Does Acupuncture Help Weight Loss?

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After “Does acupuncture hurt?” questions about weight loss are the most common ones for most acupuncturists. The short answer is “yes, usually.” Many people lose weight more easily when they add acupuncture to a healthy lifestyle of unprocessed food, healthy exercise, adequate sleep, and good stress management. Changes happen more quickly, and the good habits are easier to follow.

But that is not because acupuncture makes you lose weight. Losing weight may or may not be healthy, depending on your circumstance. And weight loss is not (or should not be) a goal in itself. Everyone agrees it is better to be a normal weight than obese. But if you somehow manage to lose weight while eating overly processed food, sleeping poorly, and stay highly stressed, you will still have health problems.

Acupuncture regulates qi.  Qi roughly correlates to our nervous and endocrine systems–the nearly sentient interactions that keep us alive with minute adjustments to every part of life. Our immune system, heart rate, metabolism–even what our brain focus on in the world around us–depend on how we interpret the internal and external data that comes through our senses. In Chinese medicine, we call the “stuff” that makes that interpretation qi.

Acupuncture allows qi to work as efficiently as possible. When you are stressed, or trying to overcome eating a cheeseburger laced with MSG-laden flavor salt and drinking a diet drink, or haven’t gone for a walk in a week, your qi suffers. Your system is backlogged with problems. Like a computer with glitches, you don’t work as well. Acupuncture allows your system to “reboot,” much like a good nights rest allows your body to process the thoughts and emotions of the day.

Your body, unencumbered by the stresses and injuries of the past, feels good. Exercise is a joy. As acupuncture treatments continue to calm your nervous system, it minimizes your “fight or flight” moments in the sympathetic nervous system. Little things, like traffic jams, feel less and less like emergencies. You start to feel stable and safe. Living in this state allows you to release food cravings.  Your body stops hanging on to every bit of fat it can get as a protection from a sense of deprivation and lack. You will begin to lose weight.

But you will do so much more. You will catch fewer colds, have fewer allergies, feel fewer aches and pains. You will sleep better, be more alert at work, and less likely to strike out in anger because life will feel manageable.

Does acupuncture help weight loss? Only tangentially. Acupuncture opens the pathways inside of you to allow your body to work the way it always should. In health and wellness.

Information used in crafting this post: TED talk: Why Do We Sleep?

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Yin Deficiency: What is It and Five Ways to Recover

Photo by Teresa Y Green


The link above is from Michael Tierra’s amazing website, and gives a quick overview of cayenne, and mentions that it may be too hot for someone with Yin deficiency. I completely agree with Mr. Tierra’s article (and since he’s one of the big names in herbal medicine, I’d be hesitant to disagree with him). But since his article was not focused on Yin deficiency, I found his explanation a little sparse. Most people in Western society have some yin deficiency, and protecting your Yin is crucial to staying healthy, especially as you age. Here’s a little info:

Yin deficiency refers to our reserves. Yin deals with the cooling, calming, moistening functions in the body–having the right lubrication (lymph, mucous, saliva, etc.), enough substructure (bone, blood, etc.), and enough rebuilding time and materials (sleep, and the substances above). It also refers to the “stuff” of reproductive function–hormones, menstrual blood, semen, mucous, etc. A yin deficiency may not affect all of these–Stomach yin deficiency means there usually is not adequate stomach mucosa, causing burning, acid reflux, or dry mouth; while liver yin deficiency will affect our ability to make blood properly, stay calm, and get enough sleep. Kidney yin deficiency affects reproductive function, overall calmness, ability to focus, and sleep as well.


Yang is the opposite of yin, and provides the activity that Yin fuels. Yang affects our ability to warm, do activity, remove excess moisture (and not generate it in the first place), wake up, and push through when you’re exhausted and have to keep going. It describes the energy that gets people up in them morning, provides sex drive, and active thinking. When it is deficient, people can have problems with anything from edema to sleepiness to just giving up.


Yin and yang work together. Without enough Yin, Yang is a mechanic with no tools, without enough Yang, the tools sit idle and rust. We need both. To use a different analogy, if you think of life as a fire, yin is the wood that provides fuel, while yang is the spark. Most people, when they get tired, try to add extra spark with caffeine, exercise, supplements, etc., when the problem most often is the substructure fuel that is depleted. Rebuilding the quiet side of your physiology allows you to thrive as you do the active parts of life.


Chronic stress destroys both yin and yang, but because yin is the harder to rebuild, it is the part that is the most important to protect. Overuse of cayenne, or other warming or stimulant substances like caffeine, will aggravate a yin deficiency, and may mask it temporarily because it provides extra yang. Eventually, though, the bottom falls out as a person’s reserves are completely depleted. Once someone collapses from overworking her body, she may never fully recover.

So protect your health and your ability to thrive. Protect your yin:

  1. Get enough rest. Rest early and often, with naps if possible. Take regular breaks in your workday, if not to sleep, then at least to disengage from the rat race. Take a walk, look at the outside world or an art museum–but let your mind rest. Meditation is one of the best ways to rebuild yin, and can be as simple as letting your mind wander while you watch people walk their dogs in a park.
  2. Eat well. Eat nutrient-dense food. Eggs from healthy chickens (meaning free-range chickens who have not been fed antibiotics) are a great source of yin, as are any juicy fruits and vegetables. Most fish is considered beneficial for yin as well. Eating warming foods that are considered more yang tonic (such as cayenne, cinnamon, lamb, horseradish and other mildly spicy foods) is not wrong–Chinese medicine is about balance, and getting a wide variety of foods is important. But if you have a yin deficiency, giving extra attention to yin tonic foods is a great idea.
  3. Destress. In our modern times, nothing is as hard on Yin as stress. Stress triggers our fight-or-flight system, which basically means we become on guard most of the time. Feeling rested and refreshed when you are constantly worried or feel cornered in a bad job, relationship, or just with your own thoughts is impossible. See a therapist, make life changes a necessary, or delegate your least favorite chores. The peace you gain will add years to your life.
  4. Do gentle exercise. Exercise primarily builds yang, through activity, but gentle exercise, such as tai chi or moderate walking, allows your body to process stress hormones, circulate your lymph, move toxins around, and manage blood sugar and digestion. These benefits greatly diminish stress in your system, and so benefit Yin.
  5. Diminish distractions. Yin is the energy of quiet and peace. If you have not sat outside and looked at the clouds for a while, I suggest trying it. Turning off your cell phone, stepping away from the computer, and turning down ambient noise any way you can will give your nervous system a break. Like meditation, simply existing in a quiet space without a lot of stimulation allows your body to turn inward and rest.

Using these tips will help you keep your Yin strong, giving you ample reserves for any situation. Try a few of them today!

Three Tips to Living with Low Energy or Chronic Pain

 

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I have a secret. I am not an energetic person. Never have been–even as a kid, I got tired before everyone else. I was the one who was relieved when parents came to break up sleepover shenanigans so I could get some much-needed sleep. I was in a car accident years ago, and the residual pain taps my energy further while adding its own problems.

My practice focuses on the chronically ill, so I see a lot of people like me. Many of them have trouble mentally dealing with their health issues.  They feel like they’re missing out on life, or that all they can do is get the daily requirements done, then drag off for as much sleep as possible before doing it all again. They are constantly tired, and usually depressed.

I get frustrated at my energy levels, but all-in-all I handle them pretty well. I look at my life, and it is full–I go out with friends, I have a career that uses my talents, and a husband and cat who love me. I get a fair amount done most days, and stay better rested than I have been at any earlier point in my life. How do I do it? I’m glad you ask!

  • I accepted there were limitations. This idea is anathema to many. They want to fight with everything they have to get one more thing done, add one more activity, one more commitment, one more accomplishment. For those whose personality fits this lifestyle, it is great–the constant challenge energizes them, so fighting their limitations is a great coping strategy. Most of the people I see day-to-day don’t have this personality–they just wish they did. I stopped wishing for it a long time ago, and made a few policies: I rarely commit to extra responsibilities because I know I can’t be reliable at them.  If I get so little sleep that I cry when it’s time to get up, I cancel my day. I avoid places, other than my office, where sick people are likely to congregate–no trips to the drugstore during flu season, and no unnecessary gatherings with a gaggle of small children. Being sick takes a lot out of me, and since setting up this policy I have a lot less illness than I used to.
  • I eat well. As much as I used to like soft drinks and french fries, I almost never eat them now. I don’t digest either of them well, and the “hangover” of eating any kind of junk food gets in the way of the things I want to do. My husband and I invest a lot of our income on healthy food that tastes great. We both enjoy food, and both know how important it is to give our bodies good things. It was a lesson we have only really committed to in the past five years or so, but now that we have we get reap great dividends–a clear mind, better moods, and a gradual improvement in health all-around. My pain levels are usually very low, and my energy improves the better I eat.
  • I try to have only positive things in my life. Lest you think I live my life focused on what I can’t do and cannot eat, let me tell you my philosophy: I am a valuable commodity, I have a lot to give, and like any precious thing or entity, I must receive excellent care to be at my best. So I put as many good things into my life as I can. The lesson of positivity is relatively new for me–I used to feel that saying my life was going well was a form of bragging. Now I see it as a way to improve the world around me by not adding to the complaints that burden society. I try to look at my life with a positive perspective (“change your story, change your life“). I seek out positive people to read and emulate, like Michael Hyatt, Marc and Angel Chernoff, Chris Guillebeau, and others. Putting upbeat, can-do, honest words into my mind each day helps fight discouragement and gives me the raw materials to create my own positive creations. Taking care of my mind also gives me a safe place to deal with hard things. When I’m tired, cultivating a positive outlook means I don’t bow to discouragement as often, and dark days when I see only the negative are easier to turn around.

These are just three tips for dealing with fatigue and stress. They are simple, but not always easy. Do you have any tips you use for dealing with the issues in your life?

    I Can See Clearly Now: Part Two of the Five Taxations–Vision

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    Recently, I wrote an article on The Five Taxations. They are five ways we can over-(or under-) exert ourselves and have consequences on specific areas of our health.  Today I want to cover the first in my Five Taxations series. The Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing) states: “to observe over a long time harms the blood.” 

    Almost everything we do in our modern day involves “observing over a long time.” Many of us spend hours at computers, dealing with lighted screens, flashing ads, and that ever-moving cursor. Our modern age, with its televisions, smart phones, artificial lighting, and fast pace give us unique challenges to our vision.  I often remind patients that 150 years ago, the only reasons someone would have their eyes darting rapidly from side-to-side would involve danger–someone or something was after you, or you were after it. Today, our eyes constantly track rapidly back and forth–whether we’re watching for traffic while driving or reading an ebook. All that use strains your eyes.

    But it does more. In Chinese medicine, eyes relate to the health and function of the Liver. Wearing them out stresses this organ system. Your “Liver energy” also manages your body’s response to stress, it’s ability to do things smoothly and on time (whether that’s getting sleepy at the right time or digesting food without incident), and has a lot to do with pain. The Liver governs the movement of qi. Qi getting stuck causes pain. (See this article for an explanation of stuck qi, and how to fix it) The Liver and Gallbladder meridians, which work together, affect the head, eyes, inside and outside of the legs, and influence the workings of every other system. Keeping them happy is a big deal. Here are a few ways to help your vision, and your Liver and Gall systems working well.

    •  Give your eyes a regular break. If you read or work out on the computer a lot, take regular breaks–at least every 90 minutes. Whenever possible, find a quiet place and close your eyes. Gently rub around your eyebrows and under your eyes. Give yourself time when you don’t have to “observe frequently.” Allow your eyes to unfocus and take a few moments off in a quiet place a few times a day.
    • Get enough rest. Lack of sleep is so common as to be endemic in modern society. Now we know what Chinese medicine has known all along–sleep is absolutely necessary to process stress. One of your Liver-Gall Bladder’s jobs is to file away the stress of the day while you dream–and it is at its most active between 11pm and 3am. Many creative people use these hours because they have a burst of energy. But they sacrifice their “unconscious sorting” time when they do so. Get the rest you need, and especially get your rest during these hours–you’ll find you have more creativity during the day if you allow it to build and do its job at night.
    • Eat Liver-and-Eye healthy foods. Foods with a slightly sour taste, like berries, vinegar, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, citrus foods and green vegetables, are good for “soothing Liver.” Not surprisingly, a lot of foods currently considered good for eye health are in these categories. Goji berries and chrysanthemum tea (made from the flowers of the
      Chrysanthemum morifolium or Chrysanthemum indicum plants) are used in Chinese herbal remedies to strengthen Liver blood and especially to strengthen the eyes. Most Asian markets will have instant beverages called “Chrysanthemum Tea,” which may be heavily sweetened but can be used to help your Liver qi. You can also buy an unsweetened version online (see bottom of page for an affiliate link).
    • Deal with stress. Stress, especially emotional stress, is one of the major obstacles to Liver and Gall Bladder meridian functioning. Dealing with stress as it occurs will allow this organ system to keep up with its job of making thing happen at the right time in your system, and will allow it to properly nourish your eyes. 

    Our modern world is especially hard on Liver energy, and especially hard on eyes. Take steps to prevent wearing out the windows to your soul. You’ll be more creative, less stressed, and better able to build the life you want. 


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      Huang Di Nei Jing quote taken from Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: An Annotated Translation of Huang Di’s Inner Classic – Basic Questions: 2 volumes

      One Quick Tip to Release Stress

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      Recently I got some unwelcome news that will add to my workload. Stressful news. The kind of news that makes me want to revert to college-coping strategies, which involve sweat pants, a t-shirt, a half gallon of ice cream and someone to listen to the drama in my life. 

      I can’t do that, though. I’m a grown-up, and I’ve decided to act like one. Thankfully, I am also an acupuncturist who can use what I know of natural medicine to deal with stress. I bet you get “half-gallon-ice-cream-sweat-pant-drama” kinds of news, too, from time to time. One of the easiest ways to turn stress around is with visualizations.
      In Traditional Chinese Medicine, (I’ll call it TCM from here on to save my fingers), keeping your qi, or energy/nerve flow/life force, healthy and moving is the key to health. Stress causes the qi to become blocked. In TCM, we say prolonged qi blockage can lead to problems ranging from headaches to digestive problems to tumors. Let’s do a quick exercise to see how your mind can help you open your qi and deal with stress.
      What does it mean to have blocked qi? I’ll show you. Close your eyes. Picture yourself driving a gorgeous car down a country road, great tunes from an amazing sound system filling your ride. The trees are green, there are luscious fields with flowers and cows, and you let down your window to feel the fresh air blow through your hair. You take a sharp curve and–BAM! you slam on the brakes for a garbage truck. That’s belching smoke. And dripping unmentionable refuse. It stinks. You have to slow down. The road is too narrow to pass. And the truck. Crawls. In. Front. Of. You. Feel that catch in your chest? That tightening in your neck? That’s blocked qi.  
      If you can imagine a scene and feel it clearly, think how powerful it is when it’s real. And constant. When you tie your mind up fretting over a stress–whether it’s pain, a bad relationship, or a problem you can’t solve, your body gets stuck in “blocked qi mode,” which over time can cause all kinds of problems. 
      Now let’s get that qi moving. Close your eyes. See that garbage truck. As it crawls by, the guy on the back jumps down and comes towards you. About halfway between you, he stops, turns so he can see in front of the truck, and beckons you to drive towards him. When you do, you see a small driveway where you can pass the garbage truck. He smiles at you as you go by, and pulls on the brim of his baseball cap. You’re on your way again! It only takes a minute for the fresh air to pull the trash smell away, the lush countryside soothes you, and you settle into a nice drive, thinking of the friends you are meeting at the end of your journey and how much fun you will have.
      What did we learn from our little visualization? We can control our qi movement with our mind! So when you are stressed, try visualization. Imagine scenarios where your stress works out for good, or picture your problem as a baseball that you bat out of the park–anything to help you feel that flow again. Imagine yourself holding a baby, or on the beach. Your brain will react to the pleasant images, and stop the loop of anxiety, irritation, and even hopelessness that prolonged stress can cause. 
      Visualization will not solve all your problems. But it can give you some breathing room from the mental, emotional, and physical effects of stress, which gives you time to reframe your problem as an opportunity and get on with the joy of life.