Published on 10-23-2008
As an acupuncturist, I provide a fair amount of information and advice to my patients. I make recommendations on lifestyle habits, dietary habits, forms of exercise, and more. Some take these recommendations and run with it, and others - well - they may just remain immobile. Either way, it's part of my job, so I do it.
There are few aspects of human needs that are more controversial than our diets. Writing diet books alone is a multi-million dollar enterprise with millions more for supplements, training tapes, and all kinds of other "tools." Most of the techniques, information, and advice is either the same thing we all already know, or worse - just plain garbage.
The advice I offer to my patients is what my teacher, Master Tam, calls the commonsense diet, or sometimes just to "eat like a human." Commonsense -- this means you already "know" what I'm going to recommend. Unfortunately, commonsense is also something that we fight against in all aspects of our lives continually. This is the human nature, I suppose.
Commonsense - primarily eat a range of whole foods and very little that comes from a package, jar, can, etc., period. That's it.
Now there has to be more detail than that you say? Well, not really, but here are some details for the more industrious minds.
What Should I Eat And Why?
Food has become a commodity and not just the simple necessity that it is. For this reason there are all kinds of products vying for our taste buds, changing them if necessary, and creating habits and addictions if thats what it takes for us to buy their products.
Unfortunately for our health and the companies that want our money, our body is a natural living organism and we cannot change that. It works best with what is provided to us naturally. So, the more we eat whole foods that are in season and even better locally grown, and meats/seafoods that are processed as naturally as possible, the healthier we will be. It is next to impossible to be short on any vitamin, nutrient, etc. when you eat a broad range of whole foods (see my previous article on the dangers of vitamins for more information).
Note that I do - not - recommend a vegetarian diet, or to "only" eat whole foods. We can, will, and sometimes even have to, eat processed foods, eat fast food, eat stuff that we know is bad for us - but if you eat well as often as possible you will be fine.
Obesity And Our Health Epidemics:
In the western world many, many people are overweight. We eat too many calorie dense foods, too much sweet food, and we exercise too little. Amazingly we still feel that we need to supplement our diets with vitamins and other nutrients - this is not commonsense. Obesity is related to nearly every major health problem we face in developed nations, yet we do very little about it. Now is the time.
There are two things we need to keep in mind - one is a simple statement: "Calories In and Calories Out". If you eat more than you use you gain weight. The other basic idea is "have you ever eaten too much broccoli in one meal?" My guess is no...
Whole foods are entirely different than processed foods. Processed foods are very dense in calories and other nutrients yet often small in size. We eat them quickly taking in way more calories than our bodies can use naturally and far more than we could get from a meal based on whole foods. As a result we gain weight.
So now that we know what to do, here are some things that help and some more information on why this is the "right" thing to do.
Chinese Medicine And Diet:
Chinese Medicine gives us a few new dimensions to view our food outside of simple calories and nutrients. This view helps us to create better food choices, to better eat within season, and to better pay attention to our diets effect on our current state of health. Now, as with many Chinese Medical theories, it does get rather lengthy and robust, but in general Chinese Medicine is about commonsense. Foods are broken down into basic categories such as warming, cooling, neutral and into the elemental categories of fire, wind, water, etc. (you can read details on this within my TCM Dietary Therapy article). Commonsense says to eat more cooling foods in the summer, or when you are hot - to eat warming foods in the winter or when you are cold such as those recovering from serious or long-term illnesses. How many times do we eat a pot roast during our fourth of july party? There's that commonsense again....
What Not To Do:
Most articles talk about what to do, in this article that part is very short "eat like a human." Here are some major dietary conventions that should be stopped immediately and their common sense reasoning.
Don't drink it. Does this mean you cannot have a tad in your coffee or tea? - no. It means don't drink it by the glass on a consistent basis. There are many reasons for this, but in general we do not (that is everyone, allergic or not) digest milk well, we don't need the calcium (brocolli and other sources have many times more) and excessive calcium is linked to many health problems, and dairy is a major contributor to allergies (seasonal and chronic) - both west and east agree on this point. Commonsense says we just don't need it.
Artificial Sweeteners/Diet Sodas, Etc.:
Don't use them, not even every now and then. Artificial sweeteners have links to many diseases and cancers and have been shown to contribute to obesity rather than the other way around. People can argue that all they want, but it is a waste of time. Commonsense tells you your body will not do well with unnatural substances. Furthermore, the incredible increases in cancers and other health problems has to be due to something and this is as good a link as any.
One logical problem with sweeteners is that they are not real sugar - but they are sweet. The sweet flavor tricks our body into thinking they are sugar and will create an insulin response to process the sugar. But it isn't sugar, so what does the body do - I don't know? But I do know rates of diabetes are up and diet soda is about the furthest thing from a cure for diabetes...
Salads, Raw Foods, Excessive Water:
If I had a dime for every time I have a patient come in for weight loss that says "I don't understand it, I eat salads every day, I drink 12 glasses of water, and I still cannot lose weight!" - I would be a very wealthy man. Here is where commonsense and Chinese Medicine come into play.
Too much cooling foods (raw foods, salads, water, etc.) cool the body, ultimately slowing metabolism. The truth is that we don't digest salad very well, raw foods are difficult to digest (and many times the cooked versions release more nutrients not available in the raw form anyway), and we don't need to flood our bodies with water.
We need a balance of warming (yang) and cooling (yin) foods. More cooling in the summer, more warming in the winter. Without warming, or yang, energy we cannot process our foods well and turn the nutrients into energy (qi) we can use. As a result we get more and more sluggish and gain weight, or at best do not lose weight.
Yes. From a commonsense perspective and from a Chinese one, some meat is recommended. Now ideally you want to eat smaller amounts that we are used to eating in America and ideally eat meats that are not full of hormones and antibiotics - but we do need it. Can you be a vegetarian - perhaps. This depends on the climate you live in, how well you eat, and how your body does. But we see an incredibly large number of vegetarians come into the clinic that have developed immune system issues, allergies, fatigue, etc. all from not following basic dietary principles.
Chinese Medicine has a little to say about meat with regards to its effect on our bodies. Basically red meat is warming and energizing, chicken is more neutral and raises energy to a lesser degree, and many seafoods are more cooling in nature. So vegetarians, for example, who add fish into their diet and do not see a change in how they feel - this is why.
No. The commonsense reasoning here is that they are too concentrated. If you've ever made orange juice yourself you see how many oranges it takes to make a glass. Now take that number and try to sit down and eat that many in one sitting. Can you do it? Again, my guess is no. This means your body is not built to process that much at one time. Additionally, juices miss the benefits of the whole fruit, particularly the fiber. So just eat the fruit - don't drink it.
But I Can't Do It?
Sure you can. It's just a matter of developing better habits, taking time to enjoy your foods and paying attention to what you are eating, and re-establishing your bodies connection to natural foods, not sugar highs and taste sensations...
Just remember to follow commonsense as well as you can and you will be fine. Eat generally well, in reasonable amounts, with a broad range of foods - and move around every now and again. It's actually quite enjoyable to follow these basic principles and you will feel better as the years go by.
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