July 19th 2005 - Can Chinese Medicine Help Me Lose Weight?
Copyright by Karen S. Vaughan, L.Ac, MSTOM
Can Chinese Medicine help you lose weight? Not if your weight is excessive because you don’t get enough exercise. Not if you are eating the wrong foods, provided you know what the right foods are. (You may be surprised.) It won’t let you spring a leak so the fat can flow out of your belly (darn it!)
But if you eat because you are anxious, it will help you deal with anxiety. If you always need to fill your stomach it can drain the stomach fire. If your liver is sluggish, herbs and acupuncture can help you tone your liver. If you are depressed, Chinese Medicine can help rebalance you, especially if you are also dealing with the life conditions or mental habits that cause you to act depressed.
There is no single kind of diet that fits all people. Some people need more protein, others can eat more carbohydrates. Still others need a mixed diet. We aren’t talking about a hamburger and bacon diet for protein types, but a balanced vegetable-rich diet with quality sources of meat and Omega 3 fats. Carbohydrate types can’t live on bread and pasta- whole grains will balance out insulin surges better than white flour and fruits and vegetables should be your mainstay.
In general everyone needs about 7 servings of vegetables or fruit, and it should be selected to fit your metabolic type. I need a low carb diet so I stick to nutrient dense berries. White foods usually don’t work very well for anyone- flour, pasteurized cow milk, pasta, bread. Omega 3 fats found in fish oil used to be part of most meat, but with modern farming practices only exclusively grass fed meat and Alaskan non-farmed salmon contain a decent ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s. You may need to supplement with a mercury-free cod liver oil- I like Carlson’s Lemon flavored fish and cod liver oils because they don’t taste like fish. Hemp oil is the only seed oil I recommend (you can grind flaxseed just before eating, but it goes rancid almost immediately.) Extra virgin olive oil has Omega 9s which are also good. For cooking the “good” oils become dangerously denatured by the heat. Coconut oil, despite some bad press in the 60s in studies which used a hydrogenated form of that oil, has the best characteristics after heating. It is also used for virus shedding qualities.
It is my opinion that most seriously overweight people need a low to moderate carbohydrate diet that is rich in vegetables and avoids most grains. (Say a sensible version of Atkins or South Beach as low carb diets to the moderate carbohydrate Zone diet.) There are those who will lose weight on a vegetarian diet, but in my experience the carbohydrate types tend to be thinner to begin with.
Unless you can get pasteure-raised raw dairy you probably should not take very much. Goat is better than cow, because the milk is closer to human milk. Raw milk is a live food that will provide nutrients not in pasteurized milk, and exclusively pasteure-raised milk is higher in CLA than grain-fed milk. Unless you have a cow-share, or are tied into the raw milk underground, stick to cultured buttermilk or yogurt.
While I find that acupuncture can reduce blood sugar and lower blood pressure, and traditional herbal formulas can address balances that make weight loss more difficult, I have not found that Chinese dietary advice for weight loss is very applicable to Americans.
We are dealing with different genotypes, different blood types, different cultures, different exercise patterns and different foods. Americans might have been able to tolerate grains better if we weren’t ruined by overprocessed and denatured wheat. A high percentage of us are now allergic to the lectins in grains. Congee for breakfast might reduce the carbs and calories if it displaces rice, but not if it replaces a boiled egg or low carb protein shake. We can actually get a diet that has more protein and fewer carbohydrates and still is filling.
There is a lot of nonsense about traditional Chinese or Ayurvedic herbs for weight loss. Most commercially promoted herbs have nothing to do with traditional medicine and often they use herbs for reasons outside their traditional use. Gymnema, for instance was not used for diabetes in India and will make insulin resistance worse even if it lowers blood sugar. Herbal formulas like the stackers (even the non-ephedra types) or Cortislim are not individually selected and usually are poorly conceived. See a trained herbalist instead.
In this country we don’t ride bicycles for transportation, like the Chinese and we tend to have sedentary jobs. Kids are in a similar situation- they don’t get much if any recess in schools and they aren’t allowed to run around outside for security reasons. And when their working parents come home, half the time they bring in pizza or McDonald’s. We have created a culture which encourages obesity, unlike say Japan or China until a few decades ago.
And exercise is probably the key to weight loss. We need a little dietary restriction, using good quality food and a lot of exercise. Both sustained exercise for at least an hour a day, and strength training to build up muscle which burns calories even at rest. In addition all the little exercise you can get will help- taking stairs, walking to the subway instead of taking the bus, walking briskly around the block after eating. I have found for myself that I don’t lose weight on less than 1 ½ hours per day, and I have to diet too.
Now I can’t really say that I’ve given Chinese Medicine a real try for weight loss. I’m still fat. I tend not to be hungry, so the hunger points in my ear do very little. Those might help you if you are always hungry. If I overeat it is because I am bored, or inactive (say writing you articles on the computer!) I usually go to my acupuncturist for other conditions, perhaps not wanting an easy fix that I don’t really believe in.
My personal advice is to get some good dietary information. Read through the articles on www.mercola.com. Use good fats, lots of vegetables, fruits like berries and take the metabolic type test to determine which kind of diet is most likely to support your weight loss efforts. If you want acupuncture to reduce stress, to balance your Spleen Qi or for some other reason, I’m all for it. Herbs to balance you can help too.
But if your funding is limited, spend it on a personal trainer or get an exercise buddy. Do both aerobic and strength training. Do the stretching and breath work that supports your efforts. Yoga or Qi gong are good supplementary exercises for balancing, but they are not the first choice to reset your metabolism.
And when you find the magic combination, let me know.
Acupuncture and Herbs by Karen Vaughan, L.Ac in Park Slope and Manhattan.
118 East 37th Street, New York, NY 10016
Brooklyn, NY 11215