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July 8, 2012 / Karen R Adams

We are what we eat

We are what we eat.  This statement is becoming more and more profound as I study Chinese Medicine Nutrition.  It covers not only what passes our lips and enters our bodies; it also has to do with how we prepare our food and how we eat it.  We pay loads of attention to it on an superficial level – grabbing whatever’s handy or easy while we fly through our day, then obsessing on every bit we put in our mouths, moaning about how we shouldn’t eat this, it will hurt us.  We rarely think about what food is truly doing for us or to us.

The ancient classics of CM state that food is the highest form of medicine.   Philosophies from all over the world say the same: think carefully about what you eat.  Honor your food, and bless it for what it gives you.  Enjoy it.  Food is a player in every ritual we perform, and is inextricably tied to our emotions, sometimes in ways that don’t serve us well.

As I begin offering Chinese Medicine Nutritional Coaching, I’m figuring out the best way to truly support each person in their decisions around food and its impact on health.  If you’re considering changing what and how you eat, here are some foundation ideas:

  1. Food is nutrition.  At the most basic level, we eat to live.  That means you should begin to think like an athlete about what you eat.  I’m not talking about caloric  intake, I’m talking about mindful food selection and preparation.  We want to pick the food that will build our bodies so we can live our lives fully.  Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store.  That means buy the food you have to create and cook, not something you slop out of can, because believe me, very little useful nutrients come from the middle of the store, and lots of bad stuff lives there.
  2. Be mindful of what you eat.  It’s so easy nowadays to grab whatever is available and gulp it down.  C’mon.  You know you do, and you’re not alone.  Begin to train yourself to be aware of your food, starting with your choices in the store.  Check the ingredients.  If you can’t pronounce them, they will not be good for you.  Then take time to prepare meals – all of them.  I know you’re busy; consider setting time aside on the weekends to make dinners ahead and freeze them.  Freezing’s not as good as fresh, but it’s second only by a little.  Pause and listen as the fork approaches your mouth.  Do you really want to do this?  If you get an internal green light, go for it.  If you’re not sure, you might want to reconsider.  You may still decide to eat it, and that’s interesting, too.
  3. Chew your food.  Digestion starts in the mouth, and if you don’t adequately chew your food, your stomach can have a very hard time of it.  Practice chewing each bite 25 times.  Not only will your stomach appreciate it, so will you, because you will give yourself time to actually taste what you’re eating.  Plus it will slow you down, and you will eat less.
  4. Pay attention to your body.  In CM, the Spleen is responsible for letting us know when we’ve had enough.  Most of us have over-ridden the Spleen’s directives for so long that it no longer functions correctly.  What happens then?  The Spleen and the Stomach become so over-burdened that they can’t properly perform their functions of transforming food to a substance our cells can use, or properly transport that substance around the body.  Nastiness follows: the food ferments, clogs the bowels or rushes through.  Basically this habit gums up all the works, and we feel sluggish and muzzy-headed.   We are not nourished.
  5. Make sure you’re hydrated.   Drink water.  A general idea for how much you need is to take your weight, call it ounces, and cut that number in half.  But again, pay attention to your body and be aware of the effects of your activity level.  If you find yourself staring at your 8th cup of water with loathing, you probably don’t need it.  Oh, and btw, if you’re overweight, you’re probably dehydrated, so you get to add a bit more water.
  6. Stop eating at least 2 hours before you go to bed, 4 is better.  We are supposed to rest and recharge while we sleep, and we won’t be doing that if our Qi is being called on to digest and transport that bowl of popcorn.  If you find this difficult, you might want to consider how well you’ve fed yourself during the day, or whether you’re truly hungry.  You might just be bored.

I’m sure you know all this.  It’s not new information.  I promise you, though, if you’re experiencing a bad back or arthritis, are feeling unhappy or moody, or are concerned about your weight, you will make a big difference in your life if you just begin here.

And here’s something for you I’ve never seen in any diet anything:

Be gentle with yourself.  CM Nutrition is not about a right way or a wrong way to eat, or about force-feeding yourself tofu for the rest of your life, or about denying yourself coffee or chocolate forever, becoming one of those people who not only subsist on nuts and twigs, but are determined to talk endlessly about it until the whole world steps in line with their ideas.

This is about taking the time to cultivate your own inner knowing about what foods in what quantities, lovingly eaten, will best serve you in your life.

One last thing: make a commitment to yourself and then honor it.  Best investment you’ll ever make.

(And btw: Interestingly, acupuncture is last on the list of five kinds of medicine, which puts it at the level of  ‘when all else fails, resort to this’.  That topic is for another day.)

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