If you’ve gained a few kilos recently, and are tired of following unsustainable diets, you may be thinking of trying Chinese medicine for weight loss. Traditional Chinese medicine (TMC) is one of the world’s oldest medical systems, having begun around 2,200 years ago. This ancient art includes techniques that have proven to help with weight loss, including acupuncture, Tai Chi, and key diet changes.
In this article, we explore the various TMC techniques that can help you to lose weight, including specific advice on what to do.
Chinese medicine for weight loss
In TMC, weight gain is caused by a Qi deficiency in the spleen, which leads to too much moisture being trapped inside the body, known as “dampness.” When this happens, your digestive system is weakened, which makes it harder for your body to absorb and transport food. This Qi deficiency can be created for a variety of reasons, including a poor diet, irregular eating, overexertion, and emotional imbalances like anxiety, which has been shown to affect how you metabolise your food and lead to poor nutrient absorption. As a result, you may feel hungrier and reach for bad foods with sugar and lots of salt—a no-no in both contemporary nutrition and TMC.
A Qi deficiency in the spleen can result in the following signs and symptoms;
- Increased hunger
- Sugar cravings
- An irregular bowel
- Sagging skin
- Menstrual issues
Weight gain may also be caused by imbalances in the liver, kidneys, thyroid gland, and endocrine system, which TMC can restore to harmony, and encourage weight loss. It achieves this with the following:
- Improving your digestion, including your bowel function
- Regulating your gut microbiota, to encourage healthy bacteria and discourage unhealthy bacteria
- Regulating your fat metabolism
- Bringing fat-controlling hormones to normal levels
- Reducing the amount of stress in your life— Acupuncture
Acupuncture helps with weight loss by boosting your metabolism, reducing your appetite, lowering your stress, and reducing food cravings. One particularly popular method for weight loss is auricular acupuncture (also known as ear stapling), which targets points of the ear that control food cravings. This also harmonises the flow of energy in the stomach and intestines, which improves digestion and aids weight loss.
When completing acupuncture for weight loss, a practitioner may also target the following areas:
- The mouth to curb impulsive eating
- The lungs to spread Qi down to the kidneys
- The spleen to relieve blood sugar and hormonal imbalances
- The endocrine glands to reduce water retention
- The adrenal glands and ovaries, to address weight gain related to menopause (more on this below)
- The kidneys to tackle anxiety
- The thyroid to speed up the metabolism
To lose between 5 to 7 kilos with acupuncture, a treatment plan of three times a week for six to eight weeks is common.
Tai Chi is another effective Chinese medicine technique that has shown to promote weight loss. A study in May 2021 showed that people who did Tai Chi for three months reduced their belly fat by 1.69 inches after six months1. This ancient exercise is packed with other benefits too, including:
- Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improved energy and stamina
- Improved muscle strength
- Better flexibility
- Better sleep (which can make a huge difference with weight loss)
- Lower blood pressure
- Boosted immune system
- Reduced joint pain
- Reduced risk of falling—just one of the many reasons why it’s so popular with older adults2.
Some Chinese herbal remedies are thought to help with weight loss, including ginseng, He Ye (lotus leaf), Fu Ling, and Huang Qi. Of course, there’s plenty of non-Chinese herbs that have been shown to fight food cravings and boost fat burning, including fenugreek, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, and cumin.
There are also some herbal remedies that help you get a better night’s sleep, which can lead to weight loss. Chrysanthemum tea is great for calming your nerves and helping you to rest, and jujube seeds calm your mind and improve your blood circulation.
Some herbal remedies have also been shown to be highly effective against insomnia, which can have a drastic impact on your weight3.
As with Tai Chi, Chinese massage is great for relieving stress and promoting relaxation, which helps you to lose weight in two ways: more restful sleep, and reduced cortisol (the stress hormone) in your system, which increase your cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty foods.
One practitioner—Zhao Jizhong—claims that patients can lose between 3 to 5kg after a 12-massage course, as a result of reduced stress, suppressed hunger, and reduced insulin5.
Chinese medicine weight loss diet
Diet is obviously another huge factor in weight loss, and for TMC, it’s not just about eating healthy foods, but also keeping your spleen and stomach’s Qi properly balanced. Sweet flavours are related to these crucial areas of your body, and when your Qi is imbalanced, you’ll naturally crave them, which can quickly lead to weight gain.
TMC practitioners recommend staying away from sweet, salty, and fatty foods (aligned with modern nutritional advice), and trying to eat more bitter, sour, and pungent foods, to promote your digestive system. These are some recommended foods to eat to tackle a Qi deficiency in your system, and promote weight loss:
- Spleen and stomach-related yellow/orange foods like pumpkin, corn, butternut squash, yellow peppers, and sweet potatoes
- Rice, quinoa and oats
- Cherries, dates, grapes, figs, and shiitake mushrooms
- Smaller portions of meat like beef, chicken, and turkey
And these are some foods that you should consider avoiding:
- Dairy products
- Simple carbs like pasta or white bread
- Simple sugars like soft drinks, fruit juice, and honey.
- Too much cold food and drinks like ice cream or iced water, as these are harder to digest. Try to eat cooked food with warming spices like ginger, paprika, or cardamom to strengthen your digestion.
You may also want to try to consume more spicy herb-infused drinks, such as those with ginger, fennel, or cinnamon. This is another technique for improving your digestion.
When it comes to the process of eating itself, TMC practitioners recommend eating slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the flavours of the food and the people you’re eating with, rather than watching TV or staring at your phone. This not only makes eating more enjoyable but also helps you to lose weight because your stomach and brain have more time to register being full. A study in 2017 showed that people who eat their food slowly tend to weigh less and that slowly their eating speed helped them to lose weight, so this is great advice6.
It’s always best to consume your heaviest, protein-rich meals before midday when your digestive system is at its strongest. Conversely, Chinese medicine practitioners recommend avoiding food between 7 pm and 11 pm, when your digestive system is at its weakest.
Chinese medicine weight loss pills
There’s a number of Chinese medicine weight loss pills that may help you to lose weight, including:
- Bao He Wan, a formula that uses a variety of herbs to promote digestion and harmonize the stomach
- Fu Zi Li Zhong Wan & Plum Flower, to reduce dampness accumulation.
- Xiao Yao Wan to get the liver flowing properly.
- Jin Kui Shen Qi Wan to boost your metabolism and energy levels.
- Bu Zhong Yi Qi Wan & Gui Pi Wan to fix spleen Qi deficiency, which improves your digestion.
Chinese medicine menopause weight gain
The major hormonal changes that occur with menopause make you more likely to gain weight around your stomach, hips, and thighs, which some women struggle with. Thankfully, many of the Chinese medicine techniques discussed can help with this issue, including:
- Acupuncture, which targets the adrenal glands and ovaries to address weight gain. This has also proven to reduce other menopause effects like hot flashes, head and body aches, anxiety and depression, and affected sleep.
- Acupuncture has shown to reduce hot flashes for menopausal women, reduce head and body aches, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve sleep7.
- Eat cooling foods like cabbage, celery, carrots, and lettuce, making sure to balance them with warm foods (too much cold is bad for digestion).
- Eating bitter foods to disperse heat throughout your body, like asparagus, kale, pumpkin, and turnips.
- Eating plenty of protein for breakfast.
- Emily Shiffer, 2021, Tai Chi Beginner Exercises: How to Use Tai Chi for Weight Loss, Parade
- Tai chi: A gentle way to fight stress, Mayo Clinic
- Hongshi Zhang, MS, Peng Liu, MS, Xingquan Wu, MD, Yan Zhang, MS, and Deyu Cong, BSb, 2019, Effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine for patients with primary insomnia, Medicine Baltimore
- Rachael Link, 2018, 13 Herbs That Can Help You Lose Weight, Healthline
- Jimmy Jian, Ben Blanchard, 2009, Chinese embrace massage to knead away the pounds, Reuters
- Yumi Hurst, Haruhisa Fukuda, Effects of changes in eating speed on obesity in patients with diabetes: a secondary analysis of longitudinal health check-up data, BMJ Open
- Kamma Sundgaard Lund, Volkert Siersma, John Brodersen, Frans Boch Waldorff, Efficacy of a standardised acupuncture approach for women with bothersome menopausal symptoms: a pragmatic randomised study in primary care (the ACOM study), BMJ Open