During my recent training in China, I was surprised to see many Chinese women going for acupuncture in order to lose weight. The passion for thinness has reached China where most of the women are thin and might even be considered very thin by American standards. Nonetheless, the doctors were quite amenable to helping these women try to acheive weight loss through acupuncture.

The Chinese diet is not what I expected. We often refer to the Chinese diet in the US as a healthy diet. A diet that it is more plant based rather than the focus being on protein. That basically means that the protein portion of the meal is smaller than the amount of rice and vegetables (and certainly less than the average American intake of protein). My observations were in accord with that perception. However, I was also very aware that Chinese food preparation uses significant amounts of oil-either peanut or another plant oil and/or pork oil. Food was either deep fried or very oily stir fried and the most common protein used is pork. One of the doctors commented that pork is a very fatty meat and contributes to excess dampness (heaviness, slows movement) in the body and therefore hinders weight loss. In addition, the diet is extremely high in sodium due to the use of soy sauce, salt and MSG and may also cause fluid retention.

The most common treatment for weight loss includes using points on the abdomen. Needles are placed along the stomach, spleen and kidney channel to strengthen and stimulate the digestive system and along the midline to work on the basic constitution of the patient. Acupoints are also included on the leg and arms to support the overall treatment and keep the patient in balance. I did learn some pearls of wisdom regarding new uses of some points. One of these is a point on the leg which the doctor said helps reduce appetite.

The standard course of treatment in China is three times a week for ten treatments. After the ten treatments the doctor said he changes the points around until sufficient weight has been lost. I did think it was interesting that there was little conversation of dietary changes. Although the diet seems to be high in fat from a cultural perspective, perhaps there is little thought given to modifying cooking techniques to reduce fat and sodium. My guess is that since McDonalds and fast food eateries are not the usual source of meals and that walking or riding a bicycle are common modes of transportation, that patients and doctors alike focus on the acupuncture.

In our country where we have abundant choices of where to eat and how to cook, paying attention to what and how much we eat is a significant aspect of weight loss. In addition, since there are few places in Houston where we can actually walk, exercise becomes an important part of the lifestyle modifications that we need to consider when embarking on weight loss goals. Of interest is a problem we see here in the US but that appearred to be a non-issue in China. That problem is frequency of non-hunger or emotional eating. It was not common place to see people snacking in cars, walking and eating or stopping by fast food to pick up sugary foods or drink. It appeared overall that most of the Chinese population ate three meals a day with green tea after meals.

My approach to weight loss includes focusing on healthy lifestyle as well as exploring whether or not non-hunger eating is an issue. Clearly what, how, where and why we eat plays a role in how food serves a purpose for us and whether it is working toward our benefit or detriment healthwise. One might also suggest that using food for emotional reasons, might at some level work toward our benefit if it is a protective mechanism.

Regardless of your relationship to food right now, acupuncture can help work on your digestion, metabolism and especially your stress. When you are calmer in your world, you can then begin to look at the emotional reasons for eating.

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