Diet receives a lot of attention in the media and rightly so; a healthy diet is absolutely fundamental to good health and a happy life.
In the practice of Chinese medicine, the foods one eats can be used as specific therapy for illness. A diet can be, quite literally, medicinal. Additionally, many people follow specific, restrictive diets to meet certain goals.
However, regardless of health or life issues you may be trying to address with specific types of foods, there are basic dietary guidelines all should follow for basic health.
Where foods are used as medicine, the following provides a foundation. Where no specific dietary plan is followed, the following are the basics simply for health.
These basics, then, of healthy eating could be summarized as follows:
1) Eat food.
The more processed a food is, the less it can be considered food. Much of what passes today as food, could more accurately be called entertainment.
The presence or amount of packaging is one thing to keep an eye on. Does every meal you eat come prepared, out of a package, or is the only packaging present that in which the food naturally grew? Did you prepare and place the food in the packaging, or did it come packaged at the grocery store? Ideally, packaging is minimal.
2) Pay attention to eating.
Make a habit of paying close attention to when you get hungry, what you're hungry for, how you feel when eating, and how you feel after.
3) Eat when hungry.
Eat when you are physically hungry. A true physical appetite A) indicates your body needs food (and, thus, shouldn't be ignored), and B) indicates your body is ready and able to digest food. Eating regardless of appetite means you'll get less out of your food and burden your body with the energy-intensive process.
4) Stop eating when not hungr.
Overeating significantly reduces your ability to breakdown and absorb nutrients from a meal. It also severely burdens the body's energy and resources.
5) Chew until the taste of the food is gone.
This maximizes the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
6) Limit the intake of fluids with meals.
Fluids hamper the digestive process. Limit intake of fluids to less than a cup of a warm beverage.
7) Limit the intake of cold and raw foods.
Both of these weaken the digestive process and the digestive system.
8) Eat a variety of foods and flavors.
This helps meet all of your system's needs.
9) Avoid excessive intake of any flavor.
Each flavor (naturally occurring) has a specific effect on the body. Too much (or too little) of any one flavor can result in an imbalance in the corresponding system.
10) Make breakfast and lunch the largest meals of the day, dinner the lightest.
The digestive system (as with all systems of the body) has a daily high and low energy period. It is strongest in the mornings and weakest in the evenings. The intake of food should be adjusted accordingly.
11) Enjoy what you eat.
The more you enjoy your food the better you'll digest it and the more you'll get out of it.
12) Avoid the following food combinations -
- Fruit and anything else (especially meat) - If you must, eat the fruit first, then wait at least 30 minutes until you consume the meat.
- Heavy sweets with anything else - If you must, eat the sweets first, then wait about 30 minutes for anything else. Note - Craving sweets after a meal is common. If you do cave in (as I often do) eat a small amount of something naturally mildly sweet.
13) Don't microwave your food.
Microwaving food reduces the nutritive value (Notice how the flavor of 'nuked' food suffers?...)
14) Don't nap or lay down after a meal.
The desire for either of these is a sign the meal was somehow inappropriate for you. Giving in further burdens the digestive system. Instead take a light walk.
(in case you live in the real world...)
As you may not be able to apply all the above all the time, I offer the following advice to minimize damage to your health.
a) Be fully present to, and enjoy, the meal.
Though repetitive, this is probably the easiest and most readily available 'cheat'. Truly, engaging the spirit in any endeavor is powerful. This is no less true with eating.
b) Chew a lot.
So you're overeating, and you know it. What this does is overwhelm the digestive process. It's making it harder for the body to break down the food and get nutrients from it. Understanding this, the 'cheat' is simple - chew more. Actively, consciously break down the food as much as you can to lessen the burden on your stomach.
c) Eat a little orange or lemon peel.
These both aid in the action of digesting food.
d) Do some slow, deep breathing.
Deep breathing, using the large diaphragm muscle, aids in the process of mechanically breaking down food. This little cheat has come in handy many, many times for me when I stuff myself.
e) Do some light exercise after a heavy meal.
Light exercise, like taking a walk, standing and doing the dishes, etc., helps stimulate the energy of the body to aid in digestion.
f) Eat as light as possible.
If you have to eat late, eat as light as you can and try not to eat too many different types of food in one meal. Definitely avoid meat and dairy. Nuts and legumes may even be too much.
g) Do a short fast if you broke a lot of the rules at one sitting.
If you overburden your digestive system, give it a break. This often comes naturally. If you stuff yourself at night, you likely won't be hungry until around noon, or later, the next day. This is good. The body's recovering. (By a 'short' fast, I mean 12 to 18 hours.)
Chinese Medical Properties of Foods