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High-fat, high-sugar diets and the lack of physical exercise are the major factors behind problems with being overweight and other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.
In TCM, being overweight is generally regarded as a sign that imbalances exist in the body. The root causes of these imbalances have to be addressed in order to solve weight problems.
Those who are overweight tend to consume too much food. They are most likely to have a good appetite and possess a strong and muscular physique. Such body types would likely absorb excessive nutrients and store fat. This doesn’t make a person energetic; in contrast, he or she is always drained of energy and appears sleepy during the day.
Secondly, if physical exercise is inadequate, the flow of Blood and Qi will be affected and dampness will accumulate in the body. This may lead to poor water circulation and a flabby or bloated body.
Being overweight is generally the result of a series of chain reactions in our body, which usually begins with poor circulation.
According to TCM, Qi is the source of energy flow in our body. It governs and facilitates the proper functioning of all organs, promotes the healthy formation and circulation of blood, and supports the metabolism of body fluids.
When Qi is insufficient, the functions of one or more organs will be slowed down and functions such as the metabolism of fat and water will be hindered.
Excessive Yin may lead to internal cold which can affect the Lung, Stomach, Spleen and Qi. It may cause excess dampness in the body, which may in turn lead to the accumulation and stagnation of Phlegm.
People with excess Yin may present symptoms such as a persistently puffy or bloated face and body, lethargy, and a feeling of heaviness.
Ways to Maintain a Healthy Weight
In TCM, fat in the body is viewed as the result of accumulated Phlegm and internal-dampness pathogens. Thus, to fight fat effectively, one should place more emphasis on clearing and transforming Phlegm and internal dampness.
Common approaches that can be used independently or in combination to maintain a healthy weight:
• Follow a healthy, balanced diet to maintain healthy Spleen functions.
In TCM, it is believed that we should select our foods based on our body constitution to achieve a healthy balance of Yin and Yang. A person with a neutral body constitution can eat a food mix containing all the different energies and flavours.
Changes in the environment due to changing seasons, emotions, lifestyle habits, diets or physical activities may affect our body constitution. Consult a TCM physician to understand more about your body constitution.
• Avoid overeating.
In TCM, the Spleen and the Stomach are the primary organs responsible for digestion. Eating too much food may affect the digestive organs and disrupt their normal functions. When these organs fail to handle the extra load, problems like poor digestion, slow metabolism, food stagnation, internal Phlegm and dampness may follow.
• Avoid eating excessive sweet, greasy, raw and chilled foods or drinking chilled beverages with your meals in excess.
Sweet and greasy foods can create excessive Phlegm and Heat in the body, while chilled and raw foods may contribute to the stagnation of fluids and create more Phlegm. Overconsumption of both may affect Spleen functions.
• Invigorate the Spleen.
In TCM, the Spleen is responsible for transforming and transporting nutrients and body fluids throughout the whole body. When the Spleen is functioning properly, excessive body fluids and metabolic waste will not accumulate.
Codonopsis Root (Dangshen, 党参), Licorice Root (Gancao, 甘草), Chinese Yam (Huaishan, 淮山), Coix Barley (Yiyiren, 薏苡仁) and Poria (Fuling, 茯苓) are some Chinese herbs that boost the functional abilities of the Spleen.
• Improve your digestion to keep a healthy weight.
To stimulate the secretion of digestive fluids and break down fatty substances, we can consume Unripe Orange Fruit (Zhishi, 枳实), Hawthorn Berry (Shanzha, 山楂), Rangooncreeper Fruit (Shijunzi, 使君子), Radish Seed (Laifuzi, 莱菔子), Tangerine Peel (Chenpi, 陈皮) and Hawthorn Berry (Shanzha, 山楂).
• Promote bowel movement to eliminate metabolic waste.
Our bodies have to be able to excrete waste regularly to prevent stagnation and weight problems. Herbs such as Black Sesame (Heizhima, 黑芝麻), Radish Seed (Laifuzi, 莱菔子), Peach Seed (Taoren, 桃仁), Biota Seed (Baiziren, 柏子仁) and Rhubarb (Dahuang, 大黄) are commonly used to relax the bowels and ease constipation.
• Get rid of fluid retention in the body.
A bloated appearance, puffiness and weight gain may be caused by fluid retention in the body. One way to get rid of excessive water or dampness is to take herbs that induce urination, such as Coix Barley (Yiyiren, 薏苡仁), Red Bean (Hongdou, 红豆), Inula Flower (Xuanfuhua, 旋覆花), Plantain Seed (CheQianzi, 车前子), Rice Bean (Chixiaodou, 赤小豆), Senna Leaf (Fanxieye, 番泻叶) and White Atractylodes (Baizhu, 白术).
Warming up the body through exercise or foods can also help to resolve water retention and dampness. Herbs with warm or hot energy and a pungent taste can warm the body, increase perspiration and induce urination. Cinnamon Bark (Rougui, 肉桂), Ginger (Jiang, 姜), Areca Peel (Dafupi, 大腹皮) and Unripe Orange Fruit (Zhishi, 枳实) are commonly used for these purposes.
• Exercise moderately.
Moderate exercise promotes the flow of Qi and Blood, thus eliminates the stagnation of dampness and Phlegm.
• Acupuncture can help with slimming.
Acupuncture is effective in managing imbalances that cause weight problems. The treatment, which employs the use of needles applied to selected acupuncture points, can promote digestion, raise the metabolic rate, control the appetite and invigorate the Spleen. A licensed physician is in the best position to tell you what you need and what works for you.