Acupuncture Weight Loss? Plus 5 Step Weight Loss Plan

I remember back in my senior year of high school – my best friend since 5th grade was living in France. He wrote that they didn’t like Americans much. “They think we’re all fat,” he said. With his own skinny frame, of course, he confounded their belief.

But, he added a funny, or perhaps ironic capstone to the issue. “I went to a store, and they were selling statues of these fat people, and, at the base of each one was written, ‘American.'”

Obesity is not only an American problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s a global problem. They call it globesity. Parodoxically, their understanding of this problem began with their original mission to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. We live in a world where many have nothing to eat, and many eat too much. From 1995 to 2000, the number of obese adults worldwide mushroomed from 200 million to 300 million. That’s a 50% increase in just 5 years!

What is Obesity, and What is Overweight?

Overweight means an excess of body weight. This excess weight may be muscle, bone, fat, and/or body water. Obesity refers specifically to an abnormally high proportion of body fat. You can be overweight without being obese – for example, a bodybuilder or other highly-muscled athlete. But many people who are overweight are also obese.The main way to determine whether you are overweight or obese is with the body mass index (BMI). It doesn’t directly measure body fat, and it’s not gender specific, but it does give you a pretty reliable estimation.

To find your BMI, divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height in meters squared. Yep, for the math-challenged, that’s complex, so I’ll give you a website that will figure it out for you, the National Institute’s of Health BMI calculator (http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/). This will very quickly tell you if you are normal, overweight, or obese, and it does all the calculating and metric conversions for you!

Overweight is defined as a BMI above 25 (including those above 30 BMI, too), and obese is a BMI above 30. So, all obese people are overweight, but not all overweight people are obese.

The Obesity Epidemic

Obesity isn’t just about not feeling good or having trouble getting dates…

* It leads to more than 300,000 premature deaths each year in the United States. 90,000 are preventable cancer deaths. (CDC)

* Severely obese men die 13 years sooner than men of normal weight (JAMA).

* As a killer in America, obesity is second only to tobacco. (CDC)

The Weight Loss Industry

* Spending: Americans spend between $40-50 billion per year to lose weight.

* Results: I haven’t seen any recent news that Americans are getting any thinner – have you?

* Conclusion: What people are doing isn’t working. If we want different results, we have to try a different solution.

Acupuncture Weight Loss: Fantasy, or Fact?

* Fantasy or Fact? As a well-trained and fairly conservative Chinese medicine practitioner, I had assumed that acupuncture for weight loss was a marketing fad and a patient fantasy.

* Evidence: But while researching my upcoming book Chinese Medicine: A Practical Guide to Optimal Healing, I found some surprisingly positive information that changed my mind.

Chinese Medicine’s Collective Clinical Data on Acupuncture Weight Loss

Chinese Medicine has thousands of years of clinical experience. This collective data not as convincing as randomized controlled trials are, but it does contain truth – it’s imperfect but still valid and important.

A U.S. government study in the 80’s concluded that 85% of western medicine is based on clinical experience, not on research. (Office of Technology Assessment of the Congress of the United States, The Impact of Randomized Controlled Trials on Health Policy and Medical Practice, Background Paper OTA-BP-H-22. Also see Michael Millenson’s book, Demanding Medical Excellence)

There is good Chinese Medicine research in Taiwan, Australia, and Europe that gets ignored by American scientists and media. Much research in Chinese has not even been translated into English.

Seven Studies of Acupuncture for Weight Loss

How it works: By enhancing the function of two neuroendocrine pathways that regulate many bodily processes, including metabolism.

What it does:

* Lowers body weight, body fat, insulin levels, and lipid levels in the blood

* Decreases excessive appetite and makes it easier to satisfy your hunger with less food.

* Decreases menopausal weight gain

* In one study, acupuncture took off 10 pounds in 2 months – that translates to 60 lbs in a year!

* Combined with diet control, and aerobic counseling it not only takes off the pounds and body fat, but keeps them off, especially if you’re diligent with their exercise.

(See references at end of article for the research)

Ephedra misuse and mislegislation

Ephedra is a Chinese herb for colds and coughs. It has been misused to increase metabolism, and this misuse has caused numerous deaths. As a result, the FDA is considering a total ban on ephedra products. We can blame two major things:

1. Supplement companies that care more about your money than your health (no, not all of them are that way, but some of them are, especially the ones that market weight loss formulations).

2. The idea that you can medicate yourself safely with herbs – self-medication of any kind is risky. Self-medication with herbs is off the radar, and people generally think they can do it safely. The ephedra debacle is an example of how dangerous it can be.

Traditionally, Chinese herbs are given in formulas (not singly), which is safer and more personalized. They’re prescribed by a Chinese medicine practitioner who diagnoses your specific imbalances first. Ephedra would never be given for weight loss, but only for certain kinds of colds and coughs, and only to people whose body’s can handle it.

No traditional Chinese herbs should be outlawed without allowing Chinese medical practitioners to continue to use them traditionally.

Food Cravings

* Problem #1 (Enzyme Deficiency): The foods you crave depending on your personal imbalances. Modern digestive science explains that when your body can’t digest a food, you crave more of it – you’re not getting what you need from it. This lead to a cycle of craving and overeating the exact food you can’t digest.

* Problem #2 (Low Blood Sugar): Another vicious cycle happens when you can’t digest complex carbs, so your blood sugar is low, so you eat simple carbs that raise your blood sugar which raises insulin, which lowers your blood sugar again, and your stuck eating donuts and feeling horrible.

* Solution: Enzymes (I recommend various enzyme formulations from a company called Transformations) and Chinese herbal formulas can help you digest your food and break both of these cycles

Weight can be lost safely if done slowly and naturally.

You can lose up to 2 lbs per week without gaining it back. That means you could lose 104 lbs this year and keep it off!

Positive change is like stretching a rubber band- if you stretch too far too fast, it breaks or snaps back on you.

So avoid the temptation to take an easy solution like ephedra or citrus aurantium (both misused Chinese herbs), because you’ll gain the weight back, and you’re risking heart problems and stroke.

5 Things to Do Right Now

To Lose 10 Pounds Within 2 Months

And Keep Them Off:

1. Avoid heavily marketed supplements – instead, see a professional trained herbalist (acupuncturist) – it’s safer and more effective – my preference would be a Chinese medicine practitioner, but some very well-educated western herbalists are good too.

2. Acupuncture Weight Loss: See an acupuncturist/chinese herbalist – Get acupuncture (once to three times per week) to SAFELY regulate your metabolism and hunger-satisfaction. Your acupuncturist can also get you the herbs that will balance your digestion and cravings – and based on your Chinese pattern diagnosis, they can also give you personalized diet advice. Herbs and enzymes (specific formulations from the enzyme company, Transformations) can eliminate your food cravings.

3. Develop a plan and goals with your acupuncturist and aerobics instructor- make it realistic, and stick to it. If you mess up, don’t beat yourself up, just get back on track as soon as you can. Any progress is better than none at all.

4. Eat less, exercise more – Eat a low fat diet, and don’t miss breakfast! Weigh yourself regularly, and exercise an hour a day. Start by walking a few minutes each day, or take the stairs at work. Don’t overdo it! Remember the rubber band. In fact, you may want to wear a rubber band on your wrist to remind yourself to make changes slowly. Get some aerobic exercise help- a public class, or private aerobic counseling.

5. Join a support group like Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous. There’s nothing like positive friends to encourage you and keep you on track. OA members say that this spiritual program of action has changed the way they relate to food.

References and Resources

1. Office of Technology Assessment of the Congress of the United States, The Impact of Randomized Controlled Trials on Health Policy and Medical Practice, Background Paper OTA-BP-H-22.

2. Michael Millenson’s book, Demanding Medical Excellence

3. Effect of acupuncture on weight loss evaluated by adrenal function. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1993 Sep, 13(3):169-73.

4. Wozniak, P., Oszukowski, P., Stachowiak, G., and Szyllo, K. [The effectiveness of low-calorie diet or diet with acupuncture treatment in obese peri- and postmenopausal women] (in Polish). Ginekol.Pol. Vol.74 Issue 2 pp. 102-107. 2003

5. Acupuncture on Spleen, Stomach, and Ren Mai Channel Points for the Treatment of Stomach & Intestinal Replete Heat Pattern Simple Obesity. Abstracted & translated by Bob Flaws, Dipl. Ac. & C.H, Lic. Ac., FNAAOM, FRCHM

6. Richards D, Marley J. Stimulation of auricular acupuncture points in weight loss. Aust Fam Physician. 1998 Jul;27 Suppl 2:S73-7.

7. Zhao, M., Liu, Z., and Su, J. The time-effect relationship of central action in acupuncture treatment for weight reduction. J Tradit Chin Med Vol.20 Issue 1 pp. 26-29. 2000

8. Liu, Z. Mechanisms underlying the effects of acupuncture moxibustion on simple obesity complicated by hypertension. Inter J Clin Acup 371-378, 1995.

9. Studies of the Weight Loss Industry

10. Obesity prevalence and effect

11. Overeaters Anonymous

How to Eat and Prepare for the 4 Seasons in TCM

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees eating locally and according to seasonal influence as not something new or trendy, but rather something essential to good health. Essentially, when in doubt try to eat what is plentiful and grown locally because this is essentially what nature intends for your body at that time. Also, in general try not to eat cold or raw foods without having something warm first (even a cup of hot water), as this is good for your Spleen and Stomach, the organs responsible for digestion in your body (note that terms capitalized are done so to differentiate from their scientific definitions).

The following will give you some more specific ideas about how to act and what to eat, as well as what to avoid during the four seasons according to TCM theory.

Spring (not surprisingly) is the season of re-birth and re-growth, and your Yang energy should now be nourished while you begin to protect your Yin energy. And according to TCM, spring is associated with your Liver, which is affected mostly by sour flavours. Thus it is advisable to reduce the amount of sour food you eat and increase the sweet and pungent flavours, as this will help your Liver do its job to regulate and smooth the flow of Qi in your body. So fruits and other natural sugars are recommended, although in moderation because raw fruit is cold in nature and in spring your body is still cool from the not-so-long-passed winter. Pungent foods such as garlic and chili peppers should start to be used as well.

After the coldness of winter, you may have developed residual heat signs if your Yin was not properly nourished (see ‘Winter’ below). Such heat signs may include a dry throat, bad breath, or constipation. Foods like bananas (ripened), pears, celery, and cucumber can help.

In general, spring foods that you should try to consume include asparagus, broccoli, peas, leafy green vegetables, spinach, mushrooms (especially morels), fiddleheads, and ramps.

Like plants which grow quickly in summertime, people act more energetically and our bodies’ Qi and Blood become relatively more vigorous compared to the other seasons. Therefore Yang energy should be nourished, and as summer is associated with your Heart you should reduce the amount of bitter flavours you consume while seeking out more pungent, sour and salty foods. Thus it is advisable in the summer to avoid foods such as coffee, tea, walnuts, dark leafy greens, and grapefruit. You should instead try to consume foods such as watermelon, berries, tomatoes, cucumber, apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, summer squash, beans, okra, zucchini, fermented foods, garlic, and chili peppers.

In nature, autumn is the time when things begin to slow down and prepare for winter. So should you also begin to participate in less activity and start to preserve your Yang energy while nourishing your Yin. Autumn also correlates with your Lung system in TCM, which is affected most easily by dryness. Thus you want to start nourishing your Yin energy now, promoting the production of body fluids and Blood. Dry weather can bring sore throats, thirst, chapped lips, dry skin, and other signs and symptoms of Dryness in your body.

You can help mitigate potential issues while also preparing for winter by eating such seasonal foods as: root vegetables, squash, apples, pears, cruciferous vegetables (e.g. brussels sprouts or broccoli), pomegranates, dates, kiwis, grapefruits, and tangerines.

In order to further nourish your Yin in the autumn, try to steer towards sour, astringent flavours and eat more foods such as lemons, pineapples, and foods preserved in vinegar. Try to avoid foods that will open your pores and/or encourage perspiration such as garlic, ginger, hot peppers and other foods that are aromatic and/or spicy.

Reducing your activity and even the number of hot showers you have at this time of year will also help you to preserve your Yang energy.

By wintertime, you should be well-used to the foods and practices you started in the fall, and are now sticking religiously to the above-mentioned foods and are nearly hibernating in terms of physical activity, almost never inducing perspiration. This will help to ensure that your Yin continues to be nourished for this coming harsh season, and your Yang will be preserved for the eventual spring season.

Since TCM believes that in winter our diet should be adapted to focus on enriching Yin and subduing Yang, we should add to our diet foods that are higher in calories, especially those high in proteins. It is not advisable to lose much weight (if any) over the winter, but you do not have to gain any if you are careful. Just add in a bit more red meat, duck and eggs, or foods like nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut if you are vegetarian.

The winter is the season of the Kidney energy system in TCM, which does not like salty foods and prefers foods that are bitter. Foods with bitter flavors include: apricot, asparagus, celery, coffee, tea, grapefruit, hops, kohlrabi, lettuce, radish leaves, kale, vinegar and wine.

Optimal Frequency For Acupuncture Treatment

How often does one schedule acupuncture appointments? This is a question that comes up very often in my clinic. In fact, the answer is critical to an acupuncture patient’s ability to maximize benefit from any given course of treatment. Bob Flaws in Acupuncture Today writes, “Acupuncturists often say, ‘Acupuncture works!’ I would add, ‘Yes, especially if you do it often enough.'” (“Acupuncture and the 50-Minute Hour,” Acupuncture Today, October, 2007, Vol. 08, Issue 10)

Every week, I teach a 1 hour class for new patients entering our acupuncture program at the HMO I work for. I use a PowerPoint Presentation to share quite a bit of information. I spend a good amount of time during the lecture on this very point: frequency of treatment matters to the outcome. Often Western patients of acupuncture mistakenly believe they can get treatment in a haphazard fashion or infrequently and still reap a great benefit from the therapy. The schedule that is convenient is not always the one that is medically efficacious.

I strongly urge acupuncture patients to get their treatments done as frequently as possible at first, with the possibility of slowing down after a while. What is frequent enough? The standard of care in Chinese hospitals for the treatment of chronic pain conditions (the bulk of what I treat at Kaiser) is daily acupuncture for a course of 10 treatments. On the outside, it’s delivered every other day and in acute cases, up to 3x per day.

The first core idea around doing frequent acupuncture treatments is that the effect of acupuncture can accumulate if it is done frequently enough. We want to engage this accumulative effect in order to render long-lasting results in our acupuncture patients. Many times I have had patients return to my clinic and report that they received 1-2 years of great relief from their chronic pain condition after just 6 acupuncture sessions!

The second core idea is that in order to engage the accumulative effect one must prevent backsliding into pain (or other symptoms). A typical pain-relief result after just one acupuncture treatment is 1-3 days. Who is typical? Nobody! Everyone is a unique individual. Therefore I ask my patients to pay attention to their result so we can figure out their optimal frequency of treatment.

I’ll give an example. “Betty” comes in for a treatment of her chronic lumbar pain due to spinal stenosis. She gets 3 days of relief following her first acupuncture treatment. This means that her optimal frequency of treatment is 2 sessions per week with 3 days in-between treatments. If she adheres to “the standard” weekly treatment schedule, she will get relief for 3 days but for 4 days her pain (or other symptoms) will have a chance to get back up to their original level – or get worse. Then, we must start over again at square one.

Allowing one’s pain to backslide during a course of acupuncture treatment does not allow a patient the opportunity to build up momentum for healing and the optimal result from treatment. It is my belief that failure to achieve results with acupuncture has less to do with the practitioner’s protocols or time spent with each patient and more to do with failure to achieve a proper treatment frequency.

I had an opportunity to study with Dr. Richard Tan while attending the Five Branches University DAOM program. His opinion on this matter is that treatment frequencies are spaced differently depending on how long the patient is undergoing treatment. The first few weeks or the first month of the course may be every-other-day to 2x/week. Then, for weekly treatments for 4 weeks. Then every-other week for 8 weeks, or something along these lines. This makes sense to me because theoretically, we are achieving results for the patient and their interval of relief is getting longer as they move through the course of treatment.

In my clinic I do not have an opportunity to treat patients in an ongoing fashion. I am given a referral or two of 6 sessions of acupuncture for any given patient with any given chronic pain problem. So for my clinical setting it is critical that patients do frequent treatment in order to render rapid and long-lasting relief from my acupuncture treatments.