Bodies are just as much a product of habit and behavior as they are DNA and genetic structure. Understanding the different physiological body types can give you insight into how yours works best. The hormonal body types are Adrenal, Thyroid, Liver and Ovary, the structural types are Ectomorph, Endomorph and Mesomorph, and the Ayurvedic types (sometimes called the Doshas) are Pitta, Vata, and Kapha.
In the same way that there are personality types and archetypes that group certain patterns of behavior into identities, there are also ways to type the physiological body. This applies to body composition, though it can also affect appearance. Contrary to popular belief, it does not apply to “shapes,” like apple or hourglass.
Personality archetyping has been around for centuries. It can be traced back to ancient Greece, where archetypes were seen in literature. Later, there would be the Jungian archetypes, and now, everything from MBTI to zodiac have reached what seems like the apex of their appeal. People like to better understand their traits and motives, and find comfort in identifying with a group.
Physiologically, the same concept applies, and has been around for just as long.
The Doshas are the ancient Ayurvedic understanding of body typing, and have been used for centuries. It is based on the idea that just as everything on Earth is made from some combination of the elements (fire, air, water) so too are bodies made from different combinations. American psychologist William Sheldon popularized the structural body types (ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph) in the 1940s, theorizing that there are three different essential bodily structures, which account for the most typical statures. Most recently, a weight loss expert named Eric Berg popularized the idea of hormone-based body types, after discovering that many people were struggling to lose weight because it’s actually hormonal imbalances keeping it there.
Knowing what your body types are can help you better understand the following:
– Why you are built the way you are.
– What diet would be best for you.
– How to build muscle.
– How to lose weight.
– How to exercise most effectively.
– Any potential health risks you should watch out for.
As these are ultimately generalizations, it can also stand to be noted that many people fall into a mix of different body types. For example, it’s possible to have both an Adrenal disorder and a thyroid one, too. Though it’s more common that people fall into one predominantly, it’s not impossible to fit into multiple types.
In the hormonal theory, there are four main body types, and each of them is characterized by how the person distributes fat, either by storing it in equal proportion, in their stomach, or on their lower half. What’s interesting about the hormonal type theory is that it explains why many people can diet and exercise in the same way but not have the same results: it’s because there’s an underlying factor motivating your body to store weight in a certain way.
“You may be surprised to learn that there is a relationship between the four main body shapes and hormones. In a major discovery it was found that alterations or weaknesses in the functions of our glands or organs can contribute to different body shapes or distortions, which are largely designed by the accumulation of excess fluid and fat.
When the glands aren’t working properly, it is almost impossible to keep off excess body weight and inches. This means that body distortions can very well be an indication of underlying health problems, so improving the function of the appropriate glands or organs can help optimize the body’s performance and help you get a more normal body shape.” – The Science of Eating
What it is: The Adrenal body type is governed by the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for putting on weight in the stomach and back.
What it looks like: These people tend to have round faces, and find it almost impossible to lose weight in their mid-section no matter how much dieting or working out they do. This is because the weight is caused by a hormone that is actively utilizing proteins and fats in the lower legs, and storing it in the mid-center.
What you need to know: Exercising can actually make it more difficult for people with Adrenal bodies to lose weight, because they are already in a state of stress, which is what’s making them retain fat in the first place.
The secret thing that’s holding you back: You probably don’t realize this, but you are in a constant state of stress. Your sleep patterns are most likely disturbed, and you are constantly craving foods to help you regulate your emotions. Until you deal with whatever underlying stressors are consuming your life, you aren’t going to be able to change. Trying to eat less calories actually puts your body in a greater state of stress, making the situation worse.
What it is: The Thyroid body type is governed by thyroid function, and is responsible for making it either very difficult to lose weight, or hard to keep weight on.
What it looks like: These people tend to store weight very evenly, but fluctuate, perhaps putting on an inordinate amount of weight in a short period of time, with no seemingly particular cause.
What you need to know: People with this type very often have Thyroid disorders, which can be treated by a medical professional.
The secret thing that’s holding you back: You have very little tolerance for stress, and few if any productive coping mechanisms. You might notice side effects like hair thinning or loss, or weak and brittle nails. You are using sugar and carbohydrates to cope with stress, and your body is rapidly storing what you consume because it’s in a state of “emergency” all of the time.
What it is: The Liver body type is governed by the body’s inability to process an overconsumption of alcohol or processed foods.
What it looks like: The Liver body type is characterized most significantly as someone who has a “beer belly,” or who stores all of their weight in their front midsection. The weight will be disproportionate to the rest of their body, and distend out far beyond the rest of their frame.
What you need to know: It is common that these people will also often experience shoulder or knee pain. Often, diet changes can help with weight loss, especially the removal or reduction of alcohol consumption.
The secret thing that’s holding you back: Your weight and body issues are the result of toxins in your liver, which is why you’re gaining weight around that area and not in other parts of your body. You’re likely consuming too many of the wrong foods, and experiencing side effects like back stiffness or irritability. You are at risk for raised blood pressure or cholesterol if you don’t change your eating habits.
What it is: The Ovary body type is governed by the imbalances in estrogen production. This explains why men do not have the Ovary body type.
What it looks like: People with the Ovary type store weight in their lower stomach, lower back, hips and thighs.
What you need to know: These people will often have strong symptoms during menstruation, can potentially struggle with fluid retention, constipation, and fatigue. Taking birth control either drastically improves or drastically hurts their day-to-day wellbeing.
The secret thing that’s holding you back: You’re storing weight in your middle lower body because it’s actually your ovaries that are over producing estrogen. It begins a cycle of terse and unpredictable emotions and fearfulness, and the desire to “binge” on foods as though you are PMSing. The sugar you’re consuming is having a toxic effect on your body, and making it create even more of the hormones that are giving you the cravings in the first place.
The Doshas are based on the idea that, like anything else in nature, bodies are constructed with a combination of the elements. The Doshas account for the different ways that bodies can be constructed with the core elements of water, air, fire and earth.
“The physiology of the human body is governed by three main forces, which are commonly known as the three doshas. Although dosha literally means faulty or to cause harm, they only do so when they are functioning abnormally. When functioning normally, they maintain the good health of the body and guide all the normal bodily processes. Unlike the five elements, the three doshas are very real, albeit subtle, forces that exist within the body. They can not be measured in any real sense, but they can be observed and monitored.” – Dr. Marc Halper
Elements: Air & Earth
Appearance: Tall, long limbs, effortlessly thin, often cold.
Characteristics: Sensitive, sometimes spacey and easily distracted, sensitive, “busy bodied,” dislikes structure or routine, daydreamer.
What to consume: Grounding foods that are heavy and warm, using oils, root vegetables, rices and beans.
Elements: Fire & Water
Appearance: Medium frame, evenly proportioned, some areas more naturally muscular than others, can overheat easily or retain water easily.
Characteristics: Driven, focused, organized, often called a “Type A” with some “Type B” tendencies. Likes to have something to do or accomplish, known for creating problems when there are none to deal with.
What to consume: Teas, light proteins, green vegetables, a variety of spices.
Elements: Earth & Water
Appearance: Larger build, sometimes overweight but sometimes not. Easily retains fat, but can be extremely powerful and athletic when in shape.
Characteristics: Grounded, steady appetite, enthusiastic about life, great at relationships (when in balance), prefers a more sedentary lifestyle, likes to relax and enjoy life.
What to consume: Grains, greens, spices, teas, a nice mix of things that are light and grounding.
The structural body types are the three ways that people are built that account for a combination of their appetite, metabolic ability and natural ability to retain weight and fat. There are three structural types, of which explain the ways that people tend to respond to food and exercise.
“The three body types exist but probably never in their pure form. We all have some aspects of endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy. You are scored in an order with endomorphy first, then mesomorph, then ectomorphy.” – Dr. Lars McNaughton
Ectomorphs are effortlessly thin. (They would likely be the “Vata” body type.) They are super active and athletic, can eat whatever they want without any consequence to their weight, get full easily. They don’t consume a ton, and can struggle to build muscle and put on weight when it’s necessary. They are often very tall, but don’t necessarily have to be.
Endomorphs are the opposite of ectomorphs, which is that they are naturally heavier and more prone to storing fat. It is difficult for them to lose weight, and they have little muscle tone. They have large appetites, and often struggle to pace or control their food intake. Though they are prone to becoming overweight, when healthy, they are still naturally heavier than others.
Mesomorphs are effortlessly “in shape.” They have a generally symmetrical build, small waist, low body fat, and easily put on muscle. It is easy for them to lose weight when they want to, and they generally have smaller appetites. Mesomorphs can sometimes qualify as both ectomorphs and endomorphs, as their stature actually falls in between the two. However, they are set apart from either of those two categories because it is not as much of a struggle for them to lose or gain weight.