What is it?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) food is viewed as medicine and is used to nourish and harmonize the body, mind, and spirit. All foods have a distinct energy and characteristic properties that either help to balance our bodies and make us healthy, or that create imbalance which ultimately result in sickness.
TCM practitioners have long used the food energetics system to teach their patients how to enjoy food and learn how to heal their bodies through what they eat.
In the West, foods are described in terms of how much protein, fat, calories, vitamins, minerals, etc. it contains. Knowing the caloric intake of a meal is good information to have, but is rather limited when dealing with individual bodies who have unique constitutions and who should be treated with a more personalized method.
Whether a food is beneficial is determined by its effect on the human body. Therefore, the focus of Chinese medicine is the quality of the food as opposed to its quantity, a commonly emphasized factor in the Western approach. In the East, foods are described by qualities such as temperature, flavor, and action. TCM determines the unique energy and characteristic properties of each food such as hot/cold, salty/sweet/bitter flavors, and how foods act on and move throughout our bodies.
Although they differ in their approach, both Western & Eastern medicine have the same foundation: science. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Chinese discovered that everything in our world existed because of the interactions of energy within all things. They named these two opposing energies yin and yang; modern physicists call it kinetic and potential energy.
We each have a particular body constitution, much like our personalities, which makes us individual and unique. By eating the correct foods for your constitution, you’re feeding your body what it craves and needs to be healthy and balanced. For example, someone with a body constitution that is dry and warm would benefit from eating a diet of foods that brings moisture to the body while cooling it down. If you continue to eat drying or warming foods, then the body would be akin to a car engine over heating. Just as all foods have a particular energy and characteristics, so do each of our bodies. Chinese medicine is not one-size-fits-all, but approaches each person distinctly, viewing them as a whole: body, mind, and spirit.
Some Food energetics tips to promote healing and health:
1) Eat Seasonally: Our bodies are rhythmic and in touch with the natural cycles. For example, during winter our bodies are more inactive and focused on staying warm. Seasonal vegetables like root vegetables are warming and help to insulate our bodies from the cold. During the summer our bodies are more active and must focus on staying cool from the heat. Most seasonal vegetables and fruit available during summer are cooling and easily digested which allows our bodies to shed the pounds it put on during the colder seasons. Which meals tend to be the heaviest and lightest at what season? Nature provides foods that correspond to the seasons and best support our bodies during particular times of the year.
2) Cook & Eat Mindfully: Edward Espe Brown explains it best: “Enjoying your food is very important, because to enjoy something is how we connect to the world, to one another, to our inner being. When you enjoy your food, you will be happy and well nourished by what your eat.” Consider how your meals are spent. Try to relax and slow the pace of your meals, enjoy the presentation of the food, indulge in conversation, and make dining a relaxing, pleasurable experience. When we become more mindful of our meals, we absorb more of the nutrients from our foods.
3) Movement = Health: In Chinese medicine, movement equals health while stagnation equals disease. Think of a flourishing pond: the moving water is teeming with fish and other life. Now imagine if that pond stagnated. The fish would slowly die off from lack of oxygen and clean water as the algae and pests accumulate. Toxins increase because there are
no longer natural safeguards in place to maintain balance. The pond is analogous to the body. Exercise and proper breathing stimulates us, moving the stagnation and invigorating our bodies. In this health promoting environment, disease cannot take hold—so get up and move!