Chinese Medicine Edition! ;)
Find the original 5 guidelines here :)
Skip my rant and get to the next 5 guidelines here ;)
It's been almost a full year since embarking on my journey into acupuncture and Chinese medicine! 🥳 It's gone by so fast!
At this point, we're just a day away from the cumulative year 1 exam which is required before my class can continue on to year 2. The pressure is on! :) Though I'm positive we'll each pass and continue on the journey together. Pretty sure I've already waxed poetically about this medicine and my classmates, but each month I'm just blown away by how full my heart feels after spending time with that beautiful group of humans. I guess that's what it's like to find and connect with your community. What a beautiful feeling ♡
Over the past year, and especially recently as we've focused on individual Organs in class, it's been interesting to compare the way Chinese medicine views nutrition and healthy eating to the ways we do in Western medicine. I mean, let's be honest... you're probably here because Western medicine alone has so many different takes on nutrition that how and what to eat is super confusing. Fear not, things are a lot simpler in Chinese medicine!
As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and long-time nutrition nerd, I'm fascinated by traditional advice and the ways our ancestors ate. Turns out much of what our great great grandmothers were doing and saying is absolutely still relevant today... possibly more than ever! AND there's a lot of cross-over between traditional advice and Chinese medicine advice. Phew!
Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! - Henry David Thoreau
When it comes down to it, I believe we've burdened ourselves with the processing and technological development of food. We're overthinking and overcomplicating it! Food, real food, is simple. Eat the real stuff, and you'll almost definitely be okay ;) But I get it, we live a complicated world, and most of the generations who knew real food aren't around anymore to pass down the knowledge and understanding. That's where people like myself come in. It's my goal to make nutrition and food simple and nourishing on all levels - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. De-process your life and re-wild yourself so we can all be teachers for future generations.
If you're excited about learning more, let me know! We can work together one-on-one for an individualized approach to your health, or you can join my next RESTART group for a fun (tho challenging!) intro to digestive health and general nutrition education.
Before we get to the tips (I promise we're almost there!), I first have to introduce one of the key Organs in Chinese medicine to digestion.
The Spleen - who is she?
In Chinese medicine, the Organs are slightly different than the organs as we know them in Western medicine. It's for this reason that certain words are capitalized when referring to the Chinese medicine point of view.
The Spleen's functions include:
governing transformation and transportation
controlling the ascending of Qi
controlling the muscles and the four limbs
opening to the mouth
manifesting in the lips
controlling the raising of Qi
housing the Yi (intellect)
is affected by pensiveness and worry
There's a lot going on in this list that probably doesn't make a ton of sense, but let's focus on just a few elements.
I mentioned earlier that the Spleen is a key player in digestion. A few of its functions help us to understand this, namely its role in governing transformation and transportation, opening to the mouth, and controlling saliva.
What the Spleen does in Chinese medicine is transform food and drink into the substances needed to create Qi and Blood. *Qi is basically the energy which allows the body to physiologically function.* This role of transformation is what we in Western medicine call digestion! The stronger an individual's Spleen is, the better able that person is to extract all the nourishment and nutrition possible from food and drink.
Furthermore, in Chinese medicine, the Organs have mental/spiritual functions and aspects in addition to the physical. The Spleen is affected by worry and pensiveness. Overthinking, taking in too much information, and worrying all burden the Spleen's ability to function. You've probably heard the phrases "food for thought," "hard to digest," or "I'll need to chew this over" -- these are all references to mental digestion!
The Spleen is responsible for not only the digestion of food but the digestion of information as well!
Maybe you've noticed that when you're feeling stressed your digestion isn't quite as smooth or predictable as usual. That's the Spleen struggling to transform and transport!
The other somewhat obvious functions of the Spleen are opening to the mouth and control of saliva. Obviously the mouth is where we intake food and drink (as well as communicate which is helpful to mental digestion!), and saliva is incredibly important to the breakdown of food.
I could go on and on about the importance of this Organ and all that she does, but I'll save that for another time. Without further ado... I present... 5 more tips for healthy eating! :)
1. Eat at regular times
Pick regular mealtimes and stick to them. **At least for most of the week... don't worry about your days off or events where you may not have as much control! Your body is resilient!
Avoid snacking between meals.
Don't skip meals.
The Spleen (and its Yin-Yang partnered Organ the Stomach) thrive on regularity and predictability. This is due mostly to the rhythmic flow of Qi through the body over the course of the day, but also supports the body in its ability to maintain function of all the thousands of physiological processes happening at any given moment. There are some incredibly important processes that only begin if we haven't eaten for a few hours!
An example of this is the migrating motor complex (MMC) which occurs in the small intestine. This process is a bit like housekeeping or a naturally occurring gut cleanse! It moves contents down the tract of the small intestine, helping to maintain overall gut health and prevent issues like bacterial overgrowth (SIBO and Candida) and leaky gut. Eating sporadically or habitually snacking burdens the system and actually inhibits the MMC from activating!
2. Avoid raw and cold foods
Cooked veggies are significantly easier to digest than raw ones.
Cold foods (including iced drinks) put out your digestive fire!
In Chinese medicine, warmth is necessary for most of the body's processes. Cold and raw foods (raw foods are energetically cold) burdens the system because they require energy to warm them up before they can be digested! The Stomach is also vulnerable to invasion by Cold which essentially puts a halt to digestion anyway AND leads to sudden painful cramps. Yikes!
3. Have your largest meal early
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
Avoid eating late at night or too close to bedtime.
As mentioned in Tip #1, Qi flows throughout the body in a specific rhythm. Our ability to digest is strongest during the hours that Qi flows through the Stomach and Spleen ~ from 5-9am. Other than that, because digestion is an active, Yang process, we have digestive prowess through the Yang hours of the day - basically while the sun is up. When we eat late in the day, especially after the sun begins to set, we burden our ability to digest because those Organs aren't being supplied with Qi AND because we're entering the restful, Yin time of day. When we eat during the Yin hours, we deplete the Yin in our bodies which leads to all sorts of dryness and discomfort.
4. Take your time
Chew eat bite!
Set aside distractions ~ especially screens!
I've written about this before, but you absolutely must chew your food! So much of what we do is on the go, rushing from one thing to the next, worrying about what has to be done, etc... mealtimes seem like an obvious opportunity to try to catch up. Unfortunately when we do that, we don't kick into the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as REST AND DIGEST mode) and stay in the sympathetic nervous system (aka FIGHT OR FLIGHT)... in terms of Chinese medicine, the Spleen's ability to transform and transport is depleted by the weight of worry and overthinking.
Instead at mealtime, set aside the distractions and focus on what you're eating. Turn off the TV, YouTube, and/or podcast. Stop thinking about your to-do list. Have a conversation with your meal!
This means using all of your senses when you eat. What colors do you see? What textures do you feel as you chew? How does it smell? Can you list off different flavors you taste and smell? Did it make a sound while it was cooking? Does it make a sound while you chew?
By taking your time, you allow your body to relax into that rest and digest state of being and strengthen your Spleen's ability to process all those nutrients to make Qi. Your digestion will be stronger, and you'll recognize when you're beginning to feel full and when to stop.
In a similar vein, taking time for meals means avoiding undereating too. Working through lunch is stressful on all levels - mind, body, spirit - and has a number of negative long-term effects.
5. Enjoy yourself!
Avoid labeling foods as good or bad.
Enjoy and welcome whatever you choose to eat.
Western nutrition/wellness culture is all about labeling foods, activities, or what have you as good or bad. "Do this, not that!" It makes sense as a busy culture -- we want shortcuts to make decision-making easier! However it can make eating stressful and result in guilt when we decide to "indulge" in something we consider to be bad or evil.
Remember how the Spleen is sensitive to overthinking and worry? When we demonize foods, we're basically telling the Spleen that it shouldn't digest them because they're void of nutrition. This results in poor digestion and unnecessary stress. Instead, welcome whatever it is you're choosing to eat. Understand that there aren't inherently evil foods (except maybe hydrogenated oils... haha) and that the body is resilient. Some foods may not be particularly nourishing physically, but are completely so spiritually. A personal example of this is cookies. I love them. 😂 When I eat cookies, I'm not feeing my body, I'm feeding my spirit. :)
Just like the RESTART rule - Whatever I eat, I choose it consciously, I enjoy it thoroughly, and then I let it go...
What do you think?
Do you live by any of these guidelines? Do you notice any crossover between these and other traditional ways of eating? I think Chinese medicine is truly amazing, and I find it fascinating the way they've kind of personified the Organs to explain their functions.
Join my next RESTART class or organize a group of your own to learn more about digestion and nutrition basics! It's simple, fun, and challenging in the best way.