43 year old woman, 160lbs, 5’6″, active military. Bikes and jogs regularly. No history of hormone imbalance. Recent physical all normal. Vegan diet for 20, years.
The above patient wanted my help in losing weight. She complains that no matter what she does, the weight just keeps increasing. Her diet consists of dairy (cheese), raw vegetables, soups and bread. She says she’s given up bread for a year and it hasn’t helped.
You may look at this and say, wow, it’s super healthy. She’s not eating meat so she shouldn’t have a problem because meat causes weight gain right? Most American think this because most American are on the meat and potatoes diet and need more vegetables. They are told to cut the meat to lose weight and lower their cholesterol.
From a TCM perspective, we see food differently. It’s not about calorie counting but what the food is doing to the body. A western dietician will calorie count and tell you, you’re not burning off what you consume. Of course meat has more calories than vegetables so if you cut the calories, you will lose weight. This is only partially true. I’m sure you know people who eat salads all day and can’t seem to achieve their health goals.
From a TCM perspective, this makes complete sense. Food isn’t just about calories, it’s about what it’s doing to your body. In TCM, we see the stomach (digestive system) as a cauldron. A pot of boiling water ready to accept food digestion. The good nutrients is taken in and the waste is moved out. Pretty much the function of the human digestive system. What happens if you put a ton of cold drinks and raw veggies into that pot of boiling water? The pot will stop boiling (try this experiment at home if you haven’t expeienced it) and the only way to get the pot to boil again is to turn up the flame or wait. Well, we don’t have a “turn up the flame” knob and our body is not going to let the food sit there for hours just to wait. So it works extra hard to try to digest this food source. Over time, it breaks the system down and you have weight and other digestive problems. In TCM, it would be called a spleen and stomach deficiency. Or even stomach cold stagnation.
In western thinking, food has calories, fats, carbs, etc. In TCM, food has energy; cold, warm, hot, damp, etc. It is these energies we use to help balance and keep the system healthy. Meats are considered warm and vegetables are considered cold with variations in between. Certain food target certain organ systems and can be used as medicine to heal. Mother nature obeys this rule as well. look at the vegetables that are in season. Watremelon (which is cooling) is in season towards mid and late summer right? When the temperature is the warmest and we need assistance in cooling down. Root vegetables are in season in the winter because they are warmer and target the energy source of our body. Yes, due to wonderful shipping and trade agreement, we can get out of season foods in our local stores year round. That doesn’t mean those are beneficial for us to consume year round.
Back to my patient, I diagnosed as spleen and stomach deficiency with cold accumulation. Because she is adament about staying a vegan, she had a big challenge to over come. I gave her some simple rules to follow and to report back to me. For her I suggested no dairy, only cooked veggies and no simple carbs. It’s been two weeks and she’s reported having lost 7lbs. I suggested taking an herbal formula to help heal the system faster and she agreed. Because of her work schedule, it’s difficult for her to get here on a regularly basis for acupuncture so the diet and herbs will have to do for now. As her system improves, we will tweak the diet and the herbal formula.