Case Studies: Healing Herbs for Healthy Digestion

Healthy Bodies are a Family Affair

| May/June 2003


At 15, Emily already had struggled with her weight for several years. She had been a “pleasingly plump” child, a condition encouraged by her family members, all of whom were also heavy. Hormonal changes and problems with other students in junior high school contributed to accelerated weight gain and by the time Emily was 14, she weighed 150 pounds, although she was small-boned and stood about 5’4”. Her increasing weight made her feel anxious, and a pattern of emotional swings alternating with food bingeing, especially on carbohydrates, became familiar and well-established.

Emily’s mother, Karen, brought her into my clinic, and the three of us sat down to discuss weight, diet and natural medicine. Emily’s father was a chiropractor, and the family embraced a wholesome diet and lifestyle. What she ate at school, however, was another matter.

Karen was a bit aggressive, and after 10 minutes, had Emily in tears. The girl’s mother could not understand why Emily ate so much “junk” at school. Observing the two interact said a great deal about how family relationships can help resolve tough personal issues, or how they can contribute to problems.

Research shows that much of early weight gain in children is genetic. However, learned behavior about food choices and portion sizes also has enormous influence. Once fat cells are activated in the child’s body, they become more ready receptors, and the “food to fat” syndrome becomes an easy and familiar pathway in the young adult. Add to these predisposing factors weak digestion (spleen qi deficiency in Traditional Chinese Medicine) and the propensity of many modern children to watch TV excessively, play computer games and engage in other passive non-activities, and it is easy to see why so many young people today are overweight. A new government health survey in 2002, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that in children ages 6 to 11, nearly four times as many (15 percent) are overweight than in the period of 1963 to 1974. That’s more than one child in seven, at this early age. Recent research shows that about 60 percent of adults are overweight — defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 25 — and nearly one in four is obese (with a BMI greater than 30).

Because childhood is such an important time in setting the stage for adult health, the chance to talk with mother and daughter together was a great opportunity. I told Karen that the best way (in fact, nearly the only way) to help her daughter was to be a good role model. A child doesn’t have much of a chance when all the other family members are sitting around watching TV and eating frequent sugary snacks. In Emily’s family, food choices were generally healthy, but the amount of food and activity was a problem for all the family members. Here is the plan I wrote out for Karen and Emily.

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