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Suggestions for Eating Well from Chinese Medicine

Posted Feb 22 2011 10:25am

Classical Chinese medical texts talk a lot about food — and more about eating habits than about what you actually eat. The idea is that your body can process and use food much better when it is relaxed and not strained. And there’s a lot to that (see the previous article for more on this!)

For optimal health, Chinese medicine warns against (are you ready?): eating standing up, eating on the run, eating in a hurry, eating while reading or studying, eating while working, going back to work right after eating, eating on an erratic schedule, eating late at night, and eating while upset or stressed.

Are you kidding? That’s most of how we eat.

And the truth is, these rules were developed in an agrarian society where everyone worked close to home and did the same thing every day. No one had jobs or appointments to get to, or errands to run. It was entirely possible back then to sit down for three relaxed meals every day. Very few of us have a life like that now.

Still, a little movement in that direction can make a surprisingly big impact on our health and quality of life. Here are my top picks to try out:

1. Choose regular mealtimes and stick with them if you can. It’s amazing how well this regulates digestion and energy. It also gives your body the message that food comes in regularly, and it doesn’t have to hoard or store calories for later. Bonus: it’s incredibly psychologically grounding to have at least one part of your schedule more regular and predictable.

2. Pay attention when you’re eating. I know. It’s really tempting to multi-task while eating. But, you know, food is actually one of our great pleasures in life — it seems a shame to always distract ourselves from it. Try sitting down and just eating. No walking around, no reading, no watching TV, no talking on the phone (it’s okay to talk to the person you’re with, though). You might feel a little restless, like you should be doing something. You might get bored, or feel lonely if you’re eating alone. This one can actually be very challenging, but it’s worth it. You’ll enjoy your meals more, eat less, and feel more satisfied.

3. Have a meal of celebration once a week. Eating is best when it’s social and fun. These are the times we are really relaxed, enjoying our food, and being nourished in about a dozen different ways. It doesn’t have to be a big deal (multi-course dinner parties are totally optional). Just eat something you really like with people you really like, and dedicate the time entirely to eating, relaxing, and talking. It’s good for the heart as well as the body, and it elevates eating to a place above chore status. Believe me, it will make your whole week feel a little bit different.

These practices work well for regulating digestive problems and for losing weight; and also for less obvious things like mood, energy, mental focus, and sleep. If you try any of this, let me know how it goes!


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