“If you keep on eating unhealthy food, then no matter how many weight loss tips you follow, you are likely to retain weight and become obese. If only you start eating healthy food, you will be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to lose weight.”
In Ayurveda, a person is considered overweight or obese when there is an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat in his body. In most cases, there is an imbalance of the Kapha and Pitha doshas. We also believe that obesity is not dependent on how much or how little food you eat. In fact, it is the result of improper digestion or problems with your metabolism, lack of exercise and lifestyle choices.
The following case history is that of Thomas Morgan who first came to see me five years ago. When he first walked into the room, I saw the right profile of his body; not his belly or face. This was because he was so wide that he could only come through the door sideways. By the time he waddled his way to the chair and sat down, he was breathless. Seated before me was a man sweating profusely. What little hair he had was fine and sparse.
While he continued to catch his breath, I observed that his joints, especially the phalanges, wrists and ankles were swollen. He seemed to have small deposits of fat over his knuckles, elbow and feet.
When he was ready, I took a deep breath, then asked, “How is your appetite?”
“Is this some kind of joke?” He frowned, assuming I was making fun of his weight.
“No, Thomas, I’m not making fun of you,” I assured him quickly. “I need to know whether or not you’re eating OK. Sometimes, people have unexplained weight gain.”
“Oh. OK. Actually, my appetite is normal.”
I held his wrist to examine his pulse rate. It was a normal 76 beats per minute. But the quality of his pulse was weak which told me that he had a weak immune system.
“Hmmm… Do you smoke?”
“Yes.” Thomas then reached out to touch his back and said, “But, doctor, I have a very bad back. It aches all the time.”
“Hmmm… Tell me a little about your family.”
When Thomas was in his twenties, he married his childhood sweetheart in the UK and they built a family together. Unfortunately, she passed away 20 years ago, leaving him with their two teenage children. Ten years later, when his children had their own lives, he was lucky enough to meet another widow, a Malaysian woman, and married her. She had no children and they were not planning on having any of their own. He moved to Malaysia so that they could be close to her aged parents.
When he stepped on the scales, he was 185kg.
“What about your sleep, Thomas? Is it restful?”
“No. I can’t sleep. I take sleeping tablets. 1 tablet a night.”
He held out his hands and said, “Doc, all that I can take. It’s this that is very difficult. See my fingers? They hurt so much. You saw what it was like just now. I couldn’t even bend my fingers to hold your hand. I can’t hold a glass. I can’t even hold a fork and knife easily to cut into a steak during dinner. I feel my life has no meaning anymore.”
I put my hand on his and nodded. “It’s OK. We will work this out. Don’t worry,” I assured him.
He smiled, but I could see that his eyes were full of sadness.
In Ayurveda, Thomas’s condition would be classified as an imbalance in his Kapha and Pitha dosha. The energy he needed to digest his food in time was very poor due to lack of exercise and emotional disturbance. This lead to the weakening of his metabolism.
Usually healing occurs naturally, provided we create a suitable climate for healing. The body has an innate self-healing wisdom. If it is too weak to cure itself, usage of herbs and other therapies come into the picture. Here medication and treatment are to support the body in its war against toxins (Ama). Treatment increases the pace of healing and allows the healing to be more complete and bearable.
There would be two parts to his treatment: pre-purification therapy and purification.
- In pre-purification therapy, there is usually Snehanam (oleation, where medicated oil is administered externally). Internally, the patient is given medicated ghee and Swedanam (sudation, which is a process of making the body sweat). Together, they would will help the body and mind relax, improve the flow of energy by opening the srotas (channels of the body) and prepare the body to eliminate the toxins.
- The purification is usually called Panchakarma during which there is an expulsion of these toxins from the gut.
The basis of this approach was that healing is primarily concerned with purification of the body and mind.
Although the first few days were hard on him, by day 7, something quite remarkable happened. Thomas walked into my room and said, “I can move my fingers. I can actually hold a spoon and feed myself.”
After 14 days, he stepped on the scales and we could see that at 170kg, he’d lost about 15 kg. Without prompt, he said, “Doc, if this is what we can do in 14 days, I want to stay longer.”
I smiled broadly. “Of course, you can, Thomas.” I suggested he continue his treatment for another three weeks.
Throughout his treatment, his blood pressure and sugar levels were monitored continuously. 42 days after he started treatment, he had lost 35 kg. His blood sugar level was below 5.2 mmol/l. The pain, stiffness and inflammation of all his joints had reduced considerably.
In Thomas’s case, he was able to retrace his steps and pinpoint the time he started to gain weight. This acknowledgement from Thomas that his condition was his own doing was what I was waiting to hear. I am happy to say that to this day, although Thomas smokes and drinks occasionally, he maintains his weight and is no longer on any medication. On a lighter note, before he left, he asked our cook to teach him to make the food that we serve at the Ayur Centre: idly and thosai.
(22 February 2017)
This story is an excerpt from Knowledge of Life: Tales of an Ayurvedic Practitioner (ISBN 978-967-415-4004) by Vaidya C.D. Siby and Aneeta Sundararaj. It is an enlightening book published by MPH Publishing that dispels the myths surrounding this ancient medical system.