The science behind it isn’t quite clear yet. There’s a theory that putting these needles on the outer part of your ear stimulates various trigger points that may play a role in your appetite and metabolism, explains Sharon Zarabi, R.D., who works as the bariatric program director at Lenox Hill Hospital, where she counsels patients on nutrition and weight loss.However, the association between acupuncture and weight loss isn’t that cut and dry, says Tim Rhudy, M.S., L.Ac., an acupuncturist at Delmar Wellness Center in New York.
The reason? When you’re feeling stressed, your autonomic nervous system gives you a burst of adrenaline and floods your body with the hormone cortisol. This increases your appetite, potentially causing you to overeat. With acupuncture, the needles—which are very small and flexible and not at all like the ones you see in your doctor’s office—work to release the tension in your muscles by releasing feel-good endorphins, which helps put you in a calmer state. Relieving this underlying stress, in theory, would help calm your appetite.
“Acupuncture is like a reset button for the autonomic nervous system,” says Rhudy.
However, he is quick to point out that this stress-reducing effect doesn’t translate directly to weight loss. “If you don’t want to diet or exercise, all the acupuncture in the world won’t make you lose weight,” Rhudy says.
While you’ll feel relaxed on the acupuncture table, and maybe even not as hungry, snacking on a donut later in your day still means you’re taking in empty calories. Zarabi backs this up. “Acupuncture doesn’t cause weight loss directly,” she says.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t give acupuncture a try if you’re curious about it. If performed by a professional using sterile needs, you probably won’t experience any side effects, she says. However, you should let your acupuncturist know if you wear a pacemaker, as the needles may interfere with its operation, or if you’re on any medications like blood thinners, since your chances of bleeding or bruising may increase, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A typical session lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, and an average of 30 needles are placed wherever your tightest muscles are, says Rhudy. While you won’t be two pounds lighter when you leave, you’ll likely feel as though the weight of the world was just lifted off your shoulders.
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