This is the second blog post on the role of food and nutrition in health, healing and Chinese medicine. If you haven’t read it already, here are the main points, which are never bad to review.
Eat with a calm mind and take out time when eating. By doing more of the work with our teeth, we reduce the need for our digestive juices to do the heavy lifting. Digestion and absorption will be better and we will eat less, as it takes 20 minutes for the brain to send out it’s “I’m full” signals.
Eat like a queen in the morning, a princess at lunch and a pauper in the evening. Many of us have this backwards. We eat a small, carb-rich breakfast if we eat breakfast at all, a medium sized lunch with a big dinner, which impedes sleep. Much better to have our biggest meal first to help power us through our time of most activity. Even better if its high protein and fat to give us a nice stable blood sugar profile and even energy throughout the day.
Eat less. In Japan, there is a tradition of eating only until we’re 2/3 full. This gives our brain time to catch up and send out those satiation signals.
I would say that almost everyone – a solid 90%, at least – who come into my clinic have some degree of digestive dysfunction. This ranges from the relatively minor (minor bloating, reduced appetite in the morning) to the more serious (bloating all the time, consistent acid reflux, diarrhea or chronic constipation, lack of appetite).
Correcting this dysfunction is, regardless of what someone is coming in for, always central to their healing. Without the proper supply of essential nutrients through digestion and absorption, how can anyone heal? In Chinese medicine, 70% percent of our vitality is considered to come from our food. We need to get our food right.
Here’s the next piece of advice I give to almost all of my patients:
Avoid cold, raw or icy food or drink.
We eat and drink a lot of cold, raw and icy food and drink in our culture. Think about your digestion as a campfire. To keep it burning, we wouldn’t pile on damp or cold wood, as it will turn our fire into a smoky mess. The same goes with what we eat and drink. For example, cooking our food breaks down the cell walls in our fruits and veggies, making it easier to digest and absorb. One of cooking’s functions is to predigest our food. Often, when I bring this up with patients, they ask about whether cooking reduces a food’s nutritional value, which is what we’ve all been told. However, if we can’t absorb what we put in our mouths, it doesn’t matter what we put in our mouths.
Many people, myself included, find avoiding all cold, raw or icy food and drink too restrictive, so I tell them the following:
If your digestion is reasonably healthy, then just observe how you feel after eating cold, raw or icy food. Do you get bloated, or feel sleepy afterwards? Do you have to run to the bathroom soon after eating? If the answer is yes to any of this, then your digestion is not strong enough to handle these foods. Improve your digestion through good food choices, herbs and acupuncture, and you should be able to start eating them again.
Remember that not all cold and raw food is created equal. Eating a raw carrot and eating ice cream are very different things. The main thing, though, is still observing how you feel after you eat each.
Follow the seasons. Its always better to eat cold and raw food when the weather is hot. Watermelon is a great fruit to alleviate heat symptoms. Its not so good when its minus 40 outside. So in the summer, go for it – within reason. Again, observe. Your body will tell you what you need to eat (which is, unfortunately, not always what you want to eat).
Guiding patients through dietary changes is often highly impactful on people’s mental and physical health. It’s not always easy – we all eat emotionally at times, and what and how we eat are deeply ingrained patterns – but its always worthwhile, particularly if we’re suffering from a health condition or suboptimal health. And the good news is that it gets easier. The first 3 weeks of changing our diet can be difficult, but it gets easier. Most people don’t want to go back to their old ways once they start to really feel better, which is usually the case.
Diet is one of the three therapies that I use with almost all of my patients, along with acupuncture and herbs. Indeed, there is a saying in Chinese medicine that says “taking herbs without adjusting the diet is a waste of the doctor’s skill” and I agree completely. Digestion is key to living a happy, healthy life.
As always, please reach out should you have any questions or comments.