Weight loss. What a loaded word. It comes with so many pre-conceived ideas, emotions, and maybe a little hope of a quick fix. Quick fix to what though? What do you think you will find on the other side of the goal line where you are your “perfect” weight? Usually people say happiness but I am here to tell you that the feeling you are searching for, occurs when you are in a state of balance and harmony. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), you will lose the unneeded pounds when you find your own constitutional imbalances, the “deficiencies and excesses” that have developed over time and rectify them. I will be giving you some suggestions on how to you can accomplish this.
Weight gain is only a symptom of an underlying pattern imbalance and TCM takes that along with other symptoms you might be experiencing (such as constipation, poor sleep, fatigue, etc.) and formulates a Chinese pattern diagnosis. This pattern is treated, not the symptoms. This equates to the root of the problem being treated and when the right TCM diagnosis is identified and treated, you will see all your symptoms disappearing that seemed so unrelated to the Western eye. What this means in terms of weight loss is that once we recognize the underlying pattern that is causing an individual’s imbalance, we can then use a combination treatment approach of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and specific food suggestions for that TCM pattern to create harmony in the body. You see, there is no “one size fits all” in TCM. The foods that cause one person to gain weight can be medicine in another.
I am not promising a quick fix. I am not even promising it will be easy. It takes work and self-reflection to get to where we want to be in life. What I am promising is that you will feel really good. With consistency, a little will power, and some self-love, you can achieve that feeling of well-being. That is what is going to bring you happiness in the end and isn’t that why most people say they want to lose weight in the first place? Well-being comes through health: physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. It is all connected.
A feel a few rules need to be laid down here for the foundation to be strong. First, do not compare yourself to another human! Health comes in many different sizes and skinny does not equal healthy. Which brings me to the second rule: your goal should be health not some number! Isn’t the point to have a high-quality life where you feel good? You are not going to be feeling good calorie counting while running on a treadmill and drinking diet pop. Final rule is you need a shift in perspective. This could mean different things for different people, but for most it can be as simple as changing your goal from weight loss to health gain. For others, it can mean adding in a gratitude practice every day, sitting in silence for five minutes, or finally taking that class you have always wanted to take. We need inspiration in life so find yours.
Although specific food suggestions will vary depending on your individual TCM pattern diagnosis, I will give some TCM guidance that will be beneficial to all. It is extremely important that our digestion process is functioning very well. In TCM, this is the “Spleen” organ that we are talking about. The TCM Spleen can be thought of as a combination of the pancreas, stomach, duodenum, and small intestine in Western medicine. It is in charge of transformation and transportation. In other words, it breaks down the food we eat into Qi, blood, and nutrients and then gets these by-products to where they need to go. So, if this function is deficient, we won’t be breaking our food down well enough, absorbing sufficiently, or transporting adequately. To keep the Spleen working optimally or to restore its function, we need to eat whole foods that are cooked and not too difficult to digest. This means no raw or cold foods and drinks, even ice water. Cold taxes the digestive system. Think of throwing ice on a fire when you are trying to cook with it.
The next TCM guide post is too eat at regular times every day. The body likes routine and does best when you eat at the same times. It is best to eat three regular meals with maybe an afternoon snack and do not “graze” in between meals. The body needs rest time in between food to fully digest the food and be able to perform all its other functions. It is also advised that we do not eat food from 7pm to 7am (this is not advisable for every individual, for example babies and adults with blood sugar regulation issues). Digestive function is very low at night and eating at night can lead to “food accumulation and dampness” in TCM terms. This loosely translates to mucous and phlegm production in Western terms and can lead to symptoms such as bloating, fatigue, insomnia, cloudy mind, bowel irregularity and more.
As far as timing, Chinese Medicine is very in tune with nature, seasons, and the cycles of Earth, so advice varies by season. They recommend to eat your largest meal when the sun is highest, so this means lunch would be your largest meal, breakfast the second largest, and supper the lightest meal of the day. The seasons also affect how much sleep we need, which a lot more people can relate to. For optimal health, it is best to rise with the sun and sleep when the sun sets. Although in our modern culture, this is close to impossible, we should get more sleep in the winter and less in the summer.
Finally, get outside! In order to make good quality Qi, we first need to start with good quality food and good quality air. I am not telling you to go run five miles. Start with where you are at and if that is walking around your block once a day then that is great! The point is to be outside breathing some fresh air while moving your body. This gives us a chance to connect with nature too. We do not need to be in a forest to notice a tree. “Connecting” can just be noticing. Be kind to yourself on this wonderful Earth journey. Treat yourself and talk to yourself like you would a baby. Health on the outside starts with health on the inside.
If you would like to learn more about what your constitutional type is so you can pick the right foods for you and avoid the foods that are causing more imbalance, feel free to come to my free class on March 27th at from 12-1pm at Natural Grocers in Flagstaff. Or you can stop by our booth at the free event: “The East Side Show: The Other Art Walk” that happens the 2nd Saturday every month at 12pm for a free auricular style acupuncture treatment to get started on your way to health. So much support is available to you in this community; don’t do it alone!
If you missed my talk at Natural Grocers yesterday, but would like some information on baby nutrition and food introduction, here is an outline of what we talked about. Feel free to contact me with any questions or need for clarification.
How are babies different from adults?
Why is nutrition so important to babies?
What nourishes the Spleen?
Before we get to specific foods, here are some general rules:
When should I offer my baby food?
Experts agree that breast milk alone is sufficient for the first year of your baby’s life, so no need to rush! It is best to go slow. In fact, many organizations (The World Health Organization, Health Canada, and the US Department of Health and Human Services) advocate that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months – that means no supplemental juice or solids until that time. Waiting longer before starting solids gives your baby enhanced immune protection, increased protection from allergies, and the digestive system time to mature. The guidelines below are only general and you need to look at your baby overall. You should see many of the signs below, never just one. If you notice undigested food in your baby’s stool, it is too early.
What foods should I feed my baby?
First baby foods (6-8 months): Make sure these are steamed, baked, or sautéed and then pureed. Start with one food at a time and wait for 3 days before introducing another new food so that you can monitor for signs and symptoms of food intolerance. Some symptoms are: mood changes, sleep disturbance, excess gas or bloating, increased spit up or vomiting, diarrhea, redness around the mouth and/or anus, body rash or hives, and increased mucous such as nasal discharge or congestion.
Next step 7-9 months: Here too, make sure all foods are baked, steamed, or sautéed. Your baby may want to start eating more solid foods, so you can cut foods into soft, well-cooked chunks and monitor them closely.
Cooked sweet potato, cauliflower, and chicken broth with a pinch of Himalayan salt makes for a very nutritious meal with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and prevents blood sugar spikes.
Adding some warming digestive herbs and spices, such as ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom can help the digestibility of foods and balance our “cold natured” food.
Adding fats to their meals, such as butter, coconut, and avocado oil is extremely important as it will keep them satisfied, nourish their brain, and keep their digestive track protected.
Next Step – 9-12 months: Now you may start introducing organic only grains (the closer to 1 year as possible, the better), BUT be sure to soak the grains overnight in water to break them down and increase their digestibility. Cook them longer in at least twice the amount of water to create a porridge or congee. You can add in nourishing vegetables and warming spices (fennel, black pepper, ginger, cardamom, and/or cinnamon).
Oats slowly cooked in extra water with pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Crock pot works great!
Rice congee with sweet potatoes, zucchini, beets, and onion
Whenever you are making something, make a large batch and freeze the extra into cubes for easy meals when you are busy!
When your baby is sick, the best thing he or she can consume is breast milk. A great supplement to this is bone broth with a pinch of Himalayan salt and is a much better electrolyte replacement than pedialyte.
Foods to avoid until around 12-24 months:
Despite conventional wisdom, it is not necessary for toddlers to continue to drink milk after weaned off breast milk to get adequate calcium. Many other foods provide sufficient calcium, such as:
If you had delayed cord clamping during the delivery of your baby, your baby will have enough iron stored until they are 6-10 months, depending on the individual scenario (Buckley, 2009). Around 9 months is when you want to make sure your baby is getting enough iron. Babies that have a higher risk of low iron include: babies born premature, babies born at a low birth weight, and babies whose mother had gestational diabetes or poor nutritional status during pregnancy. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Iron for both males and females from 0-6 months old is 0.27mg/day, for age 7-12 months 11mg/day, and for children 1-3 years old 7mg/day (CDC, 1998). Foods that are iron rich:
NOTE: Cereal is NOT a good source of iron. Most is added synthetically and only about 4% is absorbed (Famons, 1989). Furthermore, eating processed or refined foods actually pulls nutrients from your baby’s body in order to digest and break down the food.
Signs your baby is iron deficient include: slow weight gain, no appetite, pale skin, and low activity level but high irritability.
“Most breastfeeding babies do not need any water, vitamins, or iron in addition to breast milk for at least the first 6 months. Human milk provides all the fluids and nutrients a baby needs to be healthy. By about 6 months of age, however, you should start to introduce your infant to baby foods that contain iron. Your pediatrician may prescribe Vitamin D or Iron supplement if there is a need for it.” American Academy of Pediatrics. A Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding”
Combining Vitamin C with iron rich foods helps increase absorbability. Foods high in Vitamin C include:
As your baby becomes a toddler and weans from breastmilk, it becomes extremely important to have every meal and snack balanced. This means eating a variety of food and always incorporating protein, fat, and unprocessed carbohydrates (fruit, vegetable, and/or whole grain) at every meal and snack. This will keep blood sugars stable, provide a full range of vitamins and minerals, and allow for maximal absorbability of those nutrients.
Buckley, S. J. (2009). Gentle birth, gentle mothering: the wisdom and science of gentle choices in pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
CDC. (1998). Recommendations to Prevent and Control Iron Deficiency in the United States . Retrieved February 10, 2017, from https://wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/prevguid/m0051880/m0051880.asp#Table_2
Flaws, B. (1999). Keeping your child healthy with Chinese medicine: a parent's guide to the care and prevention of common childhood diseases. Kuala Lumpur: Eastern Dragon Press.
Fomon, S. J., Ziegler, E. E., Rogers, R. R., Nelson, S. E., Edwards, B. B., Guy, D. G., . . . Janghorbani, M. (1989). Iron Absorption from Infant Foods. Pediatric Research, 26(3), 250-254. doi:10.1203/00006450-198909000-00019
Scott, J., & Barlow, T. (1999). Acupuncture in the treatment of children. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press.
USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory | USDA Food Composition Databases (2016). Retrieved February 10, 2017, from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/
Vitamin C: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2015, February 02). Retrieved February 8, 2017, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002404.htm
UPDATE: I recently had a question posted, but they did not leave an email address to respond directly to them, so I am answering the question here regarding the quantities for the red cabbage/cranberry/apple sauce to help with constipation for your 8 month old. There is not a "right" quantity, as it really depends on your daughter's current diet and how much sweet flavor she is used to. Ideally, cabbage would be about 50% and the cranberry and apple 25% each. You also want to make sure she is getting enough fat in her diet. Raw flax oil is also great for constipation to moisten the intestines. Do not heat or cook with it, but add it to already cooked food. Make sure all the food she consumes is cooked and warm. I hope you see this message. Let me know if you have any more questions!
Brittany Petrick, L.Ac, MSOM, BSN
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