The backbone of Chinese medicine is learning how to use your food as your first line of defense against illness and imbalance in your body. In this way, your food is your first go-to medicine. If food alone does not correct the issue, then you need to add in stronger interventions such as acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and moxibustion.
To properly use food as your medicine, it is important to recognize when your body is shifting out of optimal health. There are many signs and symptoms that our digestive system is starting to get fatigued or function less optimally—we often take these symptoms for granted. Gas, bloating, mild heartburn, belching, dry skin, dry nails, consistent phlegm in the back of our throats, and et cetera are all signs that your body is shifting away from optimal health. The above list does not mean you have an illness; they are symptoms we take for granted as normal annoyances to put up with. In Chinese medicine, the above symptoms and many others that we take for granted, not only affect our quality of life, but serve as indicators that we need to temporarily shift our diet and lifestyle to help bring our health back to optimal functioning. Wouldn’t it be great to work towards rarely or never having gas and bloating—even when eating beans?
Think of your optimal health being the middle of a long line. We often tend to wiggle back and forth in small distances from the center, eventually coming back to center. When you learn how to use food as your medicine, this is the ideal way to live. Start to notice weekly gas bouts? Eat some foods to strengthen your pancreas, until the gas bouts clear up. Start to notice dry skin?
Figure out if it is a climate issue and work on both good oils and hydration, or assess if it is coming more from an internal deficiency. In Chinese medicine, the vitality of our blood helps to nourish our skin—keeping it supple and smooth. If our blood is deficient—ie anemic or heading in the anemic direction, then our skin is often the last to receive nourishment from our blood. In this example, eating mineral rich foods and certain vegetables will help build up your blood to help relieve skin dryness (and probably a whole host of other nagging issues with your health).
What are signs that we need to use food therapy?
- Gas- more than once or twice a month
- Gas with bloating and pain
- Bloating without gas
- Foggy-headed feeling
- Heavy feeling muscles
- Any bowel movements besides a solid, easy to pass banana shaped log that only takes
- 1-2 wipes to clean up. (look for my future Poop Post for more information). Many people will come in saying that their bowel movements just change if they eat something wrong—if this only happens 1-2x a month, then we have nothing to worry about, but if it happens a couple times a week, this is a cry for help from your digestive system.
- Dry skin
- Itchy skin
- Constant, thin phlegm in the back of the throat
- Frequent colds and flus
- Colds often go straight into a cough
- Colds and flus last a long time when you contract them
- Frequent nasal congestion or allergies
- Easily feeling irritated, frustrated, mild anxiety
- For women: heavy periods, long periods, scanty periods, or amenorrhea can all tie into the digestive system (but often involve a few organ systems), increased gas and bloating during menstruation, fatigue during periods, loose stools during menstruation.
What does Chinese Medical Food Therapy Look Like?
The richness of Chinese medical nutrition lies in learning how to use different cooking styles, and different natural ingredients, like vegetables, fruits, meats, and spices to help bring your health back to a balanced, optimal position. A proper diet looks different for each unique individual, because each individual is working with different imbalances in their body.
Most of food therapy uses common foods, spices, and broths. It involves figuring out when you want to flash-stir fry in water or healthy oils versus roasting and baking foods. The way you cook your food, or don’t cook it, is also important.
To learn more about nutrition therapy using Chinese medicine, check out our video series here.
Great article. I like your description of how health tends to hover near the center and move back and forth along a spectrum – makes a lot of sense.