Being underweight refers to an individual who is below a healthy weight range for their body type. According to modern research, one needs to be within a certain range on order for the body to be able to function efficiently. Being outside this range, whether over- or underweight, can seriously affect one’s health.
Individuals who are underweight may experience differing signs and symptoms: being prone to illness, or feel very tired, their hair gets thinner or starts to fall out, their skin may become dry, and their teeth may become affected.
Being underweight can lead to health issues which can include: osteoporosis, frequent infections, anaemia, irregular periods, amenorrhea, infertility, preterm labour, and heart issues. Being underweight can also be quite dangerous for the elderly.
Causes can differ, but can include:
- Individuals with a genetic disposition for a low BMI
- Those with a very high metabolism
- Those who may skip meals, forget to eat, or cannot afford nutritious foods
- Individuals who do a lot of physical activity
- Stomach problems, such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- Digestive issues
- Cancer, HIV or lung disease
- Thyroid problems
- Crohn's disease
- Anxiety and/or stress
- Eating disorders
- Individuals who are ill, take medication that makes them feel ill/nauseous, or have been in hospital
Treatment approaches involve:
- Eating a variety of foods that provide adequate nutrition
- Work to gain weight gradually. Avoid foods with added sugar, fat and/or salt.
- One can put on weight by eating small meals frequently throughout the day.
- Work to snack on healthy, high-energy foods like cheese, nuts, milk-based smoothies and/or dried fruit.
- Using full cream milk
- Replacing tea or coffee with milky drinks
- Undertaking exercise to increase the appetite
- Emotional and or counselling support for any mental health issues surrounding food and food intake
Ayurvedic Approach to Underweight (Karshya):
In this article, we will be looking at being underweight with no underlying medical cause. Issues surrounding being underweight for individuals with an underlying medical condition looked at differently, based on the individual.
According to classical Ayurvedic texts, being underweight and being undernourished are considered one and the same. Ayurveda considers that ones’ optimal weight is determined by ones’ constitution. I.e. an individual with a lighter constitution (Vata) will naturally have a lower ideal body weight than someone of a similar height with a denser constitution (Kapha for example).
Ayurveda considers that being underweight without an underlying medical condition has to do with Vata dosha being out of balance, and also (often) involves the build-up of toxins (Ama) in the body which can play a role in imbalanced metabolism, and/or malabsorption of nutrients. Vata dosha has qualities that are light, dry, erratic and active. An important goal of Ayurvedic treatment here is to therefore make dietary and lifestyle changes that pacify an imbalanced Vata dosha, whilst simultaneously, adopting practices that strengthen and balance the digestive fire (Agni), improving digestion and the absorption of nutrients. Another important factor in balancing Vata is to ensure the return of normal metabolism and bodily functions.
BENEFICIAL AYURVEDIC HERBS FOR UNDERWEIGHT:
Vata Pitta Balancing: Turmeric, triphala, fennel, cumin, ashwaganda, cardamom, licorice, guduchi, shatavari, vidari kand
Vata Kapha Balancing: Turmeric, triphala, fennel, pippali, cumin, ashwaganda, cardamom, guduchi
Pitta Vata Balancing: Turmeric (not in excess), triphala, fennel, cumin, cardamom, licorice, guduchi, shatavari, vidari kand
Pitta Kapha Balancing: Turmeric (not in excess), triphala, fennel, cumin, cardamom, guduchi
Kapha Vata Balancing: Turmeric, triphala, fennel, pippali, cumin, ashwaganda, cardamom, guduchi
Kapha Pitta Balancing: Turmeric, triphala, fennel, cumin, ashwaganda, cardamom, guduchi
Traditional Ayurvedic Treatment(s) for Underweight:
Ayurvedic treatment approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual, the current imbalances, their age, strength, severity of the condition, and if other conditions are also present. Treatment approaches can include:
- Avoid causative factors
- Balance Jataragni, and digestion
- Gently remove Ama (toxins within the digestive tract and body)
- Balance doshic imbalances through diet/lifestyle/herbs
- Increase absorption of nutrients
- Intake of clean, wholefood, organic eating as much as possible
- Build immunity and nourishment of body tissues
- Abhyanga oil massage, shirodara bodywork therapy
- Oil bastis if required to balance Vata
General Ayurvedic Nutritional Guidelines for Underweight:
Ayurvedic nutritional approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual. One should eat compatible foods, and in accordance to one's imbalances. Some additional general guidelines include:
- One should eat the foods that one does not react to.
- One should eat according to the digestive capacity, keeping meals light, cooked, warm moist and easy to digest. As a guide, eat to fill the stomach 1/3 with solid food, 1/3 with liquid and leaving 1/3 empty to allow room for digestive secretions in the stomach.
- One should eat at regular times/intervals. Avoid skipping meals.
- One should eat wholegrains and non-processed foods, be sure to use ghee in cooking. Have adequate intake of dairy products (soft cheese over hard cheeses), pumpkin, sweet potato, zucchinis, asparagus, carrots, soaked nuts, seeds, soy/tofu, egg whites, bone broth, and chicken and egg yolks (if digestion is strong enough to digest these). Buttermilk is easy to digest, stimulates digestion and contains calcium (much easier to digest than yoghurt). For lactose intolerant individuals, soy milk is recommended. Soaked dates are beneficial.
- Foods to avoid: Cold foods, raw foods, leftover foods (24 hours), frozen foods, cold water, processed and packaged foods, soft drinks and aerated beverages, high fat foods, greasy foods, extra salty foods.
- One should avoid overeating. Allow 6 hours between meals and snack 3 hours after a meal and eat only if hungry. If digestion is poor, then 4 light meals per day is advisable in place of three regular meals.
- Breakfast should be easy to digest, lunch the main meal, and dinner should be lighter than lunch.
- Buttermilk consumed after meals is advisable.
- Eat home cooked meals, preferably made on the same day as being prepared.
- Water should be drunk warm in the cooler months and room temperature in the summer months. Avoid chilled water.
- Use all of the five senses at mealtimes. Create a ritual of eating to bring back the sacredness of eating.
- Use all of the five senses at mealtimes. Savour the food that you are eating.
- Eat in a pleasant environment. Eat seated and try to avoid TV and electronic devices whilst eating.
- Eat slowly, eat with respect/reverence for what you are eating, chew thoroughly.
General Ayurvedic Lifestyle Guidelines for Underweight:
Ayurvedic lifestyle approach(es) are individualised and are fully dependant on a full consultation with an individual. Some general guidelines include:
- Allow for sufficient rest and sleep. Go to bed at a regular time each day, and best before 10pm. Avoid also sleeping during the day.
- Keep to a routine as much as possible during the day.
- Get sufficient daily activity and exercise, without overdoing exercise. Balanced activity/exercise is healthy, but avoid over-exertion. Strengthening exercise are also advised
- Avoid stress, anxiety, fear and tension.
- Deep breathing for 10 minutes a day is very beneficial. Meditation, yoga and pranayama can also be highly beneficial.
- Make sure to be well rugged up in winter, especially when going outside.
- Self-abhyanga massage with warm sesame oil twice a week.
- Avoid smoking and minimise alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Develop practices that centre around self-care and self-love.
- Look at counselling for self-care and working through any stress, anxiety, anger or any other mental health and/or emotional issues.
If you have any concerns about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician. See our Ayurvedic Practitioner Services and Consultation Page for more information.