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Less Bloat, More Gloat: Using Chinese Medicine to Fight Winter Fat

Traditional Chinese medicine and herbology focuses on a cycle of five elements to which nature rotates. From this Eastern perspective, winter becomes the water season. That's one reason why water weight becomes such a drag during the frigid months.
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Last week in Barneys those skinny jeans perfectly contoured your curves and made your butt look incredible. Now, after you've removed the tags and struggle to snap that waist button for your heavily-anticipated office party, you mentally recall everything you ate and conclude that, other than a few bites of your friend's brownie cheesecake at dinner the other night, you've stuck perfectly to your diet.

You're most likely experiencing water weight. Those skinny jeans fit a little skinnier, your fingers and ankles feel swollen, your eyes look like the aftermath of a party girl who got a little too tipsy last night, you feel bloated and you just know everyone will be talking about your newly risen muffin top at the party.

This is not what sexy feels like.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Weight Loss

Traditional Chinese medicine and herbology focuses on a cycle of five elements to which nature rotates. Since you're part of nature, you also experience these changes. From this Eastern perspective, winter becomes the water season. That's one reason why water weight becomes such a drag during the frigid months.

Follow these three strategies to banish water weight and you'll never have to dread your cocktail parties as you sullenly stare in the mirror again at your too-tight little black dress with your bulging belly.

Balance Salty and Bitter

From those freshly-baked cranberry walnut scones your favorite coworker brought in this morning to that can of Campbell's you nuked for a quick dinner, you're probably eating more salt during the winter season. (Remember, sodium lurks in even non-salty tasting foods.)

In Chinese medicine, the winter element focuses on how your kidneys and bladder regulate salt and water metabolism. You should therefore carefully monitor these organs during your winter months.

Simply put, excess salt pushes your body to hoard water. That's one reason you felt bloated and puffy after eating your aunt's Paula Deen-inspired Thanksgiving dinner: Her honey-glazed turkey alone seriously spiked your sodium levels. As if not fitting into your favorite black camisole wasn't bad enough, you also increase your toxic load when your body holds on to excess water during the coldest months.

Bitter foods are your friends in balancing salt intake. Smart choices include watercress, endive, turnip, celery, asparagus, alfalfa, carrots, quinoa, rye, oats and amaranth. Balance your salt with bitters and you'll kiss bloating and all the other unpleasant symptoms of water weight goodbye. And you'll stay lean and sexy as the snow melts and you anticipate bikini season.

Excess salt also creates dry, cracked skin. You've probably noticed in winter you apply more moisturizing cream to your hands and reach more often for the Chapstick. The high water content in these vegetables and grains help you combat winter dryness.

When you do need to salt your steamed vegetables, skip the Morton's for sea salt, which retains its beneficial trace minerals.

Blood sugar and Adrenal Support

Those gingerbread shortbread cookies you ate too many of at your daughter's after-school Christmas party spiked and crashed your body sugar, leaving you fatigued, bloated, yet oddly craving that leftover cherry cheesecake sitting in your fridge.

In Chinese Medicine, the water element also involves your adrenal glands. When your blood sugar plunges, you burn out your adrenals, so you want to closely monitor your blood sugar during the winter months.

When you eat the right foods, this becomes easy. Always begin your day with a balanced breakfast that includes lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains or non-starchy vegetables. If breakfast isn't on your agenda because you've lost your keys and you're running late for rush hour, have a protein smoothie that includes a high-quality whey or pea/rice protein, fiber (berries, flaxseed and chia seeds make ideal fiber sources), and unsweetened coconut milk. You'll stay full and focused throughout your morning.

Likewise, continue lunch and dinner with optimal lean protein, healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables and starchy carbs like quinoa, lentils or a sweet potato to keep your blood sugar balanced all day.

And don't forget winter is water season. Drink eight to 10 glasses of purified water throughout your day, but minimize liquids during meals since too many liquids can dilute your stomach acid and inhibit protein digestion.

Manage Your Fears and Insecurities

Pressure to create the perfect family dinner, credit card bills, seasonal affective disorder, worries about the economy and failed resolutions during the New Year can all leave you feeling a little more strained. Unease and worry only exacerbate negative feelings. It's not all in your head. Fear and insecurity go hand in hand with winter's water elements.

Think of these emotions like a coffee percolator that comes to boil. You've clung to them all year, but fear and insecurities really come to surface during the winter months.

The right diet can help. An imbalance of too much salt and not enough bitter foods, for instance, contribute to excessive fear and insecurity. These emotions also increase stress, which raises your cortisol levels and stores fat.

Find your calm amidst the uneasiness. Meditations, ear acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies can calm you and create an ideal, holistic weight loss program. Create "me time" to unwind. And stay positive. After all, you have breezy spring days ahead as you keep off that winter water weight and look gorgeously lean in those perfectly-fitting skinny jeans.


Brownstein, David. Salt Your Way to Health. MI: Medical Alternative Press, 2006.

Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. PA: Churchill Livingstone, 1989.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition. CA: North Atlantic Books, 1993

For more by Grace Suh Coscia, L.Ac., Dipl.O.M., click here.

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