How the Wisdom of Chinese Medicine Can Help Our Modern Diets
Fueling our bodies with proper nutrition should be easy. We have mechanisms in place that tell us when we are hungry, when something that we put in our mouth is distasteful and possibly dangerous, and whether the temperature of the food is too hot or too cold. However, our modern diet plays tricks on us with the endless variety of artificial seasonings to tempt our taste buds and instead of eating for nutrition, meal time has become more like entertainment. When we consider the impact preparing healthy food has on our mental health while many of us struggle to simply understand what is healthy, it is no wonder why some of us experience stress around eating.
Keeping the Spleen Happy
Chinese Medicine can offer a unique perspective to maintaining a healthy diet while addressing everyday stress. In acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), each of the organs are assigned a role to play. The biggest player in the digestive system is the Spleen. According to acupuncture and TCM theory, the Spleen transforms and transports the food we eat and the fluids we consume and turns it into energy that our body uses. The flavor associated with the Spleen is sweet and the sound associated with Spleen is singing. What this means is that if the Spleen is not doing its job of properly transforming and transporting food and fluids, our bodies will not have the energy it needs to perform and therefore we start to feel sluggish. We may begin to crave sweet foods like simple carbohydrates because the Spleen is telling us that it needs the sweet flavor. (The better choice would be to eat fully cooked root vegetables, but we sometimes have a hard time interpreting what our bodies tell us, so we grab a cookie instead.)
When the Spleen is really struggling, we may find ourselves singing show tunes and acting silly. Some ways in which we habitually tax our Spleen is eating while engaging in mindless activities such as while watching TV or surfing the internet. The Spleen really likes to be given plenty of time to assist in the digestion process and this means creating a mindful space in which to eat. Another way we challenge the Spleen is by eating cold and raw foods. It is appropriate to eat raw fruits and vegetables when they are abundant in the Summer months, but as the months get cooler, consider roasting your vegetables, preparing soups, and drinking hot or warm beverages.
Mind the Root Cause
Functional Medicine is, in its most basic terms, root cause medicine. We dig deep to discover what has caused the illness, rather than to label it and medicate it. There is a time and place for medications, but we must first work through all lifestyle modifications. Weight loss is a very complex arrangement of issues stemming from body, mind, and lifestyle habits developed over time. There are many contributing factors that will not be solved by a one size fits all approach. Each person is incredibly unique and what works for one may not work for another. The Functional Medicine approach to diet and weight loss is not dissimilar to the TCM approach where practitioners of both modalities don our “Sherlock Holmes’” cap and begin to investigate to determine what combination of lifestyle and dietary interventions can facilitate the desired shift.
There is a reason sleep is considered to be restorative. Without proper sleep, our ability to function optimally is reduced. Many of us will sacrifice sleep for the numerous demands of our lives. However, consider this: getting less than 6.5 hours of sleep results in losing 35% of peak performance. Fewer than 5 hours of sleep reduces it even further and puts the person in the dangerous category of low performance like that of being intoxicated. If you have ever felt like your performance at work, your relationships, or at school are suffering, one place to begin the exploration is by evaluating the amount of sleep you are getting. Weight loss is directly impacted by lack of sleep. I had a client that was eating a perfect diet and kept to a dedicated routine at the gym, but he could not lose that last 5-10 resistant pounds. When we explored his sleep, we realized he was getting considerably less than 8 hours of sleep per night. He made some modifications to get more Z’s, and those last few pounds finally came off. Lack of sleep is a hormone disruptor, so when a person is dealing with resistant weight loss sleep should be the first area to examine more deeply. A proper amount of sleep can reduce our stress levels. It is while we are sleeping that our body does the majority of the detoxification. When we skimp on sleep, we rob our bodies of that much-needed time to purge the toxins of yesterday, which can greatly affect our mood and stress levels.
Integrating Acupuncture and Functional Medicine
Mind-Body Medicine encompasses multiple modalities making it available to all body types. When we bring mindfulness into mealtime we soon learn we have a powerful tool in managing our eating habits. Being focused on what we eat means we miss the impact of how we eat has on our weight goals. Taking a moment before we begin eating a meal to do some controlled diaphragmatic breathing can shift us from a sympathetic to para-sympathetic state, reducing our stress levels and creating an environment conducive to digestion. Also, by slowing our breath before eating, the Spleen organ can resume its proper role of that as transformer and transporter of food and produce the energy our bodies need from proper nourishment. With satisfactory levels of energy, we can better manage our everyday demands allowing us longer hours of slumber and ultimately, restoration while we sleep. Incorporating small changes based on the wisdom of Chinese medicine and facilitated by the oversight of a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach can create a big impact in our modern lives.
Jessica Peck-Lindsey is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Integrative Health and owner of Peck’s Family Acupuncture in Waterboro. Dr. Peck-Lindsey holds a Master’s of Science in Pain Research, Education, and Policy from Tufts School of Medicine and is Certified in Traumatic Stress Studies from the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute. With the aim of being able to better provide for patients living with pain and traumatic stress, Dr. Peck-Lindsey opened the Wellness Center at Peck’s Family Acupuncture integrating therapeutic movement, trauma-informed yoga, Reiki, Emotion Code, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and wellness coaching along with individualized acupuncture and massage therapy sessions. Dr. Peck-Lindsey can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kerry Chamberlain is a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach specializing in working with clients to co-create plans for lasting, sustainable change through lifestyle modifications. Chamberlain is a graduate of the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, an affiliate of the Institute for Functional Medicine, IFM. www.rootcausecoach.com.