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The Complexity of Obesity

by Mary Pat Palmer

"Fat is beautiful, along with every other shape, size or form. The oldest depiction of divinity on earth is the Goddess of Willendorf, a large-breasted, large-bellied clay Mother figure 30,000 years old," observes Diane Stein, author of "Natural Remedy".

Certainly this is good to recall when fat has become an obsession, such as with anorexia, bulimia, constant dieting and bingeing, when the issue of weight is clearly out of perspective. While fat is a feminist issue, it is also a health issue. Obesity can endanger the internal organs through clogging, making exercise difficult and slowing down the entire system. All of the internal organs can be endangered, particularly the heart.

Obesity arises from many general places. Obesity can be hereditary, although there is some question about the behavioral component and the genetic, or it can result from a glandular dis-order. Eating the "wrong foods" can contribute to obesity. Over-eating is another factor, again somewhat complicated because conditions can become habitual in the system, such as the slowing of the metabolism. People do have different metabolic rates, and these play a very strong role in their body type.

Other Causes

Over-eating can be programmed in early childhood. Many of the psychological components are familiar, such as the caretakers giving sweets rather than physical and/or verbal affection—rewards, displays of affection and attention coming in the form of sugar.

A very high percentage of incest survivors have eating disorders. One client feels that her body size has protected her from advances from men who are "interested only in the outside, not the inside, of a woman."

Certainly weight gain can be viewed as a logical reaction to the insane advertising of our media. Unfortunately, as with many defenses, it can be turned inward with harmful effects. Ironically, eating dis-orders are at times a defense that arise from a control issue. Over-eating can become an obsessive-compulsive problem. Many children who endure over-controlling caretakers are fighting back with an eating dis-order. Eating, urinating and defecating are within their control, and dis-orders in these realms almost always indicate over controlling parental figures. Overeating compulsively is a paradox. It is behavior that is out of control but arose from a need to have control. Therapeutic input can be helpful.

Nutrition Factor

Nutrition is also important. On a Standard American Diet (SAD) of white flour, sugar, etc. one may be filling oneself again and again searching for nutrients. Obesity factors include high fat diets, animal protein foods containing cholesterol and saturated fats, sugar, natural hormones present in milk products (particularly epidermal growth factor), natural and synthetic sex hormones added to animal feed or implanted directly into them, and a lack of exercise.

If grain is not well chewed, it can contribute to flatulence and overweight. Saliva released while chewing contains the enzyme ptyalin which initiates the breakdown of starches. Overloading your body with food damages organs of elimination, from the bloodstream to the kidneys. Hard to breakdown fats, meat, dairy and "empty calories" - sugar, white flour and such - tax your body. Add to this pesticides, herbicides, synthetic hormones and other banes of civilization and your body is working overtime and clogged. Clogging can inhibit elimination. Constipation can cause toxins to back up into the system. Flax seed and senna (with ginger added to prevent gripping) help with constipation.

The Benefits of Herbs

Herbs can play many safe and effective roles with obesity. Louise Tenney writes in "Today's Herbal Health", that "herbs help the body adjust as well as supply vitamins and minerals. This combination acts as a general body cleanser, regulates metabolism, dissolves fat in the body, helps eliminate craving for food, stimulates glandular secretions, reduces water retention, boosts energy and helps in constipation". An admirably inclusive statement.

The alternatives are very important for long term use. Everyone can form a daily tea based on important alternatives such as red clover and alfalfa with other herbs added for personal taste and preference.

Chickweed is the herb most often thought of for metabolizing and burning fat. It also serves as an appetite depressant. It is wonderful in salads. Tinctures are preferable to the dried leaf. Diane Stein names chickweed along with cleavers and poke root as herbs that "stimulate weight loss by helping to burn fat." Susun Weed waxes eloquently about chickweed with a full chapter in her book, "Healing Wise." Regulators such as kelp are extremely important because they are so good for the glands. I would think that lemon balm (Melissa) would also be important for the glands due to its function in the lymph system. Diuretics can be important when the weight appears as edema or water gain. Dandelion, nettle, and fennel are good additions to a daily tea.

I was interested to see gotu kola as the first herb on Chrystal Star's Appe-tight capsules. It is often cited as an appetite depressant, which is in addition to its use as a brain tonic. Diane Stein has a long list of herbs in "Natural Remedy" that includes yerba mate (which has caffeine), hawthorn, and alfalfa. She also recommends stevia as a sweetener. I use stevia quite a lot, particularly in baking, and it has the additional advantage of being a blood sugar regulator.

Mary Carse in "Herbs of the Earth" points out that obesity can also become a problem at menopause because of glandular changes. She recommends seaweed (sea vegetables), yarrow, prickly ash and a short fast once a month.

Holistic Approach

As with most disorders, and ev en more than with some, obesity must be viewed holistically. Many factors can enter into this disorder, including psychological issues, heredity, behavioral training, nutrition, and blockages.

One cannot simply say, "Here, take this and call me next week". It is a health problem. A big woman is not necessarily an obese woman. There are big women who radiate health and thin women who don't. A recent TV show stated that 2 out of 5 Americans are obese.

We might disagree since we live in a culture where women are portrayed in advertising as pre-pubescent boys (perhaps with breasts). We can work to change this imagery. We can use herbs that help. We can remember our allies in kelp, gotu kola, chickweed, yarrow, cleavers, poke root, prickly ash, dandelion, nettle, fennel, yerba mate, hawthorn, stevia, flax seed, senna, and, with caution, ephedra.

Recommended book:

5-HTP: The Natural Way to Overcome Depressions, Obesity, and Insomnia
Michael Murray, ND

Info/order this book

About The Author

Mary Pat Palmer is an herbalist and holistic psychotherapist in Boston who first learned of herbs as a child from her mother and her Grandpa Ray, a Cherokee. She has studied and used herbs actively for over 25 years and also leads weed walks and workshops on herbs in Boston. She can be reached at: The Urban Herbalist, Jamaica Plain, MA.  [email protected]    http://home.earthlink.net/~mpatpalm  She also is a founder and teacher at the Boston School of Herbal Energetics, www.herbalenergetics.com 

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