January is the month of ridiculous diets following the Christmas over-indulgence. Bookshop shelves become full of “How I lost 12 stones with the ‘eat nothing but cake’” diet and “Eat Yourself Thin, Volume 3” . You start asking your friends how they lost their weight and the stories differ so much. This is because, and I’m going to say something quite profound… We are all different! Of course we all know this but when it comes to dieting we seem to forget! What will work for your next door neighbour won’t necessarily work for you and serial dieters find that they jump from one diet to the next hoping they’ll find the answer to miracle weight loss.
When it comes to dieting you need to look at the body as a whole and gain insight into the reasons why a person might be struggling to lose weight. From a Chinese medical perspective it really could come from anywhere. We all know a sluggish metabolism is a culprit but weight gain could be borne out of Liver disharmony, pathogens or emotional issues. Certainly, if I treat a patient who is wanting to shift a few pounds I approach it as I would treat a backache or a headache. First I ask myself, “What’s the root cause of the problem?” Is it as simple as a sluggish metabolism, or are there other health issues at play? Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can be used to improve the function of the organs responsible for digestion and transit through the body and so an acupuncturist can bring about a healthier and better functioning digestive system. This, in turn will aid the body to either lose or gain weight depending on what the body needs.
If we go to a Chinese restaurant, we are given a menu, we pick what we like and enjoy! In China, you often wouldn’t be given a menu at all. The waiter would ask you how you feel, and based on your response the chef would cook you a plate of food to treat your particular mood or ailment. It’s a shame that we don’t have the same understanding in the West of how food can be used as medicine.
In my clinic, my patients often tell me they feel lethargic, tired and lacking in energy. When I ask them about their diet the answers are often the same; skipping meals, eating on the run, quick and easy convenience food. Like an engine running on petrol, we run on food. And so if we don’t give ourselves foods rich in nutrients how can we ever manufacture the energy we need? Of course we would be sluggish, tired and lacking in energy.
Then there are some patients who eat a great diet, conventionally speaking, but still struggle to lose weight and feel tired and sluggish. This is often because although we view them as healthy, nutritionally good foods can be energetically wrong for that particular person.
An acupuncturist is trained in dietary therapy and so we have an understanding of food energetics. Some foods can be very heating to your system, such as ginger and chilli. Some are very cooling such as mint or watermelon. Some are nourishing to your Qi or energy such as rice or butternut squash. Some are nourishing to your blood such as red meat or apricots. If you eat a lot of one particular type of food you could be cooling down an already ‘cold’ system which would only act to make your system more sluggish, etc. So it is important that you as the patient have an understanding of your own energetics so that you can be aware of foods that will help and hinder you.
In my clinic I often talk to patients about their diet and provide individualised lists of foods that would help to treat their particular condition. It can be so difficult to know what you should and shouldn’t be eating so I feel this can give a patient the focus needed to maintain a healthy diet that is completely tailored to the individual.
Verity Allen - BSc, BA, MBAcC, Lic Ac