"Do you do acupuncture for weight loss?"

I get asked this question a lot. Everyone by now is well aware of America's obesity epidemic. Many of us have been dismayed to see our formerly-trim silhouettes become rounder and rounder as time goes by. We hear from our doctors that "if you lose some weight," health concern A, B, or C will show improvement. 

It isn't so easy, though is it? We eat a little less. We exercise. We lose a pound or two of the thirty we should. Maybe we ramp it up with a serious diet and exercise program, and we lose ten or 15 pounds. Then family comes to visit, or it's the holidays, or we get sick and the program goes out the window and we gain ten pounds back. It's disheartening. So people come to my office with the knee pain, back pain, hormonal imbalances, creeping blood sugar or other complaints for which their physician has recommended weight loss, and they ask. "Do you do acupuncture for weight loss?"

It's a tricky question, more of a "yes and no." Some sources will lead you to believe that acupuncture causes weight loss. You can even find some studies to that effect. Some sources say there is a magical point that will suppress your appetite. Believe me, if there was, I would use it. So what does acupuncture have to offer people trying to lose weight?

First of all, let's discuss limitations. If you have a lot of weight to lose, and are eating a terrible diet with no exercise, acupuncture is not a magic bullet. Also, if you are of normal weight but aspire to a Hollywood-ready figure, you won't get much help from acupuncture. So let's talk about the bulk of people seeking help for weight loss: people who used to be thinner, but time got away and they got kind of fat. What can acupuncture do for those people? The simple answer is acupuncture can treat the underlying reasons for overweight. Let's talk about those.

1. Pain: People in pain aren't usually the biggest exercise fans. It may be that you aren't overeating so much as you are under-exercising due to pain. Acupuncture is well-documented in its ability to reduce pain. 

2. Mental health: Anxiety and depression can interfere with your ability to pursue a weight loss plan. Acupuncture can be a great aid to better mental health. 

3. Hormone imbalances: Thyroid, adrenals, pancreas and sex hormones can all contribute to weight gain. Acupuncture can be helpful for balancing hormones to make weight loss easier.

4. Stress: How does stress make you fat? Adrenals. When you are under stress, your cortisol levels go up. This causes your body to retain fat, and also gives you sugar cravings. Acupuncture is well-known for relieving stress.

5. Food cravings: If cravings for unhealthy foods derail your diet efforts, acupuncture can help take the edge off those.

6. Water retention: By the time you are obese, you may have not only fat but also water retention. Obesity can impair your circulation and make it difficult for your body to excrete excess fluid the way it needs to. Acupuncture can open the water passages to release excess fluid, depending on overall health and the presence of other conditions such as diabetes, lymphedema, or heart failure.

I hope this makes it clear that acupuncture alone dos not make a weight loss plan. Any weight loss plan needs components of dietary changes, regular exercise, and treatment of underlying conditions. Acupuncture is a great choice for those underlying conditions. The whole food conversation is too big for even its own blog post. Even whole books cannot contain the entire discussion on diet. I may attempt a shamefully abbreviated discussion on food in a future post. Meanwhile, if you would like to add acupuncture to your weight loss plan, come on in!