The Energetics of Fat

This post isn’t the post I was hoping to write because I have no way of really determining, energetically what is fat.  Apparently the ancients didn’t actually define when there was too much fat. I think, looking at constitutional types that they understood that fat was relative. Looking at nature they saw that some trees are thin and willowy and others are shorter and more solid. As with trees, they knew there was room for any type of body for humans too.  A larger percentage of body fat was probably considered a good thing in an era that was often plagued by starvation.

Even in the United States in the modern era, what constitutes “too fat” versus normal weight has varied greatly.  So where to start?

Personally, I wouldn’t treat someone just coming to me for weight loss. Chances are their dreams are doomed to failure and I wouldn’t feel good about taking money to contribute to that failure.  I have had many patients come for other things and then ask me if acupuncture can help people lose weight. This question comes from people who probably shouldn’t lose any more weight and those who are probably hoping for a two hundred pound miracle.  I have long said that I can help their body optimize it’s fuel usage and create better health which might lead to some weight loss. I can deal with fatigue, with specific cravings and with bloating (which is a huge help to those who carry most of their weight on their belly).

As I have learned more about size acceptance, at this point I’d probably add that I can help them get healthy and love their body as it is.  I know most folks probably wouldn’t love that answer but that’s the best one.  Additionally, I think that it’s worth considering that anyone who has maintained a stable weight for more than a year is probably at a good weight for their body, whether or not it’s culturally fashionable.

However, not everyone believes this so what are the things to look at when dealing with people who want to lose weight.

  • Look at the Spleen

Every acupuncture knows this and it’s probably the first place that will be worked. We think of the spleen as being deficient and so we tonify that energy and work on the dampness because fat is dampness right?

We ought to look at some overlooked factors that have gone in to the spleen qi deficiency. Diet food is a big one. Right, I know, how could a fat person have eaten enough diet food to affect the spleen? We don’t know what fake sugars do and we are only now learning that they can give a greater sugar reaction when ingested at the same time as real sugar. This means all those folks living on “diet” drinks and then having meals that may contain only small to moderate amounts of sugar may actually be placing a very large burden on their pancreas.  Anytime there is a burden on the pancreas, there is a burden on the Spleen

As I always see the Spleen as part of the spleen/stomach polarity, I think we need to look at amounts of food and how often someone eats. Fat people often skip meals (yeah I know, you thought they were all always stuffing their faces) trying to lose weight. Again, this creates a problem in regulating blood sugar. They also tend to eat meals that are too small (again, yeah, that’s right, they don’t stuff themselves) so this can play havoc on the spleen/stomach because there’s not enough nutritive energy for the body.

Finally, if someone is eating food that’s good for them but gives them no psychological nourishment, encourage them to eat things they like, at least a little bit. No one has to live on ice cream and cheese cake, but unless there’s an allergy there or some other health reason (besides the “need” to lose weight) they need to have a treat. We all need to eat things that nourish us physically, mentally and spiritually. I’m sorry but very few “low calorie”, “diet friendly” foods do that. And diet food doesn’t typically nourish us on any of the levels.

Your fat people are starving, in many case quite literally from lack of nutrients and in nearly all cases from lack of eating pleasure. Even when they try to eat things they love, they are often so consumed by guilt that they don’t enjoy it the way they should. Let’s break that cycle. Remind them and badger them to eat things they love, at least sometimes.

Make sure you move the middle jiao–it needs some help.  If there is tummy weight this movement will help any bloating so they get the sense that they’ve lost weight when they haven’t really changed much.

  • Look at the Liver

Now, we tend to understand that stress plays a roll in weight gain and let’s face it, we’re all stressed.  Further, fat people get stress and stagnation from biting back a lot of body shaming that comes from outside themselves. All those folks who have told them they would be really pretty or would do really well if only they lost 10, 15, 25, 50, 100 pounds.

The liver is also about self esteem.  Think about all the times those same fat people have lost 10, 15, 25, 50, 100 pounds and gained it back and more. Their self esteem is pretty low. Now consider that they may be out walking, getting exercise only to be told their fat and ugly and need to get out and do something about that. Yeah, that happens when fat people go hiking.  Then they hear how all these other folks have successfully lost all this weight and they wonder what’s wrong with them that they can’t. Sadly, society reinforces the idea that it is something wrong with them that they can’t lose weight.

It’s probably not about them,  but energetically this has been internalized. Move the liver. Also, I find that liver 1 and liver 14 together are great for improving self esteem.

Liver is also about movement, so a good working liver will help move that damp, so as the person’s body gets more balanced, they will naturally move the energy where it needs to go.

  • Tonify the Kidneys

I don’t know what effect poor diet has on the body overall but even those who eat a great diet with lots of vegetables and some good fats and protein are probably not getting the nutrition they think they are. It could be their body’s absorption but I think it also has to do with the food we eat being less nutritious than it used to be. This means that the kidney energy, the Jing, is being depleted faster than it did in previous eras. The kidneys need energy and we need to do everything we can to support them.

Also, consider fear. Yeah, people who are fat are scared. They aren’t scared of what normal weight people are afraid of, that they might get fat, they’re scared of going out and being told they are too fat to be treated with respect. They’re afraid that because they’re fat they may always be fat and that means they won’t ever achieve their dreams. This feeds into the self esteem issues that are culturally imposed. Treat the kidneys.

  • Treat the Heart and Lungs

With everything else out of balance, yes the heart and lungs are probably needing balance too.  Depending upon the level of low self esteem you might need to treat grief for those things missed and lost. You may also have a sort of numb depression. Really look and make sure the heart can be lit with a normal fire. It may also be that the heart has phlegm from various agitations during life.

Treating the heart will also help the fat person figure out what brings joy, real joy, true joy to their life. Do they want to live their life waiting to be thin or do they want to break out of the fear cycle and move towards joy? They can be fat and healthy and happy. They don’t need to make a choice. Maintaining a balance is what life is about. Treating fire can help them make those decisions.

  • Do body Work

The best way to know where you body is sore, tired or maybe more toned that you know is through body work. The vast majority of women think they are fatter than they are.  Body work may help them to understand that they aren’t as large as they think they are.  Touch is huge and many fat people don’t get enough of it. It’s a general energy moved and mood booster. Believe me, a loving, comfortable touch may be the most healing things you can do for your fat patient.

And just maybe…

If you live in an area that has a women’s only spa, like we do in Seattle, where women of all ages and sizes can go in to a safe place and take off their clothes for a relaxing day of massage, jacuzzi and sauna, then recommend that. They will see women of a variety of sizes and shapes. Chances are, once they get past their own body shame, they’ll notice that women’s body come in a variety of beauty that’s not dependent upon size or shape.



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Bonnie Koenig has been a licensed acupuncturist since 1999. She is passionate about helping people find real healing and real health. In the process she keeps asking about our attitudes towards sickness and health. Only by being clear on what sickness is, can we ever find health.

2 thoughts on “The Energetics of Fat”

  1. Bonnie,

    This is a wonderful article that is readable by lay people like me. I will share it.


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