Weight Loss & Chinese Medicine: What You Need to Know

by Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons |

Weight Loss & Chinese Medicine: What You Need to Know

“Can you help me lose weight?” I get that question a lot as a Chinese Medicine doctor and coach. The short answer: Yes. I can help you lose excess pounds and body fat. What's more, I can help you do so in a way that fosters whole body-mind health. Now, you may be thinking: 

“No, really. I just want to lose weight.”

But trust me. You want this whole body-mind health thing. Not only because it feels good, but because it’s the key to healthy, sustained weight loss.

What sets what I’m doing apart from other diet and weight-loss plans?

The answer starts with Chinese Medicine and centuries of successful outcomes. It also aligns with cutting-edge science and the new, evidence-based paradigm on eating and metabolism.

In Chinese Medicine, one of our guiding principles is “always seek the root.” This principle is a major reason for its effectiveness, proven over thousands of years.

As Chinese Medicine doctors, we go after the root of disease rather than focus on symptoms.

We know that treating symptoms alone will never result in sustained wellness. Sure, a bothersome condition might disappear for a while or even for good. But unless we also address the underlying imbalance, new (often worse) symptoms eventually arise.

In seeking and treating the root of disease, we pay attention to connections and patterns.

Rather than look at each symptom, body system, or aspect of health separately, we take a holistic view. One able to explain why seemingly unrelated symptoms appear in constellation. One able to predict and prevent further progression.

Still with me? Now we’ll get back to that weight-loss question:).

In Chinese Medicine, being overweight falls into the disease category of fei pang (often translated as “obesity”). Typically, fei pang is a disease characterized by “deficiency at the root and excess at the branch.”

This last bit is key: deficiency at the root and excess at the branch.

The specifics – and treatment principles – vary from individual-to-individual. (Indeed, we have at least five patterns of fei pang, each with its own symptoms and each warranting different herbal formulas and daily prescriptions.)

In general though, we often see impaired digestive and hormonal functioning with a failure to properly metabolize food and drink.

Disease causes and development are highly variable and usually multi-faceted. Common culprits include:

  • A diet poor in vital nutrients

  • A diet full of sugar, carbs and/or processed foods

  • Emotional states, including chronic stress, anger, anxiety or depression

  • Prolonged or recurrent illness

  • Under- or over-exercise

  • Poor, insufficient or irregular sleep

Identifying and addressing these factors is essential to treating underlying deficiencies and the root of the problem.

Whatever the causes, as a consequence we see “excess at the branch.” Impaired digestion and metabolism lead to accumulation of pathological metabolites, including what Chinese Medicine calls “dampness.”

Dampness takes many forms – some more tangible than others. In general, it denotes stagnation and sluggishness in the body-mind. It’s dirty, wet, heavy, slow and lingering and can manifest on physical and mental-emotional levels.

On a physical level, obesity or excess weight gain is one such manifestation. And because things that sit around too long tend to heat up, signs of heat are often present too (heartburn or feeling overheated, for instance).

Most mainstream approaches to weight loss totally ignore the “deficiency at the root” part, instead focusing exclusively on draining the branch excess. 

This is why such approaches fail.

Sure, they may cause pounds to drop off in the short term. Ultimately, however, they will fail to produce sustained, healthy weight loss. Every. Single. Time.

And that’s not the worst of it.

Approaches to weight loss that ignore root deficiencies and just drain, drain, drain (for example, by "cleansing," cutting calories or over-exercising) will, in the long run, make root deficiencies worse – leading to slower metabolism and an even bigger weight problem.

Now, many clients who come to me wanting to lose weight aren't clinically “obese.”

Oftentimes they are 10 to 20 pounds over their ideal weight and frustrated by stubborn fat accumulation around the waist or elsewhere. Many are women who watched pounds accumulate post-menopause. Others are women and men of all ages who, despite regular exercise and dieting, can’t keep excess weight off in a sustained way.

Most are frustrated, exhausted and feel as though they’re fighting themselves.

Prolonged efforts to follow conventional “wisdom” by cutting calories, fats and protein; becoming chronic “juicers”; and engaging in chronic cardio and over-exercise have resulted in diminishing returns rather than lasting results.

Some clients, of course, actually do qualify as “obese,” many of them suffering from associated health problems ranging from back pain to diabetes to cardiovascular disease.

But regardless of where a client falls on this spectrum, the fei pang patterns and treatment principles hold true. In other words, there’s usually an issue of deficiency at the root and excess at the branch.

In treating these clients – and helping them lose weight and gain health – I focus on the root even as I simultaneously address branch symptoms.

That’s the only way treatment will work. And by “work,” I mean keeping excess weight and body fat off in a healthy way over the long haul.

How do I do this?

Ahhh....ancient Chinese secret. Not really. But it is an art as well as a science. It’s also a partnership between client and doctor, self and support.

I'm here as a doctor and guide skilled in the synergistic application of powerful tools. Those tools include real-food, paleo-primal principles and herbal therapy.

And since patterns, relationships and beliefs surrounding food run deep and affect every part of our being, a client's individually tailored protocol also includes practical and mindfulness-based support strategies.

In addressing the root of the pattern as well as branch symptoms, I treat your whole body-mind. I also rely on you as an active partner in the process.

What about the “science-y” stuff?

Turns out, hundreds of studies conducted by some of the world’s top researchers have proven conventional “wisdom” about weight loss dead wrong.

The new, proven paradigm in diet and weight-loss circles eschews symptom-driven strategies as ineffective and even counterproductive (i.e., contributing to impaired metabolism and long-term weight gain rather than weight loss).

Recognizing that attempts to starve and medicate our way to weight loss never work in a sustained, healthy way, this new paradigm embraces approaches focused on changing our hormonal and metabolic ecology.

In other words, the new science focuses on seeking the root and treating the whole system. Sound familiar? :)

It does so in ways that may surprise you – I cover key ones in Part 2 of this series.

As a teaser, let’s just say conventional notions about how to eat and exercise for weight loss have been proven wrong. Meanwhile, very different, science-backed strategies have been proven to work.

At Alchemist Sobriety, I leverage these science-based strategies within the context of Chinese Medicine. My work is an alchemy of food, medicine and mindfulness that helps people eat, live and feel better.

What about herbs?

Glad you asked! Here’s the thing. Food and lifestyle truly are amazing medicine. That said, herbs offer a powerful complement – one that can address root imbalances as well as branch weight gain.

Chinese herbal formulas are a fantastic, easy way to support your whole body ecology and maintain healthy weight:  

  • To focus on branch digestive complaints, such as bloating or upset stomach, try Digestive Harmony. This is a great one to have on hand for “the morning after” overdoing it :).

  • Stress spikes cortisol, which majorly impedes weight-loss efforts – even when your diet is “perfect.” If that sounds familiar, consider Emotional Balance.

  • Out-of-whack hormones take a huge toll on metabolism. Women’s Formula restores regularity and harmony, supporting weight loss at the root.

  • Poor sleep is one of the biggest blocks to weight loss I know. If that’s true for you, try Mental Tranquility Sleep Remedy (or Physical Tranquility Sleep Remedy, if your nights are restless and sweaty).

  • Lastly, since the immune system starts in the gut and affects our entire body ecology, don’t forget Immunity Support!

Choosing a formula that’s right for you will complement dietary and lifestyle adjustments, boosting wellness at the root and minimizing weight gain at the branch. Use the code DANA at checkout for 20 percent off!

Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons is Dean of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at Pacific Rim College in Victoria, BC. She offers online courses in Chinese Medicine, sobriety, and soulful living at Alchemist Academy. Alchemist Academy features courses for beginners (including on herbs and herbal formulas!) as well as NCCAOM-certified PDA/CEUs for practitioners. If you’re interested in brain shaping, make sure to check out Shifting Currents, Shaping Mind: Neuroplasticity Meets Taoism in Chinese Medicine.

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