If you read my last blog, then you already know about Qi and how Yin and Yang energy can affect your body. A short recap, in case you missed it – Traditional Chinese medicine maintains that the source of our ailments is an imbalance of Qi (pronounced Chee), which is basically another word for life energy. Acupuncture, herbal remedies, and cupping all work to balance or improve the flow of Qi to address those ailments (physical, mental, or spiritual). But there are ways that you can help to balance your qi yourself – namely through food. So here is where we start to get into some of the nitty gritty of how you can affect the energies that go into your body.
Enter: Energetics of Food.
So unlike in Western cultures, where we tend to focus on nutrient-density and whatnot, TCM focuses on how individual food affect the body across a few different dimensions; warming vs. cooling, moisturizing vs. drying, yin vs. yang. Each individual has their own individual constitution. For example, a person might be yin, damp, and cold. So to balance their Qi, they should limit damp and cold foods. Confused? Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang represent balance in motion. Think of it as day and night. One is continually flowing into the other, but you can’t really have one without the other. If it was light all the time, we probably wouldn’t even have a word for it because it would just be. Yin is typically associated with slow, passive, calm, soft, cold, and wet, and femininity. Yang is fast, active, focused, hard, hot, dry, and masculine.
Our organs are split into yin and yang. Yin organs are the assimilation and storage organs – the liver, heart, spleen, lung, and kidney. The yang organs are those that perform digestion and elimination – the gallbladder, small intestines, stomach, large intestines, and bladder. So if, say, you are having stomach problems – you have an imbalance in a yang organ, which we can use food (or other Traditional Chinese Medicine) to address. It’s not actually as cut and dry as that, but you get the idea.
Here are some examples of yin and yang foods:
- Fried Foods
- Sweet Potato
So a quick glance at those lists should tell you where most Americans fall on the yin yang spectrum. It is important to note your own body type though, so here are some yin and yang constitution characteristics:
Yin Body Type:
- Sensitive to cold and drafts
- Prefer hot foods and warm drinks
Yang Body Type:
- Tend to run hot
- Sweaty, more red complexion
- Prefer cold drinks and weather
So to help maintain balance, Yin people would want to choose more foods off the Yang list, and eat foods on the yin list in moderation. And likewise, Yang people would want to limit yang foods and choose more from the yin list.
Damp Vs. Dry
Just like you can have a more yin or more yang body, you can also have a more damp or dry body.
Damp Body Type:
- Is overweight
- Tends to retain water
- Suffers from inflammation
- Feels sluggish and heavy
- Do not have much thirst
- Has difficulty losing weight
- Has a slow metabolism
- Is very uncomfortable in the humidity and heat
Damp body types should eat more foods that help with water retention – like leeks, celery, and cabbage. They definitely need to limit foods that cause inflammation – like fried foods, sugar, dairy, and starches.
Dry Body Type:
- Looks dry and thin
- Don’t sweat much
- Tend to have a dry, red complexion
- Might suffer from itchy skin or eczema
- Always thirsty
- Uncomfortable in dry, hot weather
If you have a dry body type, then foods that are high in moisture – like dairy, soy, pears, and fatty fish, will help you balance out. Hot spicy foods should be limited and they are more drying.
See? It’s all about trying to find balance, rather than overindulging on one end of the spectrum or the other. And, of course, there are body types that are more balanced either because of natural constitution or diet. So if neither body type really calls out to you, or you have a mix of both, that’s also fine.
Now, if that sounds complicated – it’s because it kind of is. And when things really get out of balance, that’s when we need to turn towards the other forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine. But for shifting our constitutions toward a more balanced energy, just making small changes in the foods you eat can make a big difference.
Here are a couple more tips, regardless of your body type:
- Eat with the seasons: There is a reason that cooling foods are in season during hot summer months, and in the cold winter season we are drawn towards warming foods. Lean into that.
- Ginger and garlic should be eaten by everyone year round. Both are warming foods that improve digestion – helping to promote the healthy circulation of Qi, and removing any emotional, energetic, or physical debris from your body