How to Follow an Ayurvedic Diet for Weight Loss

Learn how eating for your dosha type can boost wellness

ayurvedic herbs
Denise Torres / EyeEm

An Ayurvedic diet is an eating plan that provides guidelines for when you eat, what you eat, and how you eat to boost your health, prevent or manage disease, and maintain wellness. If you follow an Ayurvedic diet, you'll eat primarily whole or minimally processed foods and practice mindful eating rituals.

The diet is based on Ayurvedic wellness systems that date back thousands of years. Some studies have shown that Ayurvedic lifestyle practices—including the diet—can help improve your health. But following an Ayurvedic diet for weight loss isn't necessarily a proven method to lose weight.

What Is an Ayurvedic Diet?

Ayurveda is a wellness practice that originated in India and is about 5000 years old. The word "Ayurveda" is a combination of two Sanskrit words that mean life (Ayur) and science (Veda), so the literal translation of Ayurveda is "the science of life." Ayurvedic medicine seeks to create a healthy strong body through a series of diet, exercise and lifestyle practices, including sleep and mindful living. 

Ayurvedic Eating Principles

If you follow an Ayurvedic diet, you'll incorporate many different practices into your eating routine. These practices help you to benefit from the different qualities of food Some of the basic practices include:

  • Intake of six rasas or tastes. At each meal, you will incorporate foods that are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent. You begin your meal with foods that have a sweet taste (like sweet fruit), then consume food that salty (such as seafood) and sour (citrus fruit, for example), then finish with foods that are pungent (like onions or peppers), astringent (such as green apples or tea), and bitter (celery, kale, or green leafy vegetables). 
  • Eat mindfully and with concentration. Avoid talking, laughter, and other distractions to fully appreciate your meal and the wholesome benefits it provides
  • Eat slowly enough that you can savor the taste of the food
  • Eat quickly enough to prevent the food from getting cold
  • Eat the proper quantity of food. Be aware of hunger signals and signs of fullness to avoid overeating
  • Eat only when your previous meal has been digested. Guidelines suggest that you do not eat within three hours of your previous meal or snack and you should not go without food for more than six hours. Many Ayurvedic practitioners also recommend that you eat a modest breakfast and a larger, satisfying lunch. Dinner may or may not be consumed based on your hunger levels.

    What's My Dosha? 

    One of the primary characteristics of an Ayurvedic diet is that you eat according to your dominant constitutional type or dosha. You can think of your dosha as your most prominent energy. There are three different Ayurvedic doshas that derive from five different elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Each element provides different qualities or attributes.

    • Vata (space and air): Vatas are often described as creative, intense, or expressive. Attributes include dry, light, cold, and rough.
    • Pitta (fire and water): Pittas are often described as intelligent, joyful, and driven. Attributes include sharp, hot, liquid, and mobile.
    • Kapha (earth and water): Kaphas are often described as calm, loving, or lethargic. Attributes include moist, heavy, soft, and static.

    After reading descriptions of each dosha, you may find that one sounds more like the qualities you embody. Many people find that they have two strong doshas. Those who practice an Ayurvedic lifestyle believe that each of us embodies all three doshas. Your prominent dosha will determine your eating style.

    How to Start Eating for Your Dosha

    Before you begin an Ayurvedic diet, you may want to spend more time learning about and finding your dominant dosha. There are several different ways to figure it out.

    Find an Ayurvedic Doctor

    Many experts in Ayurvedic medicine suggest that the smartest method is visiting an Ayurvedic doctor.

    Samantha Semmalar ("Dr. Sam") is an in-house Ayurvedic doctor at The Body Holiday in St. Lucia. She says that seeing an Ayurvedic doctor is always best, even though there are other ways to find your dosha. "An Ayurvedic doctor can advise the right combination of foods to balance the dosha and make the diet more effective," she says, adding that the doctor can advise you what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. Dr. Mahalingam “Maha” Lakshmanan agrees. He says that an Ayurvedic doctor can help determine the best choice of food and herbs, and assist with medical concerns if necessary.

    It's important to remember, however, that an Ayurvedic doctor may not be a licensed medical doctor in the United States. Dr. Maha and Dr. Sam both earned degrees in naturopathic medicine in India and have experience working with patients in different countries. In the U.S. no states license Ayurvedic practitioners, although a few have approved Ayurvedic schools, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH provides guidelines for selecting a complementary care provider, such as an Ayurvedic doctor. They also recommend that you communicate with your primary care physician about the use of alternative health practices.

    If you do choose to visit an Ayurvedic doctor, the practitioner will interview you and make an assessment based on the information you provide. This is likely to be the most accurate method of finding your dosha.

    Find Your Dosha Online

    Several websites provide online questionnaires to help you find your dominant dosha type. But the questionnaires may not always be accurate.

    One study conducted by researchers in India found that questionnaires used to determine dosha type yield inconsistent results. After testing several different online sites that propose questions for finding your dosha type researchers found that results varied. "It is quite probable," they wrote, "that the results obtained for the three doshas of the same subject at the same time under same conditions may be different."

    Keep in mind that the process of finding your dosha is subjective—even if you visit an Ayurvedic doctor. That means that it is not based on objective data, like a blood or urine test. For that reason, it may not be perfectly accurate.

    So does this mean you should ignore your dosha altogether? Not necessarily. Your dosha may be a combination of more than one type. You may find that will need some adjustment along the way.

    Eat Foods for Your Dosha

    Once you have determined your dominant dosha, you can create meals around foods that will help nourish your body and balance your energy.  You'll find more extensive guides for dosha-based eating online at sites including The Ayurveda Institute, but it's helpful to scan a few of the foods suggested by the organization for each dosha.

    • Vata Foods to Eat: Sweet fruit such as cooked apples or cherries, cooked vegetables like asparagus or beets, grains including quinoa or rice, red lentils, dairy products, beefs, eggs, fish, black pepper, coriander leaves, vinegar, peanuts, pecans, chia or flax seeds, beer or white wine, sesame oil and ghee.
      • Vata Foods to Avoid: Raw apples, watermelon, frozen, raw or dried vegetables, potatoes, barley, corn, chickpeas, split peas, yogurt, lamb, turkey, red wine, and chocolate.
    • Pitta Foods to Eat: Raisins, watermelon, sweet or bitter vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower, dry cereal, pasta, black beans, unsalted butter, chicken white meat, egg whites, almonds, beer, dry white wine, and coconut.
      • Pitta Foods to Avoid: Apricots, avocado, pungent vegetables like onion or raw leeks, spinach, bread made with yeast, soy sauce, salted butter, sour cream, beef, dark chicken, chili pepper, red or sweet wine, and chocolate.
    • Kapha Foods to Eat: Astringent fruit like applesauce or prunes, pungent or bitter vegetables like celery or carrots, granola, polenta, lima beans, buttermilk, cottage cheese, shrimp, turkey, and dry red or white wine.
      • Kapha Foods to Avoid: Sweet or sour fruits like grapefruit or figs, sweet or juicy vegetables like cucumber or zucchini, oats, pasta, pancakes, kidney beans, soft or hard cheese, duck, fish, ketchup, hard alcohol, and chocolate.

      Dr. Maha suggests getting a book to help create healthy meals as you learn how to follow an Ayurvedic diet. He recommends Ayurvedic Cooking: A Life of Balance, The Tastes of Ayurveda, and The Modern Ayurvedic Cook Book.

      Should I Follow an Ayurvedic Diet for Weight Loss or Wellness?

      There are different issues to consider if you are thinking about starting an Ayurvedic diet for weight loss or improved health. First there is the issue effectiveness. You want to make sure that the plan you invest in is one that is supported by evidence. And second, consider adherence. You should only adopt an eating plan that you can maintain for the long-term if you want your weight loss results to stick.

      Does Scientific Evidence Support Ayurveda?

      Even though Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, much of the evidence to support its effectiveness is observational. According to the National Institutes of Health, many clinical trials of Ayurvedic approaches have yielded inconsistent or questionable results due to poor methodology or study design.

      However, as interest in the approach increases in the Western world, more researchers are conducting high quality studies that support using the system for improved health.

      • Researchers from Harvard conducted a study supporting the possible use of holistic health interventions including Ayurveda to help people stick to new and healthy behaviors.
      • A pilot investigation conducted by researchers from Harvard, Emory University and the University of Connecticut found that Ayurvedic practices in appear to improve psychosocial health among both overweight/obese yoga students. These researchers cautioned, however, that results must be interpreted with caution to to problems with study design and other issues.
      • A review published in the International Journal of Obesity reported a clinical trial of Ayurvedic preparations for weight loss resulting in clinically significant weight loss as compared to placebo.
      • A study conducted in Sweden found that Ayurvedic medicine improved outcomes for some, but not all study participants with respiratory, musculoskeletal, circulatory, tumor, and cutaneous illnesses. Researchers suggest further systematic research.
      • Researchers from the University of New Mexico and University of Arizona conducted published a study which reported that an Ayurveda and yoga-based lifestyle modification program is an acceptable and feasible approach to weight management.

        Other studies have demonstrated that Ayurveda may be helpful in reducing cardiometabolic risk factors or for the management of coronary heart disease, may be helpful for improving sleep quality and duration, and may be useful for the management of type 2 diabetes.

        Can I Stick to An Ayurvedic Diet?

        Even if increasing evidence supports an Ayurvedic diet for weight loss or wellness, no eating plan will work if you don't stick to it for the long term. Both Dr. Maha and Dr. Sam acknowledge that some people have a hard time maintaining the program. Dr. Maha says that the limited food choices and even food taste may be difficult for some when they begin. However, Dr. Sam says that once her clients understand the benefits of each type of food, the taste doesn't matter.

        Aside from taste, the complexity of an Ayurvedic diet may be intimidating for some. If following the dosha eating plan seems too confusing, some experts suggest simply using basic eating principles.

        Sarajean Rudman, M.S., M.A., is an Ayurvedic practitioner and clinical nutritionist. She doesn't suggest dosha-specific foods, but rather foods that aid in digestion, and lifestyle practices that emphasize listening to your body, coming into balance, and intuitive eating and exercise. Instead of focusing on weight loss, she helps her clients focus on wellness.

        An Ayurvedic diet is helpful for becoming the healthiest size and balance for your particular constitution or nature. Again, taking the focus off of weight loss and bringing it instead toward coming into balance with nature.

        She goes on to say that there is absolutely no one-size-fits-all equation. Everything is tailored toward your individual needs. "An Ayurvedic diet allows you to create habits for life, it is, in fact, not a diet at all, but instead a way of eating that should be adopted forever."

        She suggests that you choose nutritious whole foods instead of processed foods, ignore calorie counting, and eat intuitively to manage portion sizes.

        "Eat a medium sized breakfast until you are full, and do not eat again until you are hungry. Eat a large lunch and walk afterwards. Rest on your left side for 10-20 minutes, and do not eat again until you are physically hungry. Then finally eat a small dinner if you are hungry, or skip it all together. Being able to eat until you are full gives people the freedom from feeling deprived or having to measure portion sizes and calories."

        Rudman says that adopting a comprehensive Ayurvedic lifestyle that is tailored to your personal needs will yield results without restriction, starvation, or that feeling of being trapped in a diet.

        Following an Ayurvedic diet will lead you to be the size and shape that is most suitable for your nature where you will physiologically, psychologically and emotionally thrive.

        A Word From Verywell

        The Ayurvedic diet has been practiced by millions of people for thousands of years and is well accepted in many parts of the world as a key component of overall health and wellness. There are many elements of the eating plan that overlap with nutrition fundamentals practiced by Western medical and health experts.

        If weight loss is your goal, you're likely to see results if you adopt an Ayurvedic diet and build meals around whole, unprocessed foods and mindful eating practices. However, the National Institutes of Health cautions consumers that certain Ayurvedic products, herbs, or herbal combinations may cause side effects and can be harmful if used improperly. Be sure to discuss any major dietary changes or herbal medicines with your health care provider to make sure that they don't interfere with current medications or with the management of your medical conditions.

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