Do you find yourself struggling to lose weight or engaging in relentless self-criticism? Is it that you have nagging health concerns, maybe nothing too huge but you just aren’t feeling great? Or do you compare yourself to media images or others around you and find yourself feeling unworthy? If you answered yes to any of these questions…please stop!
Keep reading…let’s see if there are some alternate scripts for you. Your weight or your general level of health can be improved without self-criticism and unkindness. There are ways to get around an either-or that leaves you feeling powerless. You really and truly can make lasting change that is realistic and self-affirming. It just takes some habit shifts, both in the doing and the thinking. One step at a time, dear reader, and you’ll soon be on your way. Really!
First things first. How about taking a good look at yourself and getting real about what type of body you actually have. When you are able to clearly see what you’re working with and accept (if not–gasp–celebrate) yourself, the next step (doing something) is a lot easier. You can look at yourself from a strictly external perspective, as with the body types described by Western medicine. Do you gain and lose weight easily? Is it fairly easy for you to put on muscle? If so, then you are a mesomorph body type. And ectomorph body type will tend towards being slender but potentially skinny-fat (high body fat percentage but still thin-looking). And endomorph is a body type that is gains weight easily and stays heavy regardless. Another way to see yourself would be via traditional Chinese medicine’s Five Element body typology. Here, the five different elements each have a prototype and certain needs. For example, a wood type is slender while a fire type is small and quick. Meantime, the earth type is heavier and softer and most nurturing. Water has a round face, while metal is square-jawed and solid. As is typical with Chinese medicine, what is outside is reflective of what is inside and vice-versa.
Each body type has its own exercise and food intake needs if change is the goal. Either way of viewing the self is valid; what matters is that you have an objective viewpoint that gives you useful information. People who are naturally skinny need one strategy while the person who tends to hold on to body fat really is better served by a different approach. With the honest self-perceptive and a measure of right-for-you information, you can then start planning in a realistic and effective way. When you work with your body rather than against it you will find that you are able to achieve your goals in an organic way.
There’s more to it, though. (You knew this, right?) What about what goes on around you? Cultural messages via media, for instance, or daily actions and reactions all contribute to how you feel about yourself and your body. Are you stuck on a treadmill of external making? One of the most challenging aspects of body image relates not to what we tell ourselves but, instead, what is imposed upon us. Are you afraid to go to the gym? When I was in my first graduate program I worked in the weight room as a way to maintain ties with bodybuilding culture which, for me, was a place of safety and community. The number of guys I met while on shift who had body shame issues resonates with me to this day. So many were so scared about not being muscular enough. Male and female alike, if over a certain size or weight, were also intimidated. And when it comes to substantial size or obesity, it’s not just the gym that can be a minefield. Do you feel shame at the thought of going to the doctor? Have you ever felt belittle or humiliated at a medical visit?
One of the more moving articles I have recently read, “The Scarlet F: Why Fat Shaming Harms Health And How We Can Change The Conversation” is here; in it, there is a frank assessment of the biases and obstacles that heavy people encounter. It’s not just downer material though. There is acknowledgement of the ways in which cultural values shape notions of beauty (not everyone wants to be stick thin and that is just fine) and that motivational interviewing of which they speak? My health coach training is founded, in part, on motivational interviewing. In other words, it’s a matter of asking the right questions and helping people to help themselves by, among other things, helping them to find their motivation and work with it, rather than against it. And as you may have read in my other essays about my health coaching strategies, as a former professor I do love to spark thought. To that end, I am still quite a fan of the Socratic method (if you’d like to learn more about the way I coach, you can find it here).
A person doesn’t develop a hostile relationship with their body overnight. Aside from external messages, there are also daily habits. Some of it can be due to circumstances that lead to poor eating routines. On more than one occasion while in my second graduate program, for instance, I popped into the herbal pharmacy at student clinic and bought a granola bar and a bottle of iced cappuccino. It was always good for a laugh when I’d say to whoever rung me up, “I’ll be wolfing this down now so that in twenty minutes I’ll have the energy to lecture patients about mindful eating.” [Mic drop.]
Yes, even your favorite earnest Chinese medicine practitioner scarfs down less-than-healthy food when the schedule presses. Indeed, as I’m finishing up my board exams, you can bet that I’m eating poorly and feeling inflamed. This is called “being human” and we all are that; one aspect of a healthy attitude, I think, is the ability to know when to push yourself and when to cut yourself some slack. What do you think? Are you able to be kind to yourself when you’re under a lot of stress and, at the same time, acknowledge that there are limits to self-comfort via food? It’s all in the balance, wouldn’t you agree?
I wish I could be virtuous and macrobiotic but I’ve got looming board exams and I’m eating to self-soothe and to keep my glycogen levels at a rate that keeps my brain humming. It’s kind of like being a bear that’s stocking up for winter, now that I ponder it. That said, it’s easy to make jokes about this subject because I did grow up in a bodybuilding culture and I do have a record of success in my past. When I want to lose fat and put on muscle, it’s not an overwhelming battle. It’s not super easy either, especially since I’m not twenty years old any more, but I have done it in the past and I know I can do it now. Key takeaway? If you know your own body, you know what your consequences will be for overeating and you can decide accordingly. It’s ok not to be perfect. Most people, I promise you, are not. Being able to achieve your own personal best level of health, whatever that may look like, is the goal here.
Past history is a tremendous predictor of future success. For anyone whose past record is spotty, the decision to try make change once again can be daunting and easily undermined by daily routines and unexamined self-talk. So what can you do in order to foster a healthy sense of self and to set the foundations for change?
It’s the little things that add up and make for meaningful change. Aside from the above-discussed self-knowledge of body type and what to do about it, you can also practice and practice some more when it comes to mindfulness. Beyond assessing the messages you get from outside and the things that you tell yourself, you can use your body in gentle ways. Yoga is well-known and popular; Chinese practices like tai chi and qi gong are gentle and genuinely effective. The little things count too; one article that I like appeared in Real Simple magazine online. In it, people wrote about their favorite small ways to make their day that much better. Can you find anything useful here? Even the smallest steps will add up; doing something each and every day to make yourself feel even just a little bit better can reap dividends that you never expected when you began. So why not start now? Just one thing can make a difference.
Of course, I am a fan of health coaching, and not just for weight loss. Depending on what your resources are, long or short term coaching can get you on the right track if you find that starting and maintaining a mind-body wellness program is challenging. For weight loss and major change, a six-month commitment is usually your best bet. If you’re not ready to commit to longer-term health and wellness coaching, a short-term and very specific program is still a valuable investment in yourself and your future. I am always happy to create packages that can include intake/assessment, a personalized yoga sequence or two, and some nutrition education, for instance. I could accompany you to your favorite store and help you to plan an independent learning project of your own. If you are a distance client, we can have excellent discussion and planning via phone conversations or Skype. It all really depends on your needs and resources. All you need to do is contact me and we can plan an individualized strategy just for you.
Needless to say, Chinese medicine has a lot to offer you. Though I’m not quite yet a licensed acupuncturist (did I mention board exams…I’ve finished the first and have the last one in February), I had great success in student clinic with weight loss acupuncture patients. [Update as of summer 2018: I am now a licensed acupuncturist]. You may or may not have noticed that I am a certified personal trainer with a specialty certificate in fitness nutrition. These are useful credentials and I do make good use of them. But my focus really is on the traditional Chinese medicine side of the house. A balanced life that is sustained by mindfulness and health nurturance is the way to do it, I think.
If you don’t like needles, there are ways to make use of points on your ears and ear seeds (just what they sound like, these are tiny seeds on what looks like a tiny bandaid). When pressed onto your ear in specific locations, the seeds can affect things like hunger, anxiety, and food cravings to help you. Chinese medicine has a venerable history of herbal remedies for digestive health, and any of these tactics along with exercise and lifestyle shifts can do wonders for not only your waistline but also your spirit.
And, last but not least, what about self-care? Taking care of the aesthetics and outsides is not frivolous. If you have been losing weight but your skin is not as smooth as you would like, cupping therapy is a wonderful reward for all your hard work and it can really smooth out the lumps and bumps. I wrote about cupping and the Olympic athletes (remember those circles on their shoulders) here, but cupping is also wonderful aesthetic purposes and you can expect a blog post from me on the subject eventually. As I discuss in an article I wrote about Chinese facial rejuvenation for the purpose of emotional nurturance, here, it is not vain to work on your face either. In my experience, a person who is willing to work on their inside while coming to me for no-needle facial rejuvenation ends up healthy inside and out…and more beautiful, too!
If you don’t know about my signature no-needle traditional Chinese facial rejuvenation treatments then definitely do take a detour and go here to read more). Even if it’s just one treatment, the inner calm and peace you can experience will take you far. Affirming self-talk and authentic self-care are steps on the path that you don’t want to miss.
Bottom line though? If you want to feel better, then actually get to a point where you honestly do feel better, inside and out. Step one? Mindfulness and self-knowledge. Step two? Doing something from the starting point of strength, and doing that something step by step and with loving-kindness to your own sweet self. How? In whatever way is best for you, be it health coaching, the support of friends, by reading online, or potentially with some facial rejuvenation or other forms of healthy self-care. Everyone is different. There is so much available to you if you are willing and able to look for various alternatives. Trust yourself, and listen to yourself. Nourish yourself wisely. When your mind is strong, your body will follow and vice-versa. It’s not just about losing weight. It’s the whole picture. And the journey of a thousand steps, as the saying goes, begins with the first.
Are you ready to begin?
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.
Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your primary care doctor for health concerns.