Sometimes we get a little crazy in our efforts to be healthy. We may cut complete food groups out of our diet, gobble down vitamins, and exercise until we drop. The idea is that if a little of something is good for you, then a lot must be really good. In addition, if too much of something (like ice cream or bread) isn’t so good, we cut it out altogether.
The key here is moderation. That’s right, average, reasonable, and middle of the road. Is there anything more boring than moderation? Maybe not, but taking it easy may be just what you need for better health.
Moderation is one of the pillars of Chinese medicine. The reality is that most things that are good for you are good in small doses. When they’re overdone, those good things can deplete you physically or cause stagnation (blockages of energy, food, blood, or other substances). Below are some example and the implications of taking it too far, or not far enough, within the framework of Chinese medicine.
Food. Eating a wide variety of foods ensures that you’re getting all the nutrients you need in your gas tank. Unfortunately, we tend to label foods as all good or all bad. Remember when we were cutting the fat out of everything? Now we’re a little smarter and know that there are good fats and not so good fats. You also know that you need fats in your diet and that you need to balance the Omega 6 fats (mostly animal based) you eat with the Omega 3’s (mostly plant based and fish) for good health.
Sugar is also one of those foods that has moved to the dark side, too. In Chinese medicine, each of your internal organs is associated with a flavor, and your Spleen/Stomach is all about sweets. According to the Chinese, you need a little something sweet after a meal to aid the digestive process. Centuries ago, this meant fennel seeds, a few dates, or some other dried fruit. That’s fine, but today, the sweets we eat after a meal are very sweet, fat laden, and only serve to bog down your digestion. In fact, when I see patients in the clinic who have severe sugar cravings, I know that their digestion needs some help.
Vitamins. Remember for a moment that the role of vitamin supplementation is only to prevent against deficiencies. Unfortunately, many of us take tons of vitamin and mineral supplements that we don’t need, and which mostly pass right through us. In addition, it’s possible that over supplementation may be throwing our body’s chemistry out of whack.
On the other hand, I see an occasional patient who survives entirely on fast food, but doesn’t take any kind of vitamin supplement at all. They may be okay just from eating at the Burger Doodle or the Quick Chick, but I’m guessing not. They’re the ones who might benefit from a really good multiple vitamin.
Sleep. You’ve heard this before…you need about eight hours a night. Some people may need a little less and others a little more. Regardless of exactly how much, you need enough sleep because your body rejuvenates and heals while you’re sawing wood. If you don’t sleep enough, over time, you’ll become depleted, which is something akin to being a walking Zombie–not enough energy, no focus, and you start to get crabby. Too much sleep and you turn into a couch potato. Your Qi, or energy, needs movement to flow effectively, and if you’re sleeping the day away, you’re creating a stagnation of energy and dampness (ahem, fat.)
Movement. This is a little like sleep. If you’re moving too much in the form of exercise, you’re setting yourself up to become depleted. For example, I have a marathoner friend who looks like a whippet, but she seems to catch every cold or flu that’s going around. At the other end of the spectrum, not moving your body sets you up for stagnation. Movement may be psychological, emotional, or spiritual in nature, too. If you’re stuck in a rut without any emotional movement, you’re a prime candidate for Qi stagnation, which can look a lot like depression. Also, too much movement in the form of change, over commitment, or stressful events can wipe you out, both physically and psychologically.
Sunshine. Who doesn’t like the feel of a little sunshine, especially here in the north country? In fact, you need a little sun on your skin each day in order for your body to synthesize Vitamin D, which boosts immunity, helps build bones, and even helps to alleviate depression. Can you overdo the sun? Of course–I have seared into my mind a vision of a woman I saw sunbathing in Hawaii years ago. It was midday, and the sun was blazing. Her skin was burnt crispy and covered with a sun rash, but she wasn’t leaving the poolside until she was sufficiently tanned.
In Chinese medicine, the sun in pure Yang–it’s hot, light, warms us up, and dries us out. And yes, a lifetime of too much sun creates a physical dryness that no amount of moisturizer is ever going to undo. This kind of dryness is considered damage to your body’s fluids, and is the cause of wrinkles, age spots, broken blood vessels, and it just plain looks bad.
So yes, the idea of moderation is boring, especially in a world that demands quick fixes and magic bullets. The reality, however, is that moderation may be just what you need.