Herbal Help

Fight obesity with TCM

Melon Porridge is known to help combat excessive internal phlegm.
Melon Porridge is known to help combat excessive internal phlegm.PHOTO: COURTESY OF CLEMENT NG

Know what to eat to stop fat accumulation

Forget about gender equality when it comes to the way men and women accumulate fat and gain weight.

Women generally have a higher percentage of body fat than men.

According to studies, a healthy range of body fat for women is between 20 and 25 per cent, while that for men is between 10 and 15 per cent. A body fat percentage of over 30 per cent for women and 20 per cent for men points to obesity.


Besides carrying more fat cells in their bodies, women also store fat differently from men. Fat gets stored at the hips, buttocks and legs. When men gain weight, however, it usually goes to the upper body.

The 2010 National Health Survey revealed that 10.8 per cent of people in Singapore aged 18 to 69 are obese, putting them at risk of diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), women are also more prone to weight gain as their kidney jing (essence) declines naturally at an earlier age than men - from the age of 35, compared with 40 for men.

This makes women's bodies less efficient at removing fluids, leading to water retention and weight gain, said Dr Clement Ng, a volunteer TCM physician with the diabetes clinic at Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution.

TCM practitioners identify a person's underlying body condition that led to the excess weight before treatment. Once the body's balance is restored, it will be able to process food normally and distribute nutrients evenly throughout the body, Dr Ng said.

It is believed that fat accumulation is due to the presence of phlegm in the body, which the spleen is responsible for producing. Dr Ng has observed that in developed countries like Singapore, the three most common syndromes for obesity are:


Causes: Prolonged and overwhelming emotions, such as sadness that leads to depression, can disrupt the smooth flow of qi (vital energy) in the liver.

This, in turn, affects the digestive ability of the spleen and causes weight gain.

Symptoms: The person is likely to have excess abdominal fat, feel bloated and drained of energy, especially after he has been in an environment high in moisture, such as in a swimming pool.

The person may also have excess sputum, dizziness, dry mouth, lack of appetite, and discomfort in the chest and abdomen. His tongue may have a white, thick and greasy coating.

Food remedy: Boil 500ml of water with 10g of hawthorn berries and 5g of ginger for five minutes. Drink this tea while warm.


Causes: The spleen can be impaired by a sedentary lifestyle, over-consumption of sweet and oily food, as well as cold food and drinks that cause internal dampness.

Irregular eating habits and more severe eating disorders, such as bulimia, can also damage the spleen's digestive function.

When the metabolic waste products are transformed into dampness, this will, over time, congeal into phlegm and become fatty tissues.

Symptoms: Shortness of breath, chest or stomach distension, dizziness, and a tongue that has a white and damp coating that is etched with teeth marks.

Food remedy: Soak 20g of barley and 10g of melon skin for 20 minutes, then bring the water to a boil. Filter the barley and melon skin before serving. Consume this soup to promote urination.


Causes: Spleen and kidney deficiencies - influenced by one's genes and caused by stress, chronic illnesses and unhealthy lifestyles - manifest as excessive body fluids and accumulation of dampness and phlegm.

The spleen has a digestive role while the kidney is responsible for all physiological activities in the body, including the flow of water.

Symptoms: Fatigue and shortness of breath. The person may experience weakness in the lower back or knees, impotence or low libido.

Water retention can be seen in the form of swollen eyelids and a fat-looking tongue with a thick, white and damp coating.

Food remedy: Make porridge with 10g gordon euryale seeds, 20g lotus seeds, 50g fresh Chinese yam and 100g lean meat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Fight obesity with TCM'. Print Edition | Subscribe