In the last post, I bludgeoned you with scientific research on the ways in which acupuncture regulates weight from an inflammatory, neuroendocrine, and metabolic perspective.
Yah, yah, science. Cool, got it.
So let’s now move on to the good stuff – what Chinese Medicine teaches us about weight loss.
Not to be a total square, but I have to insert the obligatory disclaimer here that whereas our western society is all about quick fixes and weight loss blitzes, Chinese Medicine operates from more of a slow and steady wins the race sort of stance.
In other words, if you’re looking for immediate gratification – and by ‘immediate gratification,’ I mean rollercoastering weight losses and rebounds – you’re barking up the wrong tree.
But if you want to take an approach that is as accessible as it is intuitive, an approach that is not only effective but also encourages sustained behavioral and perspective changes, then look no further.
Instead of myopically telescoping in on calories in and calories out, Chinese Medicine looks beyond the realm of food to consider other factors that influence eating behaviors and the assimilation of nutrients.
Allow me to break this down into bite-sized morsels of information. Nuggets of knowledge. So you can really marinate on it. Digest it, if you will…
And now that I’ve gotten ALL THE PUNS out of my system, here we go!
First up: Get Calm and Get Focused
Removing distractions – I’m looking at you, TV and computer – and taking a few deep breaths to get out of stress mode and anchored in the present moment are highly encouraged practices. Whether you eat alone or with friends and family, the importance of focusing on the full sensory experience cannot be overstated; notice not only the taste but also the texture, the temperature, the smell of the food you’re eating. Bonus points for chewing slowly and thoroughly.
Why? Because being relaxed and present activates the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which equips us to optimally ‘rest and digest.’ By contrast, the sympathetic branch of the nervous system is responsible for ‘fight or flight’ physiology, which is antagonistic to proper digestion (and to many of the normal processes our bodies undergo daily – breathing, sleeping, peeing, pooping – all that good stuff).
The parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the nervous system are complementary and opposing. And also binary, so if you’re in one state, you’re not in the other. Theoretically, this is good, assuming we stay on the parasympathetic side of the tracks 99% of the time, as nature would have it. Our culture has largely flipped the switch on this setting, however, leaving us in a perpetually stressed out, sympathetic dominant state.
My favorite way to slip into rest and digest mode is to do a few rounds of box breathing: inhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold again for four counts (essentially drawing a box).
Next: Stoke the Fire
Digestion is an energy-intensive process. A person’s capacity to digest and assimilate nutrients depends, to some degree, on his or her digestive fire. Put into Chinese Medicine terms, we need sufficient yang to provide the heat that allows for transformation of food and fluid into usable energy.
Sidebar: whereas yin is denoted by coolness, rest, stillness, and softness, yang represents the equal and opposing elements of heat, activity, movement, and solidity.
Allow me to offer this graphic by way of demonstration…
This is just a smattering of the qualities we can attribute to yin and yang but for the purposes of this conversation, we can hang our hats on yang being vital to the digestive process. To that end, approaching meals and snacks in a way that preserves this heat will go a long way towards proper digestion and weight maintenance.
Good. Great. Grand.
But what does that actually mean?
It means not eating a diet heavily composed of cold and raw foods – cough, cough, dairy and salads. The more cold material you throw down the hatchet, the harder your digestive furnace has to work to get the job done. By eating and drinking more warm and room temp food and fluids, you lighten the workload of your digestive system.
If you, like me, cannot fathom the thought of a life without fruit or salads, simply add a warming component to your snackage. A cup of green tea or ginger tea will do the trick. I will often add warm stir-fried veggies and proteins to my salads to keep them digestion-friendly, and have been known to concoct warm sauces to use in place of traditional salad dressing.
Spotlight on: DAMPNESS
A lack of digestive fire can contribute to dampness, which is a type of fluid accumulation resulting from inadequate processing of food and liquids. Eating a diet in which cold and raw foods are the main players compounds this dampness accumulation and so keeping dampening foods to a minimum is advised, particularly if you have weak digestion to begin with.
Foods that create dampness:
- Fried foods
- Greasy foods
- Bananas (sad!)
- Raw fruits in excess
- Concentrated juices
- Anything yeast-y: pastries, pizza dough, beer
If we roll with the logic that cold and damp antagonize digestion, it would follow, then, that foods of the warm and dry persuasion enhance it. And that they do! Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, black pepper, garlic, fennel, and ginger are all wonderfully warming. They are also included in the Chinese pharmacopoeia and are commonly used medicinally in formulas, so just because they are highly available does not mean that they’re not potent!
Beyond this, foods that specifically resolve dampness can also be considered; this category is mostly comprised of bland foods, such as:
- Button mushrooms
- Beans (kidney, aduki)
- Corn (non GMO, please!)
- Green and oolong tea
Moving onto my next recommendation…EXERCISE
This is where I part ways somewhat with Chinese Medical sensibilities, which emphasize gentle and grounding practices like Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
Swell practices, no doubt, and I believe having a centering and meditative movement practice is something everyone should do BUT….
There are only so many hours in the day and sometimes you just gotta exert yourself. Elevate your heart rate. Break a sweat. Get those endorphins bumping. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top in terms of intensity or duration but it should be consistent if you want results. And when it comes to consistency and adherence, choosing movement that you enjoy trumps movement based on purported calorie burn erry day.
A regular movement practice checks all the boxes on the weight regulation To Do list:
- Enhances lymphatic flow, which is important for overall circulation, immune function, and detoxification
- Improves insulin sensitivity, rendering you better equipped to utilize carbohydrates for energy instead of storing them as fat
- Generates feely-good brain chemicals like brain derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, as well as endorphins, which improve mood, decreasing the likelihood that you’ll turn to food for comfort
- Builds lean muscle mass, which is more metabolically active than fat mass (this pertains to weight bearing, strength-focused training more so than cardio)
- Stimulates digestion and, ahem, elimination
And finally, a Chinese Medicine-approved approach to weight loss would involve….drum roll, please….acupuncture. And not because there exists a magical point prescription that burns up fat stores but because acupuncture confers the same benefits as the above-described lifestyle factors.
An intelligently designed acupuncture treatment, or more realistically, series of treatments, will make good on shutting down the stress response and activating the parasympathetic nervous system to improve digestion and water metabolism. It will regulate hormones and neurotransmitters to promote proper appetite and satiety, along with regulating mood and emotional responses to food and to stressors (emotional eaters, can I get an amen to that??)
Certain acupuncture points are more directly related to some of these actions than others, and there are also points strongly involved with addressing that dastardly dampness I mentioned, or regulating blood sugar, improving sleep, and on and on, so ultimately, acupuncture geared towards weight loss will look different from one patient to the next, and if done thoughtfully and intelligently, from one treatment to the next.
Since I am by no means saying ‘get thee to an acupuncturist if you want to get results,’ I will leave you with some descriptions of acupuncture points that you can do acupressure on, by way of parting words.
Keep in mind these are fairly general and will benefit many, if not most. They make up a handful of points that I might consider if someone came to me looking for assistance with weight loss, but in no way comprise any kind of standardized or template approach.
Triple Warmer 6 (TW6 or SJ6)
About 3 inches from your wrist crease on the thumb side of the forearm. If you place your right fingers flat on the back of your left forearm and wiggle your left fingers, you’ll feel a bundle of tendons moving – this point is on the border of that tendon bundle on the same side as the thumb. TW6 is a wonderful point for constipation, bloating, and inflammation. It can really get things moving, however, so if too much movement is already part of your picture, you might want to steer clear of this point.
Stomach 40 (ST40)
Walk your fingers about half way down your shin bone and about a half inch to an inch outside the bone – you’ll land on a muscle called the tibialis anterior that you can feel engage if you flex and point your foot towards and away from your face. This point is a rockstar at resolving phlegm, a close cousin of dampness, and from an emotional standpoint, helps us move past the ‘stuck’ eating behaviors we may find ourselves mired in.
Spleen 6 (SP6)
Find the round bump inside the ankle where the leg meets the foot. Place your finger on the apex of the bump and then slide up the shin bone about 3 inches, feeling for indentations or tender spots. This point possesses the unique ability to be both moving and nourishing and works on not only the spleen – an organ with major digestive significance – but also the liver and kidneys (more on why they’re important later), making it a triple threat.
Find the flap that separates your ear from your face and quasi covers the ear canal. At roughly the mid point of this flap (called the tragus) you’ll find a gem of appetite regulating power known as the appetite point. Because its effect is regulating, it will restore a reduced appetite and can, in the case of excessive appetite, tame the hunger beast.
For all of these points, simply apply pressure with your fingers for 30 seconds or so. 60 if you have time to spare. Clear your mind and focus on your intention as you press and squeeze, keeping your breath steady and calm all the while.
And that, folks, is it. There is much more that goes into weight loss from a Chinese Medicine perspective but I hit the highlights here, you know, to whet your appetite for a bit of acupuncture education.