As a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the idea I emphasize most with my patients when it comes to TCM and nutrition is balance. The theory of yin and yang (think of the classic symbol of two intertwined halves of black and white) demonstrates this concept; it’s the most basic example of the natural ebb and flow in life.
You already know, though, that balance is something very difficult to obtain and even more difficult to maintain. Everyone is thrown off-balance every day by the continuous demands they place on themselves – from work and family to money and personal concerns, we’re expected to solve problems and fix errors multiple times per day. Every time we do this we can be pulled out of balance a bit more. Over time, the imbalance takes a toll on our bodies.
Luckily, there’s a simple way to fix these imbalances. The answer is right there on your dinner plate: Though you may miss your work deadline or skip your acupuncture treatment, I guarantee you won’t forget to eat. The trouble is, too often we choose foods that contribute to what in TCM we call dampness – a form of blockage in the body that’s directly related to the foods you eat. The main instigators include alcohol; fried, greasy, and spicy foods; cold and raw foods like salads, fruits, and vegetables; and the biggest culprit of them all – dairy, including milk, cream, cheese, and butter. (For more on dampness, watch this short video I made: http://vimeo.com/31466445)
Think of the amazing game of balance going on inside your body right now. Your body is constantly moving, creating, or diminishing hormones, water, and blood. These actions are what keep us healthy and allow us to conceive. Conception is one of the greatest acts of balance that the body is asked to perform. Just at the right time, hormones, egg, sperm, fertile mucus, and people’s desire all have come together. There is no easier way to help our body achieve a healthy pregnancy, or balance, than by eating the right foods.
So here’s a provocative question to ask yourself: How much do you cheat? What I mean by that is, out of all the things that cause dampness, how much of your weekly diet includes those foods? Many of us may think we eat healthfully, but what I notice in my office is many adults are caught with their hand in the cookie jar more than they realize.
Here are a few of the most common examples:
- Adding milk or cream in your coffee
- Drinking alcohol (more than 3 drinks per week)
- Eating salads or cold sandwiches for lunch
- Ordering in your dinner or eating take-out multiple times per week
I find the best way to change your dietary habits is to keep a journal and write down everything you eat for one week. Place an asterisk by everything that contributes to dampness, then at the end of the week estimate how many damp foods you’re eating. If it’s more than 10 percent of your total diet try to take small steps to decrease that number by eating a more balanced, plant-based, whole-foods diet.
Here are some simple steps to cut out damp foods:
- Replace milk or cream with almond milk. It has no estrogen, like its well-known cousin soy milk, and even contains a bit of protein.
- During the cold winter months make Crock-Pot dinners for your family. It’s fast, easy, and simple, which reduces stress.
- Replace white rice with brown rice, and white bread with whole grains.
- Buy lots of fresh produce and stay away from the frozen food section.
- Steam your veggies instead of pan-frying.
What do you think? Will you try to make some of these changes to your diet?