Part 1: Weight Loss & Chinese Medicine – Root Deficiency, Branch Excess

Part 1

By Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons, DOM, AP

“So. Do you do anything for weight loss?”

We get that question a lot at Alchemist Clinic, both from prospective patients and from current patients we’re treating for other conditions.

The short answer is:  Yes. We can help you loose excess pounds and body fat.

More than that, we can help you do so in a way that fosters whole-body health.

“No, really,” you may be thinking. “I just want to lose weight. Focus on that, please.”

But trust us. You want this whole-body health thing. Not only because, well, it feels good, but also because it’s the key to healthy, sustained weight loss.

So what’s our secret? What sets us apart from every other weight-loss plan or diet out there?

The answer starts with Chinese Medicine and centuries of successful outcomes. It also aligns with cutting-edge science—with the new, evidence-based paradigm on eating and metabolism.

First, let’s look at the Chinese Medicine side of things. 

In Chinese Medicine, one of our guiding principles is “always seek the root.” This principle is a major reason for the medicine’s effectiveness—proven over thousands of years. What it means is that, as Chinese Medicine doctors, we go after the root of the problem or disease rather than focus solely on symptoms.

We know that treating symptoms alone will never result in sustained wellness. Sure, a bothersome condition might disappear for a while or even for good. But unless we also address the underlying imbalance, new—often worse—symptoms and conditions will eventually arise.

In seeking and treating the root of disease, we pay attention to connections and patterns. Rather than look at each symptom, body system, or aspect of health and wellness separately—as compartmentalized bits to send off to various specialists—we take an encompassing, holistic view. One able to explain why seemingly unrelated symptoms appear in constellation. And one able to predict and prevent further progression of imbalance or disease.

Still with me on this? Good. Now we’ll get back to that weight loss question.

In Chinese Medicine, being overweight falls into the disease category of fei pang (often translated as “obesity”). Typically, fei pang is a disease characterized by “deficiency at the root and excess at the branch.”

This last bit is key:  deficiency at the root and excess at the branch.

The specifics—and treatment principles—vary from individual-to-individual. (Indeed, we have at least five core patterns of fei pang, or “obesity,” each with its own signs and symptoms and each warranting different herbal formulas and dietary prescriptions.)

In general though, we often see presentations involving deficiency of the Spleen and/or Kidneys (1).

This—very roughly—translates to impaired digestive and hormonal functioning with a failure to properly fuel metabolism and transform and transport food and drink.

The etiology and pathogenesis (disease cause and development) is highly variable and usually multi-faceted. Common culprits are a diet poor in vital nutrients; a diet full of sugar and/or processed foods; emotional states, including chronic stress, anxiety or depression; aging or prolonged or recurrent illness; and over-exercise or under-exercise.

Identifying and addressing these (frequently intertwined) factors is essential to treating deficiencies and the root of the problem.

Whatever the causes, as a consequence we see “excess at the branch.” Impaired digestion and metabolism lead to accumulation of pathological metabolites, including what Chinese Medicine calls “dampness.”

Dampness takes many forms—some more tangible than others. In general, it denotes a particular quality of stagnation and sluggishness in the body-mind. It’s dirty, wet, heavy, slow and lingering and can manifest on physical and mental-emotional levels. On a physical level, obesity or excess weight gain is one such manifestation. And because things that sit around too long tend to heat up, signs of heat are often present too (think “heart burn,” or GERD, for instance).

Most conventional (and even not-so-conventional) approaches to weight loss totally ignore the “deficiency at the root” part, instead focusing exclusively on draining the branch excess.

This is why such approaches fail.

Sure, they may cause pounds to drop off in the short term. Ultimately, however, they will fail to produce sustained, healthy weight loss. Every. Single. Time.

And that’s not the worst of it.

Approaches to weight loss that ignore root deficiencies and just drain, drain, drain (for example, by simply cutting calories or over-exercising) will, in the long run, make root deficiencies worse—leading to slower metabolism and an even bigger weight problem.

Now, many patients who come to us for help losing weight are not clinically “obese.”

Oftentimes they are 10 to 20 pounds over their ideal weight and frustrated by stubborn fat accumulation around the waist or elsewhere. Many are women who watched pounds accumulate post-menopause. Others are women and men of all ages who, despite regular exercise and intermittent dieting, just can’t keep excess weight off in a sustained way.

Most are frustrated, exhausted and feel as though they’re fighting themselves. Prolonged efforts to follow conventional “wisdom” by cutting calories, fats and protein; becoming chronic “juicers”; and engaging in chronic cardio and excessive exercise have resulted in diminishing returns rather than lasting results.

Some patients, of course, actually do qualify as “obese,” many of them suffering from associated health problems ranging from back pain to diabetes to cardiovascular disease.

But regardless of where a patient falls on this spectrum, the fei pang patterns and treatment principles hold true. In other words, there’s usually an issue of deficiency at the root and excess at the branch.

In treating these patients—and helping them lose weight and gain health—we are very much focused on the root even as we simultaneously address the branch symptoms.

That’s the only way treatment will work. And by “work,” we mean keeping excess weight and body fat off in a healthy way over the long haul.

So how do we do this?

Ahhh….ancient Chinese secret. Not really. But it is an art as well as a science. It’s also a partnership—between patient and doctor, self and support.

We are here as doctors and guides skilled in the synergistic application of proven strategies using powerful tools. Those tools include Alchemist Eating, herbal therapy, acupuncture and physical movement. And since patterns, relationships and beliefs surrounding food and eating run deep and affect every part of our being, a patient’s individually tailored protocol may also include guided meditation or shamanic healing.

In addressing the root of the pattern as well as branch symptoms, we treat your whole body-mind. We also rely on you as an active partner in the process.

So what about the cutting-edge “science-y” stuff? 

Well, turns out hundreds of studies conducted by some of the world’s top researchers have proven conventional “wisdom” about diet, dieting and weight loss dead wrong.

The new, proven paradigm in diet and weight-loss circles eschews symptom-driven strategies as ineffective and even counterproductive (i.e., contributing to impaired metabolism and long-term weight gain rather than weight loss).

Recognizing that attempts “to starve, stress, and medicate” our way to weight loss never work in a sustained, healthy way, this new paradigm embraces approaches focused on changing our hormonal and metabolic ecology (2).

In other words, the new science focuses on seeking the root and treating the whole system.

It does this in ways that may surprise you. We’ll be covering a handful of them in Part 2 of this article.

But as a teaser, let’s just say that conventional notions about how to eat and how to exercise for weight loss have been proven wrong. Meanwhile, very different, science-backed strategies have been proven to work.

At Alchemist Clinic, we leverage these science-based strategies within the context of Chinese Medicine.

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1. When we say “Spleen” or “Kidneys” in Chinese Medicine, these are not equivalent to the physical body organs. While they can certainly include these, they are also much more. Basically, what we call Zang-Fu Organs offer a shorthand way of describing complex processes, relationships and systems in the body-mind. Look for a future blog post to find out more!

2. Jonathan Bailor, The Calorie Myth:  How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better, p. 16. Bailor’s book synthesizes evidence from more than 1,200 studies to explain the new, proven paradigm in the science of weight loss.

About Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons, DOM, AP

I’m Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons. I help people struggling with weight, diet and digestion problems who want a holistic, functional approach to looking and feeling better. I am based at the Alchemist Clinic, where primal-paleo eating is a core medicine.

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