At this time of the year, people coming to the clinic often ask about ways to lose weight, or are seeking acupuncture treatments for weight loss. My usual answer is that January – or the cold season generally – is not the best time to be focused on this aspect of health. While, for most people, concerns about weight gain in the month of January stem from the dietary excesses of the holiday season, excess weight can be a concern at any time of the year. In this article, I’ll examine some of the root causes behind excess weight, and give some general recommendations to address the issue.
In popular culture, weight gain is associated with inadequate physical exercise and overeating. While these two factors can indeed contribute to weight gain, people often find that increasing physical activity or eating less do not help them shed weight. The following are some pointers that explain the reasons behind this:
- Weight gain is a function of our metabolic rate. Metabolic rate is essentially the rate at which we break down, assimilate, and utilize foods, nutrients, and calories as sources of fuel for energy. Those with a slower metabolic rate have a slower pace of burning calories and are, therefore, more prone to weight gain if their level of activity does not match their level of caloric or dietary intake.
- Our metabolic rate is usually based on our constitutional nature – that is, our genetic makeup. We tend to inherit things from our parents and the same is true with our metabolism, digestion, and physiology. As with other aspects of health, such as mental, emotional, and spiritual, that we also inherit from our parents and ancestors, we can always strive to alter, nourish, and change these constitutional tendencies.
- In terms of Chinese Medicine, metabolic rate is the function of our yang energy. Yang is the active pole of the yin/yang polarity. It represents energy, warmth, life force, digestive fire, and the sun. In contrast, yin represents the physical body, the organs, the blood, hormones, and our DNA, along with rest, coolness, inactivity, nourishment, and the moon. Shortage in either of these polar forces will throw the body off-balance and contribute to health issues and weight concerns.
While both yin and yang energies need to be in a state of balance for optimal health and weight, it is the yang energy that drives and contributes to the rate of our digestive fire and metabolic rate. Yang energy simply refers to our energy level; the more energetic we are, the more warmth we have, hence the faster our metabolism. The following are ways in which yang energy is lost or depleted, which contributes not only to weight gain, but also to weaker immunity, faster aging, and all sorts of chronic health issues:
- Overworking and not having enough rest depletes the yang energy.
- Going to bed late at night taxes the yang energy.
- Failure to slow down, conserve energy, and self-reflect in winter consumes the yang energy much more as we are pushing against natural energetic currents.
- Attempting strict weight loss or detox programs in winter time seriously depletes the life force.
- While a lack of enough physical movement and a sedentary lifestyle leads to an excess of yin and lack of warmth, an excess of physical exercise and activity depletes yang energy. Balance is needed.
- Travelling to warmer places in the middle of winter are energetically very taxing on the yang qi as the body consumes more energy to adapt to the climatic extremes.
- Food needs to be chewed, slowly, to a paste. Not chewing your food well means more yang energy has to be used to break down the food in the stomach.
- Drinking excessively with meals dilutes the stomach acid which then interferes with proper digestive processes, and taxes yang energy.
- Cold-temperature foods and drinks, and excessive cooling foods such as fruits, salads, juices, smoothies, and shakes, all put out the digestive fire and deplete yang energy.
- Dietary extremes or dietary habits that are not in line with our constitution throw us off-balance by depleting life force.
- Unresolved emotional traumas and mental/emotional stress, as well as spiritual stress, all consume our life force, depleting yang energy.
- It takes energy to suppress unwanted feelings and emotions. Ideally these emotions are released when we are not under a lot of stress.
Optimal health is very much based on the individual constitutional makeup and all recommendations need to be individually tailored. Following these recommendations will ensure conservation of your life force while you address your individual needs based on your own constitution.