London Acupuncturist Roisin Golding for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate

There’s nothing simpler and more pleasurable than sitting down to a good meal. That is until an overload of food information was placed over our heads like some nutritional Damocles’ sword. It’s enough to give a person an ulcer.

Maybe since time began we had to find out what was good for us by trial and sometimes fatal error. Imagine early hunter-gatherers dropping like flies after being tempted by an exotic-looking lethal plant. Sticking to a simple diet of what you knew wouldn’t kill was the only sure means of survival.

Among all the modern talk of what we should eat, the most basic principles of how we should eat has been lost. Only the other day a young man was telling me about his new job, delivering kitchen appliances around southern England. He was happy as he had been out of work for several months. Only one thing would make him happier, a little railed shelf up on the dashboard so that his sandwiches and tea wouldn’t fly all over the place while he was driving along those narrow roads trying to make his deliveries on time. Ridiculous? He insisted that his eight hour day contract did not allow for lunch time.

This attitude says that eating is a waste of time and that there are plenty of other things one could be doing at the same time. While one hand hurriedly stuffs a sandwich stomachward, the other could be punching information into a computer, or shoving washing into a machine. Saying grace before meals may have gone with the wind, but not taking some quiet time to digest will bring back more than a little wind. We need to exercise some respect for our system instead of throwing down a quick meal along with a few indigestion tablets, or the latest digestive enzyme supplements.

The Chinese have a special view of the digestive system. They claim that this energy not only breaks down and absorbs food but also absorbs information; it literally ruminates in both senses of the word. If you try to do both at the same time, they say, the energy available will be split. So put down the book at meal time and pick it up when you’ve finished. Students commonly present symptoms that have their roots in weak digestive energies.

Again, with so little time available to people, the family meal is being turned into the ‘family business’ dinner, usually involving many upsetting topics, such as unpaid bills, school grades, or yesterday’s unfinished argument. It’s likely that if you don’t notice your stomach becoming knotted by tensions during these meals then you’re simply unaware of it. The organ which deals with stress has a very particular relationship with the stomach so that when it becomes ‘over-heated’ from tension it ‘invades’ the stomach. That’s just as uncomfortable as it sounds.

Hiatus hernia happens when the stomach pushes its way up through the diaphragm. This is most often caused by long term stress and tension ‘invading’ the stomach causing it to flow in the wrong direction. Stomach ulcers are another well known result of stress and tension. Don’t tempt them directly over lunch. For the same reason skip business lunches. Lunch is for food, if you want to discuss business, call a meeting. Reorganise.

So the manner in which we eat is just as important as what we eat. Taking time to eat in a pleasant quiet environment may even allow us to notice that the large plate of fat-saturated potatoes does not sit so easily in our stomachs after all and that it really is pleasant to get up after a meal and feel energised rather than leaden.

The Chinese liken the digestive energy to a cauldron heated by fire (yang). Therefore a predominantly cold diet will use up more of the yang fuel. This could eventually lead to a slower metabolism. This is especially so if you live in a cold climate. Many people with weight problems try hard to stick to a diet of salads but this does not replenish the energy needed to metabolise food.

The symptoms of yang depletion are chilliness, frequent or loose bowel movements, lethargy and a tendency to put on weight easily. Hot people are hot, hurried, ‘feverish’, and often thin. Food also has an inherent temperature whether cooked or not. Hot foods generally make you feel hot over a prolonged period and cold foods make one feel cold. Ginger and cinamon are hot, pear and aubergine are cold. Fast growing and watery foods are generally cooler, so melon, pear, spinach and lettuce are cold, root vegetables are warm.

Another symptom of cold internally is stabbing pain. I treated one teenage girl who suffered from excruciating pain during menstruation. From pulse and tongue diagnosis it was obvious that her constitutional energies were good. I asked whether she ate ice-cream during or just before her period. Both she and her mother looked at each other in amazement. She craved ice-cream before her period, “by the tub load,” as her mother put it. Some warming herb on her lower abdomen and a few other points, as well as the advice to give up eating from the freezer before her period and she was cured.

A traditional acupuncturist or herbalist will often give tailor made advice for your constituion to include the best flavours and food energies, to reduce obesity and resolve common complaints.

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