While the term ‘medicine’ often refers to the treatment of disease that already exists, Chinese Medicine places a strong emphasis on the prevention of future disease by restoring the body to a balanced state. This prevention is achieved by harmonising all physical and emotional aspects of life. Food therapy and lifestyle alterations are as important as the treatment given by your practitioner, and when a patient’s contribution at home collaborates with the work of the practitioner; the chance of a lasting outcome is greatly enhanced.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend the daily consumption of a variety of nutritious foods, in amounts that suit the energy needs of an individual, an idea that is common to Chinese Medicine. The consumption of whole foods, including a variety of vegetables and grains is at the core of maintaining and strengthening immunity. Choosing the right types of foods is important, and the excessive intake of saturated fats, added salt and sugar (found in many packaged foods), and alcohol should be limited.
The preparation methods of food should also be considered. As a general rule, a longer cooking time will concentrate the energy of the food, making it ideal for situations where lethargy, tiredness and digestive weakness are present. Avoiding any foods that can damage the body’s Yang (its essential warmth), including cold natured foods such as raw foods, iced drinks and cold dairy products will prevent putting out the ‘digestive fire’. All foods have an innate thermal nature, and adding warming foods like ginger, cinnamon and garlic can help increase the overall temperature of a meal.
Following a diet that changes with the seasons can enhance the energetic effects of foods and the way in which they act in the body. For example, the energetic nature of Spring is expanding, moving and sprouting, and therefore eating foods that are upward moving and slightly warming during Spring can help the body’s energy to rise from the internal, cold nature of Winter. The easiest way to eat seasonally is to buy fresh produce from a local source such as a farmers market, where the produce will be grown according to the seasons.
Tips for eating to optimise the digestibility of food:
1. Eat slowly. Eating slowly and listening to the body to know when fullness is felt are important in aiding proper digestion and preventing overeating and clogging of the digestive system.
2. Keep chewing. Properly chewing food is the first stage in achieving effective digestion. Foods such as grains and other carbohydrates should be chewed until liquid in form to allow full absorption of nutrients. Food that is improperly chewed is difficult for the digestive system to break down and absorb nutrients from, and can cause a feeling of heaviness and sluggishness.
3. Eat regularly. Eating at regular intervals, and avoiding eating late at night or overeating are important for the body’s ability to properly process food. Breakfast should be eaten between 7am-9am (when hunger arises), as this is the time that the Yang Qi (digestive energy) is most abundant, meaning digestion will be at its peak. Due to this, it is sensible to make breakfast a relatively large (but simple) meal, and dinner the smallest meal.
4. Step away from the desk. Eating should be treated as a task on its own. The body needs time to focus on the very important job of turning food into energy. Give yourself the time and the space to take a breath, and enjoy the food you are eating, away from the screen.
5. Don’t eat late. Eating close to bedtime can impact the quality of sleep, cause insomnia or restlessness, and can cause nutrients to remain unused by the body and become excessively stored. Try eating no later than 3 hours before bedtime to allow enough time for proper digestion.
Every person is different, and eating a diet tailored appropriately for the individual plays an important role in both the healing and prevention of disease. Don’t hesitate to discuss your nutritional needs with your health practitioner.
Michaela Rinkel – November 2017