Throughout history, many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have considered digestive health to be at the core of our overall well-being. When our digestive health becomes impaired, this can lead to the development of many other diseases that may seem unrelated, but are rooted in disharmonies of the digestive system. This way of thinking is so popular that an entire school of TCM was centered around healing the digestive system to cure all other disease. This school is called, “The School of the Spleen and Stomach”. Modern physiology tells us that digestion takes place primarily in the mouth, stomach, and intestines but in TCM, it is the energy of the Spleen and Stomach that are spoke of most often when considering ones digestive strength.
Here are 5 TCM tips to help you start your journey towards more balanced digestion.
1. Eat More Cooked Foods
All food that enters our mouth has to be broken down into more simple parts in order for our body to use it. This digestive “Qi” (enzymes, hydrochloric acid, bacteria, etc) that breaks down our food into usable parts has to do twice the amount of work when we consume raw and cold foods. Eating foods that are at body temperature or higher, allows you to save Spleen and Stomach Qi. This simple act of warming our food helps initiate the process of breaking down tough raw foods and making them easier for our bodies to assimilate.
2. Enjoy the Process
Eating should bring you pleasure. The food we eat is the most intimate connection we have to our health and wellbeing multiple times per day, every day of our lives. Even the best, most well balanced diets will not meet their potential if they are loathed. Through eating real food, as nature intended, we can reconnect with the immense gift we are given through every bite we take. Finding pleasure in the food you eat will ease the digestive process as a whole.
3. Get Rid of Distractions
The process of digestion is one that consumes a lot of Qi. Distractions such as taking a phone call, answering emails, or watching TV diverts Qi away from the process of digestion and lends it to the eyes and brain. Create a new ritual of distraction free meals. Taking the time to eat without distractions will prove beneficial to your digestive health and overall sense of wellness.
4. Limit “Damp” Producing Foods
This recommendation is a general guideline for most Americans. We live in a culture that is overwhelmed with calorie rich, sugar loaded, processed foods. While a person with a “fiery”, Yang dominant constitution might tolerate damp producing foods well, most Americans do not. Damp producing foods stagnate Qi, bog down digestive energy, and tend to leave people feeling lethargic, heavy, and overweight. Processed carbohydrates, wheat, sugar, commercial dairy, overly rich, and fried foods are the most offensive damp producing foods to introduce to a system that already has low digestive fire. Aim towards pasture raised proteins and cooked veggies as the core of your diet. Cook with bitter and pungent ingredients such as garlic, ginger, radishes, onions, horseradish, pepper, clove, oregano, thyme, basil, and much more.
5. Exercise, Reduce Stress, and Move Your Qi
The connection between digestive health and emotional health has been recognized in TCM for millennia. In TCM, the Liver and its Qi is said to control the free flow of Qi throughout the entire body. A lifestyle, full of stress, emotionally upset, overworked, and lack of healthy movement leads to what we call Liver Qi Stagnation. When Liver Qi stagnates, it rebels and attacks the digestive energy of the Spleen and Stomach. Regular exercise and stress reduction practices such as meditation or engaging in an activity you love, help to spread Liver Qi so that it flows smoothly throughout the body and does not harass the digestive energy of the Spleen and Stomach.
No matter what your complaint, these 5 tips are a great starting point for anyone looking to improve their digestive and overall health. If you’re looking for more specific help, or feel like you need the extra kick Acupuncture and herbal medicine can provide, book a free 30 minute consultation with Brooke today!
Written by: Brooke Holmes, LAc
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