Obesity (Sthaulya)
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Introduction - What is Obesity


What is Obesity

Obesity is the medical term for extreme overweight conditions. It has become one of the greatest challenges for doctors all over the world. Most of the ailments in the modern world today are directly or indirectly related to obesity; and that is the reason why many medical professionals always ask their patients to reduce their weight. But reducing weight is not as easy as the fitness centers claim to be. This article tries to explain why obesity is such a rampant issue and what the effective ways to tackle it are.

Obesity has been in the world since as long as the human race has been in existence. Due to this, millions of methods of treatments for obesity have been put forward by different bodies of conventional and alternative medicine. Ayurveda has been a very effective (and less painful) method of keeping obesity under control. Let us try to understand how Ayurveda has helped the human race in its fight against obesity.

Definition of Obesity (Sthaulya)


Definition of Obesity

Obesity is defined as the condition where there is over-accumulation of fat under the skin and around certain organs in the body. It is mostly seen around the midsection, which protrudes out with a characteristic bulge.

The condition of obesity is very easy to diagnose, as the bulge of fat can be seen clearly on the body. But medical science is not so rough in its calculations. There is a reason behind this. Obesity is a very relative disorder. In people with less height, even a moderate weight could be hazardous, but in people with more height, more weight is acceptable. Hence, while diagnosing obesity, only weight is not taken into account. Rather, a particular ratio, known as the Body Mass Index (BMI) is taken into consideration.

The formula used for the calculation of BMI is as follows:-

Here, weight is taken in kilograms and height is taken in meters. In order to calculate in the English system of foot-pound-second, the factor is multiplied by 703.

The following table illustrates how to estimate from the BMI whether a person is obese or not.



Between 18.5 and 24.9

Normal weight

Between 25.0 and 29.9


Between 30.0 and 39.9


Above 40

Morbidly obese

It can be seen through this table that overweight conditions and obese conditions are clearly differentiated. There is also a condition of morbid obesity. This is a highly dangerous condition, which in all probability will be the causative factor of the death of the person.

Defintion of Obesity in Ayurveda

In Ayurveda , the condition of obesity is referred to as sthaulya. Since Ayurveda considers obesity to be a roga, i.e. a disease, it has also been recorded as medo roga. In fact as far back as 1500 BC, in the Charaka Samhita, there is a mention as well as a description of how an obese person looks like. In his work, Charaka has said that an obese person will have the following signs:-

  • Large hips
  • Excess of bulk over the midsection
  • Pendulous breasts
  • Too much flesh over the cheeks

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Causes of Obesity (Sthaulya)

Let us discuss the causes of obesity from the Ayurvedic point of view. In Ayurveda , the basic tissue elements that govern the body – seven in number – are known as the dhaatus. Dhaatus are extremely essential in deciding how healthy the person is, and a prescribed equilibrium of the dhaatus means that the person is healthy.

One of the seven dhaatus is the meda, which are the fats. To a particular limit, the medas are essential to the body. These fats or medas perform the following functions for the human body:-

They provide the body with insulation, i.e. they retain the heat within the body so that the person does not feel excessively cold.

They provide padding for the body and also all the vital organs of the body. Under the skin there is a layer of the medas, and also there are layers of medas around all the vital organs including the brain, heart, liver and kidneys. The function of these layers is to protect the body from jerks and minor injuries.

Medas also provide energy when the main energy sources – carbohydrates – are insufficient. Each gram of fat can provide up to 9 kilocalories of energy.

Medas are essential for the proper metabolism of the fatty acids needed in the body.

Despite these uses of the meda dhaatus, if there is an excess of them in the body, then they get accumulated under the skin and also around the organs. This is how obesity begins.

The fat collections take place over the adipose tissues in the form of globules. The actual harm begins when these fat globules begin entering the cells of the body, especially the cells of the muscles.

Now why does fat accumulation take place in some people and in some people it doesn’t? There are so many people who live on a rich diet and are still slim; but some people gain pounds of weight even by a few meals. It has been suggested in Ayurveda that people with certain doshic natures have more chances of becoming obese than others. The following illustration provides an idea:-


Vulnerability to Obesity


Vata dosha

These people become very obese, and there are marked fluctuations in their body weights.

Vata people are, by nature, nervous and anxious. In order to allay these mental frustrations, they tend to eat more. This causes their extreme obesity.

Pitta dosha

These people are the least susceptible to obesity.

Pitta people have a good amount of agni, i.e. digestive fire. Hence whatever they eat gets metabolized very fast. However, many pitta persons have ravenous appetites, due to which they eat more. In such cases, obesity can occur in pitta persons also, but there are fewer chances.

Kapha dosha

These people have high chances of becoming obese, but the body bulk won’t rise to as much as vata people.

In kapha people, the rate of metabolism is very slow. Hence food takes a long time to digest. Also, kapha being the water element, these people have a tendency to retain water. Though this is not actual obesity (i.e. fat accumulation), it does increase the bulk of the body. These people are more susceptible to develop kidney-related complications of obesity.

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Symptoms of Obesity (Sthaulya)

Of course, the commonest symptom of obesity is the bulge that begins at the midsection. If a pinching on the abdomen gathers more than two inches of flesh, then it means that the person is accumulating more fat than is being used. Due to obesity, the following other symptoms are observed:-

  • The person gets tired very easily. There is no stamina in the body.
  • The person wheezes while talking.
  • Heartbeat is rapid.
  • The person is in a state of lethargy or sluggishness all the time.

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Complications of Obesity (Sthaulya)

There is no other bodily condition that can cause as many complications as obesity. The adage ‘a person’s waistline is the lifeline’ is quite true. A person who is very obese will suffer from various metabolic disorders. Due to the accumulation of fat in the body, there will be a constant pressure on the arteries and veins, and the rakta pravaha, i.e. blood circulation will be obstructed. The result could be atherosclerosis, or even myocardial infarction, i.e. heart failure.

The brain also requires blood for its functioning. Due to obesity the blood flow to the brain is obstructed. This could lead into a stroke, and chances are that the person may become paralyzed for life.

Several liver ailments could be caused. Similarly, obesity could cause dysfunctional problems of the kidneys.

It is widely known that obese people tend to become impotent if their condition persists long enough. Even if they do not become impotent, their bulk could be a major impediment during sexual intercourse, causing discomfort to both the partners. Also, the excitement during sex could be fatal to the obese person. There are several instances of obese men having fatal heart attacks during sexual intercourse.

Last but not the least; obesity complicates the entire lifestyle of the person. A bulky body is not considered beautiful and, more often than not, it is the object of ridicule (we know that it is morally wrong to poke fun at a person on account of his/her body, but we cannot ignore the fact). Obese people might feel themselves socially unacceptable and lead a secluded kind of life. This could bring on depression and other mental ailments.

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Prevention and Basic Care during Obesity (Sthaulya)

A person must take precautions from the stage when the BMI begins to hover at the ‘overweight’ scale. If due precautions are taken, then from this stage, the body can be easily prevented from becoming obese.

First and foremost, an overweight person must exercise regularly. The exercise need not be vigorous, but simple things can go a long way. If you live on an upper storey, then take the stairs once a day rather than the elevator. If you take a bus or a cab, then walk at least one stop before hailing one. Instead of using the television remote, make the trip till your set and push the buttons. These small and simple things can help burn the accumulated body fat.

Be very particular about your diet. For dietary restrictions, refer to the next section.

Do not be lazy. This is extremely important. Obesity in kids is increasing to alarming levels because parents are pampering them into not doing any work. Be active and distribute your time proportionately between work, play and rest.

Avoid smoking and alcoholism. Both of these can cause severe complications in people with excess fats in their bodies.

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Diet for People with Obesity (Sthaulya)

You have come to the most important point in tackling the obesity problem – diet. A right diet coupled with exercise is many a time all that is needed for an obese person to shed those extra pounds. The following are some very useful pointers:-

  • Avoid all sweet and fatty foods. These are the biggest culprits when it comes to dangerous calories.
  • Avoid foods that are rich in carbohydrates, such as rice and potatoes. You can constitute your diet with other food grains such as wheat, barley, sorghum and maize.
  • Every plate of food must contain at least one bitter or pungent food. This must be cooked minimally to maintain the juices intact.
  • There is no restriction on the consumption of tea and coffee.

Moreover, it is very important to remember that one must not go to bed immediately after a meal. The body must get enough time to digest the food before it goes to sleep, or else the undigested food will become ama and cause conditions of obesity. Ideally, a person must give a leeway of about two hours between a meal and going to bed.

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Ayurvedic Treatment of Obesity (Sthaulya)

Sthaulya is considered to be a roga in Ayurveda , but the expert opinion is – sthaulya is much more dangerous than a single disease; it is a whole cornucopia of diseases waiting to happen. Becoming obese is like putting your hand in a beehive and waiting for the bees to sting. For this reason, Ayurveda proponents have conducted extensive research – right from the time of Charaka – to arrive at suitable remedies for the disease.

The following are just some of the hundreds of herbs that are prescribed for obese people.

Ayurvedic Name of the Herb

Biological Name of the Herb

Common English Name of the Herb

Adraka or Sunthi

Zingiber officinalis



Emblica officinalis

Indian Gooseberry


Terminalia bellerica

Belleric Myroblan


Tinospora cordifolia

Tinospora Gulancha


Terminalia chebula

Chebulic Myroblan


Mormordica charantia

Bitter Gourd


Cyperus rotundas

Nut Grass


Emblica ribes

False Pepper

The following Ayurvedic mixtures and remedies have been widely acclaimed – even in the advanced western countries – for their properties in the treatment of obesity:-

Ayurvedic Herb or Preparation


Shilajit and Guggulu

Increase the agni, which helps in utilization of the fat.

Trikatu and Catechu

These are herbs which relieve the body of increased ama, i.e. toxins.

Chitraka and Barbery

Open the channels that are blocked and aids in circulation of blood and proper assimilation of food. They are also used for external application along with calamus.

It must be borne in mind that while taking any Ayurvedic preparation, the doctor must be consulted first. Most of the herbs do not have any side-effects (and are indeed a regular part of the diet), but some people may be allergic to certain herbs and may show adverse reactions.

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