Clearly something is out of balance. More than two-thirds of all American adults over the age of 20 are overweight or obese, according to Health, United States, 2012, an annual report on the health of the nation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Center for Health Statistics. If the current trend continues, it is estimated that 42 percent of Americans – men, women and children - will be obese by 2030.
With obesity on the rise, never before in the West have so many diet programs and products been available to those who want to lose weight. Some plans count calories or carbohydrates; others control what, how much, and when you eat; a few feature supplements or appetite suppressants, diuretics or laxatives; there are the workouts regimens and repetitions; and most extreme is stomach stapling. These weight-loss regimes are well advertised in various media, and classes, books, tapes, and DVDs abound everywhere. Americans now spend an estimated $55 billion a year on diet programs and products. Why then, are so many of us overweight?
Western weight-loss strategies and methods focus almost exclusively on external factors—it's all about the weight and the food. Unlike these practices, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) addresses the root cause of weight conditions. TCM considers excess weight a symptom of a greater health problem. It's the end result of a series of internal events in the body that usually begin with a Qi (vital energy) deficiency and imbalance. If the root cause of excess weight is not addressed, weight loss will never be permanent. This concept is supported by statistics that show that 95 percent of dieters ultimately regain a portion or all of the weight they have lost in the past.
According to TCM theory, in order to have good health you must have sufficient Qi and your internal organs must work in harmony. If there isn't enough Qi, one or more organs can become imbalanced and develop an energy function disorder. When this happens they cannot perform their innate tasks, for example, promoting proper metabolism and ridding your body of excess water and fat. Very often, health problems like headaches, emotional difficulties such as depression, and allergies precede a weight gain. These are all signals that the body is having internal functional difficulties. TCM believes that a balanced body does not have weight problems. When your Qi is strong and balanced, weight will be lost naturally and normal weight will be maintained.
Many diets require you to eat or eliminate specific foods. The TCM view is that a healthy body will "ask for" what it needs and will not experience extraordinary food cravings or an enormous appetite. Every food carries a specific essence that resonates energetically with one or more organs. Cravings are signals that an organ may be imbalanced and in need of additional Qi. Food is just one of a variety of healing resources used in TCM treatment, along with herbs, acupuncture, and acupressure.
Perhaps the most profound aspect of TCM's perspective on overweight conditions is its perception of the role emotions play in overall health. TCM does not see and treat your body, mind, emotions, and spirit as separate, but rather as an interrelated whole. This means you must have emotional balance to have true physical health. When TCM looks at digestion, it takes the broadest view: digestion is the ingestion, absorption, and letting go of food, drink, and emotion as well as everything else you may take in, including what you read, what you see on TV conversations, and the like. TCM understands that chronically held emotions act like internal pathogens, destabilizing the function of your organs. If you hold onto an emotion, it will stay "undigested" in your system. This affects how Qi flows through the related meridians and organs, compromising their function.
From the TCM viewpoint, stress plays a large part in overweight conditions. So it's not unusual for TCM practitioners to advise their patients to reduce stress levels, "let things go" and get more rest and relaxation. Chinese Qigong, a self-healing energy practice, is very helpful in promoting weight loss because it reduces stress and builds Qi. Qigong has been used in China for millennia to treat a wide range of health issues, including obesity.
Not surprisingly, Qigong is the cornerstone of successful TCM weight loss programs in the West, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation's The Dragon's Way®. This innovative, comprehensive program focuses on authentic body-mind-spirit healing through Qigong, learning how to eat for true health, and lifestyle changes based on timeless TCM insight. It teaches participants how to connect with the body's innate inner wisdom.
The Foundation's educational outreach also includes The Dragon's Way Instructor Certification program, where trainees grow personally by applying TCM principles and practices in their lives and learn how to teach this knowledge base to others. Because The Dragon's Way® has great flexibility and can easily be incorporated into other healthcare programs and settings, instructor training attracts a broad range of professionals—physicians, nurses, acupuncturists, body workers, and psychologists—as well as past Dragon's Way participants who wish to share their positive experience with family, friends and community.
A medical paradigm based on interrelationships, TCM sees being overweight as an issue also related to the greater culture. Western definitions of acceptable appearance are often unrealistic. Advertising and media drive a certain concept of "ideal" weight and then turn around and pitch the products for people to achieve what, for most, is an unreasonable ideal. TCM encourages individuals to tune into their own body and spirit, recognizing that each person is entirely unique.
Western weight-loss methods, when compared to those of TCM, are generally focused on superficial and quick results that can impact the individual's long-term health. The entire framework of TCM is based on an understanding of how the entire human being works—body, mind, and spirit. It seeks to create balance and harmony within each individual and then harmonize that individual with nature. TCM is an ancient paradigm for the workings of the human body that is based on Universal law—how nature really works. All of the principles and theories of TCM, a complete and holistic medical system in continuous existence and practice for thousands of years, can be applied to anyone to foster and maintain health, and prevent health problems. With its specialties of prevention and lifestyle modification, traditional Chinese medicine is a safe and truly healing weight-loss resource just waiting to be discovered and embraced by the American mainstream.
This article originally appeared in Harmony – Ancient Wisdom for Modern Wellness, the newsletter of the Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation. © 2013 Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation. All rights reserved. (For more information visit www.tcmworld.org or call 212.274.1079.)