How to lose weight (and keep it off) with acupuncture and Chinese Medicine by Anne Mok, DAOM, LAc., RPh

Weight loss is a complicated issue. Any successful program includes a healthy diet, exercise and stress reduction. Lately many people are adding acupuncture to their weight loss plan and having great success. Read on to learn how!

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been proven to assist in weight loss. Acupuncture is not a miracle cure, but it is very effective in making it easier to lose weight and maintain that loss. Keep in mind that just like any weight loss program, you must be willing to modify your lifestyle for this treatment to be effective.

While there is no definitive answer as to what exactly makes acupuncture work, we do know that when acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points in the body, endorphins are released. These endorphins have a calming effect on the mind – making it easier for you to deal with stress. Stress can weaken the adrenal glands, causing the adrenals to increase the cortisol level in your body. This increase in cortisol results in many different symptoms including: thyroid problems, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, irritability, anxiety, depression, and weight gain. From the TCM perspective, treatment is all about balance. There are 12 major meridians in the body each of which is linked with a different organ system. Very often, when under stress, the meridians become unbalanced. Acupuncture helps re-balance the meridians and once balance is re-established, both the metabolism and the will to stop overeating become more manageable.

When you come for an acupuncture treatment, we start with a full consultation to accurately assess your condition. This is done through a series of questions about your health ranging from your diet to your lifestyle. The next thing we do is take your pulse and look at your tongue. We feel your pulse not only to count its rate, but also to feel its quality. Pulses are usually taken using 3 fingers to feel the pulse on each wrist. The pulse felt by each finger tells us something different about each of your organ systems. Similarly, your tongue is a representation of your whole body. The color, coating, cracks and sublingual veins make a map of your body’s systems. After gathering all of this information, we can formulate your unique TCM pattern diagnosis and establish a treatment plan to restore the healthy balances to your body.

After reaching a pattern diagnosis, we will select certain points on your ear and body in which to insert acupuncture needles. There are over 365 points along the 12 major meridians in your body as well as additional points in “microsystem” areas like the ear. Many points that control the appetite, water retention, cravings for sweets, and emotional issues such as irritability or sadness are located in the ear. Acupuncture needles are normally kept in place for 30 to 40 minutes. Electrical stimulation of the needles may also be used to increase endorphin release and to boost your metabolism.

After the acupuncture session, ear tacks or seeds will be placed on points on your ear. These ear tacks or seeds allow you to continue to stimulate important points between treatments to re-balance your body and increase your metabolism. Whenever you get the urge to eat, press the ear seeds for 20 seconds to release endorphins. This endorphin release will calm you and help give you the willpower not to eat. Ear tacks or seeds may be left on the ear for 3 to 5 days, however, if they irritate you, they may be easily removed – simply peel off and discard. Consider this your treatment away from the office.

The number of acupuncture treatments needed to achieve weight loss success varies from person to person. It depends primarily upon your weight loss goal and your commitment to losing weight. In the beginning, it is best to have acupuncture treatments twice a week to get your body prepared for change. If your condition is more severe, acupuncture may be used 3 to 5 days in a row in the beginning – all this is perfectly safe. Eventually your treatments will reduce to once a week until your desired weight has been achieved. After you have reached your goal, it is advisable to have an acupuncture treatment once a month to counteract the effects of the stresses of daily life and ensure that you maintain your healthy weight.

Nutrition And Lifestyle Changes
We all know that a healthy diet is integral to losing and maintaining a healthy weight. During your treatments, we will discuss your diet and recommend certain foods that are right for your condition. For example: if according to TCM, you have a weak Spleen and Stomach system, eating raw foods such as salads may not be best for you. In general, one should always follow a diet high in fiber and low in fat, with a moderate amount of carbohydrate and lean protein. Water intake is also very important. The recommended amount is 8 cups a day, but drinking more water can help to flush toxins from your body. Keep in mind that the sensations of dehydration can mimic those of hunger. So staying properly hydrated can also help you to control your eating habits. Also, alcohol and caffeine can cause your blood sugar to fluctuate rapidly. Therefore it is advisable to consume no more than 1 cup of coffee per day and 3 alcoholic drinks per week. Following these few guidelines can help you to maintain a stable weight and avoid dramatic fluctuations.

Exercise and Stress Reducing Techniques
Before starting any exercise program, you should consult with your doctors to make sure you can perform certain exercises without hurting yourself. The key goal in exercise is to raise your heart rate. This can be achieved by walking briskly for 30 minutes three times a week, and eventually increasing this to 5 times a week. Weight training is also a very good way to build muscle and burn fat. You do not need to use heavy weights; a 3-pound weight with enough repetitions is sufficient. There are great benefits to using weights: the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn. As an added bonus, weight training also builds bone density and helps fight against osteoporosis.

If aerobic exercise or weight training is not for you, you might want to try tai chi, qi gong, yoga or meditation. All of these methods focus on breathing techniques which bring more oxygen into the body and stimulate the organ systems. This stimulation gives you more energy and will help to lower your stress levels. Each of these types of exercise integrates your mind and your body – thus you are moving as one. No matter what you choose to do, the most important thing about exercise is to be consistent and enjoy yourself.

Herbal Medicine
Herbal supplements and vitamins may also be suggested as part of your treatment. You should always only take herbs that are prescribed by a certified herbalist. I cannot stress this enough. Taking the wrong herbs may exacerbate your current condition, cause more dehydration in your system and cause electrolyte imbalance. In TCM we use a variety of herbs to address many conditions. Very often, a personalized formula will be written to suit your specific pattern of imbalances. Your formula may consist of 10 to 15 herbs and come in tablet, capsule or liquid form.

Although there are no guarantees that acupuncture can help you to lose weight, it cannot harm you and can give you a wide range of health benefits – your digestion and sleep, and the way you feel emotionally will all be greatly improved. Any self-motivated person willing to do the work and follow these guidelines should succeed in meeting their weight loss goals.

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Dr. Anne Mok received a Master of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine before advancing to her doctorate studies there, where she became a Doctor in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) in 2008. She furthered her studies at the China Beijing International Acupuncture Training Center and completed detox training at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy from Long Island University. Anne’s latest endeavor is serving on the advisory board for Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy for their Meridian Tea Pills.