It’s the most wonderful time of the year…For some people.
For others, the holiday season is the most stressful and the most challenging for staying healthy. The colder weather signals our primordial brain to prepare for hibernation. And so we hunker down by sitting on the couch for hours on end watching TV, pausing only to get up and refill the bowl with more empty calorie snacks.
It’s no wonder that during this time of the year, it’s a struggle to stay our healthiest.
Thankfully, TCM offers some nutritional tips for preserving health during what should indeed be the most wonderful time of the year. But you may be shocked at how much these tips clash with Western dietary advice.
Ignoring Western Diet Trends Tip #1: Grains Aren’t Bad
Is eating too many starchy grains like potatoes and rice the reason many people gain weight during the holidays? Should you go on a low-carb/Ketogenic diet?
Well, according to traditional Chinese medicine, if you want to maintain health and manage your weight during the holiday season, throw everything you’ve read about trendy Western diets out the window.
If you want to maintain health and manage your weight during the holiday season, throw everything you’ve read about trendy Western diets out the window.
Yes, TCM, like Western medicine, acknowledges that eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates (anything with white flour: bagels, muffins, bread, pastries, other baked goods) is not good for maintaining health. Sugar promotes excess dampness in the body, which weakens the Spleen organ of TCM, the main digestive system in TCM that transforms nutrients into Qi and Blood.
But in the West, there’s a tendency to blame grains for weight gain. Public enemy #1 when it comes to the grain-blame-game is white rice. However, according to TCM philosophy, the goal of a healthy diet is not how many nutrients are listed on the nutrition label. Rather, the end-result should be the easiest foods to digest.
And no other grain is easier to digest than white rice. When you easily digest a specific food, it provides you with abundant Qi. In fact, the traditional Chinese character for Qi is a grain of steamed white rice.
Here’s another shock to Western diet trends: in TCM, white steamed rice is considered “the holy grain.”
Now, obviously, eating nothing but a huge bowl of white rice is not a balanced meal. But nearly every traditional society on this planet eats a grain as a staple. Think: potatoes in Ireland, pasta in Italy. Staples, however, are not intended to be the main source of nourishment at meals.
The problem with modern, Western diets is that we focus too much on eating staples and not enough on vegetables and healthy fats.
For optimal weight management, you should eat three meals a day. Lunch and dinner should include a staple such as rice, quinoa, barley, oats, millet, corn, rye, etc. But the majority of your meal should consist of lightly cooked vegetables with a small serving of lean protein on the side (fish or tofu, for example).
The reason many people crave sugar and, yes, grains, is that they don’t eat enough veggies and lean protein at meals. Furthermore, many people don’t eat a staple grain as a side dish at every lunch and dinner. Instead of foregoing grains, eat them every day, although in moderation. Make sure to accompany the grain with protein and healthy fats to provide balance.
TCM Diet Tips For Holiday Weight Management: Don’t Skip Breakfast
Another of the many Western diet trends in recent years is not eating breakfast. Wait … isn’t breakfast the most important meal of the day? Isn’t that what you were told as a child? According to both TCM and your mom, yes, breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day.
But thanks to the immensely popular trend of intermittent fasting, many people are eating their first meal of the day at noon or even later.
If you’re not familiar with intermittent fasting, it’s when you restrict your eating to a limited number of hours per day. The most popular method is to fast for 16 hours and consume all calories within an eight-hour window. Some people take it a step further and eat only once a day.
Many Americans eat throughout the day, well into the late-night hours. This doesn’t give the digestive system enough time to rest and let the body focus on other important matters.
Like low-carb/grain-free diets, villainizing breakfast may backfire for many people. While grain-free diets may lead to short-term weight loss, it’s a difficult lifestyle to maintain; the weight is sure to come back.
The same is true for skipping breakfast. While it’s a good idea to eliminate late-night eating, according to TCM, skipping breakfast is anathema to optimal health.
And not only should you eat breakfast, you should make it a big one, according to TCM philosophy. That’s because your main digestive organs in TCM are at their most active in the morning. According to the ancient secrets of the Chinese medicine clock, the Stomach is perkiest between 7-9 am and the Spleen from 9-11 am.
The problem with Western breakfasts is that they consist of too many refined carbs: cereal, muffin, bagel, juice, toast. (No better example of the problem with Western breakfasts is the free continental breakfast at hotels!)
Again, the name of the game for optimal health and weight management is clean digestion. An example of a balanced breakfast that’s easy to digest: eggs with lightly steamed spinach with a piece of 100% rye toast with avocado. Just make sure not to sprinkle too much salt on your breakfast. Salt, according to TCM may harm the Kidney organ system.
Ignoring Western Diet Trends: Say No To Salads And Smoothies
Salads and smoothies are staple health foods in the West. But TCM philosophy gives them a thumbs down. Why? It’s because cold foods and drinks dampen the digestive fire and slow metabolism. By putting out the digestive fire, cold foods and drinks create dampness in the body. Excess dampness creates pathogenic phlegm in the body.
Excess dampness, heat, and phlegm cause the Stomach, Spleen and Liver to become imbalanced. And from there, other organ systems may work suboptimally as well.
So if you want to imbibe with an adult beverage, skip the beer and have a hot toddy. Eat lightly cooked vegetables instead of salads. And drink bone broth in the morning instead of a smoothie.
Hopefully following these TCM nutrition tips that contradict Western diet trends will help your weight management goals.
Got some other nutrition tips for keeping the weight off during the holidays? Leave a comment below…