In this section we summarise the most common causes and treatments of excess weight and overweight condition.
Here you will find a summary of the Western and Chinese medical approaches to weight loss.
There is too much conflicting information about what causes weight gain and what you should do to get rid of it. Many of the most popular ideas simply do not work. Yet they are being routinely quoted as fundamental truth. As a consequence of the spread of misinformation and fad diets, many people are still making mistakes in their attempts to lose weight.
It is our hope that this resource will provide you with the ideas and information you need to make a lasting difference in your weight loss.
To that end, we have worked with our medical doctors to distill the most important Chinese medical wisdom for weight loss and compiled in into a short guide. Click here to download it for free.
It starts with YOU
One of the most important things that you should take away from this page is that your slimming plan should be tailored to YOUR personal health needs and unique medical history.
If you have not tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs for weight loss yet, AcuMedic doctors are ready to help you at our specialist Weight Loss Programme.
+ Western medical view
How much is overweight?
The Body Mass Index states that the average healthy rating is around 24, obesity is 25 to 30 and gross obesity is over 30.
Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.
Obesity is high in the UK – Around 1 in 4 men and 1 in 3 women in the UK are overweight, according to government statistics, (one third of all GP’s patients are overweight).
The number of obese men in the UK is rising. Around 1 in 3 children between the ages of 2 and 15 are overweight. While in total more girls than boys are overweight, a greater number of boys are obese.
Obesity is responsible for more than 9000 premature deaths per year in England alone.
Obesity has serious consequences and associated disorders include stroke and coronary heart disease (the leading cause of death in 2008 ); arthritis; hypertension; respiratory failure; diabetes; musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints) and some cancers (endometrial, prostate, breast, cervix, ovarian and colon).
The risk for these noncommunicable diseases increases with the increase in BMI.
An obese person is:
- 6 times more likely to develop gallbladder disease
- 5.6 times more likely to develop high blood pressure
- 3.8 times more likely to develop diabetes
- 2 times more likely to develop osteoarthritis
Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. But in addition to increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.
Overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight.
The number of people who are obese is rising rapidly throughout the world, making obesity one of the fastest developing public health problems in the Western world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the problem of obesity as a worldwide epidemic. For example, in 2008 1.5 billion adults, 20 years of age and older, were overweight. Of these over 200 million men and nearly 300 million women were obese.
Causes of excess weight
The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Globally, there has been:
- An increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat, salt and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients; and
- A decrease in physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.
Obesity develops gradually over a period of time as weight is gained. Weight gain occurs when the amount of energy (calories) consumed as food and drink exceeds the energy, which is used for exercise and other metabolic processes of the body. This is known as positive energy balance. The excess energy is stored principally as fat. Each kilogram of fat stores approximately 9000kcal. This fat can only be lost when the body requires more energy than is available from food and thus draws upon its energy stores. This is known as negative energy balance.
The ideal BMI for any person is 25, which may be a target out of reach for many obese people but the challenge is to find a treatment that brings a permanent significant reduction in BMI.
Obesity often develops in a “yo-yo” pattern as patients go through non-surgical weight loss programmes losing weight and then regain it after the programme has finished. Studies have shown that for treating morbid obesity (BMI greater than 35) conventional non-surgical weight loss regimes have little chance of success.
Surgery has been successful over the years and involves altering the anatomy of the stomach and intestine to reduce intake and absorption of food. Results are good in terms of sustained weight loss but some side effects can occur such as persistent diarrhoea, vitamin deficiencies and the surgical alterations breaking down. These procedures have been performed for over 15 years and are mainly performed via a laparotomy (opening the abdomen surgically).
Energy balance is tightly regulated in most people and does not usually require conscious control. A change in life circumstances that altars either the diet (and thus energy intake) or activity (and thus energy expenditure) can lead to weight gain or loss. It is often difficult to identify these changes as only a small imbalance can lead gradually, but perceptibly, to changes in body weight and fatness.
Obesity is a condition of excess fat. In the short term, small fluctuations in body weight can result from fluid retention or loss. Changes in body weight of 1 – 2 kg can be explained by short-term changes in the body’s water and glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. During the early days of weight loss the body burns its glycogen stores. Since each gram of glycogen binds with 3 g of water, there is a proportionally large decrease in weight relative to the energy imbalance. Conversely, following a period of energy restriction, a large meal will refill these glycogen stores plus the water associated with them. This apparent rebound in weight after a period of weight loss can be very disheartening but is a necessary part of establishing the normal physiological equilibrium.
Many people are familiar with counting calories (or joules, which is the metric term for calories). The calorie is the unit used to describe the energy content of food and drinks. Recommended energy intakes change with age and lifestyle but are approximately 2000 – 2500 kcal per day for women and 2500 – 3000 kcal for men. When counting calories it is easy to forget just how much we eat – studies have shown that some people, when asked to keep a record of what they eat and drink, under-report their intake by nearly 1000 kcal per day.
National surveys show that the typical diet in the UK contains 11 percent of its energy as protein, 37 percent as fat and 48 percent as carbohydrate (excluding alcohol). However, it is clear that more and more food is now being consumed outside the home and this makes it more difficult to collect accurate records of the exact types and amounts of food eaten. The proportion of fat in the diet has increased dramatically since the Second World War and most obesity experts agree that this is partly to blame for the increasing prevalence of obesity.
Resting metabolic rate
The amount of energy we use up can also be measured in calories. Even if we stayed in bed all day we would still need to use large amounts of energy just to maintain the body’s normal functions. This energy is called resting metabolic rate and is analogous to the fuel used by a car when the engine is idling but the car isn’t moving. Based on gender, age and weight, it is possible to predict an individual’s RMR to within about 10 percent. Men have a higher RMR (due to their greater muscle mass) than women, and it decreases slightly with age in both sexes.
Body weight is the main determinant of RMR. The heavier a person is, the higher there RMR. It is a fallacy that overweight and obese people have a low metabolic rate. In fact their RMR is higher than that of lighter people as the heart, liver and other vital organs are bigger and need more energy to function. For example, a 40 year old woman weighing 60 kg will have a RMR of about 1340 kcal per day whereas a 100 kg woman will burn off 1660 kcal, an extra 24 percent. In general, an increase in weight will produce an increase in daily energy expenditure of about 12 kcal/kg in women and 16 kcal/kg in men.
Small additional amounts of energy (around 10 percent of the total energy expenditure) are used to keep us warm, to digest food and in response to stress. This is called thermo genesis. Some evidence suggests that obese people may have lower levels of thermo genesis than thin people but any difference is very small.
Over the years, there has been much discussion about brown fat or “Brown Aadipose Tissue” (BAT). In small mammals (including human infants) this has been found to dissipate the energy derived from food as heat and is an important part of the thermoregulation system. It has been suggested that lean people may have more BAT than those who are obese, and are able to burn off any extra energy, which is consumed, a process known as luxus consumption. However, studies have shown that when overfed under controlled conditions, lean and obese subjects gained weight at the same rate. Today, the consensus of evidence is that, in adult humans, BAT activity is quantitatively unimportant in terms of total energy expenditure.
In most people, RMR accounts for between a half and three quarters of the energy required each day. Much of the remainder is used in physical activity. This includes all physical activity over and above lying in bed, such as housework, walking, gardening and so on. Work, sport and other energetic exercise will also contribute to overall energy expenditure. However, for a similar task, an obese person will spend more energy than a lean person since it costs more in energy terms to move a heavy body compared to a light one.
Over the last twenty years or so the energy that we use in physical activity has decreased markedly. Cars and buses have replaced walking and cycling, manual occupations have been phased out in favour of office based jobs and almost every household task is now aided by a labour saving device of some sort. Perhaps most importantly, TV viewing now plays an increasing part in our lives. The average adult watches over 26 hours of TV each week – an almost totally sedentary activity. Low levels of physical activity are part of the explanation for the rise in obesity and other forms of ill health. Since it is difficult to change resting metabolic rate it follows that increasing physical activity is the best way of increasing total energy expenditure.
Positive energy balance
Weight gain results from positive energy balance where more energy is consumed than expended and the excess is then stored, mainly as fat. This is sometimes called the dynamic phase of obesity. However, as weight increases, the energy requirements of the body also increase. If energy intake remains the same, the body will gradually return to energy balance, albeit at a higher level of intake and expenditure.
Most obese people are in energy balance for most of the time. Although they are heavier and have more fat than is desirable for good health, their weight is stable and no longer increasing. This is sometimes referred to as the static phase of obesity. For an obese person to lose weight, they must achieve a state of negative energy balance, either by eating less or using up more energy. To maintain weight loss, a permanently lower energy intake and/or higher level of energy expenditure must be maintained life-long since the reduced-weight body requires and uses less energy. Unfortunately, it seems that many or all of the body’s physiological controls serve to defend weight and diminish weight loss.
In evolutionary terms, the imperative is to store fat for times of food shortage. It appears that the drive to eat has a much stronger physiological basis than the signals, which indicate fullness. This is sometimes described as the ‘asymmetry of appetite’. It helps to explain why weight loss and weight loss maintenance are so hard to achieve.
Whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain your weight, you must improve your eating habits. Eat a variety of foods, especially pasta, rice, wholemeal bread, and other whole-grain foods. Reduce your fat-intake. You should also eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Making physical activity a part of your daily life is an important way to help control your weight. Try to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day on most days of the week.
The activity does not have to be done all at once. It can be done in stages: 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there, providing it adds up to 30 minutes a day. Little and often, seems to be the key.
+ Chinese medical view
In Chinese medicine, healthy weight depends mainly on the Spleen and Stomach, the organs responsible for transportation/absorption of food and its transformation into energy. A range of factors, such as unbalanced diet, irregular meal times, lack of exercise and unstable emotions will lead to Spleen and Stomach failing to process food properly and transport the energy to various parts of the body, causing an excess of Damp and Phlegm which manifest as excess weight and obesity.
According to Chinese medical theory, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be prescribed to help with weight reduction by regulating the patient’s endocrine function, helping them to control their appetite, reducing their blood cholesterol level and slowing down the movements of their body’s intestines.
Chinese medicine for weight loss
Acupuncture treatment for weight loss
Acupuncture has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on obesity according to the World Health Organisation*.
The length of a Chinese medicine course depends on the severity and duration of the symptoms as well as on the patient’s response and efforts. The minimum period normally is between 4-8 weeks.
Chinese herbs and acupuncture treatment for weight loss
For best results as weight loss treatment, acupuncture should be combined with a prescription of certain Chinese herbs. This combination can help to improve the efficiency of the body’s digestive system.
The effect of the prescribed treatment will be a strengthening of Spleen and your Stomach. These organs are key to a successful digestion of food.
When working at the optimal level, these organs will allow you to get optimal benefit from your food intake.
The combined acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment can also work to enhance the body’s own detoxification processes, as well as to clear up the accumulated dampness that often makes up excess weight in the body.
The treatment should work not only to reduce the body weight, but to provide a feeling of reinforced support for the person’s ability to keep the weight down.
+ Lifestyle Advice
Avoid too much sweet food, dairy, beer
According to Chinese medical theory these products create Dampness which manifests as excess weight in the body.
Avoid too much stress
Stress affects the Liver, which in turn will weaken the Spleen and damage its function. Chinese medicine views the body as an inter-related network and treatment aims to restore an overall balance rather than simply concentrating on diet and exercise.
In Chinese medicine, diet is more about eating the right food and less about reducing the amount of food intake. Chinese medicine believes it is possible to enjoy food and to have a normal weight.
We stock many books on healthy eating in our bookshop at AcuMedic Centre in Camden, London. Please do not hesitate to ask either the doctor or a member of staff should you need any advice on choosing the right book(s).
Make natural, gentle exercise a part of your fitness plan
Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercises also have beneficial effects on obesity.
For hundreds of years now Chinese medicine has been using Tai Chi. It’s a gentle exercise which can also aid in weight loss. It releases stress from your body and keeps you energised and centred.
Even yoga can help to burn calories and assist in weight management.
+ *CLINICAL TRIALS
Richards D et al. Stimulation of auricular acupuncture points in weight loss. Australian Family Physician, 1998, 27(S2):S73-77.
Yu CQ et al. [Treatment of simple obesity in children with photo-acupuncture.] Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine, 1998, 18(6):348-350 [in Chinese].