As an acupuncturist, I am asked frequently by my patients about what to eat. Many just want to eat as healthfully as possible, some want to lose weight, and others just want to get a handle on their sugar cravings. I believe that how you think about food mirrors how you look at life, and eating is meant to nourish your body, mind, and soul. What you choose to eat is about more than calories or carbs or even nutritional content. So, while every person is different in their dietary needs, here are a few things that I want my patients to know about food:
1) Eat real foods. That’s the stuff that comes out of the ground, the ocean, or from the farm. Not what’s been chemically engineered to sit on the grocery store shelf for years, products that have unrecognizable ingredients, or foods that have health claims splattered all over the packaging.
2) There are no good or bad real foods, just foods that are better for you than others, and moderation is crucial. This is even true for sugar. A very small amount of something sweet after a meal acts as a digestive aid. (Think about a piece of fruit or a small piece of dark chocolate—not a boat-sized slice of triple espresso fudge cheesecake.)
3) What’s right for you is different than what’s right for someone else. This is what Chinese dietary therapy is all about. Each food has certain properties and inherent temperature, and every food affects your body in different ways. Determining what you need and what foods do that the best is at the heart of Chinese food therapy.
4) You need to support digestive fire. It takes a certain amount of heat, or digestive fire, to properly convert food into nutrients. The better you support that fire, the more efficiently you’ll digest your food, and the better you’ll feel. Cold and raw foods eaten regularly take more energy, or fire, to digest, so if you’re struggling with your digestion or fatigue it’s best to avoid them. Instead, try to get more soups, stews, and stir fried foods into your diet. Your digestion will thank you.
5) You need to…um, eat. I regularly see patients that get up in the morning and don’t eat. They may skip lunch, and finally grab something late in the day. Regularly skipping meals can really mess up your blood sugar levels, causing wide swings in insulin, and can contribute to weight gain. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but it’s true–when you finally do eat, you’re starving, tend to overeat, and your body wants to store those calories as fat for tomorrow’s famine.
6) When you are eating the right amounts of the right foods at the right times, you are in balance, you will feel good, and your weight will be stable. Too much of any one food puts you out of balance, because it’s impossible to get all the nutrients you need from a handful of the same foods day in and day out.
7) When you’re stuck trying to figure out what to eat, think about what you get at a Chinese restaurant–lots of cooked veggies, a little protein, and a little grain. (Okay, I admit, the white rice should be brown.) In a Chinese restaurant, most people share a couple of dishes, which gives you a variety of foods. And finally, the meal is served with a little warm tea which helps to warm up your digestive fire.
8) Finally, as I said above, what you eat is supposed to nourish not only your body, but your mind and soul. Quit agonizing about your diet and eat real food that tastes good, and enjoy it in a relaxing atmosphere with people you love.