I have been practicing acupuncture for over 20 years and have been forced to conclude that there are no magical ways to melt off the pounds, or rather to melt away fat, and that if there are, acupuncture is not one of them. If it were, I would be rich, especially since I practice in the United States. However, I do encourage you to read on because acupuncture might be able to help you shed pounds in certain ways, two to be exact.
Now that I have given you a little encouragement to keep reading, let us back up and discuss my first point, that acupuncture will not magically help you to shed pounds. Bear with me. Honesty is important because there is a lot of misinformation out there. It is commonly said that there are more overweight people in the United States than any other country. I have travelled widely and believe this might be true. I think there are two main culprits: a diet high in carbohydrates containing many refined foods, and a sedentary lifestyle. I am probably not telling you anything you do not know, but I do not believe any weight loss program will work satisfactorily unless these two problems are addressed. I receive phone calls on a regular basis from people who want a passive way to lose weight without addressing lifestyle issues like diet and exercise, not that I blame anyone for wishing there were one. The most amusing phone call that comes to mind is the one made by a woman who wanted to lose 10 pounds in less than a week so that a dress she needed to wear that weekend would fit better. I have never found an acupuncture treatment in any book or taught in any school that can stand alone, apart from lifestyle changes, and help anyone lose weight for more that a week or two (it is possible to shed water weight after a treatment, but so what!) If any acupuncturist reading this article does know of one, please email me because I will pay you to share your secrets with me.
This having been said, I have found that acupuncture can help with weight loss in two ways, provided a person is not overly sedentary and is willing to change their diet.
1. I have treated several women whose metabolisms have slowed down after childbirth and who exercise and eat in a healthy way but are frustrated because they are perhaps 10 or 20 pounds overweight. I have found that acupuncture can stimulate their metabolisms and that they will then start to lose fat. I suspect they have sub-clinically sluggish thyroids (thyroids that function in the low-normal range). I have used a combination of acupuncture and moxabustion to good effect in these cases.
Speaking of thyroids, I have one patient who had a very slim figure until she was diagnosed with a thyroid tumor and underwent surgery, during which most of the gland was removed. She put on about 30 pounds after the surgery in spite of the fact that she was taking thyroid hormones. With regular acupuncture, she can consistently lose about 2 pounds per week. Unfortunately, because she has only a minimally functioning gland, she puts on weight when she is not receiving acupuncture. If a person has an almost normally functioning thyroid gland, I believe the results of acupuncture can be permanent.
Acupuncture, especially in combination with certain herbs, is also helpful in reducing sugar cravings in people who are hypoglycemic or pre-diabetic, but they also have to control their sugar intake. It is also possible that the herbs I have just alluded to are more helpful than the acupuncture for this problem.
2. I have also found that acupuncture can help people who overeat out of nervousness or due to stress. In this case I combine acupuncture points on the body, which help to minimize the effects of stress (please see my article on stress), with those on the ear, which are particularly useful in helping to control addictions (please see my article on addictions). In the case of severe eating disorders, I believe acupuncture would work best in conjunction with psychological counseling, as it does in the case of chronic substance abuse.
I should add here that many dietitians and exercise therapists no longer use the term “weight loss.” If a person loses weight, they may be also losing muscle mass, which is often the case with diets that emphasize calorie reduction rather than strategic food combinations. The idea now commonly respected is that of improving body composition, The ratio of lean body mass to fat is considered more important than the actual weight of the body in relation to height. The more muscle mass a person has, the higher will be their metabolism, the more attractive will be their physique (up to a point, I suppose) and the easier it will be to burn fat during normal activities.