It’s Spring, and detox is on the air! In Chinese medicine we associate this season with the Liver; and now is a natural time for purging (who hasn’t heard the expression, “spring cleaning”?). I have had quite a few people come in recently asking, “What can I do to shed pounds?” Often it’s something prompted by Dr. Oz. One week it’s, “Do you have raspberry ketones?” Next week it’s, “Do you have green coffee bean extract?” But, I’m pretty sure in all the time my clients and customers have asked me about their weight concerns, I’ve never had someone come in and ask, “Why do I weigh more than I’d like to? Am I healthy? What can I eat that would be most healthy for my current situation and constitution?”
And weight fluctuates! Not just on our bodies– but in our perception of what is healthy. In the 1600s these lush, Rubenesque women clearly depicted the rich life both literally and figuratively. Now, society feasts on photos of rail-thin models. (Scroll through a visual history.) Math and science tell us health can be more or less calculated using the Body Adiposity Index (BAI), Body Mass Index (BMI), and/or waist-to-hip ratio. But people prove that numbers aren’t everything!
A friend of mine, Elaine Howley, is an incredible swimmer recognized by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. Among her many amazing feats, she’s completed the “triple crown” by swimming around the island of Manhattan (28.5 miles); Catalina Island to the California mainland (21 miles); and the English Channel (21 miles). Now, that’s not 28.5 miles with a tea break, or a stop to watch your favorite show – that’s 28.5 miles treading water without stopping. (Do you remember ever having to tread water to pass a swim test? Yea, that’s usually only 10-15 minutes. Now, imagine struggling through that and having the lifeguard tell you have to do it 51 more times in a row, no stopping. That’s the kind of athlete we’re talking about here.) What else is notable about this incredible woman? To the average person, she’d be considered unhealthily overweight. She calls her round belly her “beer baby,” as preparing for these long swims in 45 degree water often means tanking up on beer and ice cream. Not that I’m suggesting beer and ice cream are healthy, but I am suggesting there’s more to life than the obvious. Read up on the differences between brown and white fat, the former can actually burn the latter.
So what do I tell patients? I often recommend to them a book, TCM: A Natural Guide to Weight Loss that Lasts by Dr. Nan Lu. (Side note: I recently saw Dr. Nan Lu in the movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Not sure what that means for his future in medicine, but I can say the book is still a great read for folks interested in learning about diet and exercise. I was super surprised by his cameo, nonetheless.) I recommend asking, “What am I holding on to?” “What am I afraid to let go?” “What am I afraid to let closer?”Look at the basics – are you burning more calories than you’re eating? If not, why? Do you need to exercise more or does your body’s function need improvement? What are you eating and how is it affecting your body-mind-spirit? Why do you eat–for nourishment, to satiate hunger or for reward? We need to shift from what we don’t want to what we do want; we have to reclaim diet from “dieting.” By working to see this bigger picture, we create longer-lasting change and can foster genuine interest in one’s own wellbeing. This is healthy!