Your journey to better health

Digestion and TCM Theory

In an entry last month, we discussed the importance of postnatal qi, and here, I would like to elaborate on the importance of digestion.  We have to receive so much of our daily energy and qi from food, that what and how we eat becomes vital to our ability to remain healthy.  However, rather than rehash dietary arguments, I will present an East Asian medicine perspective on how we can do little things in our daily eating habits to better accommodate a healthy lifestyle since digestion is reliant upon more than merely what we eat, i.e. time of day, speed of eating, and even the environment we typically eat in.  If one were to change even one of these many factors, noticeable benefits would occur.

We can eat the healthiest foods we can find, but if we don’t have a healthy digestive system, we will not assimilate the nutrients we need.  Granted, healthier food is easier to digest and therefore preserves our digestive qi, rather than depleting it.  However, when one considers that the varying strength of one digestive qi is dependent upon several factors, diligence in building and maintaining that strength will promote healthy weight, vital energy and a sound mental state.  There are specific foods that can help to strengthen our digestive qi (like oats, rice, potatoes, squash, dates, grapes, beef, chicken, and ginseng), but if we eat too much of any one thing, or eat too quickly, we essentially are bombarding the digestion too fast to keep up with the breakdown of those foods. 

Therefore, how we eat becomes a major issue.  This notion of overwhelming the stomach has many facets.  The digestive qi is fragile but there can be as many ways to keep it strong as there are ways to deplete it.  I will explain some of these facets, but understand that these are just a few various suggestions to preserve digestive qi to take into consideration. 

  • Do not eat foods (and liquids) straight from the fridge, but instead (at least) at room temperature.  A lot of energy is spent to warm them up to be assimilated.
  • Raw vegetables are harder to digest, steaming them first can soften the cell walls and warms them up energetically.  Remember, we don’t have a functional appendix, we are not ruminants.
  • It is better to eat smaller meals with snacks in between.  Portion control can prevent bombarding the digestion with more than it can handle at one time.
  • Schedule your meals at regular hours.  For example, 7 am, 12 pm, and 7 pm.  Regularity allows for the body to know when to expect food and adjusts your natural circadian rhythm to it.
  • Eat slowly.  Take the time to allow your digestion to handle all that is being put into the gut.  The faster the process, the greater likelihood for slow digestion, gas, bloating and distention.
  • Chew thoroughly.  There is a lot of digestion and breakdown of the food that occurs in the mouth first.
  • Do nothing else when eating.  Eating on the go, or while doing other activities stresses the system and doesn’t give a focus to the process.
  • There should be a clean and clear table when eating.  A cluttered space can lead to a cluttered consciousness when trying to simply eat.
  • Try not to eat when overly stressed/anxious or angry.  The body’s energy is bound up if this is the case.  Digesting food while this is occurring only makes matters worse.
  • Be grateful for the food.  When one considers the origins and process for the food to arrive on your plate, the more one can appreciate the qi in the food itself.

These are just a few suggestions that can be worked into our eating habits.  They don’t all have to be adhered to, but try just one and see if it helps.  Reflect on how you feel after you eat.  Because eating is so important, be sure to give it the respect and attention it deserves.  As one is able to digest food better, the mind will no longer ruminate on thought, improving the tendency to overthink.  The two go hand in hand.

You can strengthen your digestion by simply not weakening it.  Get the most out of your food and maintain your post natal qi.

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