Trying a Wholistic Approach to Weight Loss

9 06 2012

For years I’ve thought about using acupuncture or some other healing art to assist me in losing weight. Now after losing nearly 70 pounds, I finally feel more ready to begin exploring forces outside of my own control. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not a fan of going to a doctor’s office but I realize that this battle with weight often feels bigger than me and getting a bit of help might not be the worst thing to do at this point.

Because I’m a bit neurotic, the search for an acupuncturist becomes a complicated process. Sure there are tons of qualified people out there, but I wanted someone who had extensive experience. I wanted someone who is preferably Chinese. I wanted the Chinese medicines, herbs and teas. I wanted someone with a broken English accent. I know this is faulty thinking. Maybe I’ve watched the Karate Kid too many times but my criteria made the choice seem like a more authentic one for me.

Upon the recommendation of a colleague, I found and called a practitioner who was able to see me that same day. I had called several other practitioners before this but was not getting any warm fuzzies. The fact that this gentleman could see me the same day made it more difficult for me to be able to allow my nerves to get the best of me and back out.

For me, going to a “doctor’s office” is an anxiety producing event. When I walked toward the door of the office I read a posted sign with several rules. I was to take off my shoes and turn off my cell phone. The act of becoming untethered to my cell phone for any length of time is also quite anxiety producing. It’s the era that we live in. I always need to feel connected. The reality though is that smart phones leave us unconnected from each other a great deal of the time.

Before I knew it, I had been ushered into the space where I would receive the treatment. I spoke with the practitioner about some chronic but generally dull pain I had been experiencing for years in my left ankle as well as a new pain that had been developing over the last few months in my right shoulder. We also spoke about my weight loss journey so far and how he might be able to assist me in moving forward.

Before I knew it, it was time to disrobe and get on the table. This is also anxiety producing. At over 300lbs, this body is not ready for prime time yet.

The practitioner began working on my right foot as a way to ease my shoulder pain. I offered that the pain was likely the result of the way I sleep as I tend to sleep on my shoulder with my arm curled under my pillow and wedged up against the headboard. He remained quiet and I felt that maybe he was not accepting my hypothesis. I have since come to learn that in some Asian healing arts practices, shoulder pain is most often an indicator of a major stress build up.

With needles inserted and electrical stimulus pulse applied, the practitioner turned off the lights and left the room for a period of time. I was left alone with the sounds of the ocean mixed with a separate recording of American Indian flute. I wondered if my American Indian tattoos had inspired him to play this for me or if it was just by chance. Either way the sounds and the needles seemed to lull me off to an extremely relaxed state in no time which is really impressive given how anxious I had been feeling. I was not tired or sleepy but my mind did produce some interesting peaceful images. It reminded me of a very lucid dream. Every once in awhile I would come back to reality when my right hand unexplainably moved on it’s own, most likely the result of being a human pin cushion.

Before I knew it, the practitioner had returned and it was time to work on my ankle. I advised that my podiatrist had told me that because of the repeated sprains and strains to my ankle since the age of 18, a very large bone spur had developed and my entire ankle would need to be scoped so that the tendons could finally snap back into place and heal. I advised that I had also been told that my ankle had aged to about that of a 65 year old despite my only being 35 at the time. My practitioner laughed at this assertion and seemed to indicate with his facial expressions (although he said nothing) that surgery would probably not be necessary. Maybe that was wishful thinking on my part. I’m not completely sure.

The practitioner pushed on the exact spot on my ankle that often gives me pain. When strong pressure is applied it really hurts and I had all I could do to not sit upright and scream. Then he inserted one needle on the top of my foot near my toes and said “pain gone now” and pressed again. And it was! For the first time in 19 years my ankle was completely pain free. It felt absolutely normal. Tears began to well up. I couldn’t believe the instant difference.

The practitioner then began to add needles in a large circle around my stomach. I felt the tapping on the tops of the needles but never any actual pain (it’s very different than getting a needle at the doctor’s office). He also put needles in my arms and legs. One needle in my right leg definitely gave me an unpleasant sensation and sent a wave of something not nice down my leg for just a second and again briefly when it was finally removed later.

I also received very tiny needles in my right ear. some of these were painful but not for too long. They were covered with medical tape and I was told that I would keep them in until my next visit. These too would help with stress relief, pain relief, metabolism boosting and food craving control when massaged at least five times a day for 30 seconds each. Again the lights went out and my relaxed state returned.

At the conclusion of my visit I was told that acupuncture is not a panacea for weight loss. It will only assist in it. The hard work still belongs to me if I want to see results.

I was then given a “diet” plan for a three day caloric restriction type fast (essentially eating 1/3 of what I typically eat). This begins today. It will be difficult because I’m already eating considerably less than I had been before going plant based. After the three days, I would return to a diet not unlike what I have been doing already. No dairy, no grease, no excessive oils, low carbs and no processed foods. I also was given Chinese root tea and other herbal supplements to help with metabolism and fat absorption.

It was a very interesting experience and I’ll be going back twice this coming week. My only hope is that my insurance will get onboard and start picking up most of the tab as it is not at all cheap. I do fear that the treatments will become too cost prohibitive and I will need to stop before I’ve received enough of them to truly make an impact.

For now though I am feeling good. The shoulder and ankle were a bit sore a few hours after the session and the pain comes and goes still. Unless I become overly tired it generally remains duller and shorter in duration than it had. I expect that these issues will need more time to resolve. I’m skeptical about acupuncture’s ability to fix my ankle pain in a lasting way. This isn’t western mind. I’m definitely willing to give it a try though. I certainly cannot argue with the pain free moments in the office. That experience still amazes me.

The ear needles are neat. For some reason they make the whole right side of my face feel like it’s open (as if a piece of my skull is missing). It’s hard to find the words to explain it any other way. It’s a neat sensation. And yes my cravings have generally been in check although I’ve had my moments. We’ll see how it goes. One of the needles hurts when i massage it. The thought of having needles just stuck in my ear for days is not particularly comforting but its not stopping me from giving it a shot either.

This is an exciting new phase in my adventure. I’m interested to see where this road will lead. I definitely believe that western medicine can be beneficial but if we limit ourselves only to that, I think we miss an awful lot.

If you’ve used alternative methods to gain relief from pain and/or assist in weight loss and would like to share your experiences post a comment or email me:

You Can’t be a 376 Pound Buddhist!

11 02 2012

“What are you – 376 pounds?” she said sharply with a disgusted scowl and a piercing tone that cut through the silence so that everyone in the room took notice.

“Yes, about that.” I replied in a hushed voice, now looking down at the floor and refusing to make eye contact with anyone. In came the familiar rush of shame. She had hit the number exactly which was no great surprise really, as she’d been slowly sifting through my “obstacles” over the past nine months and showing them to me like the perfect reflection in a mirror. This one was handled a lot less delicately though. It was akin to bringing a chainsaw into surgery and I felt my heart just come spilling out onto the floor.

“I want you to go home and think when you eat! Pay attention!!! That is the only meditation you need to be doing! You can’t be a 376 pound buddhist!” she said angrily. Class dismissed. And with a huge lump in my throat, I made my way down the stairs to the small coat room, slipped on my shoes, grabbed my prayer book and headed for the door with car keys in hand.

As I drove out of the long drive way, I thought about what another teacher there had told me recently – “Long after The Dalai Lama visits, long after the crowds have left, long after we are gone, John will still be here studying the practice.” That is what I wanted. I wanted to be the perfect student and deep down inside I knew my teachers wanted the same for me. I thought about it, tried to rationalize the experience. Sometimes the asian way or the buddhist way seemed to be to shock the student into confronting the elephant in the room. And maybe it was a test to see if I could get over my pride and my ego and return more humble; return like an empty vessel ready to be filled with knowledge. That’s what I would do. I would show them that I would not be dissuaded. I’d come back the following week. I would show them that I’d make the necessary changes.

Except I didn’t. Instead I pulled into Burger King, bought a king sized value meal with a extra thick vanilla milk shake and a second burger and nurtured my pain with that old familiar poison. Sitting in the parked car, eating lunch through my tears. Angry that someone who could seemingly peer inside of me wasn’t more delicate with my vulnerability. I never returned to class. Instead I went home and did the exact opposite of mindful eating. This has always been a pattern for me. Get lectured about my weight, self destruct and let my weight skyrocket. And it did. That was late 2007.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in many different expressions of spirituality. I’ve amassed a huge collection of books, most of which I’ve read, some several times. But I’ve never really mastered much. I’m not a very good student. I find the study so very fascinating but putting it all into practice is often difficult for me.

Many times, I repeat mistakes until I’m backed so far into a corner that I have no choice but to make a change. That is was happened 4 years later. I was sick and it was time to get on the path to better health and wellness. There really was no other choice anymore. To not address it and do nothing was a road that I could not afford to stay on any longer. My pride and ego completely shattered, it was time to chart a new course.

This weekend I prepare to take my first vows with an independent catholic Franciscan community. I’m blessed to have brothers who are supportive and encourage me. I’m thankful for the way things have worked out. The journey to get to this place has not always been without it’s challenges. But those challenges make us who we are. They hopefully impart some wisdom on us and we come out the other side stronger for having worked through them. I pray that I will continue to be a better student in the many facets of my life. I pray that after years of abuse, brother body will continue to get healthier and will become well. The road is long but “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. I’ve taken a few finally. Better late than never.

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