THE BLOG

Weight Loss for Summer: How Traditional Eastern Medicine Could Help

06/06/2014 01:42 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2014
Allen Donikowski via Getty Images

Summer is right around the corner -- and so is swimsuit season. Are you ready to strut your stuff on the beach or by the pool? Or do you want to shed some excess winter weight first? If your usual weight loss methods are not giving you the results you want, and your doctor has ruled out the possibility of health-related weight gain, your beach body could benefit from some traditional Eastern medicine techniques.

But first things first: Why do we gain unwanted weight?

There are many reasons why we gain weight, and some of them are not our fault. Many of us developed certain habits around food during childhood. We were told "clean your plate" regardless of whether we were hungry, so we're programmed to do just that. Now, plates and portion sizes have taken on mammoth proportions, and they keep getting bigger, setting us up to overeat.

The problem goes even further back. Way back. Genes passed on by our cave-dwelling ancestors predispose us to eat as much as possible whenever food is available. After all, they didn't know where their next meal was coming from. The same prehistoric genes prevent us from losing fat easily, because back in the day, stored fat was a useful defense against starvation.

Fast forward a million years or so, and not only have our circumstances changed dramatically, but so has our food. In the modern Western world, food, especially fast food and junk food, is cheap, plentiful and readily available. Some of it is also highly addictive. Sugary foods, for example, can affect the brain in the same way as alcohol and cocaine. The more you eat it, the more you crave it. Combine all of this with the fact that many of us eat when we're stressed, and you have the perfect recipe for weight gain.

So, what Eastern treatments and practices can help? Thankfully there are several, and all of them are safe, natural and effective.

Acupuncture, as an adjunct therapy, has helped many of my patients control their weight. One of the ways it is believed to work is by affecting the hypothalamus -- the part of the brain that's responsible for maintaining "homeostasis" or balance in the body. It regulates body temperature, fatigue, sleep cycles, emotions, blood pressure, pain, thirst and HUNGER. Acupuncture can be used to stimulate the hypothalamus and, among other things, regulate hunger. Since acupuncture can also reduce stress and anxiety, it can help prevent stress eating and control the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is responsible for those stubborn fat deposits in the abdominal area.

Yoga is a wonderful and complete mind-body balancing practice that can help you lose weight in more ways than one. The obvious weight loss benefit of yoga is that it is a calorie-burning physical exercise. It might not burn as many calories as jogging or Zumba, but it does get you moving. It has also been shown to relieve pain. If pain is an obstacle to doing more cardio-intensive forms of exercise, yoga can reduce inflammation and improve flexibility, making it more comfortable for you to take on workouts that offer a more direct route to weight loss. And like acupuncture, yoga can help relax and de-stress the body and mind.

Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese martial art, has an array of benefits similar to yoga, as it focuses on the mind, body and spirit. Tai Chi is a low-impact exercise involving slow and controlled movements, designed to center and calm the mind while getting your blood pumping. Its benefits have long been touted by physicians and fitness gurus, and Western research has shown that Tai Chi is good for many ailments including heart disease, hypertension and arthritis.

Yin-Yang your diet! The traditional Asian diet concentrates more on whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetable oils. Fish is optional every day, and meat is eaten only on a weekly or even a monthly basis. It is a very healthy way to eat that may not only help you lose weight, but also meets the accepted standards of a heart-healthy diet that helps prevent hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease.

Try starting your meal with a satisfying soup and load up on vegetables. Asian cultures consider vegetables the main component of a meal, rather than a side dish to meat. The key is the increased fiber, which causes a feeling of fullness while lowering cholesterol, regulating sugar levels, and helping you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. If you adopt an Asian diet and avoid sugary, nutrient-free foods, you could see the pounds melt off and look forward to looking great in a swimsuit this summer.