TCM Views On Factors That Affect Our Weight

It’s the rare person who doesn’t think about his or her weight, even in the small decisions like hesitating over the bubble tea or whether to have brownies or fruit for dessert. Many people make conscious decisions that are weight-based, from choosing salad instead of pasta to spending an hour on the treadmill when they would rather be napping.

As a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, I see a fair number of patients who are concerned about their weight. Some want to know if a few carefully placed needles will take care of their extra 5 kilograms, while others mention in passing how nice it would be if acupuncture could also help their crazy, out-of-control cravings for Bak Kut Teh.

As in most health-related issues, we want a magic bullet. People with migraines want to understand what one thing is triggering their headaches. People with anxiety want a quick fix. And people who want to lose weight want the miracle food that will melt away their fat forever.

The bad news is that there is rarely a single factor causing your migraines, anxiety, or extra weight: It’s a mash-up of many factors incubating over time.

The good news is that once you understand that there is no single reason you are tipping the scale to new heights, it becomes easier to take baby steps that compound over time and will yield results. Here are six factors that affect your weight:

  1. Calories Are Overrated

    Well, kinda. It turns out that the stated caloric value on food labels is merely an estimate. How you cook a particular food, how much fiber it contains, how nutritionally dense it is, and what your body does to digest it all have an impact on how much energy you’ll get from it. So while counting calories seems to be the easiest way to monitor your intake, it’s anything but that.

  2. Your Digestive Ability

    How well you break down the food you eat and convert it into energy and nutrients has an effect on your weight. If the food and fluids that you consume are not metabolising well, this results in what is called in TCM as excessive dampness. This creates pockets of moisture, which are the definition of fat tissue. You can tell if your digestion needs some help if you have digestive symptoms: gas, bloating, stomachaches, heartburn, nausea, constipation, or loose stools

  3. Emotional Health

    When you are upset or stressed out, the balance of your stress hormones also becomes upset. Cortisol, adrenaline, and insulin ramp up (or down) in a way that enables you to sustain the fight-or-flight response. A body system that ramps down when you’re stressed is your digestion, because you don’t need it for either fight or flight—at least not in the moment.

    The bottom line is that chronic stress or emotional upheavals alter your digestive process in a way that causes you to gain weight. And thanks to elevated cortisol, it accumulates around your middle.

  4. Exercise

    You’ve always heard that exercise is a good way to lose weight because it burns calories. While this is true, in Chinese medicine exercise, or movement, is good for another reason. Good health is all about having adequate reserves of vital substances, such as Qi and blood.

    But the second part of the equation is that those substances need to flow smoothly for optimal vitality. Excess weight is considered to be a kind of blockage or stagnation–stuff that’s just sitting there and not moving. So, through exercise, the adage “movement creates movement” comes into play. By moving your body, you are creating flow and helping to move some of that accumulation of damp tissue sitting on your hips.

  5. The Age Factor

    As you get older, you will notice that it becomes more difficult to drop a couple of kilograms than it was 10 years ago. Your metabolism is slowing, and it becomes a little more difficult to build calorie-burning muscle mass with the same amount of effort you put in 10 years ago.

    Menopause with it’s wrench throwing hormonal changes makes weight management even more tougher.

  6. You Are You

    While we’d like to have a magic bullet or a one-size-fits-all diet plan, the reality is that we’re all unique. In TCM, it would be impossible to come up with a plan that would suit everybody, simply because what you need for nutritional health and balance is entirely different from what your boss, kid, partner, neighbour, or anybody else needs for their optimal health. Each of us needs something different based on a variety of factors.

How Now, Brown Cow?

Based on the above factors, here are a few steps that might tilt the scale in your favor:

  1. Pay Attention To Your Digestion
    If you’re having symptoms, eat most of your food cooked and avoid cold drinks. Treatments like acupuncture, gua sha and other modalities can help arrest and reverse the symptoms.
  2. Probiotics
    Add probiotics into your diet with yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and other fermented foods that can help rebuild the microflora in your gut.
  3. Don’t Depend On Counting Calories
    At least not as your only weight-control strategy. Choose foods that are digestible, have fewer simple sugars and carbs, and are not processed.
  4. Get Your Stress Under Control
    Seriously. Your weight and overall health depend on it. Reiki and acupuncture are good ways to help reduce your stress and anxiety as part of a holistic stress management regimen.
  5. Move Your Body
    You don’t have to attend boot camp, but try to do some kind of (enjoyable) movement daily or use a daily exercise app to help. Personally I have found the suite developed by the Leap Fitness Group a very helpful tool to get someone like me who has not had a consistent exercise regimen for 20 years get started.
  6. Make Friends With Your Body
    Your body is not an enemy to be starved and pummeled into shape. Accept that it changes over time, and treat it with love. It’s the only one you have.