I have no problem saying the F-word in front of my patients. In fact, many want to say it too. They’re getting Fat and many can’t understand why. Yes, the obvious culprits are eating too much and not exercising, but many of my patients are eating appropriate portions and exercising, but still seem to be gaining weight.
Here’s a list of some reasons you may be gaining weight; some may surprise you:
- Stress. In Chinese medicine, weight gain due to stress is considered a Liver and Spleen disharmony. In its simplest form, it’s the result of strong emotions (stress, anger, sadness) messing up your digestion and causing that spare tire around your waist. This is one of the most common patterns I see in the clinic, especially in women. The symptoms tend to appear as a threesome of depression or stress, out of control cravings for sugar, and weight gain in the form of belly fat.
- Lack of sleep. Not getting enough hours of shut-eye disrupts many of your body’s hormones, including cortisol, insulin, and adrenalin. When these hormones get out of whack, your metabolism also takes a hit, causing unwanted weight gain, especially around your middle.
- Digestion. The concept of digestion in Chinese medicine is about the transformation of food into nutrients and energy. If you’re not effectively converting your food into nutrients and energy, your body likes to turn it into fat. Symptoms of poor digestion include gas, bloating, loose stools or constipation, heart burn, stomach aches, lack of appetite, and the feeling that your food is just “sitting”.
- Eating the wrong food. Okay, this isn’t an aha moment for anyone. You know lots of sugary treats and greasy foods are going to pack on the pounds. However, many people don’t stop and think about the nourishment value of the food they’re eating. Overly processed foods; chemical sweeteners; preservatives; dyes; ingredients you can’t pronounce; and foods that are unrecognizable as anything that ever came out of the ground, ocean, or off the farm are all the wrong foods. These foods aren’t nourishing, your body doesn’t know what to do with them, and they’re just adding useless calories to your diet.
- Boredom. Yup, some people eat because they don’t have anything better to do.
- Depleted Yang. In Chinese medicine, this is like your body having a low pilot light, which can slow your metabolism, including your digestion. Yang is warming and transforming, and some general symptoms of deficient Yang include feeling cold much of the time, sluggish thyroid function, retaining water, getting up several times a night to…uh, pee, and fatigue. (For more info and foods to balance Yin and Yang, go here.)
- Dampness. The best way to understand the concept of dampness is to think of a farmer’s field after it rains. In a healthy field, the water will drain into the ground and nourish the crops. However, in a damp field, the sits around and accumulates in soggy puddles. In your body, dampness feels heavy and can produce symptoms such as loose stools, edema, yeast or bladder infections and weepy or wet looking skin rashes. Dampness is on this list because fat tissue is considered excess dampness on your body. The most common cause of dampness is poor digestion, but it can also be caused by living in a damp climate or working/living in a cold, damp building.
- Lack of movement. You knew the exercise talk was coming, but getting enough exercise isn’t just about burning calories. Movement creates heat (remember Yang from above?), gets your digestion going, and creates flow in your body in general. Flow is good.
- Aging. You can’t do much about aging. It’s a part of life, and the reality is that as you get older your metabolism slows down. This is a bad thing and a good thing. It’s bad because you’re trying to keep the weight off. However, it’s good because that excess weight is also stored energy which may keep you from becoming frail as you get into your seventies and beyond. As you get older, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight without getting obese or too thin. Most people who maintain their weight as they age tend to eat a little less and move a little more.
- What you drink. With the exception of water and tea, most of what you’re drinking has calories, is frequently full of sugar (alcohol is a big offender here), and if you’re slugging down a creamy Latté, is loaded with fat, too. For some reason, many people think that if it comes in liquid form that all the fattening properties are negated. I wish!
So what can Chinese medicine offer in the battle against weight gain? Well, we practitioners can offer up acupuncture to calm stress and anxiety, help you sleep better, and improve your digestion. We also have a pharmacopoeia of herbal formulas to help with digestion, dampness and Yang depletion. We can help you choose foods that best suit your unique body constitution. And we can help you balance all of the lifestyle factors that have the potential to make you Fat.