Acupuncture Treatment for Weightloss
Obesity has become a top concern in our country. Being overweight can range from an annoying, self-esteem-damaging social disease to a life-threatening problem. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1/3 of all American adults are obese, as are 17% of American children (12.5 million kids). Obesity is seen as the root of some of the leading causes of preventable death: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and various forms of cancer.
Being overweight hampers our lives in many ways. It slows us down. Our metabolism (general physiological body functions) becomes sluggish and it makes us feel tired, lethargic and depressed. The increase in fat asks our bodies to overwork. Being overweight dampens our mood and leads to social difficulties and self-esteem issues.
There’s always the issue of “body image” present in our culture. Each of us has a different type of body: some are rail-thin, some are voluptuous, some are big boned, some are small. Some have big muscles, some are thin and wiry. The ideal state is not to “look like” anything in particular, but to be in a place where our body is working at its optimal state, allowing our bodies to take their natural shape, whatever that might be.
Many diets and weight-loss programs are inherently flawed. They may advocate eating very good foods: organic foods, nutritionally rich foods, raw foods or super foods. However, if our digestive system is too weak to digest and absorb the nutrients in these high quality foods, we receive little or no benefit. It doesn’t matter what we put into our bodies if our digestive systems are too weak to process it.
Nutrition is the combination of the food we eat plus our digestive capacity. In my acupuncture clinic, I often see people who are juicing or eating raw food diets. Many of these people are actually doing more harm to themselves than good through their “high quality” diets. They lack the digestive fire to break down raw food. The energetic “cold” nature of the juicing actually weakens their digestive system further. Yes, the food they are eating is superb. However, the systems in which the food is being processed is faulty. The real work they need to be doing is repairing and strengthening their digestive systems.
Western Medicine is often criticized by Eastern (Alternative) Medicine as being very good at detoxing, and not so good as strengthening the body’s systems. Chemotherapy for example: very effective to break up and eliminate tumors from the body. However, for those cancer patients with weak systems, there is very little available to “tonify” and strengthen them. These are often the patients who end up having extreme complications from the chemo treatment: because their systems are just too weak to support a detox.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, food is the center of all of our lives. Eating is something we do at least three times a day everyday. We use food to comfort ourselves, for entertainment, as well as to stay alive. Digestive problems, including being overweight, are often associated with many other aspects of our lives than just nutrition.
The reasons why we eat are not always because we are hungry. Many of us eat to deal with our emotions. We eat to feel better, we eat to numb, or we eat because we are bored, or depressed. Or we eat because we are not doing or saying what we want. In Chinese Medicine there is a name for this “imbalance” in the body. They call it “Yin Fire.” What this refers to is unexpressed desires being dampened either by our inability to let them go, or by behavior that is supporting its suppression. Our eating patterns can be part of this scenario. We may eat in order not to feel, just as we may drink so that we won’t feel certain things. By “stuffing” our feelings however, they don’t go away.
We know within basic body metabolism that the Brain survives on sugar. But when we overeat foods that turn into sugar, the Liver converts it into fat that is stored for later use. In Chinese Medicine, the Liver is seen as the organ that “harmonizes” the emotions. It provides a “smooth flow” of emotional energy. This includes our ability to process our emotions, as well as the capacity to let them go and move on. When our emotions become stuck and we begin to dwell and obsess, the Liver gets stuck. This can lead to addictive tendencies. We may start acting out. Or we can start self sabotaging. We can get to a place where we lose control of our actions: where we can’t stop doing certain things even though we know they are harmful for us. Fat is “drained” into the belt area as belly fat. The “spare tire” around the waist can be filled with more than fat: it can be all our “yin fire” accumulations, including suppressed emotions and thoughts.
Clarity of the mind and its ability to make proper choices (and set proper limits) are seen as part of digestive function in Chinese Medicine. Both metabolism of food and thoughts are predicated on the strength of the Stomach and Pancreas. A strong digestive system gives us a strong “center” where we can make and uphold proper decisions that are good for us. A weak center may cause us to cave in and become soggy.
When treating obesity and any type of weight issue, physical as well as mental aspects of the digestive system must be strengthened.
It’s very hard to stop eating things that are bad for us, or to stop eating excessively when our minds are weak. A weak will is not a character flaw, it is a breakdown of a physiological process just like malabsorbtion syndrome. There need not be judgement involved. Chances are the Stomach and Pancreas are weak and the Liver is stuck. Address these imbalances and things will start to change.
How Acupuncture Works in Weightloss:
Acupuncture is a therapy that strengthens the functional energy of the body. The first thing that needs to be assessed when there is problem with body weight is the state of the digestive system. Is the food eaten being properly digested, assimilated and eliminated? What is happening at the stage of “ingestion”? Is the appetite good? Is the appetite too strong? Once the food is successfully ingested, is there bloating or fullness in the stomach? Is the stomach able to complete its initial processing of the food? Are there symptoms of tiredness after eating, chest or throat tightness? Is there gas? How is elimination? How often does the patient have a bowel movement? Is there undigested food in the stool?
From the detective work done in the acupuncture clinic, the state of the stomach and pancreas can be assessed. Then acupuncture points are chosen to direct the energy of the digestive system appropriately. Perhaps there is too much acid in the stomach, causing increased appetite and weakening of the energy of the pancreas. A weak pancreas will not control our level of satiety, causing us to overeat. Maybe the small intestine has become damaged, leading to undigested food in the stools and malabsorbtion. Maybe the stomach and the pancreas are not working together, causing the symptoms of belching, hiccoughs, throat tension or gas.
Whatever needs to be done will be done through the acupuncture treatment: strengthening the body or eliminating toxins and accumulations.
The state of the mind and emotions must also be assessed. Are the eating disorders, or accumulation of fat due to an emotional disturbance? How is stress impacting the digestive process? Is the food acting as a replacement for something else? What is being held onto? The heart and liver channels may need to be treated to address these issues.
We can always treat the symptoms: the branches of the tree. But to really address the root of the problem, the core issue itself must be explored. Is it an issue of self-esteem, or inadequate expression of emotions? Was there a disappointment that has been sublimated? Or is there fear of doing or saying something? Is the food (and the fat) keeping the person stuck so they don’t have to face what they are afraid of?
Acupuncture treatment is body-mind medicine. It treats the entirety of the patient. You are invited to bring your entire self into the treatment room. The physical issue that is causing you distress may be coming from your emotional life, or the way you think. Or maybe your emotional issue is coming from your diet. The food we eat is notorious for impacting the way we feel: for better or worse. Maybe the problem is something that has been inherited, running in the family. It can still be addressed and treated. There is a saying in Chinese Medicine: that which our parents have been unable to resolve is passed onto us with the hope that we have what it takes to rectify the problem.
The diet most likely needs to be discussed and adjusted. Many of us just don’t know how or what to eat. We are never really taught what food does to our bodies and minds. Food can be medicine or it can be poison. We are advised quite a bit about what to stay away from. We are advised less commonly as to what we should eat.
Perhaps an herbal formula will help provide daily support in strengthening the digestive system. Sometimes the system will refuse to rebuild itself until the issues blocking it are let go of. We can see this mirrored in our lives. We may doing good things for ourselves, but maybe we are in a really toxic relationship. We try to build our self-esteem and feel calm and good about ourselves. But every time we fight with our partner, we become angry and grab a box of cookies. Chances are, we won’t be able to let go of the cookies until we let go of the toxic partner. Or maybe we despise our job. We “will” ourselves to eat right. But everyday after a hard, frustrating day at work we feel we need to go home and drink a bottle of wine or eat a hunk of goat cheese and a box of crackers. What goes first? What is the compensatory behavior, and what is the real issue?
Change can be difficult. But there are ways to support and empower ourselves when we want to take the first step. Most of us would benefit from the support of acupuncture treatment, herbal medicine and dietary advice. We’d also benefit from learning how to express our emotions and let go of what we’ve been suppressing or acting out.
Beginning to see food as medicine is powerful. It is truly using something we do unconsciously everyday as a tool for transformation and empowerment. Digestion is the root of all the parts of our bodies. The health of the immune system, the muscles, the brain and the mind are all reliant on the energy created by the stomach: our diet really is the root of all our physical and mental power. When approaching our state of wellness, the digestive system is an excellent place to start. It is truly the root of all transformation in our lives. If you want to see a change in your life, look to your stomach to begin the process.