Enlightened Eating: You Are Not What You Weigh

by Lucy Postolov, L.Ac.
One in three or 58 million American adults aged 20 through 74 are overweight. You might want to read that again. One in three! That means, if it isn’t me and it isn’t you, then it is the next person we encounter. Overweight and obesity is a known risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease, arthritis, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer. One can be overweight without being obese. Being overweight is measured by an excess amount of body weight which would include muscle, bone, fat and water. Obesity is excess accumulation of body fat. Doctors and researchers like to use a precise formula to determine an individuals desirable body weight. That formula is the body mass index or BMI. Your BMI is found by dividing your weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. If you’re a man and your BMI is over 27.8 or a woman with a BMI over 27.3, than we’ve found our third American. (If the formula is giving you a metric headache, feel free to call my office or send me an email and my staff will figure it for you with my compliments).

Your Diet Takes A Holiday
Those are the cold, hard facts and with the holiday season upon us I have another grim statistic for you. On the average, you will gain seven to ten pounds between Nov. 15 and New Year’s Day. Let’s be realistic. With all the family gatherings and office parties coming up, temptation will be at hand. This year in particular, you might find yourself invited to even more celebrations (I promised myself not to use the word ‘millennium’ in this article…ok, just once). Allow yourself to enjoy the things that make the holidays special for you and let’s concentrate on weight maintenance for this period. Getting to Nov. 15 on a yearly basis in ideal physical condition is our goal and will give you the freedom and leeway to enjoy the holidays as you should.

On the Road to November
In my practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine many patients come to me with a great deal of confusion about which diet plan to follow in order to help them lose weight and maintain good health. The list is endless; Atkins, Pritikin, Rotation, blood type, Zone, vegetable etc. I believe that there is no one diet that would fit everyone’s needs and always work. As a woman of medicine both Western and Eastern, in my opinion, the Chinese dietary therapy not only works, but makes sense health-wise. No matter what you eat, if your body isn’t processing the food properly, your weight program and diet will be ineffective.

6500 Chinese Can’t Be Wrong
One of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken on the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease was performed by Oxford University in England, the Chinese Academy for Preventive Medicine in Beijing and Cornell University in the United States. Simply called ‘The China-Cornell-Oxford-Project on Nutrition, Health and Environment’, the project was conceived in 1980 and compared the eating habits and health of 6500 rural Chinese with their Western counterparts. 367 items of information were gathered from these 6500 people making this study the most extensive of its kind . Here are some of the substantial findings:

  1. The daily fiber intake (vegetables, fruits and grains)of the average rural Chinese is three times that of the average American, resulting in a much lower rate of cancers of the colon and rectum. There was no evidence of a negative effect of the high fiber intake upon iron status, as is widely believed.
  2. The daily calorie intake from fat for the average rural Chinese is 14% compared to 36% for the American.
  3. The average Chinese cholesterol level was 127 milligrams per deciliter compared to 212 milligrams in America.
  4. Even though the Chinese ate more total calories daily per pound of body weight, obesity was less prevalent, most certainly far less than Americans.
  5. Rates for chronic degenerative and cardiovascular disease is higher in the United States where animal-based foods are consumed much higher than in China. Where the Chinese diet contains only 0 to 20% animal based foods, the average American diet is comprised of 60 to 80% with an animal base.

With this extensive, scientific study we are compelled to pay attention to the insight into diet and the positive results shown with the Chinese medical approach and process.

Chinese Way to Weight Control
The Chinese explanation of the digestive system may sound a bit naive at first glance, but has a lot of merit. In Chinese medicine the digestive system is called the “xiao hua xi tong” which is translated as the system of dispersion and transformation. The organs (or channels) responsible for this process are the stomach and spleen. The stomach is often mentioned as the pot where foods and liquids “rotten and ripen”, while the spleen is the “fire” under this pot and a distillation mechanism. The stomach then sends down the impurities of foods and liquids to be further transformed by the large and small intestine.

The analogy of the “cooking pot” stomach is most important to the proper digestion and dissemination of nutrients. It is believed that the digestive process is best performed in a 100 degree Fahrenheit “soup” in the stomach. While the stomach is dependent on the creation of “soup in its pot”, the spleen (the fire under the pot) has an aversion to dampness.

In Chinese medicine, a frequent reason for an overweight condition is spleen dampness where damp and phlegm accrue. When visiting a Chinese medicine practitioner for a weight problem, you would most likely be instructed to refrain from cold drinks, chilled or frozen foods and no ice. All of these create a damp condition in the spleen and impedes “the fire under the pot” from doing its work. Walk in and sit down at your favorite Chinese restaurant and what are you first served? Hot tea, of course, to help digest and process the meal you are about to have. The boiling water in the tea facilitates the meal in becoming “soup” that will be digested in the stomach. You might get an argument from a western based nutritionist, but it is suggested by Chinese medicine to eat mostly cooked foods. Although enzymes and vitamins are destroyed by cooking, the nutrients post-digestive absorption rate is higher in the lightly cooked foods as opposed to raw. Remember, our ultimate goal here is a desirable body weight. What is retained and what is properly eliminated from our system will help us reach this goal. In Chinese medicine every food is categorized as either cold, cool, level, warm or hot (by nature, not in the way it is served). In summertime cool foods are the order of the day while warm foods should be enjoyed in winter. We can also separate foods into five flavors: sweet, salty, pungent, bitter and sour. Indulging on a continual basis of sweet foods can injure the spleen. Salty foods will affect the kidney, sour foods may harm the liver and spicy foods are linked to your lungs. Overeating any of the flavors will create an imbalance in the organs or channels. Chinese medicine takes a good hard look at a patients cravings for any of these five flavors and focuses on balancing your body along with your mind and soul.

Chinese Method of Balance
The weight loss program that I use in my practice of Chinese medicine has a very high success rate. Depending on a patients constitution they can realistically lose from four to eight pounds in a month. The program consists of:

  • Diet depending on the patients’ diagnosis.
  • Exercise program
  • Auricular acupuncture Four to five acupuncture points selected for each treatment and ear seeds or nitradermal needles that are pressed 3 to 5 times a day.
  • Body acupuncture two to three times a week
  • Complete Herbal medicine treatment
    • Shan Zhi (hawthorn fruit)
    • Zui Ming Zi (cassia seed)
    • Dau Shen (salvia)
    • Chen Pi (tangerine peel)
    • Mai Ya (barley sprout)

In certain cases purgatives or diaphoretics are appropriate. (Please do not use Chinese herbs without consulting a licensed practitioner first)

Surviving December
I am a firm believer in Chinese medicine and balancing the body, mind and soul. With the holiday season upon us and gatherings of friends and family, your soul craves and deserves the celebrations and should be rewarded. Don’t starve yourself or your soul. Set realistic goals, have an exercise plan, stay hydrated (damp), watch your alcoholic intake and focus on socializing. Practice moderation, not deprivation. Food is a central part of what makes the holidays so special. Go ahead and enjoy yourself and strive to make the harmony of your body and dietary needs a year round event.-L.P.