Hey, all! Izzy here. I'm so excited to share this guest blog post with you today! Dr. Melanie Katin, L.A.c. , who happens to be my acupuncturist in Evanston, has written an article about what Chinese medicine has to say about eating right for your body type, and she doesn't mean if you're a meso/ecto/endomorph! I found this so insightful and interesting and hope you do, too. Enjoy!
We all do it. We all have a struggle to maintain our weight, lose weight, stay fit, gain muscle, squeeze into last spring’s jeans … you get the idea. The last time you didn’t have to think about your diet was probably in high school or college, or if you are lucky, into your thirties. But there does come a time when we should take a hard look at what we are eating and think about how it impacts our weight, and more importantly, our health.
There are so many dietary fads around right now that all promise the same thing: lose fat, define muscle! Gain energy! Get 6-pack abs! While the diets may have some redeeming aspects, such as to reduce or eliminate sugar, cut back or eliminate simple carbohydrates, like bread, pasta, and rice, increase protein and “good” fats, the real catch is that they are all very difficult to maintain in the long run. In fact, something like Whole 30 can be great because it sets out a time-frame for you to adhere to the changes, but after 20+ years in the health and wellness profession, I can tell you that making sustainable alterations to lifestyle and dietary patterns we hold onto is hard for most people. Truthfully, even when people have serious illnesses, they are reluctant to make changes that will alter the course of their disease.
Most patients I’ve worked with over the years set out vague, shapeless strategies for changing their eating habits that are impossible to start, let alone maintain. I always say to make the choice for that one plate in front of you, and decide how to proceed. Does it appear to be the best choice for achieving your goals? Should you eat the whole portion? Why not cut it in half, and box the remainder for another meal? How can you change your immediate meal, not the ones tomorrow, or next week. After I said these words to one patient, within 6 months, she lost 100 pounds, after struggling for years to lose the weight she gained after her first pregnancy. Told me it was the best advice anyone had given her.
A healthy diet is balanced with a variety of foods, flavors, and ingredients. In addition to the plate-right-in-front-of-you-rule, the broadest suggestion I typically make to a patient is to have a rainbow assortment of colors for each meal. This is helpful for when you go shopping and take a look at the available produce. Choosing by color is easy, fun for the kids, which in turn can get them excited to try new foods, and may offer a larger variety of foods than you had been preparing, out of habit or boredom. This strategy is also a way to spend more time in the produce aisle and fill your cart with real food, instead of piling up manufactured foods.
Another component of dietary choice, and one you may not have heard before, is to determine what is the best food for your individual body type. One of the aspects of Chinese medicine that is different than allopathic biomedicine is the individualized approach to treatment, including diet. Based on your unique constitution, a doctor of acupuncture & Chinese medicine (DACM) will make specific recommendations for your body type. I'm going to say it right here: for most people, eating smoothies and salads for every meal is not the way to lose weight or get healthy!
See if this example of someone who really should look beyond salads or smoothies is you: often feel bloated? More prone to having loose bowel movements? Have a very hard time losing weight? Fatigue easily? Have soft muscles, despite exercising regularly, including lifting weights? Well if this is you, stop with the salads. The best foods for you are warm and cooked: stews, soups, cooked or steamed vegetables of all kinds, especially squash, sweet potatoes and yams; hot cereals, broths with protein, chai or ginger tea, and warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, especially in the colder months. If you do crave salads, try to have a cup of hot tea or soup along with it. The foods you should stay away from are raw fruits and vegetables, cold, iced or frozen drinks, sugar, and greasy, oily foods.
Or are you this type: swell up easily, especially lower legs and feet? Feel cold all of the time? Low energy, constant loose bowels or frequent urination, tendency to have low back or knee pain? For you, slow cooked foods like soups and stews are great. Walnuts, pistachio nuts, all dark leafy greens, and kidney beans (like in chili) are helpful. Try to avoid the raw and cold foods entirely, but also avoid salt, coffee, and alcoholic beverages.
Does this type seem more like you: hot most of the time, night sweats, thirsty or dry mouth, tense musculature, maybe have a hard time gaining weight? Feel bloated very quickly after eating only a small amount of food? For you, water filled fruits and vegetables are best suited for your body type (ok, even salads!): examples like cucumbers, zucchini, celery, asparagus, lemons, oranges, pineapple, melons, tomatoes, most beans, sprouts, coconut milk, fish, eggs. Foods that work against you are hot, spicy foods, which you probably love and crave; onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, coffee, alcoholic beverages.
The last example is the type of person who might have a lot of bleeding, like nosebleeds, or rectal bleeding, feel hot all of the time, quick flaring temper, violent headaches, red eyes. You are in luck on the salad front, but may have many health issues like hypertension or other inflammation that need to be addressed medically. For you, cooling foods like egg whites, fish, bitter green vegetables like kale, dandelion, arugula, endive, chard; fruit like watermelon, lemons, pears, adzuki beans, the water filled vegetables listed above, and drink lots of room temp or cool water with lemon, peppermint or chrysanthemum tea. Avoid pungent herbs, like ginger, cinnamon, pepper, coffee, alcohol, smoked foods, hot chili, onions, garlic.
Obviously, there are many other body types and tendencies that will benefit from other strategies. If you are interested in learning what foods can best support you, please contact a licensed acupuncturist near you. You can take a look at the nccaom.org website to find someone with the appropriate credentials. Until then, eat well, enjoy your food and the company you share it with, and try something new.
Dr. Melanie Katin, L.Ac. has been practicing Chinese medicine and acupuncture since 2004 in New York City. She has published articles in The Illinois Acupuncturist, OM Magazine, and has been interviewed by Natural Awakenings magazine. She relocated to Evanston in 2017, and her practice is located in the Heartwood Center in Evanston. bebetteracupuncture.com for more information and appointments.