Comparing TCM and Contemporary Weight Loss: Finding the Right Approach for You


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Ms. Mai Sogawa is a senior therapist who graduated from Japan Medical School of Judo Acupuncture and Moxibustion International Education College.

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Traditional Chinese medicine is gaining popularity for many reasons, including its weight loss and management effectiveness. How does TCM compare against contemporary weight loss methods, though?

Here’s what we came up with when comparing TCM and contemporary weight loss methods, with valuable inputs from several experts in the field.


The Growing Interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) For Weight Loss

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a centuries-old practice that’s been in use for its ability to alleviate a range of symptoms, treat various ailments, and promote overall well-being. This includes weight management.

With a growing interest in alternative weight management methods, there is a growing interest in TCM for weight loss and management, especially with the emergence of studies that support its effectiveness. Weight loss management in TCM is rooted in the concept of balance—weight gain is believed to result from the body’s Qi or energy imbalance.

By addressing the issues that cause this imbalance, such as hormonal imbalances, stress, and poor digestion, TCM aims to restore balance in the body, stimulate weight loss, and enhance overall health.

Comparing TCM to Modern Approaches to Weight Loss

TCM expert Dr. Leonor mentions that compared to modern approaches for weight loss, TCM’s weight loss benefits last longer. TCM, along with weight loss, also leads to an overall improvement in health as the root causes of the issue are addressed and not just the symptoms.

Studies support this—of two groups of overweight adults that were made to practice Tai Chi and conventional exercises, respectively, for 12 weeks, the former lost more inches around the waist and sustained these results for 6 months after the sessions ended (longer than the other group).

Modern Approaches to Weight Loss

Overview of Popular Contemporary Weight Loss Methods

For comparing TCM and contemporary weight loss methods, it’s important to understand what both entail. In this section, we discuss the latter.

Calorie Counting and Portion Control

Calorie counting is a self-monitoring method in which practitioners are not supposed to cross the consumption of a certain number of calories daily. This number can vary depending on the person’s weight loss goals and basic calorie requirements. 

Portion control means limiting the quantities of different foods that are consumed. Through portion control, practitioners can monitor their calorie intake and reduce overconsumption.

Trendy Diets

Trendy diets like keto, paleo, and intermittent fasting are widely followed weight loss methods. 

Each diet follows a different principle. Keto, for example, is a high-protein-no-carb diet, while Paleo encourages eating like the early humans did (meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, without grain, dairy, and processed food).

Exercise Programs and Fitness Classes

This involves different forms of exercise, such as yoga, weight training, strength and conditioning, calisthenics, aerobics, swimming, etc. There are countless forms of individual and group exercise programs and fitness classes to choose from today.

Pros and Cons of Modern Weight Loss Methods

One of the biggest pros of modern weight loss methods is that the results are achieved faster than with TCM. Additionally, these weight loss methods are more common and, therefore, more easily accessible.

It’s possible to follow these methods and achieve results even without expert guidance, unlike TCM. Some modern weight loss methods are also invasive, unlike TCM methods.

However, most modern weight loss methods are fads—they’re followed by people for quick results, and while these results are achieved, they are unsustainable. In Dr. Leonor’s opinion, most modern weight loss methods focus only on localized, quick fat elimination and not overall health.

Additionally, the exercises in these methods are done at a stretch (typically for an hour or longer), which can overtax the body and not allow enough time for recovery, increasing the risk of injury.

By comparison, TCM is more gentle and slow while also achieving results.

TCM Approach to Weight Loss

Overview of TCM Principles and Methods for Weight Loss

Acupuncture, herbal therapies, balancing Yin and Yang, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and dietary therapy are some of the TCM methods of weight loss.

Balancing Yin and Yang

Dr. Leonar mentions that fat accumulation is often a result of a connection to a Phlegm-Dampness pattern, which arises from Qi deficiency. This issue arises from a Yin-Yang imbalance—there’s insufficient Yang to move the Yin, leading to fat accumulation.

According to fellow TCM expert Dr. Yuan, Yang deficiency is also commonly seen in the spleen and the kidney due to overthinking, sedentary lifestyles, high-stress levels, unhealthy diets, etc., which causes phlegm and dampness accumulation and fluid metabolism disorders due to the body’s inability to push blood and fluid flow. This leads to obesity.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

The first thing to understand is that acupuncture and acupressure are different. Acupressure is the stimulation of different pressure points using fingers or a tool to massage them. In contrast, acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into these points and is, therefore, more effective. 

The former can be practiced safely at home for mild cases, but the latter needs to be done by a trained professional and is usually reserved for more severe cases.

According to Dr. Leonor, non-invasive treatment methods like acupressure and acupuncture can help improve the patient’s hormone production and metabolism, rebalance digestion, curb the appetite to healthy levels, lower inflammation, and mobilize accumulated water in the body. They also treat the root cause and not just the symptoms.

Herbal Medicine and Dietary Therapy

Chinese herbal medicine and dietary therapy emphasize the usage of herbs and dietary planning to achieve balance in the body between the two opposing forces, Yin and Yang, that run through it.

Some effective TCM herbs, as stated by Dr. Leonor, include Huang Qi and Fu Ling. Some dietary therapies include eating cold foods if you’ve got a hot constitution or eating certain types of grain, fruit, meat, and vegetables to nurture Qi and assist recovery.

Qi Gong and Tai Chi

Qi Gong is a centuries-old TCM practice involving coordination between breathing, body posture, movement, and meditation to improve spiritual, mental, and physical health.

Tai Chi was originally developed as a martial arts practice but later adapted into a form everyone can practice. It involves using physical postures, slow, gentle movements, and controlled breathing to enter a meditative state of mind.

You can refer to our other article on using Qi Gong and Tai Chi for weight loss.

Is TCM Effective for Weight Loss?

TCM is effective for weight loss. It addresses the root cause of weight gain through thorough diagnosis, which includes looking at signals such as abdominal palpations, tongue observation, pulse checking, etc., and the energetic imbalance that arises from these. However, this process involves more commitment from patients and the results may be slower, as per Dr. Leonor.

How Does TCM Improve Weight Loss?

TCM helps improve weight loss by treating the root causes of weight gain. In her weight loss treatments using TCM, Dr. Leonor starts by strengthening the kidney and spleen Qi/Yang, then eliminates dampness and phlegm.

Comparing TCM and Modern Approaches: Benefits and Limitations

How TCM and Modern Methods Complement Each Other

TCM and modern weight loss methods can be used together for the best results. Even while practicing TCM weight loss methods, several experts, such as Dr. Gene Wei, recommend adding moderate weight training and cardio to the routine. He suggests doing these at least 5-6 times a week for at least 20-30 minutes daily. 

Another good form that complements TCM is yoga. The corpse pose induces excellent relaxation benefits when combined with TCM breathing.

Situations Where One Approach Might Be More Effective than the Other

Comparing TCM and contemporary weight loss methods, TCM might be a better approach for those looking for slow but sustainable weight loss. According to Dr. Leonor, a practice like Qi Gong can help emotional eaters by reducing stress levels, while Tai Chi helps sedentary patients.

TCM is also excellent for psychosomatic conditions where an emotional imbalance is the root cause of an issue. It’s also a great option for those who also want to improve their overall well-being and not only solve a specific issue.

However, conventional weight loss methods may work out better for those looking for quick results that focus more on visible inch loss. These methods also work well for those looking to cut quickly for competitions and events.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Weight Loss Approach for Your Needs

When comparing TCM and contemporary weight loss methods and deciding on the best weight loss approach for your needs, start by determining your needs! Inform yourself of all the options and the doctors available for these methods in your area, suggests Dr. Leonor.

If you’re opting for TCM, she implores keeping in mind that TCM is not a miracle cure. It comes with a lot of groundwork and involves adapting their whole lifestyle and diet as per the practice. Pick a doctor that you trust and who will make a full TCM diagnosis for you in your first session, and before committing to more sessions, ask for a treatment plan so you know what you can expect.

Ultimately, whatever form of weight loss you choose, ensure that you combine a good diet, a good exercise plan, and emotional support for sustainable results.

Personalizing Your Weight Loss Journey with TCM and Modern Strategies

The Importance of Understanding Your Individual Needs and Preferences

Before opting for a treatment plan, understand what your body needs and what will work best for this. You can do this by talking to experts in both fields and doing your own research through the Internet, books, and talking to others who have opted for such treatments.

Dr. Leonor advises everyone interested in experimenting with TCM to inform themselves of the basic theory that TCM operates on and only go to specialized TCM doctors for treatments. She warns against the many people who offer TCM services without proper knowledge backing them.

Combining TCM and Contemporary Weight Loss Methods for Optimal Results

Combining TCM with contemporary weight loss methods gives you the best of both worlds and results. There are several ways to do this, such as practicing weight training and cardio along with TCM. You could also incorporate TCM breathing techniques into yoga postures or even any kind of movement that you do, such as walking.

If you’re considering a TCM approach to weight loss, our guide on Traditional Chinese Medicine Weight Loss Spas can provide you with valuable insights.

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Author: P. Sze

P. Sze P. Sze is the founder of TCM Tips and Dragon Acupuncture®. She graduated from the National University of Singapore with a first-class honor in Civil Engineering. S he also holds a master’s degree in Engineering and is the brain behind the innovative TCM products of Dragon Acupuncture®. She is the author of The Beginner's Guide to Auricular Therapy: Application of Ear Seeds (ISBN 978-1520451398) and Facial Gua Sha - Fight the Signs of Aging Naturally and Inexpensively (ISBN 978-1980678922). She has dedicated her life to ensuring that the complex theories behind oriental medicine and the seemingly dangerous techniques that involve needles and fire do not scare you from trying oriental medicine. This is why she writes endlessly about acupressure and its countless health and wellness benefits.

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