Many people ask if acupuncture is good for losing weight. The bottom line is that weight gain is caused by consuming more calories than one expends, so to lose weight, one needs to expend more calories than consumed. It sounds simple, but simple does not mean easy. To put it shortly, weight loss and gain are a delicate and complex balancing act. And one of the strengths of Eastern medicine is finding a balance in the body is exactly what its designed to do.


While it appears that the main issue is calories in versus calories out, it is clear that other factors are also in play. In addition to behavior patterns, like eating too much or eating the wrong kinds of things, current research indicates that there could be genetic or other constitutional underpinnings that are contributing to the issue. The energy conserving genes of our hunter-gatherer past do not always work well with the mass production society of the 21st century Western world. Also taking into account the psychological contributions combined with a weaponized advertising culture, it can make it difficult for people to achieve and maintain healthy choices.


Research is being done to determine which genes, hormones, and enzymes are involved in gaining and losing weight. This helps guide best practices around dieting and exercise. A good example of this is understanding how the content of the food we eat (carbs, proteins, fats) gets used and stored. This is the basis behind ketogenic diets and their popularity and purported effectiveness. Another example is the practice of intermittent fasting and understanding how the timing of our internal body clock fits in with digestion and fat storage. As more research gets done, more of biochemistry and neurology of the digestive system is known. But then there begins to be quite a large number of factors at work. Sometimes these complex interplays could do with a different perspective. Something complex from one angle might not be from another. An acupuncturist has that different angle of perspective.


Chinese medicine is a functional medicine, based more on how things are working together than what are the working parts. And with the metaphorical system of Chinese medicine the underlying constitutional problems that can be a barrier to weight loss could be more easily seen. While not every molecule and interaction are known, the overall holistic patterns can still known. And certain symptom patterns can point to underlying constitutional issues that either contribute to weight gain or can work against weight loss efforts. The mainstay of Chinese medicine is finding the pattern, and pulling the imbalances back to a healthy center. The following are a few examples of patterns that get in the way of losing weight.


One common barrier to weight loss is the feeling of always being hungry. From the Eastern perspective, increased appetite is one of the main signs of “stomach heat”. The stomach’s fire, which is usually needed to help break down food, is just too hot and therefore requires more fuel, resulting in the excessive hunger and thirst. Regardless of the root cause of this increased fire, the treatment of clearing stomach heat needs to be done. There are numerous herbs that do this as well as important acupuncture points to biochemically and neurologically balance the gut-brain axis with the effect of “clearing stomach heat”. A harmonized gut-brain axis will keep that nagging appetite from slowing down your progress.


Another common problem with weight loss people face is that despite the fact they are watching what they eat and they are working out regularly, they still have trouble taking the weight off. Often they are told they have issues of slow metabolism or a type of metabolism that requires a special diet. Viewed with the Eastern lens, the culprit could be spleen qi deficiency. As discussed previously, spleen qi describes our ability to properly transform and transport the food we eat to the energy our body needs. If the spleen cannot properly do this, a possible outcome is the accumulation of retained dampness. In the Western sense this relates to improper using and storing of nutrients. This could amount to an inappropriate storage into fat, as well as an inappropriate breakdown of this fat to use as energy. Again, there are herbal formulas and needles to help with this. These acupuncture and herbal treatments are not designed to directly get one to lose weight, as some Western “diet pills” attempt to do. These protocols are designed to optimize one’s digestive systems, so the right things are going into and out of the right places, allowing you to get the promised results from your hard work.


It’s well known in Western medicine that emotional distress, anxiety, and depression can contribute to weight gain. One way is the unchecked emotion can lead to overeating or “comfort eating.” Who wouldn’t want a bit of chocolate or a nice glass of wine after a rough day to soothe the nerves. Aside from stress leading to comfort eating, unmanaged stress can also decrease an individual’s motivation to eat properly and work out regularly. There is even growing evidence that poorly managed stress can directly affect how the nutrients we eat are used and stored. All of these issues can be substantial challenges to a person’s weight loss journey. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner is well aware of how stress can affect the smooth flow of our qi, and it is well known how this affects gastrointestinal functioning. Eastern medicine has many tried and trusted tools to address this. Well placed needles can calm the mind, and herbal remedies can balance your neurochemistry. Mind-body exercises can play a huge role here, especially practicing tai chi. Tai chi is perfect for harmonizing and realigning your body, smoothing both your mental turbulence while simultaneously stretching your limbs and getting a highly effective high-intensity, low-impact workout. It is a great addition to any workout routine.


So how can acupuncture help with weight loss? The acupuncturist can help see certain patterns within the body that perhaps aren’t seen through Western medical science as quickly or easily. Incorporated into your weight loss plan, acupuncture treatments are designed to help the body help itself. No matter what your strategy of diet and exercise ism the strength in acupuncture treatments here is not in just adding or just taking away, but balancing and harmonizing. There is not a direct appetite suppression, where an acupuncture treatment would make you less hungry even if you weren’t already. But it is more like it fine-tunes the gut-brain axis away from the general state that would contribute to greater hunger. In doing so, the acupuncture treatment might also balance the body in other ways current Western medical science hasn’t uncovered yet that contribute to weight loss barriers. And this makes acupuncture treatments safe. One could overdo it with diet pills and etc. But one cannot over balance an already balanced system. And the same concept goes in reverse. Acupuncture and herbalism treatments can help strengthen the system, again, not to directly lose weight, but to give more power to the mechanisms that will in turn get that job done. And if there are certain aspects of the body that do not need boosting, the affects of the acupuncture and the herbs are probably not going to take it too far and burn you out or exhaust you.


Make no mistake, spending more calories than one consumes is the only way to get the weight off. Therefore, a well thought out dietary plan is essential. And seeking the help of a weight loss coach takes that even further, because as one can see, it’s a complicated issue. In a journey as important as this, its beneficial to get all the help you can get. If you’d like to learn more on how herbalism and acupuncture for weight loss can help harmonize your imbalances, optimize your system, and clear your path, contact us today. To get started learning tai chi, visit one of our group classes.

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Dr. Dan Perez is both a Western-trained physician and a graduate of the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine. Based in Austin, Texas, AOMA is recognized as one of the leading schools in Chinese Medicine. Being both an expert in Western medicine and Chinese medicine, Dr. Perez offers his patients natural, minimally invasive and integrative medical options for treating a variety of chronic medical conditions. If you would like to know more about how Dr. Perez can help with your health and well being, contact him today. You can contact Dr. Perez at his office, located just off of Bee Cave Road in northwest Austin (near Lakeway), for more information or to book an appointment.