As an acupuncturist, one of the most common questions I am asked at this time of year is “how can acupuncture help me stop…..”

The range of requests vary but the most common ones are around smoking and eating or to be more precise, how to stop eating junk food and lose weight.

Acupuncture alone will not literally MAKE you do or not do anything any more than swallowing hundreds of pounds worth of herbs or supplements will. It can however help to manage cravings and deter you from bad habits.

After I qualified as an acupuncturist in the UK, I went to China to study further at The Peoples Hospital in Jinan which is part of the Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was interesting to see how the doctors approached weight loss there as western culture has really swept through modern day China and you commonly see all of the large junk food chains you would see in the west.

As such, obesity is becoming a real and relatively new problem for them. People are sadly moving away from a classical healthy diet towards saturated fats and food containing high levels of sugar and salt. The doctors I shadowed approached weight loss with a mixture of eye watering Tui-na (Chinese massage literally meaning “push and grab”) strenuous acupuncture, herbs and firm advice on exercise.

There were certainly positive results in the treatments I witnessed using Traditional Chinese Medicine, (TCM for short) but ultimately, reducing the calorie intake and leading a more active lifestyle is still the best way to achieve faster longer lasting results.

Smoking is a little different as a LOT of people smoke in China. It seemed like a national pastime when I was there! This meant that I was able to observe many interesting cases and learn a lot of effective techniques which we didn’t study in the UK.

The most commonly used acupuncture treatment for the cessation of smoking is Auricular Acupuncture whereby the ears are treated. Commonly, small press needles or seeds are left in the outer ear for up to 5-days at a time for constant stimulation. Whenever there is the craving for a cigarette the patient gently rubs the points until the desire reduces. This is surprisingly effective and yet a huge amount of the ability to actually stop smoking comes down to one very simple point; willpower.

Cutting down on foods, drink, smoking or anything else requires will and self discipline. It is also a very sensible idea to discuss it with a GP as would be the case with any significant change of diet, exercise or life style before beginning.

My first question when I am asked how acupuncture can help to stop a habit is “do you really want to stop it or are you being encouraged by others?” If the answer is ”yes I want to stop” then I explain ways that acupuncture may help but if that isn’t the case then I suggest it’s best to come back when the motivating force behind the decision is their own.

Ultimately, over the last 15-years of my practice I have been rewarded by seeing how effective alternative treatments including Acupuncture, massage and TCM can be in helping people through lifestyle changes. I can also say that where those people have been fully committed to making a change, have walked away from unhealthy life styles and choices and in doing so have taken responsibility for their own health and well being, that the effects have been far more impressive and long lasting. A treatment or therapist alone can’t change your life or life style for you, but they can certainly offer you some help and support along the way.

If this New Year is a time of changes for you, I wish you the very best of success. Stay focused and on your path and believe in your ultimate destination because only you can make those changes.

Steve Mason is an Acupuncturist at Natural Balance Therapies in Hove.