About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Obesity, Dampness, and Chinese Medicine

Imagine for a moment a farmer’s field in the countryside that’s green and rolling. With the right amount of sunshine and rain, the field produces healthy crops.  In fact, when it rains, the plants in the field are nourished and turn a little greener and grow a little taller.  But then it rains some more.  And it keeps raining.  And raining.  After awhile that field becomes saturated.  The moisture settles in puddles in the low spots, creating muddy areas.  The plants in those muddy places become stunted and eventually the roots rot and they die.  This beautiful and productive field isn’t so healthy anymore.  It’s become Damp.

In many ways your body is like the farmer’s field.  You depend on outside sources for nourishment.  While the field needs sunshine and rain in the right amounts to be healthy; you need food, water, and air in the right amounts.  The field is greatly affected by the weather, and so are you.  You’re affected by the changes in the seasons; you try to stay warm in the winter and are active and outdoors in the summer.  In addition, many of us get into a funk on an overcast day and others get aches and pains when the barometer drops.

In addition, like the farmer’s field, you can become damp.

You may be thinking, so what?  What’s the big deal with dampness, and where does it come from?  Both good questions.

The big deal about dampness is that in your body it can create symptoms.  Dampness can be the dark cocktail behind achy joints, swelling, edema, yeast infections, shingles, and diarrhea.  Furthermore, body dampness that sits around tends to congeal and become phlegm. Ew! 

But the bigger deal about dampness is that fat is considered damp tissue.  Every single obese person has some degree of dampness. Generally, the more overweight they are, the greater the degree of dampness. That’s right; those ten pounds that you gained last year during the holidays is just ten pounds of moist, damp, uh…fat.  If that’s not bad enough, most people who are seriously overweight are also dealing with phlegm issues in the form of chronic sinus problems, asthma, and postnasal drainage.  Gross!  The point is that if weight loss is in your future, you’ll need to deal with the damp issue if you want to be successful. 

This brings us to your second question; where the damp comes from.  Well, dampness can come from the environment, like living in England or a basement apartment.  However, usually dampness is a digestive issue.

In Chinese medicine, your Stomach and Spleen are the organs most responsible for your digestion.  The Stomach takes in the food and begins the digestive process.  It’s then sent to the Spleen to sift and sort; taking the good stuff and turning it into the nutrients that your body needs, as well as eliminating the stuff your body can’t use.

When your digestion gets funky, one of the most common issues is that your Spleen has gotten bogged down and become damp.  If that’s the case, you may have symptoms like a poor appetite, nausea, loose stools, lots of stomach rumbling, and an overall feeling of heaviness.  Essentially, your Spleen’s ability to absorb, sift, and sort fluids has broken down.  It’s a little like having puddles in your body or constantly wearing wet clothes.  In fact, one damp patient of mine described the sensation as “constantly trying to fight his way out of a wet paper bag.”

So.  The issue is how and why your Spleen gets bogged down.  It can happen from stress or strong emotions upsetting your digestion.  However, more often than not, it’s because you’ve been overeating and overwhelming your digestion.  Lots of sugary foods, saturated fats, and too many dairy products can tax your digestion.  In addition, overly nutritious foods like concentrated juices and meals in a can (you know, drink this instead of eating a healthy lunch) can wreak havoc on your poor Spleen.

There’s bad news and good news in treating dampness in Chinese medicine.  The bad news is that dampness likes to hang around.  It takes some serious work to dry, drain, or resolve the damp.  However, the good news is that it can be done, and there are things that your acupuncturist can do and there are things that you can do.  Your acupuncturist can target her treatments specifically at resolving the dampness.  She can also prescribe an herbal formula that can strengthen your Spleen and dry the damp. 

Some tips that you can implement at home include:

  • Lighten up by choosing foods that are easy to digest.  Avoid large meals and overly rich foods 
  • Avoid sugar and sweeteners of all kinds. 
  • Avoid saturated fats and greasy foods.
  • Go easy on the dairy products; a little may be fine, but too much creates damp and phlegm. 
  • Drink small amounts of warm liquids with your meals. Green tea is ideal because it also helps resolve dampness. Drinking a lot of ice cold drinks with your meals just waterlogs your Spleen.
  • Eat mostly cooked vegetables, whole grains, light proteins (poultry and white fish), and fruits.
  • Foods cooked in soups, stews, and stir fries are most easily digested.
  • Sit down, sit up straight and chew your food.  Your Spleen will thank you.
  • Get moving!  Exercise gets the fluids moving, helps with elimination, warms your body to help dry the dampness, and improves your digestion.

For more on your Spleen, diet, and digestion, check out my book, Simple Steps.

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