Solutions for Obesity & Weight Loss in Chinese Medicine

Why is a healthy diet not always enough to maintain a healthy weight? Chinese medicine has some surprising answers that are sometimes contrary to Western thought…

Obesity is becoming a scary social phenomenon. More than one third of adults are obese in the U.S.! The desire to lose weight is not merely a self-image issue influenced by women's magazines or Hollywood. Science has shown that being overweight can lead to Type 2 diabetes, colon, kidney, breast and uterine cancer, high cholesterol, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (including myocardial infarction and stroke), arthritis, gallstones, infertility, snoring and sleep apnea, and cataracts. Beyond being a fad, losing weight has become a medical necessity for many of us.

The cause of obesity

Many researchers are trying to find solutions to treat obesity and overweight. Each year, new methods and drugs emerge and pique the curiosity of the general public. Ultimately however, it is rare that these new methods truly grasp the mechanisms that influence weight gain.

In Chinese medicine, it is essential to understand the pathological process of a disorder. Careful observation over many centuries allows Chinese medicine to say that there is not just one type of overweight or obesity, but many. Since the nature of each type is different, the treatments are also different. In Chinese medicine, fat is seen as the product of "phlegm" (Tan), which is fluids that have accumulated then condensed into a more solid form. 

From the Chinese point of view, the objective of the digestive process is to transform foods into a type of "warm digestive soup" which is turned into nourishment and fuel for the body. If the digestive process is not functioning as well as it should, food gets turned into "dampness" instead of fuel and nourishment. Over time, this dampness will sooner or later transform into phlegm causing you to be overweight

The four main types of obesity

1. Phlegm-damp due to improper lifestyle

Phlegm that causes overweight or obesity comes primarily from poor diet, which prevents the formation of this "warm digestive soup" and the transformation of food into energy. What foods are the culprit? Too many raw and/or cold foods, cold beverages, sugary foods, and too many damp-engendering foods (e.g. dairy products, alcohol, fried foods, doughnuts, processed meats, sweets…), eating at irregular hours, late at night, or not enough for breakfast and too much for dinner. In this situation, even if your organs are functioning properly, and your digestion appears to be good, this type of diet will eventually cause you to gain weight. You can appear to be healthy but still be slowly gaining excess weight.

2. Spleen Qi vacuity

Qi corresponds to the functions of an organ. In Chinese medicine, the spleen is basically what we think of as the stomach- responsible for "transforming" or digesting food. If it becomes weak, food is not digested or transformed into energy to fuel us, and is instead turned into "dampness" which accumulates and transforms into phlegm. In this situation, even if you have a good diet and avoid the types of foods listed above, you can gain weight! This explains why certain people eat very little but still put on pounds. What are the main causes of spleen Qi vacuity? Poor diet, excessive consumption of sweets and soda, excessive thinking or worrying, lack of physical activity, overwork, serious or long-term illness… This type of overweight is very common in females.

3. Binding depression of liver Qi

The concept of the liver in Chinese medicine is very different from that in Western medicine. It has many functions, but the one that interests us here is the function that promotes the smooth flow of Qi, blood, fluids and emotions in the body. When there is severe emotional stress, humiliation, bitterness, feelings of injustice, anger (internalized or externalized), the regulatory function of the liver is disrupted and energy "stagnates". This is called "binding depression of liver Qi" (Gan Yu). In this situation, it loses the capacity to circulate physiological body fluids that then accumulate, condense and transform into phlegm.

Moreover, binding depression of liver Qi almost always weakens the spleen, which also causes phlegm… In other words, it is a kind of overweight with an emotional origin. People with this syndrome often crave sweets. The sweet flavor acts as an "antidepressant", which can be a good thing, but it also causes weight gain.

What would Chinese medicine do?

Whatever the cause, treatment always involves implementing a more favorable diet, which involves avoiding harmful foods and restoring proper functioning of the spleen/stomach.

  • Stop all snacking.
  • Eat meals at regular hours, with a savory (not sweet/carb-loaded) breakfast and a light dinner, to promote spleen function.
  • Eat easily digestible foods and plenty of vegetables.
  • Greatly reduce consumption of sugary foods, dairy, alcohol and fatty foods.
  • Eat warm foods and eliminate cold foods.
  • Eat cooked foods and eliminate raw foods.
  • Do not drink at the beginning of the meal, and only drink warm beverages at the end of the meal.
  • Halve your intake of carbohydrates for several weeks but increase your consumption of vegetables and fish. Eat more rice, quinoa, and legumes, and avoid grains from the wheat family, which are very damp producing and generate phlegm.

Keep in mind that two out of three types of obesity are not directly related to diet but to the disruption of certain organs. Dieting without regulating these organs is pointless.In addition to modifying the diet, one should also treat the presenting case:

  • Supplement the spleen with Chinese herbs that are known for reducing weight such as Rhizoma atractylodis macrocephalae (Bai Zhu), Radix astragali membranacei ( Huang Qi), Fructus crataegi (Shan Zha)
  • Course the liver with Chinese medicinals that are known for reducing weight such as Pericarpium citri reticulatae viride (Qing Pi), Fructus immaturus citri aurantii (Zhi Shi), Radix bupleuri (Chai Hu)…
  • Mitigate the causes of stress, anger and frustration. Treat the emotional root that leads to compulsive eating.
  • Get regular acupuncture and light exercise because it activates the circulation of Qi, stimulates intestinal peristalsis and helps to eliminate stored fat.

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  1. green coffee raspberry ketone on September 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I’m not sure where you’re getting your info, but good topic.

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    or understanding more. Thanks for great information I was looking
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  2. Irina Khrus on January 13, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    I deeply respect ancient chinese culture, there is so much wisdom to learn. Very informative and helpful blog. I have been trying to lose weight due to PCOS and western medicine was not helpful at all in masking my symptoms. Chinese medicine is treating the actual root of the problem, rather than masking the symptoms. I already see some improvements in my condition from TCM herbal formulas. My next step is to try accupuncture.


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