TCM and Food

“He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician.”
(Chinese proverb)

Is anyone else suffering nutritional and diet information overload?

Going food shopping has become similar to when I was taking statistics in college; confusion and questions reign. A friend of mine, a certified nutritionist, tells her clients that they should never read the front of any package but go directly to the listed ingredients on the back. Identifying and deciphering what is written in that teeny-tiny print is enough to send me into a full blown meltdown.

One friend of mine will only eat raw food, while another swears by her Paleo diet. Various other friends are on Weight Watchers, stocking on prepackaged meals for both the convenience and in some cases, for what I consider a false sense of security because the front of the box screams: “healthy and low calories”. However, my nutritionist friend and acupuncturist have taught me well; as loudly as the front of the box weaves its spell, the back panel usually lists more preservatives than actual food.

And then there are the daily media contradictions: coffee is good for you; coffee is bad for you; chocolate is good for you; chocolate is bad for you; a glass of wine a day helps your heart; 7 glasses of wine a week cause accumulated brain damage.

When did knowing what to eat become as difficult to understand as rocket science?

GOOGLE will tell “that a healthy meal should include lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy.” The American Heart Association recommends an overall healthy dietary pattern “tailored to your personal and cultural food choices.” This program includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, fish, skinless poultry, nuts and fat-free/low fat dairy products.

Or not: recent research shows that anything made “fat free” is simply a combinations of chemicals that is more dangerous than the actual fat. Some people have digestive issues with grains; some have allergies. Some people just don’t like certain foods.

Last night I went to dinner with friends who asked the waiter more questions about the origin of the fish, the treatment of the chicken and the birthplace of the vegetables and salads with more intensity and laser-focus than they showed in choosing their husbands.

I have to admit; I find the entire thing exhausting. And with the increase of media reports on food-borne illnesses, I sometime think we should all be wearing “thunder vest” when eating anything – or anywhere.

I write this as someone who has always has a weight problem, who lost weight on every featured diet since third grade only to gain it each pound back and then some. I readily admit that my gastric bypass in 2006 led to me losing 100 pounds, all which, plus some, was regained by 2009.

I have written about this before; I believe it is a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbs and nutritional advice from my wellness center that has helped me shed 135 pounds – and kept those pounds off – since 2016. While this is my lowest weight ever, it is also a time where I feel my best. And, as much as I whine about aging, I can’t help to feel that the food changes suggested by my TCM doctor have helped me feel better in my 60’s than when I was in my 30’s.

“Traditional Chinese Medicine classifies food according to its energetic effects rather than according to its component parts. Certain foods are viewed as warming and nourishing while others as seen as cooling and eliminating; some foods are useful to build qi while others have blood, yang or yin building properties. Therefore, while eating a breakfast consisting of a banana and yogurt will always have the same nutritional value in western medicine no matter who is eating it, in traditional Chinese medicine, it may be beneficial for those with a yin deficiency but detrimental to those with yang deficiency or dampness.”

If you think about food in this context, you realize that what you eat – as well as when you eat – can either assist or hinder our daily efforts to maintain health or recover from an illness. Simply put, “it is not just a matter of eating nourishing healthy food but of eating nourishing healthy food that is right for individual body types.”

I’ve had an incredible amount of nutritional information from the TCM doctors at my wellness center. They’ve given me suggestions, as well as sources for further study. Knowing my fear of being sick and losing my independence, they have taught me that good nutrition plays an important role in how one ages. What is not rocket science is understanding that eating a healthful diet for one’s individual body can keep them stronger and reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke and osteoporosis.

WebMD has multiple studies linking healthy eating and longevity. “As we age, the body becomes less efficient at absorbing key nutrients. Appetite and taste can suffer from loss of sense of smell and effects of medications. Bad teeth can make some foods difficult to chew and digest, so choosing foods carefully is smart,” writes Arthur Haywood, a geriatrician and the clinical lead physician for elder care with Kaiser Permante’s Care Management Institute.

Many Westerners tend to view their diet as a means to fit into a smaller size; we should however, be more concerned with how our body reacts to certain foods. Yes, one needs the skill of a TCM doctor to help reveal deficiencies and other concerns, but once ones’ mind shifts to viewing “food as medicine” your body will let you know what’s good for it, and what is not. We just need to listen to what our bodies are telling us.

In “Good Habits According to Chinese Medicine”, the authors write that “Instead of a strictly defined diet plan, Traditional Chinese Medicine emphasizes the variety of food selection. What we eat should correspond to individual needs, seasonal changes, and the balance of energies and flavors. Unbalanced food intake leads to an overabundance of energy being accumulated inside the body.”

According to Chinese philosophy, jing (essence) forms the material basis for the entire body. “Stored in the kidneys, jing serves as the deposited capital reproduction, growth, development and maturation. Every metabolic activity consumes jing, and we can either nourish or else deplete through our lifestyle choices.”

“All foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine are assigned properties according to the five flavors: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty; and the four natures: cool, cold, warm and hot. The flavor of the food can be used to predict its effects on the body. The nature of the food also has a direct effect on the body.”

My acupuncturist is brilliant; in these past two years he’s taught me how to be a “good listener” to my body.   I realize that my body – and mind – react differently to eating a cold, hard boiled egg than one that is still hot from being poached. I know that I am not as satisfied with cold food as I am with hot food.   I know that certain foods and spices can almost immediately – negatively and positively – impact my arthritis, my sinuses, stomach issues. Some foods just make me feel better; some don’t. While I can identify the emotional triggers that tip me toward an unhealthy craving, my acupuncturist has taught me that, as in all things, balance in food choices is essential.   I have also learned that if you listen to your body today, it will tell you a great deal about what you ate yesterday.

I am not a nutritionist, and I would never tell you what to eat and what not to eat. Each of us is different. I know that the changes I made were made because my acupuncturists’ diagnoses of my blood, liver and kidney concerns. Incorporating TCM theory into my diet took time and effort; my weight loss took time. But somewhere along this part of my TCM journey, food became less of an enemy and more of an opportunity for self-care.

Because I believe that old saying “You are what you eat” is still true, I will probably continue to troll nutritional sites and gather information. But I can readily admit my relationship with food has changed; we’re no longer enemies. In truth, we’ve become allies in the fight to keep my jing healthy.

“The best doctor concentrates on prevention instead of fixing disease.” Nei Jing (475-221B.C.E.)

Without a doubt, I have the BEST doctor!

 

Sources:

  1. Dr. Landon Agoado, Care Wellness Center
  2. Dr. Dongfeng Zhou, Care Wellness Center
  3. Google/ Web MD
  4. Https://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/healthy-aging-guide/eating-well-as-you-age/
  5. https://livenaturallymagazine.com/healthy-eating-habits-age/
  6. http://www.newsusa.com/articles/article/5-tips-for-healthy-eating-as-we-age.aspx
  7. https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/benefits/food-and-nutrition/senior-nutrition/
  8. http://www.lotusrootacupuncture.com/nutrition.html/
  9. http://shen-nong.com/lifestyles/tcmrole_health_maintenace_habits.html