Your Own Personal Diet: Chinese Food Therapy

by Cindy Chamberlain on November 5, 2017

In your attempt to be as healthy as possible, one of the most confusing dilemmas you may face is what to eat. There is so much information and so many choices, diets, miracle foods, and even foods to avoid at all costs, that it’s difficult to know whether or not you’re eating the right stuff in the right way. In our attempt to sort out all of the frequently conflicting information about diet, we tend to label foods as good or bad. And while you know that chemically loaded products disguised as food are bad, figuring out what to eat beyond that isn’t always so clear.

Enter Chinese food therapy. Using food for healing is a tool that falls under the umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in which the foods you choose can be very specific to your personal health needs. Here are some principles of how Chinese food therapy works, and how you can use food to improve your health.

-Chinese food therapy is based on the idea that each food has built-in properties. A food can warm or cool your body depending on its particular temperature, which is not about how hot or spicy it is, but how your body feels after you’ve eaten it. For example, ginger, garlic, scallions, and onions tend to warm you up, while cucumbers, bananas, and melons are cooling. Beyond temperature, foods also have an essential action on your body. Some foods are very dense and nourishing, others can drain fluids, and still others may be very moistening. In addition, foods can affect specific organs in your body. For example, apples and pears are considered to be beneficial foods for your lungs.

-Because each food has a variety of properties, a practitioner schooled in Chinese dietary therapy can choose those foods that are most beneficial to your unique health needs. This is based on your overall body constitution, as well as any symptoms or illnesses you may be experiencing.

-Digestion is considered to be one of the most important components of Chinese food therapy. If you’re eating wonderful food, but are unable to digest it well, the nutrients and benefits of that food are lost. Therefore, if your digestion is an issue, your practitioner would work to improve it through acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and easily digestible foods.

-One strategy for improving digestion is to avoid a lot of raw foods. While we have been taught that raw is the most nutritious way to eat plant-based foods, uncooked vegetables are fibrous and hard to digest. Cooking your vegetables breaks down the fiber and “predigests” it without overloading your digestive system.

-The longer a food is cooked, the warmer it becomes to your body. So on one end of the spectrum, raw foods are considered to be cooling, while foods that have been roasted are warming in nature. That’s why we tend to eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables that are in season in the summer, but gravitate more to soups and stews during the winter months.

-Very cold foods like iced drinks, ice cream, or frozen foods can also slow down your digestion. Cold foods cool off the interior of your body and can bring your digestion to a halt, which can take some time to bring back to normal functioning. If you’ve ever felt like you just ate a gut bomb after finishing a bowl of ice cream, you know what I’m talking about.

-What you eat is all about energy. For decades, most of us have been taught that we should try to control or at least count the calories in our food if we want to maintain or lose weight. However, in Chinese medicine, the idea is to get the maximum amount of energy out of your food, because every system in your body depends on that energy to function. If you’re run down or struggling with fatigue, have poor immunity, or issues with temperature regulation, your best strategy is to eat a variety of warming, well-cooked foods. Your practitioner can guide you as to what specific foods are best for your particular condition.

-Dampness is a term that practitioners of Chinese medicine use to describe a condition of poor fluid metabolism. Dampness causes the fluids in your body to form something akin to puddles. Symptoms of dampness include retaining water, weight gain, a feeling of heaviness, loose stools, yeast infections, phlegm, and athlete’s foot.  The most common causes of dampness are eating the wrong foods for your body or poor digestion. A diet high in saturated fats, sugar, and rich or greasy foods causes your digestion to get bogged down, essentially clogging up the mechanism that metabolizes fluids. Acupuncture and herbs can be helpful in treating damp conditions, but changing up your diet is crucial.

While some of the basics of Chinese dietary therapy may seem counter-intuitive, it takes into account your specific body constitution and health status. It’s all about selecting the foods and cooking methods that are best-suited to your particular body and nutritional needs—and that’s a good thing!


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Hydration and Your Health

by Cindy Chamberlain on October 17, 2017

Hydration and Chinese Medicine - Eastern Healing Solutions

Every so often, I will get caught up in some activity and completely forget to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated. I know this is happening because my mouth will get really dry, I’ll feel thirsty, and even get slightly headachy. This is a problem that is easily fixed; just drink some water, right?

There are many people however, who are chronically dry despite drinking plenty and trying to stay hydrated. While about sixty percent of your body is water, there are conditions and patterns in Chinese medicine in which dryness is a large part of the problem. Here are a number of items that you may not know about dryness, balancing fluids, and Chinese medicine:

  • In Chinese medicine fluids are considered to be anything that moistens your body. This includes the moisture you find in your body’s organs and tissues, digestive fluids, tears, saliva, and the fluid in your joints. These fluids come from the food and drinks that you eat, digest, and convert to nourishing and moistening substances in your body. Essentially, body fluids provide moisture to every part of your body.
  • Beyond moistening and nourishing, fluids also play a number of other roles in keeping you healthy. They act like a cleaning system; through the process of metabolism waste and toxins are produced which are ultimately excreted through body fluids like sweat and urine. In addition, fluids are protective. Your eyes are protected by tears, your brain and spinal cord are protected and cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid, your mouth is moistened by saliva, and your sinuses and nasal passages are kept moist by mucous. Fluids also provide cushioning between your joints and elasticity and suppleness to your skin.
  • Western illnesses or conditions that are associated with dryness include Sjogren’s syndrome, which is an autoimmune condition frequently characterized by dry eyes and a dry mouth. Sjogren’s is often accompanied by other autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.  Certain skin conditions may also be related to dryness, such as eczema or psoriasis.
  • There are two general scenarios in which problems with body fluids can cause you to have symptoms. The first is when your fluids are no longer providing the moisture and nutrients your body needs to clean, moisten, protect, and cushion adequately. The second is when those fluids are not metabolized, distributed, or excreted properly. When this happens, you tend to get concentrations or puddles of fluid and areas of dryness. For example, you may develop edema (water swelling) along with very dry skin.
  • From a Western medical perspective, there are several causes of dryness, including certain medications, chronic dehydration, hormonal changes, and ageing. While all of these factors are a consideration in Chinese medicine as well, there are other causes of dryness according to Chinese theory. They include living in a hot or dry environment and poor diet. In addition, there are a number of patterns in Chinese medicine to describe what’s happening when you experience symptoms of dryness.
  • In Chinese medicine, fall is considered to be the season of dryness. As the warm days of summer wane, the humidity drops. In addition, the nights become cooler, the harvest has been brought in, and plants freeze and dry out after the first frost—all harbingers of dryness. In the fall, our bodies are more susceptible to dry colds—often characterized by a dry sore throat, dry and swollen nasal passages, and an unproductive cough.
  • A pattern of simple dryness means that your body fluids are depleted. This can be caused by any of the factors described above or from having elevated body heat for a period of time, such as a fever or inflammation. Common symptoms of this kind of dryness include dry skin, hair, lips, nails, throat (dry and sore), nasal passages, stools, chronic thirst, and a decrease in urinary volume.
  • Yin depletion of any kind can also produce symptoms of dryness. According to the theory of Yin and Yang, Yang acts a bit like your body’s pilot light—responsible for keeping you warm, fueling metabolism, and overall activity. In contrast, Yin is more like a healing and nourishing coolant in your body. It’s responsible for keeping you cool, nourished and moistened. When your Yin becomes depleted, you may experience a number of different symptoms, but lack of moisture—dryness—is common. As you age, it becomes more likely that your body’s Yin will decrease causing thinning of your skin, dry hair, and brittle nails. Also, because Yin is considerably cooling in nature, you may feel warmer than usual if your Yin becomes depleted. This heat often further dries you out. Interestingly, the Yin of specific organs can be depleted causing very specific symptoms. The Yin of your Lungs is frequently the first organ system to become dry, causing a dry and sore throat, an unproductive cough, and dry nasal passages. Liver Yin depletion is more closely associated with the nourishing aspects of Yin, causing dry skin, thin and brittle nails and hair, and a thin and emaciated body. At a deeper level, your Kidney system may become Yin depleted and produce the above symptoms plus a weak and achy back, hot flashes, night sweats, and fatigue.
  • It is also possible to have a pattern called damage to fluids. This is more severe than simple dryness or Yin depletion. Damage to fluids will take time and a multi-pronged approach to treat.
  • Treatment of dryness or damage to fluids using Chinese medicine goes beyond acupuncture. Frequently a nourishing and moistening herbal formula will be necessary, along with some dietary changes to incorporate more plant-based fats and better hydration.

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So How Does Acupuncture Work?

August 25, 2017

One of the most common questions we acupuncturists get is how exactly acupuncture works. Perhaps one of the biggest problems with acupuncture becoming universally accepted is in the way many practitioners explain what’s going on when you have acupuncture. Some will give you a convoluted explanation and talk about the flow of energy, Qi, and […]

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Emotional Healing… What You Should Know.

June 20, 2017

Your emotions are considered to be a primary cause of ill health in Chinese medicine. In fact, the Chinese say that emotions are the cause of a hundred diseases. You know this is true when a stressful time in your life led to chronic insomnia, or a major loss gave way to depression. However, in […]

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Are Chinese Herbs Right for You?

May 16, 2017

As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I have recommended taking Chinese herbs to a number of my patients. Some are all in and ready to try them on my suggestion, and others are a bit hesitant. It’s understandable—and a good thing—to want a little more information before taking any new herb, supplement, or medication. So […]

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7 Surprising Secrets for Fighting Fatigue

February 21, 2017

Fatigue comes in many shapes and sizes. Some people get through their day on autopilot, only to crash from exhaustion in the early evening. Others have energy, but it fluctuates widely throughout the day. Some struggle to drag their tired body out of bed, but seem to be okay once they get moving. And still […]

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Thinking if You Should Try Acupuncture?

November 8, 2016

Does this sound like you? You’ve been struggling with some kind of health issue for a while now. It may be a sore shoulder, digestive problems, or insomnia. Maybe you’ve tried to deal with it on your own, and maybe you’ve been to your doctor, but either way you’re not getting much relief. At first […]

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Jaw Dropping Facts & Tips About TMJ Syndrome

July 28, 2016

If you wake up with headaches, frequently have sore or sensitive teeth, struggle with neck pain, or experience tenderness in your face, you may have temporomandibular joint syndrome. Wait…what? While it sounds very serious, temporomandibular joint syndrome, or simply TMJ, is the term to describe a constellation of symptoms that arise from the joint that […]

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Want to Lose Weight But Don’t Know Where to Start? – 5 Things You Should Know.

June 17, 2016

Nowhere has more time, money, and effort has been spent for minimum lasting results and maximum frustration than in peoples’ efforts to lose weight. In an effort to drop pounds, dieters have spent billions of dollars on books, weight loss systems, exercise equipment, and powdered meals in a can. And for the most part, those […]

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Is Yin-Yang Imbalance Keeping You up at Night?

May 9, 2016

After a long day, there’s nothing better than getting into bed at night and dropping off to sleep. You’re anticipating seven or eight hours of uninterrupted ZZZ’s. Your head hits the pillow – you’re ready for dreamland, and…all of a sudden, you’re wide awake. Your mind won’t quiet. You begin revisiting every conversation you had […]

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