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I Don’t “Have Obesity”, I Just Eat Too Much – So Why Use a Label?

Alternate Title: I don’t have a mental illness; I’m just having trouble coping with stress right now.

This blog post was actually inspired by a conversation about mental illness that I had with someone who is a psychotherapist. But I couldn’t think of a catchy title for that topic that didn’t sound offensive and I thought the same idea applied to weight control and why some people struggle more than others with it. And I thought the weight control topic would be easier to understand. So I’m going to try to talk a little about both and hope it makes sense in the end.

We were talking about the idea that some people seem predisposed to certain kinds of anxiety related conditions, including bipolar syndrome. And my colleague mentioned that in her view some people are just born with an inability to cope with too much stress. If they have too much going on, or work too hard without resting enough, they seem to tip over into over-anxiety and depending on the person that might look like being super stressed, incessant worrying, having panic attacks, insomnia or even manic episodes.

That made perfect sense to me, because in Chinese Medicine the ability to keep the mind calm is related to the amount of Yin energy in the body. We don’t have a word in English for Yin, but it relates the reserve capacity in the body to cool the body, moisten the body, and calm the mind. Sleep and good nutrition rebuilds the Yin, and overwork or stress deplete the Yin. When the Yin is depleted, the person has trouble sleeping and has anxiety. If they don’t sleep well, they don’t rebuild their Yin and the anxiety gets worse. If the Yin deficiency is severe enough the person the anxiety builds to a point where the person has manic episodes or becomes paranoid and hears voices in their head. And some people tend towards Yin deficiency as part of their constitutional makeup. So for them, it takes less stress to tip over into Yin weakness, so they are more prone to having anxiety symptoms when stressed.

Being manic and hearing voices is obviously a major problem for the person experiencing those symptoms – and for those people around that person. If we give this problem a label, like bipolar or schizophrenia for instance we are saying that the person HAS a disease and that makes it sound permanent. And since western medicine doesn’t have a cure for these conditions, only medications that suppress the symptoms without addressing the underlying imbalance, it does sound like a permanent situation.

If we look at anxiety as a function of Yin deficiency there are things that can be done to rebuild the Yin – and then the symptoms calm down.  Balancing Yin and Yang energy is the fundamental principle of acupuncture theory, and since Accunect is based on acupuncture theory it also balances Yin and Yang energy. In fact, my one sentence elevator speech about Accunect for taxi drivers, hotel reception staff, and other casual contacts who ask me what I do or why I am visiting their city is “It’s like acupuncture, except without the needles so I can teach anyone to do it.”

Okay, now I’m worried that this is still too abstract, so I’m going to switch to the obesity topic.

Those of you who have met me in person know that I tend towards Buddha like proportions in my outward appearance: an ample belly combined with a deep optimism that things generally work themselves out that comes from having Jupiter in the first house. Jupiter is that inner voice that says “enjoy yourself, if the Universe wants you to lose weight tomorrow, you can diet tomorrow.” Not to mention that Jupiter is large and round, so by nature I am large and round…

From a medical perspective, I have the obesity disease. To strengthen that diagnosis I have a fair amount of diabetes in the family history, and I have an insulin resistant metabolism. This sounds like a scary diagnosis. It also makes it sound permanent. I also think calling it a disease comes from the modern trend of political correctness – I’m not fat, I’m metabolically challenged. As with so many politically correct terms, this one disempowers the affected person by labeling their life challenge as permanent.

In reality, because of my family history I have a genetic tendency to put on weight more easily than most people. I am more sensitive to carbohydrates than the average person. And what typically goes along with that is a greater craving for carbs than most people. But it’s only a tendency. I sometimes say that I only have to look at bread to gain weight. But that’s nonsense of course. In reality, when I look at bread it’s harder for me not to eat the bread than other people and it’s also harder to eat only a little. So the truth is that if I look at bread I eat the bread and then I gain the weight.

I can’t blame my too tight jeans on having bad genes

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If I avoid carbs, and exercise when I feel stressed instead of eating bread or pasta or drinking alchohol (fermented carbs!) then I lose weight. I can lose it fast when I follow a lifestyle that recognizes my genetic tendencies. My real challenge is making healthier decisions that fit my lifestyle an actual habit, NOT my inheritance.

When I was in university, I was too poor to buy gasoline for daily driving so I rode my bike everywhere and only used the car to visit my girlfriend on the weekend. And I danced ballet five days a week and swam five days a week. And I couldn’t afford beer so I didn’t drink it. As a result, even though I had been heavy during high school, my austerity induced healthy habits helped me maintain a weight of about 168 pounds (or 12 stone or 76kg). I was strong and lean in spite of my genetics.

The point is, labels don’t point a way towards healing. We all have tendencies towards certain imbalances and stress causes those weaknesses to show up. Once the symptoms show up, it doesn’t mean we’ve caught a disease, it means we’ve gotten out of balance. Why stick a label on the imbalance and accept it as permanent in our minds? Why not try to restore balance?

All of this is not to say that sometimes people might need some support in the form of medication to address psychological symptoms. But if we become attached to the label, they may need the medication for the rest of their life. If we look at the symptoms as stemming from a temporary energy imbalance then energy balancing, like Accunect, can play a role in reducing or eliminating the need for the medication by helping to bring the person back to a state of balance similar to before they needed the medication. When I interview someone who is suffering from anxiety symptoms they invariably show other signs of Yin deficiency, including chronic insomnia. Of course, I always advise them not reduce their medication without their medical doctors consent, and I recommend that they wait to approach their physician to discuss medication changes until there are signs that their Yin is getting stronger.

Technically, the “Fat Buddha” statues aren’t of the Buddha. The Buddha practiced neither hedonism or ascetism and advocated moderation in all things. The “Fat Buddha” is really Budai, a fat, bald, laughing deity popular in China and Japan. The large belly represents luck, and rubbing his belly brings luck. Which explains why when I teach in Japan many students ask if they can rub my belly.