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The Big Question: Are Dietary Changes Really Necessary to Achieve Results from Acupuncture?

It’s the beginning of the year and just about the time when the motivation to keep New Year’s resolutions is wearing off fast.

While I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions (mostly because I’ve never really been successful at keeping them, and as an acupuncturist prefer instead to just keep myself on track and balanced in smaller increments all throughout the year), there is no denying that many people feel that the beginning of the year is an opportunity for a fresh start,  a chance for a “do-over”.

I don’t know the stats around it, but I’m sure some people do go on to have success and make big changes that stick, and which dramatically improve their lives.

So I thought it was an appropriate time to post a little message that might be food-for-thought for those of you who may be working around dietary changes or improvements, and pondering how those fit into your self-care plan for the year.

What would you do in this scenario?

Imagine that you were to go to the doctor due to strange symptoms that no one has been able to explain. Perhaps these symptoms have even become debilitating, and you’re scared, confused, and feeling hopeless that your condition will improve.

Now imagine that that doctor were to tell you, “these symptoms are all due to a drug you’re taking. If you stop this medication, I can practically guarantee you that these symptoms will not only not progress, but they will cease”. This doctor also explains that this medication isn’t even necessary and it’ll be totally safe for you to stop. 

Imagine the relief! Of course, any sane person would immediately stop taking that drug, right? Easy peasy.

Now imagine the exact same scenario, only the “drug” that the doctor has told you is causing all your symptoms, is a food, or maybe a few different ones.  If you were told that all your symptoms would almost certainly get better should you stop putting a certain food in your body, does it make equal sense to just stop eating it?

Think of all the money saved over time on drugs to mask the effects of the food.  The savings in tests, scans, procedures. The decreased insurance premiums over time, due to your better health. The time saved on doctor’s visits. The avoidance of dangerous side effects from drugs.  It’s just so obvious, isn’t it? The choice is a no-brainer.

Or is it? 

Time and again, in fact I’d probably wager daily, I go through this same scenario with my patients. I might tell them that their system is clearly impeded, clogged with “damp”/mucousy, or as I like to call it “sludgy” congestion in their body.  

I make the connections for them and explain how this is, like a domino effect, going through and causing whatever issue for which they came to see me, and that, for example, dairy is one of the biggest causes of this.  

Or, I might explain how gluten is a likely trigger; we maybe even test for it and the test shows that sure enough, their body isn’t digesting the gluten and it’s hugely contributing to their symptoms. 

They hear me, they acknowledge that they understand, that it makes sense, yet…”But I LOVE cheese!”, or “I LOVE bread!”

Hey, I love cheese and bread too!  Talk about the yummiest of yummy! But these are examples of common foods which trigger imbalance and the symptoms I treat every day.

So back to the question in the title of this email. Are dietary changes really necessary for acupuncture to have healing affects?

Well, the answer is both yes and no. Certainly, every day I see patients experience dramatic improvements in their health from Chinese medicine alone, without any lifestyle changes.  Perhaps after a handful of weeks, they’re now 70% better than before they came in. 

That’s common, and in one regard, a huge success! Especially if no other medical treatment  has improved anything at all. If people are happy with that, that’s great!

We could end this post right now and just say that yes, Chinese medicine can help even if people don’t make dietary changes

Certainly, I don’t want to push people out of my practice and from receiving care that can bring huge improvements in their symptoms, simply because they’re not ready or willing to make changes that could have drastic implications for their health.

However, there is the other side of this.

In some cases, the dietary changes are so important for a person’s healing, that without them, it’s like each treatment is taking two steps forward, and then they go out into life and put the very things in their body that are causing their symptoms, and they go one or two steps back.

We’re constantly chasing symptoms, rather than causing true healing.

People get excited at first because they have “miraculous” changes in their symptoms after their treatments, but then inevitably they come right back. Maybe not as severe, maybe in fact much less severe and less frequent. Yet, they’re looking for continued progress, and we only get so far.

“Why am I having this setback? I was doing so well!”

In many cases, we can actually directly correlate setbacks with certain foods that were eaten.

But again, often patients acknowledge it, they believe in the direct correlation and yet…and yet…it’s just so hard to stop eating whatever food or drink that’s in discussion!

In some cases I will even be honest at the first visit, and tell people that unless ________ foods are eliminated, it is unlikely that we’ll get the results that they’re wanting, and they may as well save their money. 

I hate to be such a meanie, but I’m just laying out the facts as I experience them to be true. I’d rather give people honest answers that they don’t want to hear, rather than false hopes based on fallacies.

My job is to empower, not to mislead.

But I get it, really I do…completely overhauling the way you eat is a big challenge! In fact, I wrote an entire blog about how difficult keeping up with healthy eating can be.

A final question to ponder

My question I’ll leave you with today is: if I’ve been (albeit lovingly) pestering you about the likelihood of direct correlations between foods and your symptoms, and suggesting that we could take things to a new level if some changes were to be made, then what motivations would you have to make those changes?

Is money a motivating factor?  Even though acupuncture certainly costs money also, in the end it’s a fraction of the cost of the longterm financial burden associated with ongoing health issues and most western medical techniques.  

So could the cost of surgeries, MRIs, scans, procedures, etc. be enough of a motivation? 

Or if money really isn’t a concern for you, maybe because insurance will cover all of that anyway, what else might it be? 

  • Having better wellness and energy to be there for your kids?
  • Increased productivity at work?
  • Having the energy to work out and finally get those 20 pounds off?  This is an individual question that each one of us can only answer for ourselves.

I really encourage you to sit down and make a list, journal about the pros and cons of making or not making changes, and weigh it out for yourself.

Think about maybe just being willing to even experiment for a couple months with changes, seeing how you feel, and deciding then whether it’s making a difference.

Don’t mind my pestering… ;-)

To end, I’ll say that, if you’ve been wanting to come for acupuncture or to continue acupuncture, but you just haven’t been able, for whatever reasons, to make dietary changes, don’t let that stop you from getting treatments that could dramatically help you feel better.

I may continue to gently and lovingly pester you to the extent that I think you can handle it, but after all, that’s my job, right? :-) 

If, on the other hand, you know in your heart of hearts that it’s time to make some changes, then I would just encourage you, especially with the fresh energy from the new year, to give some time to that question: what motivations would you have to make dietary changes that could be the turning point in your health condition?

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