The Western approach to weight management focuses largely on balancing the number of calories you consume with how many you burn. Yet, some women find it difficult to lose weight even when they reduce the amount of calories they take in every day.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) provides an alternative, more holistic understanding of obesity that could explain why you aren't shedding the extra kilos. TCM physician Lin Jia Yi of Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic at Harbourfront and Eu Yan Sang TCM Wellness Clinic at Dhoby Ghaut shares how to lose weight with TCM.
Why fat accumulates in the body
Obesity is a symptom of an underlying bodily dysfunction. Jia Yi explains: "The build-up of fat is linked to overall bodily disharmony arising from disruptions in the natural flow of the body's energies, known as qi, the vital energy or life force fundamental to our body's processes and wellbeing."
Weight gain is usually due to qi deficiency in the spleen and stomach systems. This slows down the metabolism of fat and water, leading to water retention and weight gain - it's difficult to lose weight even with diet and exercise. You may also suffer from other problems such as fatigue and digestive issues.
TCM physicians can diagnose the root cause of your qi deficiency and prescribe a customised treatment plan to rebalance the body, ranging from acupuncture, cupping, TCM herbal prescriptions to lifestyle changes. Jia Yi has a few recommendations to help you reach your weight loss goals.
1. Improve your digestion and break down fat
Eat hawthorn berries (shanzha) to stimulate the secretion of digestive fluids and break down fatty substances. Soak eight to 10 hawthorn berries in 400-500ml of hot water and drink it half an hour after meals. This tea is meant to aid digestion, so don't drink it on an empty stomach. Pregnant woman and people with gastric problems should avoid drinking it.
2. Promote bowel movement to get rid of metabolic waste
Regular bowel movements can prevent stagnation and weight problems. Chinese herbs such as cassia seeds (juemingzi) can relax the bowels and ease constipation. To prepare, soak 10g of cassia seeds in 500ml of hot water for five minutes, You can add 6g of hawthorn berries, 6g of dried tangerine peel (chenpi) and two slices of licorice root (gancao) into the tea as well.
3. Get rid of fluid retention in the body
Feeling bloated, experiencing puffiness and gaining weight can sometimes 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) and rice beans (chixiaodou). To prepare, soak 100g of coix barley and 100g of rice beans for two to three hours before bringing it to the boil in a pot of water. Add rock sugar to taste.
Warming up the body helps to resolve water retention and dampness. Herbs with warm or heat energy and a pungent taste can warm the body, increase perspiration and induce urination. These include cinnamon bark (rougui), ginger (jiang), areca peel (dafupi) and unripe orange fruit (zhishi). Add these to your meals as garnishes.
4. Improve the spleen function to boost metabolism
The spleen is responsible for transforming and transporting nutrients and body fluids throughout the body. Avoid eating excessive sweet, greasy, raw and chilled foods, and drinking chilled beverages. Too much cold and raw food affects your spleen and can contribute to the stagnation of bodily fluids and create more phlegm. Sweet and greasy foods create excessive phlegm and "heat" in the body.
Some Chinese herbs such as codonopsis root (dangshen), licorice root (gancao) and poria (fuling) can boost spleen function and prevent excessive body fluids and metabolic waste from accumulating. Consult a registered TCM physician for accurate diagnosis and treatment with the appropriate herbal prescription.
5. Go for acupuncture
Acupuncture can combat imbalances that cause weight problems. Five acupoints located in and on the ear have direct links to the organ networks in TCM that are associated with obesity, particularly the spleen and stomach.
Needles are applied to selected acupuncture points to promote digestion, raise the metabolic rate, control the appetite and invigorate the spleen.
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