Eating for Great Health – the Top 3 Tips From Traditional Chinese Medicine

Living as we do in a culture of excess where many of us have unlimited access to all kinds of foods, we tend to think of healthy eating as meaning cutting things out. But healthy eating is just as much about making sure you eat the right things as not eating the wrong things. And it’s also not just what you eat but how you eat it – how it’s prepared, how much of it you have, and your mental-emotional state when you eat. While all those factors may sound overwhelming, it’s actually a very simple science, with basic principles that you can live your life by for better health, better energy, and better digestion. Here are my top 3 principles for healthy eating, based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Focus on Eating Good Food, Not Avoiding Bad Food

Often when we decide to clean up our diet and get healthy, we make a long list of all the things we’re going to stop eating: sugar, wheat, junk food, grains, dairy – or any number of others, depending on which diets are popular. While simplifying your diet and cutting out junk food are definitely a good idea, there are problems with this approach.

Firstly, many of the symptoms that prompt us to change our diet – low energy, weight gain, and digestive symptoms like bloating – are symptoms of not having enough energy in our digestive system (Spleen Qi vacuity as we call it in TCM). What we really need are nourishing foods that are easy to digest so we can rebuild our strength, like warm soup. When we focus on what we’re cutting out instead of what we’re adding in, we often end up hungry and not knowing what to eat, feeling cranky and miserable. Skipping meals because there’s nothing available that fits with your diet is a great way to deplete that digestive energy even further, and it weakens your resolve to eat a healthy diet.

That’s why, when I’m counseling a patient who wants to do a cleanse or change their diet, I always focus on adding in instead of cutting out. If you put all that fervour for change into planning delicious meals and snacks that will nourish you, you’ll automatically eat less of the junk without having to constantly police yourself. And, if you do slip up or find yourself in a situation where you don’t have much choice, it’s easier to get back on the wagon because you don’t feel like you’ve failed.

Turning Your Food Into 40° Soup – the Best Thing You Can Do For Your Diet

Your stomach needs to turn absolutely everything you eat into 40° Celsius soup. So, if you’re looking for the benefits of a healthier diet – maintaining a healthy weight, enjoying steady energy levels, and good digestion – this is the first place to start. The further your meal is from 40° soup when you put it in your mouth, the more energy it takes for your body to digest it, access the nutrients, and eliminate the waste.

TCM recommends eating soup for health

Eating soup is one of the best ways to support your health

 

This is why soup is what we feed to people who are ill or recovering from illness – and why salad is, despite its reputation as a “healthy” food, actually really hard on your digestive system. Raw food is currently very popular due to the enzyme content and the fact that nutrients are lost during cooking. However, what you see on the nutritional table isn’t always what you get; the values listed for any food are the total of what the food contains, but that can be very different from how much we actually absorb when we eat it. So, while raw veggies may be nutritionally superior on paper, we often absorb more nutrition from cooked food because we can digest it better.

 

The temperature of the food and drinks we consume are another big factor. Imagine the energy it takes to heat ice cream to 40°C. Anytime we put cold food or drink into our bodies, we’re compromising our ability to digest it. Washing down your meal with the ice water you get in a Western restaurant slows everything down and puts an extra strain on your digestive system, whereas sipping the green tea you’re served in a Chinese restaurant helps turn your food into 40° soup. This is a big problem with the smoothie craze – they’re packed full of nutritious fruits and veggies, but they’re often made with frozen fruit or even ice, so they drain your digestive energy. I invite you to join me and be a cultural renegade by drinking your smoothies warm (it’s actually delicious).

Relax While You Eat – the Path to Good Digestion

Stress shuts down our ability to digest. When we’re rushing or worrying, we switch into the sympathetic nervous system (AKA fight or flight mode), which diverts blood flow from any part of our body not essential for immediate survival, such as the digestive organs. When we enter a calm and peaceful state of mind, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system (AKA rest and digest mode), which has the opposite effect and facilitates digestion, sleep, healing, and all those other important functions that are useless when you’re running from a tiger. (This is such an important topic that I wrote a whole blog post on it.)

Our hectic lifestyles often find us grabbing food on the go, or scarfing down a few bites while we keep working. This gives our bodies zero opportunity to enter the ideal state for digesting food. You can eat the most carefully designed, nutritious meal in the world, but if you’re wolfing it down while stressing about the latest deadline, you’re not going to be able to digest it properly.

Healthy eating doesn’t just mean eating the right foods, it means eating them in the right way. There’s a very good reason that many traditions encourage prayer or gratitude before a meal – taking a moment before you eat to slow down and give thanks is an excellent way to switch into the rest and digest state and make sure your body is ready to receive the food you eat. Whatever your faith, stopping for a moment to relax before eating is crucial for good digestion.

Healthy Eating – Wisdom From Traditional Chinese Medicine

These three things are just a few of the principles of Traditional Chinese dietary therapy, which is a whole system for preventing and treating disease and helping us live long and healthy lives. What we eat, and the way we eat it, is one of the most important factors that determines our health, which is why it’s one of the main topics of my upcoming book, Healthy Living Made Easy (to be released summer 2016). In the meantime, get started with these 3 principles and your body will thank you for years to come. And if you have burning questions, or topics you’d like more info on, drop me a line and maybe I’ll cover it in my next blog post.

Till then, eat well!

Your health ally,

Moss

Moss
Moss Andrewes is an acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, specializing in women’s health and chronic illness. Originally from the UK and now residing in Canada, she is a writer, speaker, and event organizer, focusing on health, sustainable living and community. Her lifelong passion for making the world a happier, healthier place has led her through many adventures, including off-grid sustainable living, disaster relief, and various community health projects. She currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with her partner and two cats.

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