Is it true that we are what we eat? Is it true that we are what we eat?
Greetings at the outset of Spring 2010.
This edition is dedicated to dispelling some misconceptions concerning how we fuel our bodies.
Now, some thoughts on food:
‘Fish is the only food thats considered spoiled once it smells like what it is.’ (P J O’Rourke)
‘I like rice. Rice is great if you’re hungry and want 2000 of something.’ (Mitch Hedberg)
‘Never eat more than you can lift.’ (Miss Piggy)
‘Ask not what you can for your country: ask whats for lunch.’ (Orson Welles)
And on a more serious note:
‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’ (Anthelme Brillat-Savarin)
‘He who takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skill of the physician.'(Chinese proverb)
‘Let food be thy medicine; thy medicine shall be thy food.'(Hippocrates)
‘Thou shouldst eat to live, not live to eat.’ (Socrates)
Most people believe that we are what we eat, but this falls a little short of the truth on the matter. In qualification, ‘we are what we assimilate from what we eat.’ ‘we are what we assimilate from what we eat.’ I recall first hearing this splendidly straightforward yet vital slice of wisdom, spoken way back in 1976. At that time, health food shops had only just begun to
emerge from their predecessors, the bulk food shops. Our early sources of dietary guidance were the people who sold stuff like lecithin, lima beans, brewers yeast and bean sprouts.
Whilst purchasing some soya beans one day, I overheard the proprietor of my local health shop advising one of the patrons on the art of eating well. It rang true then and had done for thousands of years in China and it rings true now.
Its one thing to eat wholesome food, even to take high quality food supplements and herbal formulae, but its another to digest these, both efficiently and sufficiently. As one of my acupuncture lecturers once said, ‘Even a glass of water has to be digested’.
The adage, ‘We are what we eat’ refers to the transport of food into our systems. But there is another, just as important process. When describing the process of complete digestion, the Chinese practitioners refer to ‘Yun Hua ‘Yun Hua’.
Yun Hua refers to the ‘transportation and transformation’ ‘transportation and transformation’ of food and fluids within the body. ‘Transformation’ is synonymous with ‘assimilation’ and it can be strengthened or weakened by many factors in everyday life; put simply, by what and how we eat and drink.
Many people regard the symptoms of digestive dysfunction as being due predominantly to the ageing process. Thats far from the truth. Despite the fact that research has shown that, for example, the output of gastric acid in the stomach can diminish with age, we can do a lot to maximise our digestive potential despite the passing of our years.
First and foremost we must address any lackadaisical or presumptuous attitudes we may have acquired towards food selection and eating habits; secondly, stress must be attended to, as it has a huge impact on the gut.
Many digestive discomforts are the cumulative result of our losing touch with instincts and commmon sense in regards choices of foods appropriate to each individual and to our long term eating habits.
These symptoms are indications of a dysfunctional digestive system which may need to be harmonised, regulated, econgested, destagnated or tonified. harmonised, regulated, decongested, destagnated or tonified. If things have gotten way out of hand over time, the system may first require a complete detoxification detoxification process, before any other interventions can be instituted. You wouldn’t keep throwing logs onto a smouldering fire or pour expensive fuel into a blocked fuel tank, so why would you keep feeding an over-burdened digestive system?
Some common telltale signs include: poor appetite, bloating/fullness, wind, indigestion/reflux/heartburn, tiredness/sleepiness, discomfort in the abdomen, cramping and spasms, blocked throat, headache, bad breath, disturbed bowel functions such as diarrhoea/loose bowel motions, constipation, nausea,vomiting, gurgles and burgles (borborygmus) etc.Down the track from here are many and various far more serious digestive diseases. Disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome have become commonplace over the last decade. Inflammatory bowel disease, gastric reflux and bowel cancer seem to be on the up and up also.
One very important thing we tend to have forgotten or never given much thought to, is that the digestion of a meal requires quite a considerable amount of energy. Its essential to ensure that our production of metabolic energy outweighs energy expenditure. Otherwise we start to suffer energy insufficiency; a deficit which will be felt by every body system over time.
Poor digestive functions over time mean poor assimilation, leading to chronically low energy levels, poor immune responses and wound healing (which I call ‘immune incompetence’), and an ever diminishing level of stamina and vitality.
A very common situation is one wherein a client presents in clinic, complaining of ‘catching every bug that comes around’. They are not able to throw off one virus before another strikes. Their infections are debilitating and many courses
of antibiotics are commonly resorted to. So begins a terrible vicious cycle from which they cannot effectively escape.
Most people caught in this trap resort to self-medicating, with the likes of immune stimulating and regulating substances, such as Echinacea, Andrographis, Zinc, Vitamin C and so on, often with limited sucess. When these wonderful medicines don’t work well, one can deduce that theres a deeper problem manifesting. Thats because this has become a ‘blood out of a rock ‘ situation. A compromised digestive system cannot efficiently assimilate fuel and deliver
Absorbed nutrients are what the body needs to actually form the cells and tissues which constitute the immune system. In a nutshell, poor digestion begets nutrient ‘insufficiency’, often leading to hypo-immunity. To complicate matters, stress visits itself upon the digestive tract on a daily basis. Anyone who has had a shock can attest to the ‘hotline’ between the nervous system and the gut. The gut’s integrity and flow is also worn down by the likes of worry, anxiety, preoccupied thoughts, depression, irritability, insomnia and chronic nervousness. Emotional and mental stresses are leading
causes of digestive disturbances, their effects occurring over time, sometimes quite imperceptibly, until serious changes have taken place. Addressing andoffsetting various types of stress is part and parcel of a clinician’s work, each and every day.
All of these connections were apparent to practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine. We have inherited from them treatment strategies for correcting digestive abnormalities; advice on what to eat, when and how; on preparation, eating and lifestyle. Emphasis is placed on : food combinations, seasonal eating patterns; diet during times of illness, or during intense periods of study or say, pregnancy and a vigilance regarding the effects of specific substances such as wheat, gluten and so on.
It surprises people to discover that we can, at any age, develop food sensitivities and intolerances. Another issue is assisting the body, notably the gut, to tolerate the side effects of pharmaceuticals.
Acupuncture, moxibustion, massage techniques and Chinese herbals are the therapeutic mainstays, used to correct imbalances, deficits, stagnations, toxins, excesses, wear and tear and ‘external invasions’, of the gastrointestinal tract.
The overall key is to establish a regime that suits you as an individual. Traditional Chinese Medicine can both heal the digestive imbalances that already exist and advise us on best eating practices.
To your good health.