I remember back in my senior year of high school - my best friend since 5th grade was living in France. He wrote that they didn't like Americans much. "They think we're all fat," he said. With his own skinny frame, of course, he confounded their belief.
But, he added a funny, or perhaps ironic capstone to the issue. "I went to a store, and they were selling statues of these fat people, and, at the base of each one was written, 'American.'"
Obesity is not only an American problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it's a global problem. They call it globesity. Parodoxically, their understanding of this problem began with their original mission to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. We live in a world where many have nothing to eat, and many eat too much. From 1995 to 2000, the number of obese adults worldwide mushroomed from 200 million to 300 million. That's a 50% increase in just 5 years!
What is Obesity, and What is Overweight?
Overweight means an excess of body weight. This excess weight may be muscle, bone, fat, and/or body water. Obesity refers specifically to an abnormally high proportion of body fat. You can be overweight without being obese - for example, a bodybuilder or other highly-muscled athlete. But many people who are overweight are also obese.The main way to determine whether you are overweight or obese is with the body mass index (BMI). It doesn't directly measure body fat, and it's not gender specific, but it does give you a pretty reliable estimation.
To find your BMI, divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height in meters squared. Yep, for the math-challenged, that's complex, so I'll give you a website that will figure it out for you, the National Institute's of Health BMI calculator (http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/). This will very quickly tell you if you are normal, overweight, or obese, and it does all the calculating and metric conversions for you!
Overweight is defined as a BMI above 25 (including those above 30 BMI, too), and obese is a BMI above 30. So, all obese people are overweight, but not all overweight people are obese.
The Obesity Epidemic
Obesity isn't just about not feeling good or having trouble getting dates…
- It leads to more than 300,000 premature deaths each year in the United States. 90,000 are preventable cancer deaths. (CDC)
- Severely obese men die 13 years sooner than men of normal weight (JAMA).
- As a killer in America, obesity is second only to tobacco. (CDC)
The Weight Loss Industry
- Spending: Americans spend between $40-50 billion per year to lose weight.
- Results: I haven't seen any recent news that Americans are getting any thinner - have you?
- Conclusion: What people are doing isn't working. If we want different results, we have to try a different solution.
Acupuncture Weight Loss: Fantasy, or Fact?
- Fantasy or Fact? As a well-trained and fairly conservative Chinese medicine practitioner, I had assumed that acupuncture for weight loss was a marketing fad and a patient fantasy.
- Evidence: But while researching my upcoming book Chinese Medicine: A Practical Guide to Optimal Healing, I found some surprisingly positive information that changed my mind.
Chinese Medicine's Collective Clinical Data on Acupuncture Weight Loss
Chinese Medicine has thousands of years of clinical experience. This collective data not as convincing as randomized controlled trials are, but it does contain truth - it's imperfect but still valid and important.
A U.S. government study in the 80's concluded that 85% of western medicine is based on clinical experience, not on research. (Office of Technology Assessment of the Congress of the United States, The Impact of Randomized Controlled Trials on Health Policy and Medical Practice, Background Paper OTA-BP-H-22. Also see Michael Millenson's book, Demanding Medical Excellence)
There is good Chinese Medicine research in Taiwan, Australia, and Europe that gets ignored by American scientists and media. Much research in Chinese has not even been translated into English.
Seven Studies of Acupuncture for Weight Loss
How it works: By enhancing the function of two neuroendocrine pathways that regulate many bodily processes, including metabolism.
What it does:
- Lowers body weight, body fat, insulin levels, and lipid levels in the blood
- Decreases excessive appetite and makes it easier to satisfy your hunger with less food.
- Decreases menopausal weight gain
- In one study, acupuncture took off 10 pounds in 2 months - that translates to 60 lbs in a year!
- Combined with diet control, and aerobic counseling it not only takes off the pounds and body fat, but keeps them off, especially if you're diligent with their exercise.
(See references at end of article for the research)
Ephedra misuse and mislegislation
Ephedra is a Chinese herb for colds and coughs. It has been misused to increase metabolism, and this misuse has caused numerous deaths. As a result, the FDA is considering a total ban on ephedra products. We can blame two major things:
- Supplement companies that care more about your money than your health (no, not all of them are that way, but some of them are, especially the ones that market weight loss formulations).
- The idea that you can medicate yourself safely with herbs - self-medication of any kind is risky. Self-medication with herbs is off the radar, and people generally think they can do it safely. The ephedra debacle is an example of how dangerous it can be.
Traditionally, Chinese herbs are given in formulas (not singly), which is safer and more personalized. They're prescribed by a Chinese medicine practitioner who diagnoses your specific imbalances first. Ephedra would never be given for weight loss, but only for certain kinds of colds and coughs, and only to people whose body's can handle it.
No traditional Chinese herbs should be outlawed without allowing Chinese medical practitioners to continue to use them traditionally.
- Problem #1 (Enzyme Deficiency): The foods you crave depending on your personal imbalances. Modern digestive science explains that when your body can't digest a food, you crave more of it - you're not getting what you need from it. This lead to a cycle of craving and overeating the exact food you can't digest.
- Problem #2 (Low Blood Sugar): Another vicious cycle happens when you can't digest complex carbs, so your blood sugar is low, so you eat simple carbs that raise your blood sugar which raises insulin, which lowers your blood sugar again, and your stuck eating donuts and feeling horrible.
- Solution: Enzymes (I recommend various enzyme formulations from a company called Transformations) and Chinese herbal formulas can help you digest your food and break both of these cycles
Weight can be lost safely if done slowly and naturally.
You can lose up to 2 lbs per week without gaining it back. That means you could lose 104 lbs this year and keep it off!
Positive change is like stretching a rubber band- if you stretch too far too fast, it breaks or snaps back on you.
So avoid the temptation to take an easy solution like ephedra or citrus aurantium (both misused Chinese herbs), because you'll gain the weight back, and you're risking heart problems and stroke.
5 Things to Do Right Now
To Lose 10 Pounds Within 2 Months
And Keep Them Off:
- Avoid heavily marketed supplements - instead, see a professional trained herbalist (acupuncturist) - it's safer and more effective - my preference would be a Chinese medicine practitioner, but some very well-educated western herbalists are good too.
- Acupuncture Weight Loss: See an acupuncturist/chinese herbalist - Get acupuncture (once to three times per week) to SAFELY regulate your metabolism and hunger-satisfaction. Your acupuncturist can also get you the herbs that will balance your digestion and cravings - and based on your Chinese pattern diagnosis, they can also give you personalized diet advice. Herbs and enzymes (specific formulations from the enzyme company, Transformations) can eliminate your food cravings.
- Develop a plan and goals with your acupuncturist and aerobics instructor- make it realistic, and stick to it. If you mess up, don't beat yourself up, just get back on track as soon as you can. Any progress is better than none at all.
- Eat less, exercise more - Eat a low fat diet, and don't miss breakfast! Weigh yourself regularly, and exercise an hour a day. Start by walking a few minutes each day, or take the stairs at work. Don't overdo it! Remember the rubber band. In fact, you may want to wear a rubber band on your wrist to remind yourself to make changes slowly. Get some aerobic exercise help- a public class, or private aerobic counseling.
- Join a support group like Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous. There's nothing like positive friends to encourage you and keep you on track. OA members say that this spiritual program of action has changed the way they relate to food.
References and Resources
- Office of Technology Assessment of the Congress of the United States, The Impact of Randomized Controlled Trials on Health Policy and Medical Practice, Background Paper OTA-BP-H-22.
- Michael Millenson's book, Demanding Medical Excellence
- Effect of acupuncture on weight loss evaluated by adrenal function. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1993 Sep, 13(3):169-73.
- Wozniak, P., Oszukowski, P., Stachowiak, G., and Szyllo, K. [The effectiveness of low-calorie diet or diet with acupuncture treatment in obese peri- and postmenopausal women] (in Polish). Ginekol.Pol. Vol.74 Issue 2 pp. 102-107. 2003
- Acupuncture on Spleen, Stomach, and Ren Mai Channel Points for the Treatment of Stomach & Intestinal Replete Heat Pattern Simple Obesity. Abstracted & translated by Bob Flaws, Dipl. Ac. & C.H, Lic. Ac., FNAAOM, FRCHM
- Richards D, Marley J. Stimulation of auricular acupuncture points in weight loss. Aust Fam Physician. 1998 Jul;27 Suppl 2:S73-7.
- Zhao, M., Liu, Z., and Su, J. The time-effect relationship of central action in acupuncture treatment for weight reduction. J Tradit Chin Med Vol.20 Issue 1 pp. 26-29. 2000
- Liu, Z. Mechanisms underlying the effects of acupuncture moxibustion on simple obesity complicated by hypertension. Inter J Clin Acup 371-378, 1995.
- Studies of the Weight Loss Industry
- Obesity prevalence and effect
- Overeaters Anonymous
Brian B. Carter, MS, LAc
Brian Carter has been making herbs and acupuncture fun and easy to understand since 1999. He founded Pulse Media International (http://www.pulsemed.org), previously known as the Pulse of Oriental Medicine. He is the author of "Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure" (2004 - http://www.pulsemed.org/famous-author.htm)
Brian is a medical professor and public speaker. He writes articles, blogs (http://americas-acupuncturist.blogspot.com/), and speaks on radio across the country, and has been quoted and interviewed by publications like Real Simple, Glamour, and ESPN magazines.