Finding Our Optimal Weight
By Madalina Hubert
Everywhere we look, there are diet trends: low-fat, high-protein, low-carb, and everything in between. We look for energy drinks, nutrition bars and power smoothies. We obsess over superfoods and try to find miracle cures. Brands and marketers are having a ball with our weight obsession. Yet why are we so fixated with diets? There are many reasons, but it probably comes down to two essential ones: the wish for beauty and health.
Most of us are affected by society’s standards of beauty. As we try to emulate TV and magazine images of ideal body types and sizes, this shapes both our body image and self-esteem. We often forget these images are airbrushed and photoshopped. We try to emulate them and fail in the process. Many young people develop eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and others fall into depression trying to emulate the “ideal” bodies they see.
Yet why do these images persist? In recent years, ‘build your self-esteem’ movements have emerged, and more calls for different-sized models. But at the core, let’s not forget that in whatever shape they may appear, these are advertisements designed to sell magazines, fashion, accessories, movies, and more. If we find these images attractive, we are more likely to buy the products.
Yet they are dangerous if we hold them as our beauty standards. Beauty is often in the eye of the beholder and many studies have shown this. Different cultures also have different perceptions of attractiveness. In fact, standards change within the same culture. In North America trends have shifted from curvy to slim several times in the past century. If women evaluate their bodies according to the latest trends, they could be happy one decade and miserable the next.
On the other hand, what is important when it comes to good health and self-esteem is to have a healthy energetic body that allows us to be active, enjoy life, and fulfill our responsibilities.
This leads us to the health reason for maintaining the optimal weight.
In addition to weight loss diseases such as bulimia and anorexia, there are the opposite problems of obesity and excess weight in North America.
Even if some people maintain a good weight on the surface because of good metabolism, poor nutrition can still lead to health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and many others. We often don’t have time to cook and may eat on the run. This all contributes to the problem. We have processed food, fast food, high-sugar or high-sodium food, as well as chemicals and additives mixed in. Different people also have different nutritional needs. If we don’t know how to listen to our bodies and respect their needs, then it is easy to be manipulated by advertisers. We resort to fad diets that promise quick solutions, but in the end, fail because these don’t solve the fundamental problems.
This is where traditional dietary wisdom comes in. Traditional Chinese medicine is particularly powerful in this aspect because not only does it study the body itself, but also its connection to the greater universe.
Let’s take a look at how traditional Chinese medicine looks at weight loss.
Wisdom from Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine sees weight loss as connected to the flow of qi, a life-energy that circulates through the body and maintains health. If there is a disruption in the flow of qi, this may manifest as illness or other health problems.
Some factors that lead to this include stress, poor sleep, emotional problems, and poor diet. Improper flow of qi reduces energy, stimulates food cravings and makes it easier to gain weight. This is especially so if the blockage occurs in organs related to the digestive system. In its treatment, Chinese medicine looks to strengthen these organs and the flow of qi.
While the study of the human body is very complex, and Chinese medicine has developed an extensive body of research beyond what we can discuss here, here are a few tips from Chinese medicine that can help us find the optimal weight.
- Look for underlying reasons behind weight gain – These are factors that Chinese medicine tends to look at first. They may be related to stress or emotional problems, life-changes, diseases, and other bodily imbalances. Once we identify the root cause, the weight-loss problems can be more effectively treated.
- Follow the body’s natural rhythms – When it comes to food, it’s best to eat according to the body’s digestive patterns. The stomach is most active between 7 am – 9 am, so it’s easier to digest a larger meal at breakfast. As the day goes on, the stomach has less energy. A medium-sized lunch and an early light dinner (preferably around 5 pm) are beneficial.
- Drink warm or hot water – This promotes blood circulation and protects the internal organs, including the stomach and spleen, to ensure that the digestive system is functioning properly. Drinking warm water in the morning is good for weight loss. A glass of water 10 minutes before eating may also reduce cravings.
- Eat cooked food – Chinese medicine believes that too much raw food can cool the body and affect the flow of energy, so eating warm, cooked food is beneficial to stimulate the body and ensure good circulation.
- Eat slowly and mindfully – This allows us to both enjoy the food’s flavours and allow the body time to digest it. By listening to our body’s signals, we are also less likely to overeat.
- Maintain a regular exercise regimen – Most modern dietary advice is accompanied by exercise advice and this is also true for Chinese medicine. Healthy activities could range from active fitness to slow-moving exercises like taiqi, qigong, or even going for a walk.
- Be mindful of what we eat – We should eat according to our body’s constitution, seasons, and the environment. Foods interact with different bodies in different ways at various times. It is also good to eat nutritious unprocessed food as much as possible.
- Set reasonable expectations and respect your body – Both overeating and undereating are harmful to the body. The body needs to absorb the proper nutrients, but too much food can do damage.
- Take care of mental/emotional health – This one of the key factors of weight gain, so it’s important to take good care of ourselves and deal proactively with stress. Part of this is also accepting that our bodies don’t need to look like photoshopped airbrushed images to look good. Watch here a short video experiment in which real women are photoshopped into cover models and see their reactions as they discover their own worth.
Finding the optimal weight can be a painful process, but it can also be an enriching and satisfying one when we find the root problems and overcome them. Life is a journey of self-discovery, and weight is simply part of this process.
Madalina Hubert is a Toronto-based writer specializing in art, culture, travel, and culinary explorations.