How do we put on weight? -Chinese medicine perspective

It is commonly known that weight gain occurs when there’s an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure. But how do we see weight gain in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)? 

There are four main reasons to gain weight from the TCM perspective (Li, 2014) :

Firstly, heat in the stomach combined with poor digestion due to improper dietary habits and lack of exercise (Li, 2014). 

  • “Overheated stomach” makes one feel hungry easily, thus increasing food intake. 
  • Then the weak digestion system can neither digest the excessive food nor turn the excess into absorbable, functional nutrients. This creates extra energy, which turns into fat.
  • This fat will then be stored in the middle part of the body (abdominal area). People who have this type of weight gain usually love their food. 

Secondly, Qi, the vital energy, stagnates due to emotional disturbance, which impedes digestion, and slows down the bowel motion, causing fat accumulation (Li, 2014; Maciocia, 2005). 

  • Depressive mood, or inactivity slows down Qi movement, causing  ‘traffic jams’ in the body. 
  • In this situation, the fat tends to be stored in the thigh and buttock areas.

Thirdly deficiency of Yang, i.e., deficiency of the fire, in the body causes weight gain (Li, 2014; Maciocia, 2005):

  • Yang is the fire of the body, it helps digestion and burns extra fat.
  • When Yang is weak, one turns to feel cold and the body burns less energy. 
  • Overtime, fat will be stored in the body (can be any part of the body). People in this category usually feel cold easily. 

Finally poor digestion, long-time sitting and improper dietary habits, can form dampness or make the body “soggy”, and eventually turn into fat (Li, 2014; Maciocia, 2005).

  • The fat mass then blocks the meridians of the upper back and the central part of the body.
  • Such fat is easily stored in the subcutaneous layers of the skin (Li, 2014; Maciocia, 2005), around the base of the neck and middle of the body.
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So the take home messages are:

  • Carefully watch what we eat We are what we eat, avoid greasy, spicy, raw or cold food that can lead to fat accumulation (due to poor digestion, heated stomach, yang deficiency). 
  • Maintain positive mental health, allow the vital energy to circulate smoothly in the body What is a balanced state?
  • Regular exercise is important.

In our next blog, we will talk about the Chinese medicine treatments and suggestions for weight loss. Stay tuned! 



Li, K. (2014). Efficacy and safety of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture in the management of obesity: Systematic reviews and a randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial (Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation), RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

Maciocia, G. (2005). The foundations of Chinese medicine: a comprehensive text for acupuncturists and herbalists (Vol. 1).

Figures are obtained from