The term “eating disorders” speaks to many different issues. Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating or obesity are a few of the better known conditions. Generally speaking, anorexia is depriving the body of food, bulimia is eating a large amount of food and then purging it, and binge-eating is loosely defined as the excessive intake of food without purging it. All eating disorders are defined by having an unwholesome relationship with food to the point of negatively affecting one’s health. Ayurveda (India’s traditional and ancient system of health) has a unique perspective about eating disorders and may offer some insight to the individuals affected by them.
Ayurveda understands the body to be made of three different bio-energies or humors referred to as doshas. Each human being’s body is comprised of a different amount of each dosha. Depending on which ones are more predominant in a given body, there are different ideas for why certain eating disorders may be present in a particular person as opposed to another. And though each individual is especially unique and the exact ratio of their bio-energy make-up will never match another person’s, it has been observed that when one bio-energy predominates over another in any given body, similar imbalances reveal themselves in people who share the said doshic predomination. The three humors are referred to as vata, pitta, and kapha.
*To understand this article better, one would benefit from taking an online Ayurvedic dosha test to gain more clarity and acumen on what their personal Ayurvedic constitution might be, and where they could be out of balance at this particular time. It is easy to find these quizzes in google search.
To quickly summarize the characteristics of each dosha is a good starting point for how to better understand where a particular person might fall on the spectrum. Vata dosha qualities can include light, dry, thin, cold, degenerative, mobile, and rough. Negative emotions of vata can include fear, anxiety, indecision, and overcompensation. Some qualities of the pitta dosha include oily, sour, sweet, sharp, hot, salty, and heavy. Negative emotions of this dosha include anger, jealousy, and mistrust. Examples of kapha dosha qualities include heavy, greasy, slimy, slow, cold, and stable (as opposed to mobile). Some negative emotions can be listed as greedy, hopeless, depressed, and apathetic.
Individuals who suffer from an imbalance of the vata bio-energy will often have allergies to vegetable proteins and gluten. They tend to be thin naturally and are uncomfortable with the idea of having any weight on them. When they are stressed out, they will not feel hungry and will tend towards starvation. If they are stressed out more often than they are at peace, they will not eat very much. One can imagine how severe stress in this type of person’s constitution can lead to anorexia. Sometimes they will overeat to overcompensate for not eating enough, causing a sort of ping-pong or back and forth cycle. If this gets out of hand and goes on for too long they can find themselves with an eating disorder. Learning and applying relaxation techniques and meditation can be of aid here. Some other tips include massaging the whole body with sesame oil daily, food choices that make one feel grounded and warm, establishing a normal eating routine, and herbs to help with stress and fear (Tulsi is a great herb to utilize).
People who suffer from a pitta dosha imbalance can be allergic to sour and acidic foods, such as cheese, nuts, and yeast. They tend to be overweight rather than underweight, and have an affinity for sugar. They tend to binge eat when they are overly stressed. Some general suggestions to integrate for people with this pre-dominance who have an eating disorder are weekly purgation, food choices that satisfy sugar cravings but are not so detrimental to health (fruits, unrefined sweeteners, complex carbs), and herbs such as cardamom and mint to regulate the overabundance of pitta qualities in their constitution.
Those with eating disorders who suffer from an overabundance of kapha dosha are often allergic to heavy foods such as fried fare, milk products, and gluten. They tend toward obesity, overeat when they experience stress, and are almost always binge eaters who live sedentary lives. They lean towards excessive carb intake, as well as sugar and heavy foods. Often with these individuals, cutting out gluten and cow dairy alone has been recorded to have improved their condition substantially. Drinking hot water throughout the day, getting more exercise, and obtaining help in food choice and eating routines are some suggestions. All of those examples would help to restore the ability to digest food, and the health of the person’s digestive system in general, which can assist in their problem. Some Ayurvedic herb suggestions for these individuals are guggulu, trikatu (ginger and two kinds of pepper), Triphala, and Punarnava.
It has been established that for any mental or physical disorder someone has, the doshas are not in balance, meaning there is too much of one or more present within the body. To mitigate the overabundant dosha from the system is the first step in hoping to re-balance the person affected. When the bio-energies are in balance, the desire to be out of balance becomes less and less governing. Panchakarma, or traditional Ayurvedic detoxification techniques, can aid tremendously in eliminating unnecessary and excessive doshas from the body. Restoring digestive health and establishing proper food choices and routines is necessary for every one with an eating disorder. Contact a local practitioner to learn more about this ancient process and for more specific guidelines on how to pacify each dosha and address particular cases.
For any severe imbalance or eating disorder, gentle and steady progress is key, and psychological support is an absolute must. When negative emotions of either predominant dosha get dangerously out of hand, it is easy to see how the corresponding eating habits and tendencies can also get out of hand and difficult to cure. This is why the attainment of psychological assistance is a huge part of the journey to recovery for those who suffer from eating disorders. If a person is emotionally out of balance, they will be physically out of balance. When they are physically out of balance, they crave what is bad for them and literally become addicted to those unhealthy foods that they are often allergic to. When they crave and eat what is bad for them their body becomes more imbalanced, creating a nasty cycle. There is a law in Ayurveda that says like attracts like; so a person is attracted to what they already are. However, there is another law that says opposites heal. Establishing more awareness about one’s inherent body constitution, where they are out of balance presently, and how to incorporate better food choices and routines can help tremendously to restore digestive ability and aid in mental health. Because this is difficult to do on one’s own; having moral, emotional, professional support is keenly necessary for recovery.
The causes of eating disorders can be very broad and different from person to person. Our cultural obsession with being thin, sexual abuse, childhood environments, peer pressure, a range of deep-rooted emotional complications, substance abuse, and personality maladies have been evidenced to be contributing factors to these conditions. Ayurveda suggests that lack of self-love is the root cause for all types of eating disorders. Satiating the absence of the feeling of love for oneself with food, or reinforcing the feeling of lack of self-love with food, are often the underlying emotional reasons why a person develops such disorders. There are many ideas for why a person might be lacking in the ability to love oneself. A professional psychotherapist or psychologist would be able to explore more deeply what the root cause of the disorder is and where it comes from, whether it is actually from lack of self-love or another motive, and provide tools to help individuals who need it.
By Stevie Paul