has become unstable, and thus we complain of low energy, mood swings and focus problems.
The medicinal diet for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is to eat six meals a day. This is a medicine — not a way of life! To really fix the problem of unstable blood sugar, we have to slowly get our blood sugar back into balance by eating meals, not snacks throughout the day. In Europe, people eat three meals a day and few snacks if any.
To begin the weight loss process, try eating three substantial meals a day without between-meal snacks. This will begin to nudge your blood sugar’s ability to make energy last from one meal to the next. In between meals, your body burns fat, which is your stable, non-emergency fuel. If you snack then, there is no need for your body to burn its stored fat. If you are stressed, your body send the signal to store fat and crave sugar — our cultural epidemic.
Europeans also eat 60 percent of a day's food before 2:00 p.m. Between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., the digestive process is strongest. So do your best to have a more substantial meal in the middle of the day, and your afternoon cravings should disappear in about two weeks.
Supper comes from the word “supplemental” or “soup.” As your blood sugar becomes more stable, notice how your hunger level in the evening will become less voracious. Slowly, as it becomes easier, begin to eat an earlier and lighter supper. It is through this process that you will begin to give your body permission to start burning fat instead of sugar and carbs.
How to eat
Sitting down and eating a meal is becoming more and more rare in America. In Europe, people sit for every meal. They relax, dine and enjoy well-prepared food in a relaxed social setting. We Americans eat in our cars on the way to soccer practice, in front of the TV, or while on the phone, reading a book or flipping through a magazine.
This disconnect between mind and body while eating is more harmful then we realize. When you are relaxed, the digestive process is more effective. The mind and body are nourished, and you can experience the taste of the food and assimilate the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of a balanced meal.
When terminally ill cancer patients were asked about the most important benefit of coming to my Ayurvedic retreat center, the most common response was that they learned to sit down, relax and enjoy a balanced meal. Food had been like fuel from a gas station: They'd fill up and go.
Don’t be fooled. Every culture in the world except America considers the experience of eating their food a sacred event. In fact, how you eat your food may be the most important piece of the how-when-and-what-to-eat weight loss puzzle.
Based on "The 3-Season Diet" by John Douillard, D.C., Ph.D. Douillard is an Ayurvedic practitioner in Boulder, Colo., and the author of several books on Ayurvedic health and fitness. Look for Douillard's Gaiam DVDs on Ayurvedic detox, stress relief and weight loss in spring 2008.
What works for you for weight loss? What's your take on the pros and cons of eating small, frequent meals (or not) or sitting down and relaxing at three square meals? Share your take in our Wellness Discussion Forum and get more tips, ideas, articles and videos at our main Weight Loss page.