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Before acupuncture for weight loss: food and emotions in Chinese Medicine

Food has long been associated with emotions: it is a fact of life that much of what we eat, we eat not to fuel our bodies, but for social or emotional reasons. And while emotional eating has gained a bad reputation, and comfort food often brings to mind something oozing with sugar, fat and… guilt, I firmly believe that this should not be the case.

You see, in acupuncture, or rather in Chinese philosophy at large, emotions and the body are inseparable. You are supposed to feel good when you eat a good meal. How sad would life be if you didn’t! So we can say that a meal is supposed to feed our emotions, our “soul”, just as much as it does our body. The problem arises when our bodies and emotions are unbalanced, and instead of healing them, we over-use food.

 

If you are reading this, you are likely wondering if acupuncture can help you lose weight or balance out IBS or other digestive issues. While in my experience, the answer is mostly a resounding yes, it might not work in the way you think. There are no magic points that will make you shed the weight – sorry! Acupuncture as well as Chinese Medicine has never seen weight loss as a goal in itself, but rather, it prioritises the harmonising of internal organs as well as energy flow and the body-spirit relationship. If you are calm and happy, the flow of Qi (blood and lymph) to your digestive organs is good, then weight loss, if needed, happens naturally.

The goal is always achieving optimal health, enhancing your vitality and longevity. If you put on weight as an effect of some kind of imbalance, whether digestive, emotional or lifestyle – and how those are connected I will explain below – then yes, combined with all the holistic practices that form a part of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture will help you lose weight, because it will balance out your underlying health.

I want to state clearly: it is an important tenet of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, that we want to work with the body, never against it.

 

 

Weight is only seen as “extra” if it reflects an imbalance.

The way this imbalance can arise is multifold.

In Chinese Medicine, every kind of taste is associated with a particular type of energy in our mind and body (symbolised by the Five Elements – “Wu Xing”) and one of the key Organs (“Zang”). As such, the sweet taste correlates with Earth and the Spleen “Zang”. Before we proceed, you need to remember that in the Eastern traditions, the understanding of organs is much broader and does not map well onto Western anatomy. For instance, Spleen-Pancreas is the driving energy behind digestive functions, blood production, distribution of energy to muscles and more. Explaining the whole thing would take a good few chapters in a Chinese Medicine textbook, so please take into account that what you see here is a simplification.

 

TASTE

ELEMENT

ORGAN

THOUGHTS

sweet

Earth

Spleen-Pancreas

Thoughtfulness, worry, intellectual effort

sour

Wood

Liver

Creativity, flow, anger-guilt-resentment

salty

Water

Kidney

Fear, fear-anxiety, or need to adapt

bitter

Fire

Heart

Joy, sociability

Tart / astringent

Metal (air in Japanese tradition)

Lung

Grief, control, purification

 

Let me give you two real life examples (names and details changed, of course).

Hannah craves coffee, though she believes she should not drink it due to signs of inflammation in her body (psoriasis). She always drinks her coffee the same way: with thick barista almond milk. She loves the taste and experiences it as deeply comforting.

There are two aspect to her drink: coffee, which is bitter, and the almond milk, which is sweet and slightly creamy in texture. As you can see, mapped onto the Five elements, these correspond to Fire and Earth. Within the acupuncture or Chinese Medicine system, the former supports her Heart and feelings of joy, while the latter, her Spleen-Pancreas, and will balance her thoughtfulness and propensity to worry, grounding her.

John’s favourite snack are salted peanuts, and rarely a day goes by that he does not go through a bag. He also will not say no to sweets or beer when given the occasion. He is social and self-assured on the surface, but prone to anxiety and fear as well as a fan of conspiracy theories. He has had problems with kidney stones and polyps before starting acupuncture and holistic lifestyle interventions.

I hope you can see in the examples above, how balancing Hannah’s and John’s weight will be about much more than inducing weight loss. I would use acupuncture to strengthen Hannah’s digestive system and heart, as well as ground her and enhance her feeling of wellbeing. In John’s case, we would look to strengthen his Kidneys as well as adrenals, alleviate the underlying anxiousness and consider strengthening the Metal element, which in the Five Element tradition is the source of Water.

Hannah exclaims in wonder when I explain to her Chinese Medicine’s understanding of her coffee cravings. This is exactly how I feel, she says, it is not the caffeine kick that I crave!

I never tell patients not to eat a particular food. If we have agreement that it is not good for them, we look together for substitutes which fulfill the same craving, and for other foods that balance them out and help the body to digest them. At the same time, we use acupuncture and often QiGong to strengthen particular organs by improving the flow of Qi (blood and lymph) to them. Working this way, you can change your diet quite substantially without stress, in full knowledge that you are doing something FOR yourself, and for yourself only. Not locking yourself into an unhealthy pattern of “should-s” and then guilt when you “mess up”.

There is a place where eating becomes a joy and a service to your body AND emotions. A service to your health, in its most holistic understanding. At Vitality Within we can help you get to that place with acupuncture and holistic practices. And when your emotions and health are in top shape, weight loss is a natural consequence.

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