Updated: Jun 16
I've struggled with my weight for most of my life. Ironically, I was underweight until I was 28 years old. I spent a lot of time worrying about being too thin and even went to see my GP who had to suppress a laugh when I told her! I was obsessed with eating and, much to the annoyance of everyone around me, ate everything that I thought would pile on weight....cakes, bread etc.
When I turned 28 I finally piled on the weight and was chuffed. I also discovered that I was able to lose it as soon as I ditched sugar loaded products and bread. But I soon found that any overindulgence would very quickly lead to a bulge around my waist. Much to my shock, as soon as I hit 40 the extra weight and bulge became really difficult to lose no matter how many salads I ate instead of proper meals. Again, I became obsessed with my weight! I was repeatedly told that if I reduced calories and exercised regularly I would lose weight. I downloaded an app to track my eating and exercise and despite limiting my calorie intake to 1200 a day for six weeks, I put on weight! I went online to research losing weight, with a particular focus on weight loss for women over 40. The amount of information, a lot of it contradictory, was mind blowing. I started on a mission to try any suggestion in the hope that something would help the number on my bathroom scales to drop.
But no matter what I tried, nothing made a difference and I eventually decided to join a well known weight loss programme. I attended weekly meetings and weigh-ins. I lost half a stone (approximately 7lbs or 3kg) over 6 weeks and was really pleased with myself. The problem was that I then hit a plateau and soon became frustrated that, again, I was constantly thinking about what to eat and what to avoid. My weight began to increase so I stopped going to meetings. Soon after, I piled the weight back on and even added a couple of pounds!
Since studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I have learnt that weight management and health has little to do with calorie counting and burning calories through exercise. In contrast to what we are told, TCM advocates that everything (including exercise!) is fine in moderation- Yes... too much exercise is frowned upon! Instead, TCM focuses on seasonal eating as well as the inclusion of foods which provide nutrients to ensure we nourish the organs which may need rebalancing.
So how did this help me? As soon as I finished studying I decided that I would focus on my health and was acutely aware that I didn't want to be a practitioner who would tell my patients what to eat and when but fail to apply TCM principles to my own health. So last July (2021) I made two simple changes:
1) Breakfast- eat warm, cooked foods between 7am & 9am
The meal that is touted as the most important is also considered crucial in TCM. In contrast to what advertisers suggest, breakfast isn't important in TCM because we have been starved of food and water for an entire night, but because the Stomach is the most active between 7am-9am. This means it is the most efficient during this period.
The problem with breakfast is that, as with so many of the patients I treat, I haven't included it in my diet since I was a teenager. What began as an inability to get out of bed because I have never been a morning person, soon meant I didn't have time for breakfast and so wouldn't eat until the first break at school. This became a habit and when I started work I simply replaced my mid-morning snack with a coffee...lots of it! The coffee was always milky so would fill me up for a while. When I tried to have breakfast, I didn't know what to eat and I also felt sick. The choice seemed so limited and so unhealthy; croissants, cereals, pastries, toast with jam, toasties etc.
I tried toast for a few days and found that I was ravenous by 9am and so would eat biscuits whilst at work. Needless to say, I put on weight. I tried porridge, only to find it made me feel ill. I discovered that while it filled me up, I was bloated and lethargic. Porridge seems to be sold as the ideal breakfast in the West. Add a few nuts and berries and it is seen as super healthy. The problem with porridge is that it is carbohydrate heavy, which means that it is converted into sugars. This can be a problem for diabetics and pre-diabetics. In the far East and Indian sub-continent porridge is not even at the bottom of the list for foods to eat at breakfast. People living in these parts of the world eat savoury and warm food at this time of the day. This often includes the extra food made for dinner the night before. This idea appealed to me as it meant not having to cook anything, buy anything specific for breakfast or spend time working out what to eat- excellent when you are not a morning person! Simply take the food out of the fridge and reheat.
2) Eat dinner by 6:30pm at the latest.
Since Stomach Qi (energy) is not the strongest at this time of the day, eating dinner too late means that the food sits in the stomach when we go off to bed. Our bodies focus on healing and rejuvenation at night when we are asleep. With a full meal still needing to be digested, valuable Qi is diverted to this task instead.
Eating earlier initially seemed difficult. It meant eating before my husband got home so I left a few small snacks to eat when he was eating. At first I found that I wanted to snack at around 9pm so I tried to ensure that I had a warm, non-caffeinated drink instead or some flavoured kombucha (naturally sugar free). This was life changing. I was no longer bloated, stopped having strange dreams and woke up refreshed as well as hungry!
I wasn't expecting my extra fat to disappear ...but ...it did. I lost 3kg just by making these two changes. Surprisingly, my sugar cravings disappeared after 2 weeks and my stomach was a lot flatter for the first time in 15 years. I had a splurge over Christmas and have just reverted back to this routine. Only two days in and I already feel better. I no longer see any splurge as a 'sin' or a 'cheat', but instead consider embrace the fact that there will be times (such as Christmas) when eating habits go awry. Knowing how to reset my body has been liberating.
So my message is that life shouldn't be about counting calories, avoiding foods and an obsession with food rules. I have discovered that just two small changes to my daily routine is enough to make a significant difference. My next step is to focus on including foods, based on a TCM diagnosis, in my meals. I'll be posting a blog with food lists in the near future. I have been giving myself acupuncture to rebalance my digestive system and optimise the function of my Stomach and Spleen. Obviously I can only pop in needles on points I can reach! So I will be visiting one of my acupuncture pals in the near future for a full treatment. Please share this blog post with anyone you know who may be struggling with weight gain at the moment.
Please note that if you have a medical condition you should consult with your GP or Medical Practitioner before making any lifestyle changes.
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