TCM and Me

“A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” – The Boxer, Paul Simon

Get on the path to a new, healthier life with the help of TCM

Yesterday I received an email from a person with whom I have been friends since she was 18 years old. Suffice it to say that we are both decades older from when we first met – me having an additional decade over her.

Her email saddened me, but it also illuminated a great truth for me.

Seeing my success with weight loss, she immediately jumped onto the acupuncture bandwagon. I was thrilled she “saw the light” about acupuncture and incorporating TCM teachings into her life. Since we have been on and off diets together for years, I was thrilled to share with her what I have learned – as well as share my TCM doctors.

Selfishly, I believe the more people I can introduce to TCM can help me in re-paying part of my huge Karmic debt to the Universe. The Universe needs to be repaid for leading me to the compassionate caregivers in practice at my wellness center. More altruistically, it needs to be said that acupuncture and TCM teachings have taught me to rethink my relationship with food and drink. Acupuncture has taught me to listen to my body – to identify hunger from boredom, hunger from stress and hunger from anger.

The TCM doctors at my wellness center have taught me to view food as medicine. They’ve taught me understand that how my body processes food is unique to me – and they have worked with me – are still working with me – to further educate me. Their belief is simple: “knowledge is power.”

I have to be perfectly honest: even I am somewhat astonished by my weight-loss success. My Western doctors are astonished by my success. In truth, the only ones who seem not to be astonished are my TCM doctors.

I was born into a family of “clean plate” eaters; it still amazes me that I now feel full; that my body tells me how much it needs. The concept of “leftovers” was not something my family, and by association, me, ever thought about; leftovers simply did not exist.  Never in my life have I felt more comfortable in my skin and truly, never have I weighed what I do now. Yes, there are still the aches and pains of aging. And yes, I daily thank the Gods of Fashion who still allow 3/4 and dolman sleeves to be in style to help me hide my bat wings. I will admit to an unexpected love of all things spandex, because when you lose 105 pounds after the age of 65 gravity is not your friend.

But, superficial vanity aside, two years after being told I would need both knees replaced, I still have my original pair. My out of pocket drug costs – per my annual Medicare statement – has dropped from $487.50 in 2016 to $74.27 in 2017. I weigh less – and have kept the weight off for a longer period of time – than I did after years of dieting and even after a gastric bypass operation in 2003.

I lay my current success at the feet of my acupuncturist and the teachings of TCM.

Knowing this, you can imagine how disappointed – somewhat annoyed – and a bit frustrated I was when I received an email that was short and to the point: “I just want you to know that I have gone for three sessions and I have not lost any weight. It’s just too much work to focus on reading labels, following meal suggestions. Every diet I have been on has had me lose weight within the first week. This isn’t for me.   Besides, there are faster ways to lose weight.”

As a veteran of 40 years of working for the school system and in the mental health industry, I know better than to instantly reply to an email. For me, it’s best to wait at least a day to process my reply – otherwise, my fingers tend to get me in trouble. However, I did acknowledge – at least in my mind – her last sentence: there are faster ways to lose weight.

I know there are; I’ve done them all only to gain back the weight as quickly as I lost it.

And really – what does one expect in three visits? (This last snarky thought is just another reason why I wait to respond to emails!)

Trust me, I get it. I understand the desire to lose weight quickly. Busy schedules at home battle busy schedules at work and a social life. Everyone knows that eating healthfully and exercising both the body are important; some, however, that don’t realize that exercising the mind is just as important.

TCM teachings have changed my relationship with food and drink. Most diets are more concerned in listing things one should not eat; diets don’t speak of balance.

Ka Hang Leoungh writes in the Now Cure Me blog that “TCM relies on a constant flow of change, an ebb and tide to maintain a good balance inside your body. The primary guide of TCM is the concept of yin yang – yin being ‘darkness’ and yang ‘brightness’, which expresses how opposite forces are often complementary, interconnected and work together to achieve harmony.”

As my TCM doctor has patiently reminded me since October 2016, if my tongue and pulse reveal a deficiency syndrome, he adapts my treatment to increase the energy within my body. If his examination reveals an excess condition he aims to reduce it.

Yes, it’s not a quick loss program; it’s both a healthier and far more lasting process to ensure the best possible life.

In their newsletter, the authors of MindBodyGreen write “Food is so much more than just nutrition. It’s about friends, memories, love and life. It’s an experience to be savored. If you really want to lose weight and keep it off then you have to do more than cut calories. You have to change your relationship with food.”

The authors continue: “Think of food as a reflection of your life. When you remove the toxins from your diet you’ll start to remove toxins from the rest of your life. You’ll find that a diet is not an-all-or nothing proposition. Instead it’s a lifestyle that people can step into one bite at a time. One can look at the mindful diet as a meditation. While meditation uses the breath as a place of focus, the mindful diet uses food as a way to become aware of the distractions that are undermining your body and happiness. It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle.”

Personally, the smallest changes have made the biggest difference in my life: I no longer eat in front of the computer or in front of the TV. Even though I live alone, I force myself to sit at the table to eat my meals. I no longer eat on the run; if I can spend 1 to 2 hours having lunch with friends I can take the time to eat with myself. While my TCM doctors suggest foods, herbs and spices to balance “me”, I use the time spent eating to identify my likes and dislikes. I find it ironic that I used to spend more time on putting together an outfit than I took in planning and preparing my meals.

Yes, it takes time – time to shop, to cook and to consume. (Just an aside: for me it has also taken time to learn how to cook; my kitchen still believes new people moved in two years ago.)

It takes time to research the menus of restaurants and plan what I will order. It takes time to research the information my TCM doctors so generously provide. But I balance this time spent with the self-knowledge that if I am not willing to put in the time and effort into taking care of myself then I am literally willing myself to become a burden to others by forcing my care onto them.

That thought overrides any hunger or thirst I may think I have.

As much as my personal journey is about being physically independent for as long as possible, I am far from perfect with both food and drink.   There are still days that I suspect I spend an inordinate amount of time staring into the refrigerator searching for answers to what is bothering me. TCM has helped me to see these episodes for what they truly are – a fear, a concern, or simply, a bump on my individual road. Most importantly. TCM has helped me shut the door.

The National Institute of Health writes that “In all systems of care, beliefs about health, acceptable healing practices, and culture are inextricably entwined; TCM is no exception. Significant philosophical influences include Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism which suggest that human beings are a microcosm of the larger universal macrocosm, existing within and intimately connected to heaven and earth. An elaborate system of correspondences describes life’s natural order, dictating behaviors, societal roles, and expectations, including those linked to health. Chinese medicine views health as ‘life in balance’, that manifests as healthy skin and hair, engaged interactions, a body that functions without limitations. Health promotion encourages healthy diet, moderate regular exercise, regular meditation/introspection, healthy family and social relationships, and avoidance of environmental toxins.”

It’s more than just fitting into a smaller size; it’s about living the healthiest, non-limited life one can. It’s about feeling good, thinking clearly and knowing that when life throws you a curveball – such as a bathroom fall – you’ve done all you can to lessen the damage.

A quote contributed to Confucius reads, “Acquire new knowledge whilst thinking over the old and you may become a teacher of others.” I am far from being a teacher about nutrition and dieting – I can only share my experience.

While I can also acknowledge that my friend is right; with where her head is right now, acupuncture and TCM is not for her; they are, without a doubt, what is best for me.

In my Universe, right up there with Confucius’ insights are the words of my Mom. She always reminded me that “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.”

Recently, GOOGLE informed me that this saying is a Chinese proverb and not the words of a very wise New York wife and mother. Perhaps my mother pre-ordained me to enter the world of TCM and to meet the compassionate caregivers I now consider friends.

To that, all I can say is “Thanks, Mom.”




Dr. Landon Agoado

Dr. Dongfend Zhou