In January 2007, a Turning Point client told her acupuncturist that she had entered a three month long weight-loss competition – a contest among friends that she really wanted to win. They had been working together for several years on general well-being and this competition presented the client with an opportunity to learn more about how both Western Medicine / Culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine dealt with the issue of weight-loss.

We all know the basic weight-loss mantra: “eat less, exercise more.” However, with the constant stress and instant-gratification mentality of modern life, this is much easier said than done. Many people treat weight loss as a short sprint and are also constantly looking for short cuts. Eliminating certain types of food (carbohydrates or fats) or intensely working out for a brief period of time will help you lose weight, but once you return to “normal” eating habits, the weight comes back and then some. We need to burn more calories than we consume in order to lose weight, but it’s also important that we eat the right kind of calories and establish a healthy diet that can be sustained interminably. Eating a menu based on the 40/30/30 plan, where the daily food intake consists of 40% complex carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat, as well as consciously reducing high-glycemic index foods like candy and other sweets, is a good and manageable approach. Aerobic activity such as running, bicycling or swimming, should also be balanced with anaerobic activity such as weight-lifting for optimum results. Keeping food and exercise journals has also been proven to help with weight-loss and maintenance.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), obesity and excess weight in general are viewed as a result of unbalanced qi in relation to the spleen, liver and kidney. All three of these organs play important roles in dealing with stress, and when they become overwhelmed feelings of well-being, satisfaction and fullness are replaced by unease, agitation, slow digestion and poor metabolism. TCM classifies this state as one of "dampness." In addition to utilizing specific acu-points to encourage better flow of qi, it is also recommended that you reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol and dairy, as these foods negatively impact the organs and increase dampness. Your acupuncturist may also prescribe certain Chinese herbs to help reduce the dampness and promote qi between treatments. Exercise is also suggested as a complimentary activity, but the TCM approach supports a more gentle approach, so as to not shock the system. Regular walking and yoga are two practices that have been found to be beneficial.

A 2003 study published in Experiemental Biology and Medicine found that a combination of the western and TCM weight-loss techhniques produced positive results. Over an eight week period, 55 subjects received auricular acupuncture treatment and kept food journals. The subjects were weighed four times a day and in the end, 64% lost weight. A control group that received "sham treatments" and kept food journals did not lose any weight, proving that the weight loss of the test subjects was not simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. Other studies have also found that accupuncture can have a positive impact on weight-loss, but more quantitative research needs to be done.

So what can you do with all this information? Turning Point recommends individual consultation with your acupuncturist, as everybody and every body is unique. In general though, a safe approach to weight loss incorporates both Western and TCM elements. Try to eat a glycemically balanced diet, and reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeine and dairy. Exercise at a level where you feel comfortable but also challenge yourself to reach for a higher general state of overall fitness. Keep a journal and make sure that you are open and honest with your acupuncturist about challenges and successes. The needles are not an instant fix-all. You need to be an equal partner in the process and work to address both your emotional and physical issues that have resulted in the excess weight.

And in case you were wondering, the Turning Point client did win the competition. She lost 10% of her weight and has kept it off for over two years by following the program outlined above. This success has made her a firm believer in the effectiveness of TCM in general and regular acupuncture treatments in particular.