Patients often ask for nutritional advice using TCM (Chinese medicine) theory that would complement their treatments. I am always glad when a patient embraces the idea of taking their treatment outside of the treatment room, and I do believe it gives it a larger sense of purpose and responsibility.
Often what I see in my practice is yin deficiency and I often suggest they take some honey in warm water every day to help nourish their yin. Goucizi (or goji berries) also make quite a good yin tonic. It should never be taken longterm though, day in day out, as its very yin-tinkering properties also make it very damp-inducing which is a whole other kettle of fish. I recommend taking it for two weeks (steeped in a glass or two, daily) then having a rest.
If you’re kidney deficient (back pain, knee pain, frequent urination, fatigued or just running on low energy) you can try kidney beans or black beans.
Sometimes though, patients nod when I give them recommendations, but seem more interested in a list of what they can’t or shouldn’t eat. This is when I sometimes go blank because it’s not such a straightforward answer.
TCM relies on a constant flow of change, an ebb and tide to maintain homeostasis. If you’ve overindulged in a portion of salty chips, you’ll naturally feel thirsty and drink some water.
The same goes with our bodies. If you have an excess condition we aim to reduce it, if it’s a deficiency syndrome we tonify your system. Once you’ve reached the balance again, continuing the exact same treatment means we’ll tip on the scale again and you may end up with a deficiency after too much reducing method for too long.
The same goes for foodstuff. Unless it’s an acute symptom like a cough (eat less phlegm inducing food like clementines or mandarins) it’s usually best to learn what you should be eating rather than what you should be avoiding.
Avoidance only makes that thing seem more desirable. How many have failed with a fad diet because they had to cut out something? Harvard nutritionist Lilian Cheung discusses what she calls mindful eating. By not making food an adversary that you need to avoid unless you want to feel guilty and fat, you promote awareness to the things you put in your body. It’s not a matter of dieting or about giving anything up – it’s about experiencing food more intensely.
This is something TCM has known all along. Taking time to eat properly is beneficial for your whole system. Eating on the go, or eating while thinking or worrying damages the organs’ functions in TCM. I suggest sitting down to eat at a table (not your work desk), but you could also easily stand against the kitchen counter. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal setting, but the idea is to make your food the main focus of the moment. Munching through a bag of popcorn is a lot harder when you’re not sitting on the sofa watching TV.
On a social level though it helps promote interaction with others or gives yourself some quiet time. You don’t have to practice monastic silence at meal times; turn off the TV and have a conversation. Try it and see the difference.
Image: Nina Matthews Photography via Flickr
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