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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

A Few Small Points about a Big Problem: Obesity

Contributing Author: Warnke, Cheryl L.Ac.

Cheryl WarnkeCheryl Warnke, LAc, is an acupuncturist and herbalist based in California, helping to resolve a broad variety of conditions including pain, gastrointestinal disorders, fatigue, and hormone imbalances. Because she believes in a holistic approach to health, she works to uncover the underlying cause of complex health issues instead of just masking symptoms. Cheryl has been using functional diagnostic testing for over a decade to complement her traditional Chinese approach, to help resolve even the most complex of patient cases.

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Despite the fact that Americans have dramatically reduced the fat in their diets over the last 15 or 20 years, we continue to get fatter. As a matter of fact, the United States has become known as the fattest country on Earth. Obesity is associated with increased risk of heart disease, various cancers, hypertension, diabetes, and reduced life expectancy, just to name a few.
In Chinese Medicine theory, extra fat on the body is considered an accumulation of toxins and "dampness." Dampness, a term whose translation from Chinese has been lost a little, has a very broad definition in the context of Chinese Medicine. Damp can be considered an accumulation of excessive fluid, possibly associated with the Western medical term "edema." However, it can mean much more than that. Dampness as translated from a Chinese Medical Dictionary means: a heavy, turbid, sticky evil, and obstructs the activity of Yang Qi, especially that of the spleen (digestion), causing a pale complexion, oppression in the chest, abdominal distension, fullness, diarrhea, and in severe cases, water swelling. The idea of obesity being a state of toxicity concurs with much Western medical research as well. Therefore, losing weight is as important to overall health as much as fitting back into a size eight.
This article is not to lay out any kind of dietary plan, but to put forth some basic ideas that can help you reduce the toxins and accumulation of “dampness” in your body to automatically promote healthy and permanent weight loss. First, I would like to address the idea of toxicity and dampness. Toxicity in the body often causes "dampness" or accumulation of wastes in the form of fluid and fat.
Of course, the most effective weight loss plans include lifestyle as well as dietary changes. True weight loss is not only about reducing caloric intake; it is also about increasing activity and building muscle and bone strength. I believe that toxicity must also be addressed in any weight loss program. Generally, most practical and useful weight loss programs promote "cleaning up the diet." That the basic American diet is full of empty calories, processed and junk foods, foods that are difficult to absorb, or are even poisonous, is easy to admit. Ultimately, we must reduce the unnecessary burden on the digestive system. Therefore, we must examine the causes of toxicity.
Some toxins are obvious when examining the diet dinner consisting of a giant package of M&Ms and a six-pack of Pepsi, for example. Some toxins are not as evident, such as food allergies. It is a known fact that the body often craves that which is toxic to it in a maligned attempt to desensitize the allergic or negative reaction caused by that substance. I have been told time and again by sincere people striving for a good diet that they cannot help craving a food that they know causes them problems.
If in a state of balance, the body in its infinite wisdom will cause us to crave the right foods that are the best for us. The clouding over of all the poisons and imbalances in our bodies may often cause that inherent judgment to become completely askew. This is where a little research can be helpful to determine the source of toxic substances and foods.
1. Examine the diet. A food diary comes in handy, and includes a section describing emotion, cravings, and digestive function. Often, it becomes clear to the dieter how patterns of eating are established. In addition, one can more clearly see the deleterious effect that certain foods have on overall health.
2. Follow the blood sugar balance. Although this balance has to do with diet, understanding appetite, cravings, energy level, and overall health by maintaining a healthy control of blood sugar levels is important. Dieters should not just skip meals, as doing this throws the body out of balance and into "starvation" mode, as well as creates other side effects.
3. Examine food allergies. Certain foods are common allergens and can be tested for.
4. Check digestive function. Toxic foods and other substances may cause malabsorption, which can damage the lining of the gut. If you aren't absorbing the vital nutrients in the foods you eat, your body is basically sending out the signal that it is starving. 
5. Check for forms of toxicity other than diet. Mercury fillings and crowns can leech toxic metals into the body. Working around toxic fumes and substances can also result in their accumulation in the body.
Now, I want to expand on the idea of monitoring blood sugar levels to help control food cravings and weight. Even though many Americans concerned with weight have followed a low fat diet, many experts have advocated a low carbohydrate diet. Most weight loss programs have used the low carbohydrate diet for many years, and it is believed by many to be the best approach to weight loss.
Unfortunately, a lot of us seem to fail on most diets, often bingeing at the end of the day, or just giving in and rewarding ourselves with a treat that is usually a tasty carbohydrate with high sugar content. In fact, a low fat diet often becomes a high carbohydrate diet! The approach of limiting fats just doesn't seem to work for most people. Foods made from processed white flour like breads, bagels, pastries, cookies, and pastas become the staple of a low fat diet. In addition, if you read the ingredients of many desserts labeled "low fat," you will notice that the fat was replaced with more sugar than contained in the regular, high fat counterpart to provide taste. Because of the low fat diet craze and the increased availability of junk foods, our consumption of simple carbohydrates has increased substantially in the last couple of decades. Americans are consuming more simple carbohydrates, sugary desserts, soft drinks, and processed snacks than ever before.
There are many consequences to our high sugar, refined carbohydrate style of eating, the most obvious being weight gain. The havoc that weight gain plays with our overall health can be easy to overlook, a little difficult to explain, but extremely important to understand. It is one of the keys to understanding carbohydrate cravings, as well as avoiding future health problems.

One of the unseen consequences of our modern, high carbohydrate diet is an increase in blood sugar and higher insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas that regulates the metabolism of glucose (blood sugar). A combination of high blood sugar and increased insulin levels can become detrimental to your health if not addressed.

An imbalance in our metabolism happens as overconsumption of foods that are "high carbohydrate" eventually overstimulates the pancreas to release more insulin than might be necessary. When the pancreas excretes more insulin to account for the larger amount of carbohydrates, the unused insulin remains in the bloodstream and causes blood sugar levels to drop too low, or promotes the storage of excess calories as fat. This basically means that the body's ability to process carbohydrates becomes compromised by prolonged elevations of blood glucose levels. As the body becomes more compromised, it takes more and more carbohydrates to satisfy food cravings, the body becomes increasingly resistant to insulin, and the cycle continues until the pancreas becomes exhausted.

Major health problems arise from this situation called "insulin resistance." Insulin resistance can not only cause even more excessive carbohydrate cravings, it can result in weight gain and put you as risk for diabetes. Monitoring carbohydrates, especially those that convert to blood sugar rapidly, is important for controlling appetite, weight, and has an even more important impact on overall health.

On the other end of the scale are many on a craze of completely eliminating all carbohydrate from the diet. This extreme diet has received a lot of mixed reviews. From a holistic viewpoint, this diet creates an imbalance in the body, whereas the body has to work extra hard to eliminate the byproducts of a very high protein diet. The long-term effects of this kind of diet on vital organs, brain, and vascular health remain to be seen. Also, if you have been on an extreme low carbohydrate diet for a while, have lost some weight, and then decide to go off the diet, you often gain back the lost weight very quickly. Balancing the correct amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fats is also another popular idea that seems more attuned to the human metabolism and practicality.