Healthy eating is a key component of health maintenance. Often as part of a course of treatment, the discussion comes up regarding diet. It is often simple changes that begin to make the greatest change in your well being.
Chinese medicine diet therapy is not a diet. It is not a strict list of ‘eat this’ and ‘avoid this’. It does not focus on nutrients and calories, but on the effect of the energetic qualities of food on your body. These qualities primarily include its temperature and flavour.
Healthy eating according to Chinese medicine is about a set of principles that harmonise your intake with the rhythms of nature and your body. This allows your body to optimally extract what it needs from food, resulting in better energy and often the shedding of a few extra kilos.
7 tips for healthy eating with Chinese medicine
- Eat simply. Keep your meals uncomplicated with simple clean flavours as opposed to rich complex dishes. This reduces the workload on your Spleen to benefit digestion. Organic foods should be central in any approach to healthy eating. They assist in keeping your food simple, due to the lack of unwanted additions to our food which place extra strain on our digestion.
- Eat lightly. We often have a tendency to over eat, which causes food stagnation and creates too much pressure on the Spleen resulting in the accumulation of dampness. Both of these factors impede the free flow of Qi and blood in your body. It takes around 20 minutes for the signal from the stomach that you are full to be fully integrated and recognised in the brain. During this time it is common to continue eating, resulting in excessive food intake. For healthy eating, eat until you feel 70-80% full. Eating slowly and chewing your food well also helps with this, as well as providing some predigestion of your food to reduce the workload on your Spleen.
- Eat seasonally. Nature is incredible in how it supplies what you need, when you need it. The foods that are in season in your local region are often the most appropriate foods to eat. In summer when the weather is warmer, the energetic property of foods that are in season tend to be cooler. This allows your body to maintain a balance. This also helps to ensure that you are eating fresher foods that haven’t been stored for unknown lengths of time.
- Eat at the right time. Not only does your digestive system like to be nourished at regular times, it is also stronger at certain times of the day. The saying of “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like pauper” makes sense for many reasons. According to the daily flow of Qi through your organs, the energy is strongest in your digestive system in the morning between the hours of 7-11, and accordingly weakest between the hours of 7-11 at night. Healthy eating means consuming more of your food when your Spleen and Stomach are best position to digest. Recent research has also revealed that insulin levels vary during the day, resulting in the conclusion that indeed eating more, earlier in the day is more appropriate. Considering activity levels during the day, it also makes sense. Filling your tank before you undergo the days activities provides you with energy to sustain yourself through your tasks. This energy will be burnt off, resulting in less need for the body to store energy (i.e. weight gain). At night when you are resting you tend to be less physically active. Filling your body with energy at that time means that it will not be burned off and must be stored . Following this eating guideline also often leads to eating less over the day, as you are not entering a state of desperately needing nutrition, which causes unhealthy eating habits.
- Eat and relax. Eating in peaceful surroundings will help your body to relax and digest easier. Try to avoid external stimulation such as writing emails, reading or watching TV. These activities create more work for the Spleen as it must also divert its energy to digesting this information on top of digesting your food. This calm environment will encourage your developing habits of healthy eating. This relaxation extends to your attitude towards the food you are eating too. Too much obsession over the types of food you ‘should’ be eating reduces your Spleen’s ability to absorb nutrition from food. This obsession, known as orthorexia, can be damaging to your health. If you are ‘indulging’ a little in a treat such as chocolate, then embrace that indulgence. Know that you are treating yourself, feel good about it and your body will then be able to extract the best nutrition from the treat.
- Eat all five flavours within each meal. Strive for balance in a meal, with a mixture of the five fundamental flavours in your food. The five flavours are sweet, pungent, salty, sour and bitter.
- Minimise your intake of cooling foods. Your digestive system requires warmth to function optimally. Too much consumption of foods that cool the body makes this harder. This means concentrating on cooked foods and avoiding ice cold drinks and highly processed foods.