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In North America and Europe, more people than not have a problem with weighing too much rather than weighing too little. However, underweight is also a serious health issue. The problem with not weighing enough is that you don't have the reserves of energy that can carry you through a serious illness or injury. If something happens so that eating is impossible for a while (having to take chemotherapy, an injury to the colon, an injury to or cancer of the throat), thin people tend not to last as long as heavier people. Body fat actually has its uses. Increased muscle mass, of course, also adds to body strength.

I'll give you both a science-based explanation and a Ayurveda-based recommendation for gaining weight.

For your body to gain muscle, you need:

1. To exercise that muscle so that you find its limit, without injury, and

2. To provide the muscle with water, glucose, and complete protein within two hours of exercise, and also

3. To give the muscle a rest period of 24 to 48 hours so it can rebuild.

Working a muscle so hard that it almost breaks down sends a signal to rebuild itself. The fibers in the muscle that contract to make the muscle move are made of protein. Muscles are able to receive much more than the usual amount of amino acids (that they use to make proteins) right after exercise. It's important not just to eat enough protein on a day to day basis, but also to get protein into your system about the same time you finish a workout. That means eating a protein food either during or immediately after heavy exercise, since it takes about 90 minutes for protein foods to be digested so the amino acids can get into circulation.

Muscles are also more sensitive to glucose (sugar) immediately after exercise. They combine glucose with water to make glycogen. This is a storage form of energy. Each muscle cell has its own supply of glycogen that it can use as fuel during exercise, even when blood sugar levels begin to fall. The glycogen also gives the muscle cell a fuller contour, and collectively glycogen storage builds bigger muscles.

Up to 10 percent body fat in men and 20 percent body fat in women is basically a good thing.

Fat cells aren't just passive receptacles for fat storage. They actively manufacture triglycerides from excess glucose and from free fatty acids released from food.

Fat cells can't store fat, however, unless they have the active form of an enzyme that helps them combine fatty acids with water to make triglycerides. Essentially this process acts as a built in fire extinguisher to keep the fatty acids from oxidizing and damaging the cell and its neighbors. The enzyme that does this, lipoprotein lipase, only works if insulin levels in the bloodstream are high enough, and insulin levels in the bloodstream will only get high enough for fat storage (if you aren't diabetic) if you consume foods that become sugar.

In short, to gain muscle, you need to get enough sugar, protein, and water. To gain fat, which is also a good thing in moderation, you need at least a little high glycemic index, sugary food in your diet (but not if you are diabetic, in that case the way to gain weight is to control your blood sugar levels).

What does Ayurveda have to offer to making these processes work?

In the theory of Ayurveda, excessive thinness, when you get adequate calories, is due to an excess of "vata," substances, energies, and experiences that emphasize "langhanna," dryness, lightnees, and a failure to last. To balance excess vata, you need to cultivate "pita," substances, energies, and experiences that are fatty, oily, slow, and long-lasting. Quiet the mind with meditation 15 to 20 minutes a day. Slow down breathing by doing pranayama (single-nostril breathing) 15 to 20 minutes a day. Do "slow" exercises like yoga.

The Ayurvedic principle for a weight gain diet is "consistency." Eat meals three times a day. Eat substantial, calorie-enhanced meals every time. Eat at the same time every day, do your meditation and pranayams at the same time every day, and exercise at the same time every week.

Some Ayurvedic herbs help with this process.

1. Ashwagandha helps you relax. It also causes erotic dreams, but not in a frustrating way. Take ashwagandha as you start doing all the other things you do to change your lifestyle to achieve a healthy weight.

2. Shatavari is a tonic for both mental and physical "digestion." It helps you process difficult realities intellectually and also helps you digest the new, richer foods in your diet.

3. Amlaki fruit, which is used to make chyavanprash, helps with colds, flu, and minor infections. Take chyavanprash so you do not get off track when you get sick.

4. Triphala is the Ayurvedic remedy of choice when you become mentally or physically constipated. Take triphala when you get stuck in a rut, so to speak.

5. Honey and ghee should be included in your daily diet, in generous amounts.

These suggestions are the place to start. You can fine-tune your personal program for achieving your appropriate body weight with the help with a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine or a teacher of yoga. Persistence is key.

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