Fingers Crossed – by Susan Tretakis
It’s what I always think when someone congratulates me on any weight loss – and currently, I am experiencing a great many compliments.
Let me be perfectly honest with you: I was a chubby baby, a chubbier child, an obese teenager and a “morbidly obese” adult. I have tried every diet, experimented with every type of diet pill and even took the jump into bypass surgery – but still – while everything initially worked, I slowly regained whatever weight I lost.
Lifelong dieters know the gruesome facts: data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) indicates that approximately 78.6 million adults (34.9%) are clinically obese. Healthcare costs of obesity-related medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, and stroke – to name just a few – are thought to exceed more than $200 billion per year, accounting for over one-fifth of all annual medical expenses in the United States. Research also suggests that “obese individuals who attempt to lose weight are likely to achieve weight loss, especially if they consume less unhealthy fats, increase exercise, participate in weight loss programs, and use prescription weight loss medication.”
Been there, done that – and – truth to be told – none of it worked for long.
It wasn’t that I found it difficult to implement conventional weight-loss strategies – I could. It wasn’t that I was unwilling to sacrifice the pleasure of over-indulgence of yummy, high calorie food and drink or that I disliked going to the gym and sweating like a pig. I could. It’s just that no weight loss lasted – no good habits stayed in place – and slowly – but with the stealth-like surety of ants marching toward a sugar cube – my excess weight returned.
In September of 2016, I was facing a double knee replacement and I was not facing it well. My orthopedic looked at me over my x-rays and quietly stated that for every pound I was overweight, 5 pounds of additional pressure was exerted on my knees and “did I think I could lose some weight prior to surgery?”
Now, let’s be clear – I STILL have not recovered emotionally from a horrific hospital stay associated with a left hip replacement in August of 2011, nor the stress of the following hip replacement recalls – so I was in no way ready to sign on the surgical dotted line. I confessed all this to my chiropractor – who – brilliantly, insightfully – suggested acupuncture.
I remember asking him – specifically – “Can acupuncture help me lose weight? What about supplements? What about….” And he stopped me – and reminded me that I had tried all of the medically prescribed routes – it wasn’t about losing weight, for me, it was about developing a lifestyle, participating in a lifestyle that would both succeed in losing weight and keeping the weight off.
Thus began my journey with acupuncture. Even today, while he has re-located to another part of the state, I silently send a prayer of thanks each day to my chiropractor for sending me in the right direction – and for NOT starting me of yet another weight loss plan but a lifestyle plan.
I met with the acupuncturist. I immediately explained about my knees, my fear of surgery, my stress of the financial burden such a hospitalization would cost, and how, quite simply, I didn’t want to go back to the hospital for surgery. I babbled on about how I could not sleep and I was stressed to the max. I find it ironic that in retrospect, whether it was from embarrassment or my personal insecurity about being viewed as just “another overweight old woman”, I never mentioned weight loss during that first consult.
In fact, I never mentioned it – and he didn’t mention it. I realize today that he was astute enough to realize there were immediate issues to deal with: my anxiety, arthritic pain and sleep issues.
It wasn’t until I was six months into acupuncture – still with my original knees – that I realized I had lost 35 pounds. People began to compliment me. My acupuncturist complimented me.
It was time to hit Google – to read that “acupuncture may be most effective for weight loss as a result of its ability to reduce appetite.” A study by Yao et.al. (2012) assessed the effect of acupuncture on appetite among 118 obese individuals. Individuals that received acupuncture experienced significantly less hunger than the control group. While it is logical to assume that one would eat less if their appetite was reduced, that sad, honest truth for me was that I did not have to be hungry to eat – I could graze all day. While there were many explanations as to why appetite may decrease after acupuncture, “including changes in ANS activation, gastric motility, hormone levels, neurotransmitters, neural activity and vagal tone” (source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23383461).
I am not a scientist – nor a doctor – but I believe my desire to eat less is far less scientific: acupuncture taught me to listen to my body, to ask myself if I was really hungry or simply bored or sad or scared.
Acupuncture forced me to stop looking in the refrigerator or wine bottle for answers, but to identify what I really needed by making the connection between my mind with my body.
What was most obvious to me was that all of my poor food cravings seemed to disappear, to be replaced for a “real” craving for healthier food choices. I was able to walk past the “buy one, get one” cookies and candies in the supermarket without a second thought. Being single, my lifestyle is one where I do not usually cook at home, but I found myself befriending the other appliances in my kitchen – aside from the refrigerator. I discovered fresh herbs. In my home, I said good-bye to preservatives. Many of my meals are with friends, at restaurants, and what was even more astounding to me is that I found I could eat any type of cuisine – but I would stop when I felt satisfied – usually about a third through any given restaurant portion.
Something was definitely happening – in a very good way – to my self-control.
I continued to lose weight – week after week – session after session. More people noticed – and finally – I let myself notice. My acupuncture sessions specifically dealt with stress, sciatica and the usual stumbles the Universe tosses one’s way. However, it was almost as if my sessions unleashed some inner “super power” – a super power that would allow me to play with and eat with the world – and still be aware to care and nourish my body.
This was super power that made me ask myself did I really want to order in a pizza – or drown my “fear du jour” in a bottle of wine.
According to a blog Jamie Starkey, L. Ac. wrote in a 2012 publication of “Obesity Reviews”, a team of researchers performed a detailed systematic review of clinical studies looking at acupunctured and obesity. “When compared to no treatment and pharmaceutical medications, acupuncture was demonstrated to provide the following benefits: greater weight loss, decreased BMI, decreased weight circumference.” Scientific evidence includes documented raised metabolism after acupuncture treatments. By increasing one’s basal metabolic rate, one increases the number of calories which are burned at rest. By influencing the hypothalamus and obesity hormones, many patients experience a suppressed appetite – an “increased awareness of what they are eating, when they are eating.”
No one knows better than I do that successful weight loss requires a multi-faceted approach. I believe weight loss is more successful when it doesn’t take over your life – that its benefit is the “icing on the cake” (forgive the high calorie pun!) of a happy life. I do know that my acupuncture treatments – together with my acupuncturist – have given me a more positive outlook which has resulted in better sleep, improved digestion and increased motivation. I believe I am blessed to have an acupuncturist who has provided nutritional information and exercise information when asked – but who was never pushy, never judgmental – just completely supportive. His knowledge of me led him to suggest a combination of Chinese herbs – to combat arthritic pain, dental issues and vision issues – as well as to balance my “qi”- which in turn – gave me the freedom and desire to write and paint again. His suggestions for homeopathic remedies to relieve any self-imposed guilt and stress kept me centered – when in the past – the answer was consuming a sleeve (or two) of Oreo cookies.
He keeps reminding me to believe in my intention that “as I grow older, I grow healthier”.
I still have my original knees.
And as of this morning, almost a year to the day after my first acupuncture session, I have lost a total of 73 pounds – but who’s counting?