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Weight Loss and Chinese Medicine

By Ted Marshall, Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist

Acupuncture and herbs can improve digestion and metabolism, calm the mind and reduce stress, and reduce cravings. Addressing one or more of these factors are key to a successful weight loss program and directly support any changes in diet and lifestyle. Of course, diet and exercise are the everyday habits we need to change in order to lose weight.  The following are general guidelines for diet and how Chinese Medicine can support a weight loss program These recommendations are not meant to diagnose any medical problems.

Chinese medicine can be divided into three main aspects. Acupuncture is what most people think of when they think of Chinese Medicine and is one key aspect. Herbal medicine is another very powerful aspect, which improves the body’s metabolism, may reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and has many other benefits. The third and in many ways, the most important aspect of Chinese medicine is diet and lifestyle. This includes what we eat, how much exercise we get, and our ability to deeply relax. Diet and lifestyle is the most important area for weight loss, and is what most of this paper focuses on. Acupuncture and herbal treatment can effectively support the underlying factors that contribute to weight gain, but without changing our lifestyle and behavior, it’s virtually impossible to lose weight.

We will first look at aspects of our diet that contribute to weight loss, and then we will address the role of acupuncture and herbal treatment.

Whole Foods. Whole foods refer to unprocessed foods. Processed foods often have trans-fatty acids and high fructose corn syrup, both of which greatly contribute to weight gain as well as other diseases such as diabetes. Processed foods are also higher in natural sugars, which generates spikes (cause a sudden increase) in blood sugar. These “spikes” tax our digestion making it unable to properly metabolize these sugars. The sugars are then converted into fats!

Some common examples of whole foods would be unprocessed grains—brown rice, beans, vegetables, and grass-fed meat. One good guideline to determine whether foods are processed is that if it comes in a box- these are  almost certainly processed. It may seem hard to get over your craving for junk food in the beginning, but after a couple of weeks, your body will feel healthier and more energetic, and you will actually stop craving them soon.

Fiber. In the days of the hunter-gatherers, people ate an average of 100g of fiber/day.  In modern times, however, we only eat an average of 8g/day! (This is mostly due to the popularity of processed foods, which usually contain very little fiber.) Fiber helps with weight loss by slowing the rate of sugar entering the blood. Large spikes in blood sugar increase and promote the conversion of sugar into fat and are very damaging to the body in other ways, such as giving rise to inflammatory diseases. Foods with fiber include vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts.

Omega 3 Fatty-Acids. These increase metabolism, increasing the rate that fat is burned. They also “turn on messages” to the body that lower LDL cholesterol and improve blood circulation. Foods high in omega-3s are WILD salmon (farmed salmon contains 3-4 times less omega 3s than wild), small fish such as sardines and herring, and omega-3 eggs (it will say so on the box.), and flaxseed oil (use two teaspoons of flax seed oil per day over your food, or swallow it straight followed by water.)

Lean QUALITY Protein. When I say quality, I mean range-fed beef and chicken (beef should be grass-fed as well), and wild fish. Farmed animal products contain many antibiotics and steroids that affect our metabolisms negatively. Grass- and range-fed animal ingest lignins and other important substances that directly benefit energy production. Other good sources of protein include beans, nuts, and eggs, as well as buffalo.

Quality Carbohydrates. Eating carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (the rate which they enter the blood stream and cause blood sugar to rise) are also important in weight loss.  These include all whole foods. If we just eat twinkies all day, we will have high spikes in blood sugar, and one similar refined substance as our source of energy. The requirements of our bodies are varied and complex, and having one or two processed sources of energy production cause our myriad of physiological processes to fall into a state of neglect.  Eating whole foods allow our bodies to be maintained in optimum condition and sustain good health.

Anti-inflammatory Foods. Inflammatory diseases, which include obesity, arteriolosclerosis, gout, some forms of arthritis and heart disease are common in our society. The solution? Fruits and vegetables.  Leafy greens are the best, e.g., collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and broccoli. IMPORTANT: Many people don’t like vegetables, often because they have been overcooked. When you overcook vegetables, you not only remove the flavors, but also the nutrients. Also, you don’t want to eat lots of salads because according to Chinese Medicine, cold, raw foods are much harder to digest, and will tax the digestive system. The ideal way to prepare vegetables is to lightly steam them for 5-10 minutes (depending on the vegetable) so they’re slightly crunchy or barely wilted. Green tea also has anti-inflammatory properties, and has also been shown to promote health in many ways, such as well as increasing the metabolism.

Detox Foods. Foods that have been proven to detoxify the liver, such as watercress, artichokes, and pomegranates are highly beneficial to digestion and overall health.

Water. Filtered water is best.  Bottled water may have been sitting on the shelf too long, and a quality water filter is much less expensive in the long run (and uses fewer plastic containers). Slight dehydration initiates the stomach’s craving for food. This process can become a vicious cycle when eating more food—especially spicy and fried foods—increases the dryness in the stomach, which increases the craving for food. This imbalance is common yet simple to cure. Stopping this eating pattern for a few weeks, and slowly experimenting with different food preparation habits—along with drinking plenty of water—can make an incredible difference in how we feel.

Noting Eating Before Going to Bed. Eats at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. After you eat, the body initiates growth to strengthen muscles and bones. But if we go to sleep after we eat, these hormones convert sugars from our food into fat for storage. This is a classic pattern of weight gain from stress. This is why it’s a good idea to take a short walk after dinner (and don’t eat ice cream afterward!).

Fermented Foods. Sorry, I don’t mean beer. Many cultures around the world have integrated these foods into their daily diet. Fermented foods replace the natural bacteria in our intestines allowing us to get more energy from our food. Examples of these foods would be: sauerkraut, yogurt, miso, and kimchee.

Multi-vitamin.  In general, our vitamins should come just from our food, but that’s very hard to do in today’s society. 92% of Americans are deficient in one or more vitamins, which weakens the body’s functioning, making one susceptible to disease.

Exercise. Exercise increases your metabolism and helps burn calories. You should do something to increase your heart rate such as running, swimming, bicycling, or walking. One of the best exercises is walking. When walking, though, you must do it briskly to increase your heart rate. The important thing with exercise is consistency, whether you walk for 20 minutes 3 times per week, or swim for an hour 5 times per week. Taking it easy and not straining yourself will make it more fun and easier to continue.

Relaxation. It’s important to deeply relax for at least 15 minutes per day. When I say relax I don’t mean watching TV or surfing the internet. I mean doing nothing except maybe listening to some soft music. This is important because in our stressful society, deep relaxation will reduce cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress hormone, which essentially converts sugars to fat).

Acupuncture and Herbs. As we grow older our digestive system slows down, making it easier to gain weight. Acupuncture and herbs can strengthen our digestion so that we have more energy, and can metabolize foods better. Stress, as mentioned above, increases cortisol levels. Acupuncture directly treats stress, and can be counted as part of your deep relaxation time. Ear acupuncture works well in calming cravings for sweets (which usually indicates stress), and has been used successfully for the treatment of drug addiction.

In summary, diet and lifestyle are the most important factors in a weight loss program, and Chinese Medicine can support your transition to a healthier life and body.  As a holistic practitioner, I address all of these factors.

If you have any further questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at The Yellow Emperor (510) 227-4028. We look forward to helping you become a healthier, more vibrant you!