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  • Writer's pictureJackie Koenig, L.Ac.

How to Feed Your Body Well: a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

Learn how to feed your body well with Chinese Medicine: improve digestion, lose weight, and build energy!

friends gather at a table with a nourishing meal and say cheers

I'm going to burst your bubble here, New Orleans. Ice water is not doing you any favors. In fact, if I had to pick just one piece of advice to tell the world in regards to feeding your body better, it would be HOLD THE ICE!

How can a seemingly harmless glass of ice water hold so much clout? Read on to find out my top 6 tips for how to feed your body better and improve digestion according to ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) wisdom.

Tip #1 - In general, warm & cooked food is best.

From a TCM perspective, we think of the gut as a "digestive fire". This is where our qi/energy and blood are made. Like tending to a good campfire, we should eat warm, cooked, easy-to-break-down food so that this "fire" can easily and efficiently assimilate the vitamins, minerals, and energy from our food. When we have a healthy digestive system, we make abundant qi and blood, and our body functions with ease.

The fastest way to put OUT a fire is to throw cold water on it, right? That's why we advise against ice, smoothies made with frozen fruit, food eaten right out of the refrigerator, and excessive intake of raw fruits and veggies (which are considered "cold" natured and require a lot of our own energy to "cook" them before they can be digested). Over time, a diet heavy with "cold" food and drink often causes digestive upsets like bloating, belching, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, weight gain, food sensitivities, fluid accumulation and swelling, and borborygmus, which is the funny medical term for a "rumbling tummy".

The advice to avoid food that Western culture typically praises ("wake up with a cold smoothie", "raw is best", "everything a salad!") usually shocks my patients and even sounds impossible to practice for some, especially in the heat of the summer or for those whose body temperatures already "run warm". I get it! However, the brave ones who do give this advice a try are amazed at how their typical digestive upsets lessen or simply go away.

Tip #2 - Eat on a regular schedule and avoid skipping breakfast.

The body likes routine. It is constantly trying to maintain homeostasis and doesn't like to wonder when the next meal might be coming.

From a Western perspective, if you go too long without a meal, the body rings the alarm by releasing cortisol, a stress hormone. Over time, high cortisol levels are associated with weight gain and stubborn belly fat, high blood pressure, diabetes, headaches and other issues. There are even studies that show an association between "breakfast skippers" and hypertension.

From a TCM perspective, our digestive "power couple" organs, the Spleen and Stomach, are most active from 7-11AM. Food is processed most effectively during this window and it's a good idea to eat your heartiest meal during this time. Skipping breakfast or fasting in general could weaken your digestive fire over time, possibly causing a qi deficiency or blood deficiency and a slew of other symptoms.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore

Tip #3 - Avoid "damp"-producing foods.

Foods to avoid according to TCM will probably sound familiar to you: processed greasy food, sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol, and the act of overeating. All of these food types are considered "damp-producing" and contribute to an excess of mucus build-up in the body, slowing down our digestive processing and ultimately weaken our digestive fire so that even when we eat well, we still have symptoms.

When damp accumulates in the body, you might experience any of the following: chronic congestion, weight gain, a lack of appetite or motivation, skin issues, bloating, feeling tired after meals, heavy, achey joints, to name a few. You can learn more specifics on our post about dampness.

If losing weight is what you're after, I'll refer you to an amazingly comprehensive article by Andrew Sterman-- see below!

art of losing weight
Download PDF • 167KB

Tip #4 - Mindful eating can aid digestion.

Another tip which is hard to follow in our go-go-go culture is using meal time to mindfully connect with our body and what we're eating. Meals eaten while stressed out in a meeting, in the car on the way to pick up the kids, during an argument with our partner, or gobbled down in a hurry is unlikely to be digested well. We are more likely to experience "food stagnation" in these situations which can show up as bloating, belching, heartburn, and meals that "sit" there for hours. Use meal time to slow down, chew well, and as a way to connect with and nourish your body.

“If you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half of man's hunger.” – Kahlil Gibron

Tip #5 - Listen to your gut!

Many times when I'm talking with a patient about these recommendations, things on the list already sound familiar to them; be it general preferences ("I prefer room temp water"), or maybe more recent cravings depending on the symptoms they're looking to treat ("I've been craving all of these iron-rich foods already!"). Listen to the innate wisdom your body might be sharing with you and learn to decipher what food choices might be a WANT and which might be a NEED.

Tip #6 - "Everything in moderation, including moderation."

This quote by renowned TCM teacher, Bob Flaws, is also an important one to keep in mind. We don't need to eat a perfect diet in order to be healthy. Indulge sometimes and don't beat yourself up over straying from the course here and there. Being overly rigid or dieting too strictly stagnates qi in other areas of the body-- so be gentle with yourself and enjoy the process!

The bottom line:

You can spend a lifetime of energy and money on sourcing the highest quality supplements, organic foods, nutritionists and trainers, but if your digestive health is poor and you're unable to effectively metabolize what you feed your body, all of that hard work and money can go right down the drain.

Nourishing your body effectively does wonders for both easing short-term symptoms and supporting your long-term health. It takes work, but it's worth it!

Of course in Chinese Medicine there is no one-size-fits-all protocol, but these general guidelines are a good place to start! Make an appointment today at Hidden Root Acupuncture for more personalized dietary tips and additional support on your healing journey.


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