Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Chinese Medicine Advice for Eating Well

by Beth Nolte, L.Ac.

To anyone familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is probably no surprise that Chinese Medicine has detailed advice on how to eat well. It is characteristic of TCM to view the body as one inter-connected whole, with no part of the body, mind, emotions or spirit being separate. So when we talk about eating well, we're talking about way more than just the specific food we choose.

According to the TCM model of physiology, the power and processes we use to digest and assimilate food are the same power and processes we use for digesting and assimilating ideas, emotions and life experiences. If we misuse or over-use our power in one aspect of digestion and assimilation, it will ultimately come to affect them all. 

The strength of Chinese Medicine is in identifying and treating minor imbalances while they are still minor. We hope not to wait until imbalances become pathology before we intervene. Our goal is optimal functioning of body-mind-spirit on all levels, and we strive for this balance to encourage and preserve our health and vitality. Strong function of digestion and assimilation is considered to be the center, a core foundation, of optimal health, and a primary area to look at when we want to improve any aspect of our health.

So, with these goals in mind, what are the top three recommendations for eating well?

#1 – Don’t read and eat at the same time. We use the same reservoir of energy to digest and assimilate food as we do to digest and assimilate information. When we read and eat at the same time, there is less power available to each process. Digestion and assimilation of our food becomes less optimal. This also goes for eating while having intense conversations, while problem-solving or multi-tasking. The optimal way to preserve the power and balance that we have, and to build more through proper nutrition, is to keep our meal time separate from our work time.

#2 – Eat with joy and a positive attitude. In the Chinese model of physiology, to ensure proper digestion and assimilation, we need our Qi and blood to be free-flowing. The free-flowing of Qi and blood is another cornerstone of our health in TCM theory, and is strongly affected by our emotions and state of mind. Joy and positive thinking encourage open and free movement of our Qi and blood; stress, worry and anger create tightness, stagnation and hypofunction of the digestive system. When eating, it’s important to relax, let go of worries and stresses. Encourage a positive expectation that this food will nourish your body, whether it’s a healthy, balanced meal or a comfort-food indulgence. No matter what you’re eating, simply eat with joy.

#3 – Eat food that is easily digested, to preserve our “digestive fire”. Chinese Medicine has very clear instruction, based on thousands of years of evidence, of what food will encourage our body’s strong digestive function, and what will hamper it. Foods that are difficult to digest can, over time, weaken digestive function, ultimately weakening the rest of the body. According to TCM recommendations, the most easily digested foods are cooked and served warm or room-temperature. They are light in dairy and oil, and include a wide variety of whole foods, especially vegetables and grains. Food that is difficult to digest, and therefore can end up weakening our digestive fire are: cold food (chilled food, ice cream, iced drinks), raw food (raw veggies, salads), fried food, too much meat/not enough vegetables, excess drink with meals (especially water), and too much food in general. In the summer, these are the foods we may gravitate to, but we are well-advised to be moderate when we do indulge.

So, what is the take-home message?

Eating lightly (in food and attitude) is the foundation of a healing lifestyle!

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