Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Food Noise : the Diet Post
Food noise. It's everywhere. Every which way you turn, there's another diet, myth, "fact", or antioxidant savior. The Atkins Diet, the Paleo Diet, the Blood Diet, the South Beach Diet, Skinny Bitch, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, no carbs, no sugar, no protein, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, the Raw Diet, macrobiotics (no night shades), TV dinners/Lean Cuisine, diet pills, laxatives, fortified cereals, iodized salt (biggest conundrum ever - wasn't it already iodized before they leached and bleached and then had to add it back in?), mercury levels in fish, gluten-free (wheat = the new devil food?), food allergies every which way you turn, enemas, cleanses, juicing, starving, purging, gorging, eat this, don't eat that... how do you even begin to climb out of that noise? Some of it is wonderful guidance and useful and some of it we just get lost in. Who knew food could be such a loaded topic? But food is great, it's beautiful, it's delicious, and we all need it to survive and connect so it shouldn't be relegated to such a confusing place.
I have found that Chinese Medicine nutrition has one of the simplest and most illuminating takes on dietary approaches because it is just that, simple. It is about each individual, it caters to seasonal eating (eat warm foods in the cold, and cooler foods in the heat; nourishing when you need more energy, lighter when you need to float), and basically what I've been writing about on here all along : medicinal cooking. Treat yourself with food, know your food so you can do this. Everyone's diet will manifest differently according to these principles. There isn't one overarching do this or go to diet hell truth. When a patient comes in to see me, I start with what do you like? That's a good place to start. Then begin modification through awareness and necessity. The five element approach to food is always exciting to share: eating according to colors, flavors, and temperatures, and pairing that to symptoms, illnesses, and your constitution.
Black & Salty = Kidneys & Urinary Bladder
Red & Bitter = Heart & Small Intestine
White & Spicy = Lung & Large Intestine
Yellow & Sweet = Digestive System (Stomach & Spleen)
Green & Sour = Liver & Gallbladder
This is the bare bones of five element theory (if you want to see a more elaborate chart go here). When I first learned about it, well, the noise died down. This may sound like more noise to some. More information! Yikes. But really it's something we all knew a long time ago and it just got sidelined. People used to know that eating a little spicy would open up the lungs if you were congested. And they also used to be aware of how a sour flavor in the mouth can sometimes be related to a liver issue, or an overly sweet breath to diabetes. You can treat and diagnose according to these principles. Yes, it gets complex and it's a good idea to see a TCM practitioner for more guidance, but it is still a place we can all take something from and apply to our lives without going to a doctor. We should all be our own kitchen doctors if and when possible.
When it comes to losing weight, the individual constitution is still taken into account. Some people may be overweight and deficient (pale, fatigued, cold), and some may be overweight and in excess (hot, flushed, warm). All this is factored in. Excess pounds are seen as a damp condition in TCM. Dampness does not only manifest as obesity but also as chronic congestion, leukorrhea, chronic fatigue, and a myraid of other symptoms. If you are damp, you would begin to cut back (or eliminate entirely until the dampness is resolved but not forever) damp forming foods. The major damp foods are : wheat, sugar (in particular, processed sugar, though raw honey treats dampness), fried foods, dairy, and an excessively raw or cold diet. That may seem like a lot of foods and it may even make you go into panic mode : oh no, I can't eat anything I better stock up like a squirrel in the winter. Don't worry, you can still eat all vegetables, fruit (preferably while in season), fish, beef, pork, quinoa, rice, etc (really, the list is endless). And you don't have to eliminate everything in one go, be gentle with yourself. If your diet is high in wheat, sugar, and fried foods, you may need to take some time to eliminate and adjust and then adjust again. This is about you, not some golden rule. You.
One way to get started is to do a one month gradual elimination and then reassess at the end of it - Do I need to go longer? Do I feel better? Then you can begin to re-introduce the damp foods in moderation and only in the best possible quality as they too, have their medicinal value. Wheat is calming and soothing for the nerves and heart. Good quality dairy is nourishing and rich. And we all need a little sweet sometimes. Did you know that genetically modified foods are in essence damp forming given the manner in which they become indigestible (thus affecting the Stomach and Spleen and creating dampness)? Just look at what happened to the potato. Wheat is not evil, as it's being toted. But it is one of the more misguided products out there due to how it's processed, they leach the fat out to increase it's shelf life (sometimes it sits for years before it gets to your plate) and then you have to add the fat back in! Yes, that's not good for you. So when you re-introduce wheat, try to find the best possible quality, the freshest, and most whole. As for dairy, you can read the post I did on that here. And sugar, in moderation. Fried foods? We all need/want them sometimes! As my fellow TCM blogger says, strategic impurity.
The One Month Damp Elimination Diet
Week One : eliminate all wheat
Week Two : eliminate all sugar (except raw honey, taken in medicinal quantities and not as a sweetener)
Week Three : eliminate all dairy
Week Four : continue with all of the three eliminations
A nice thing to add into this, if you so wish, would be a day each week where you do a liver cleanse - this doesn't mean starve - you can read about how to do this here. It entails eating mung beans, rice, lemon, olive oil, sea salt, and chile (or pepper) for a day each week during the month you do the damp elimination (breakfast, lunch and dinner). But if this doesn't resonate for you, don't do it. It is useful if you're feeling particularly sluggish, need a little extra push with your metabolism, have a thyroid issue, or simply want to help your liver out a little. Avoid during menstruation as mung beans are cold, and you should not eat cold foods during menstruation.
I would advise going to a TCM practitioner or even a nutritionist so you can get support and additional ideas of what will work for you. Find out if you're deficient in any particular minerals or vitamins, and add that into your diet. Or take a Chinese Herbal formula to treat your constitution and get regular Acupuncture treatments to help curb cravings, strengthen your digestion, and boost your metabolism. Or don't. Just do the above. The great thing is you get to decide how to do this, when to begin, and how to proceed. If you're feeling anemic and weak, add some black beans or beets into your diet. If you're carrying water weight, add some corn silk tea in. Make your food intake about you, not anyone else.
I know that when I have dived into this, all I wanted to eat was fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. The perfect antidote to getting over the sandwich! I also grilled, tossed, and sauteed. And there was no feeling of there's something missing. Polenta replaced oatmeal temporarily. Everything was there. And then whatever might have been missing in my mind, came back.