Recently I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help with weight control. Most of the time I get asked about auricular acupuncture in particular. Often it sounds like some have had the expectation that needling certain points of the ear can be a magic bullet. When I field these questions I am not quite sure what the real individual expectations are. But it has motivated me to explain as best I can how acupuncture works and how it can be a very effective adjunct to a serious weight control regimen.
When asked about what it takes to lose weight, dieticians fall back on the two commonly repeated remedies, those being diet (the calories we consume) and exercise (how we expend those calories). Most of us struggle with weight regulation because this narrow focus on burning and consuming calories misses a crucial element of how our bodies function. What is missing from the weight-loss equation has to do with energy. Not the energy we consume as food or the energy we expend through exercise. Rather, the energy that powers the vital functions of our body. If that energy is strong and well-balanced, our ability to lose weight and to maintain a healthy weight is tremendously enhanced.
From a TCM perspective health is dependent on the body’s ability to build and efficiently store energy to perform all vital functions. Haven’t you noticed that you can eat all the proper foods and exercise but if you are stressed and/or fatigued it is very difficult to lose weight? On the other hand you can consume more but if you are less stressed and well-rested you may still lose weight — what I call the “vacation effect”. Do you notice when you go on vacation and have more sumptuous meals than you usually do you don’t gain the weight you thought you would or sometimes even lose some?
So how exactly does Acupuncture help with that crucial element we are calling the energetic factor?
We all know that when stressed and/or sleep deprived our body produces excess cortisol which forces our body to store instead of burn fat. This is just one of a host of hormonal and biochemical reactions that govern our metabolism. Every day Western medicine is finding yet another chemical component that helps to regulate our metabolism. While the ancient Chinese doctors never discovered the myriad of hormones we keep discovering they nonetheless understood and explored our energetic functioning and studied very carefully what helped to shore our vital energy and increase our metabolism. They understood this at a subtle energetic level. The tools of Traditional Chinese Medicine — whether through acupuncture, herbal medicine, or qi gong — work to make the vital functioning of our body work more efficiently by directly impacting our metabolism and our ability to efficiently digest and transform the vital nutrients in our food to fuel that metabolism.
Modern studies done with weight loss and acupuncture have shown that acupuncture affects the nervous system, digestive system, and endocrine system by enhancing part of the brain function which regulates many bodily processes. Acupuncture also stimulates the body to release endorphins and increase serotonin levels helping to promote better digestion, helping to control overeating by reducing and suppressing the appetite and decreasing/eliminating cravings. The physical effects of acupuncture not only helps to energize the body, thereby reducing fatigue and malaise, but also maximizes the absorption of nutrients so your body functions better overall, and regulates bowel movements and the intestines which reduces gas, bloating and abdominal distention.
In addition to regulating our metabolism, and impacting our hormonal balance, Acupuncture also has an impact on our emotional balance as well. Our emotions surrounding our choice of foods and the motivation for remaining active is another major facet of our body’s energetic resonance. Acupuncture can help to address the underlining problem that causes overeating and lack of motivation by helping to alter ones mood, lessen anxiety and promote healthier psychological energy. A person who is treated with acupuncture can find him or herself less anxious and therefore less prone to seek comfort through food and make better food choices. So acupuncture helps with weight control, not only by directly impacting the body’s biochemical balance but by facilitating those old standbys for losing weight — better nutrition and exercise.
Thus Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a great addition to weight loss programs/support groups, and exercise routines for people who are on the road to losing weight.
What Would a Typical Acupuncture Regimen be for Weight Control?
Recommended treatments are 1-2 times a week for an 8-12 week period depending on what your target weight is.
Each treatment is specific for each individual. How you feel on the day you have acupuncture can change depending on a number of factors. For example, how you’ve been eating, and in particular, any specific cravings you’ve had, your stress levels for that day or week, your energy level, PMS, etc. Your acupuncturist will zero in on what your struggles have been that week and focus the treatment to address those concerns.
Each session includes a combination of auricular/ear points, body points and ear seeds/ear tacks. Ear seeds are placed on specific ear and/or body points to leave on in-between treatments in order to help continue with the effects of the Acupuncture. They will generally stay in place for 3-5 days and are gently massaged if stress, anxiety, cravings, and mood imbalances start to affect you in between your acupuncture sessions.
In addition to the acupuncture points, weight loss treatments also include dietary modifications based on traditional Chinese food remedies, Chinese herbs/supplements, abdominal massage, breathing exercises, and lifestyle recommendations based on a Chinese medicine perspective.