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The Cause of Obesity: 5 Body Constitutions That Trigger Weight Gain

The cause of obesity correlates to a person's body constitution. In the same way, body types can also present with other negative symptoms.  

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What is Obesity?

Most people relate to obesity as a physical condition that results in excessive body weight, a sagging body, and a round, chubby face. Usually, the leading cause of obesity can be a sedentary lifestyle or unhealthy eating. However, the use of certain medications can also leave a person prone to uncontrolled weight gain.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that five distinct body constitutions directly influence a person’s risk of obesity.

Here are the symptoms associated with these body constitutions, as well as foods, herbs, and ingredients that a person can consume to lose unnecessary weight.

1. Dampness and Stagnation

In TCM, the spleen works in tandem with the stomach to digest food and absorb nutrients effectively. The spleen’s primary functions are sending nutrients from the stomach to the other organs and expelling excess body fluid. Thus, improper functioning of the spleen will cause dampness and stagnation, leading to obesity.

Some tell-tale signs that a person may be experiencing dampness and stagnation include fatigue, swelling, poor appetite, stomach bloating, a weak pulse, pale tongue with greasy coating, reduced strength and urine volume, and difficulty breathing after minimal exertion.

For this reason, a person with dampness and stagnation should consume fungi, Chinese yam (shan yao), gorgon fruit (qian shi), coix barley (yi yi ren), or rice bean (chi xiao dou) or Hyacinth beans (bai bian dou). Typically, the consumption of these ingredients helps resolve dampness, but a few of these herbs can be beneficial for treating the symptoms above.

Hyacinth beans nourish and improve spleen functions. Additionally, coix barley and rice bean can aid in detoxifying the body and easing water retention whilst nourishing the spleen and stomach. Chinese yam can improve digestion. Gorgon fruit governs the kidney and spleen meridians and relieves diarrhoea. 

2. Dampness and Heat in the Stomach and Spleen

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A low-impact exercise is a workout alternative anyone can do anywhere.

TCM describes obesity as internal ”heat” or ”dampness-heat”. The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing) refers to the word “dampness-heat” as a combination of “wet evil” (Shi Xie) and “hot evil” (Re Xie). ”Dampness-heat” syndrome also exhibits the pathological features of obesity like internal water retention and accumulation of dampness and heat.

Several symptoms relate directly to dampness-heat in the spleen and stomach. These include nausea, bad breath, heavy limbs, constipation or diarrhoea, and a constant, unquenchable thirst. You may also notice a taut and rapid pulse, or a reddish tongue with a thin, yellow-coloured coating. It’s commendable to consume foods that have a cooling effect on the body.

You can prepare asparagus, celery, cucumber, lettuce, bean curd, bitter gourd, water chestnuts, winter melon and dried lily bulbs in numerous ways before consumption. Likewise, using a health beverage that combines various fruit and vegetable extracts can prevent an accumulation of toxins. It can also promote nutrient absorption and positive digestion.

3. Yin Deficiency with Endogenous Heat  

Endogenous heat and a yin (passive energy) deficiency are two separate pathological conditions. Hence, it’s worth noting that the former comes from the latter. A few symptoms of this body constitution include constipation, fatigue, night sweats, and rapid digestion. Furthermore, individuals may experience a reddish tongue, constant thirst, yellowish-red coloured urine, and a weak and rapid pulse.

Foods like kelp, pumpkin, seaweed, spinach, bitter gourd, white fungus, Solomon’s seal rhizome (yu zhu) and Chinese yam are beneficial in tonifying stomach yin, generating fluids, stopping thirst, and cooling the body.

4. Liver Qi Stagnation  

Likewise, TCM theory also states that stasis of liver qi (vital life energy) is another cause of obesity. Therefore, the therapeutic principle in managing obesity is to remove blood stasis by relieving the qi stagnation.

Unmanaged liver qi stagnation may cause a person with obesity to present with conditions like constipation, depression, insomnia, a weak pulse, and irregular menstrual cycles. Other symptoms include a bloated feeling in the upper abdomen and fullness in the chest and below the ribcage. Additionally, the tongue may be reddish or pale with a white, greasy coating.

It’s advisable for obese people with liver qi stagnation to consume foods or ingredients like carrot, lime, rose, and hawthorn berries. Carrots are good for tonifying qi, whereas lime, rose, and hawthorn berries help circulate qi.

Also, the consumption of lotus roots can help promote bowel movement and remove blood stagnation. On the other hand, Lily bulbs (bai he) can help alleviate qi stagnation symptoms like insomnia and irritability.

5. Yang Deficiency in the Spleen and Stomach

Obese woman looking stressed as she sits at her work desk.
Overwork, which can result in stomach yang (active energy) deficiency, is an indirect cause of obesity.

Spleen deficiency syndrome is a multi-system, multi-organ functional impairment. Furthermore, spleen qi deficiency, yin deficiency, and yang deficiency may also manifest as digestive tract disturbances.

Stomach yang deficiency is due to overwork, emotional disturbances, an irregular eating pattern, or internal injuries from overconsuming cold or chilled foods. As a result, this may cause a deficiency in the stomach.

Common symptoms of spleen and stomach yang deficiencies include diarrhoea, fatigue, obesity, bloated stomach and facial swelling. These symptoms aside, you ma may also experience lack of strength, thin or weak pulse, coldness in stomach and limbs, soreness and weakness in the waist and knees, and a pale tongue with a white, greasy coating.

To do away with these deficiencies, you can consume foods or herbal ingredients like mutton, leeks and walnuts. Chinese yam, desert broomrape, pearl barley, and pine seeds are good choices too. These foods and ingredients work well in tonifying yang while also expelling cold and regulating blood circulation.

A person’s cause of obesity relates directly to their specific body constitution. Hence, a better understanding of how to directly treat the problems linked to each body type is can help prevent excessive weight gain.

This is an adaptation of an article, “5 Types of Body Constitution Prone to Obesity”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website. 


  1. Dovepress. 2020. The Mechanism of Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Treatment of Obesity.  [Accessed 23 November 2021] 
  2. chinese nutrition.org. Shan Yao. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  3. chinese nutrition.org. Qian Shi. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  4. chinese nutrition.org. Yi Yi Ren. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  5. chinese nutrition.org. Chi Xiao Dou. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  6. chinese nutrition.org. Bai Bian Dou. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  7. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2021.Mechanism and Basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine Against Obesity: Prevention and Treatment Strategies.  [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  8. chinese nutrition.org. Carrot. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  9. chinese nutrition.org. Bai He. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  10. chinese nutrition.org. Lime. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  11. Shanghai Daily.com. 2014. TCM Treasures Lotus Root. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  12. chinese nutrition.org. Rose. [Accessed 18 November 2021]   
  13. chinese nutrition.org. Hawthorn. [Accessed 18 November 2021]   
  14. Giovanni Maciocia. Yin Deficiency and Empty Heat in Chinese Medicine. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  
  15. Molecular Medicine Reports. 2016. Traditional Chinese medicine: Pivotal role of the spleen in the metabolism of aristolochic acid I in rats is dependent on oatp2a1. [Accessed 23 November 2021] 
  16. Attilio D’ Alberto. Disorders of the Spleen and Stomach. [Accessed 18 November 2021]  

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