Chinese Food Therapy for Winter

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Winter solitude-
in a world of one color
the sound of the wind.
-Matsuo Basho

Brrrr. It’s chilly outside! Well, maybe it’s not chilly YET...but the crisp scent of snow will soon fill our noses, while the wind whistles it’s wintry tune.

As the seasons change

And so, with the change of season come a gradual change to our daily routine. We begin to bundle up when going outside, drink warm beverages more often, and maybe even follow the example set by the sun and go to bed earlier! As our outer environment slows down and becomes quiet, we humans naturally move into a period of hibernation and quiet activity. We take refuge in our warm homes and enjoy quiet seasonal celebrations with our friends and family.

So what does this have to do with Chinese medicine? Chinese medicine is one of many traditional healing systems which encourage us to observe our natural external environment in order to find the answers we need for inner health. Human beings are part of and subject to the same cycles that occur in nature- birth, growth, maturation, decline and death/hibernation. Every single one of us will follow this path at our own pace. It is what connects all of us to each other, and each of us to mother earth.

Winter is coming

This cycle is evident not only in our life span, but also yearly with the change of each season. We are currently moving into the winter season; the time when our natural surroundings decline and go into hibernation in order to strengthen themselves for the upcoming burst of energy they will need in the spring. Winter is a time of slow and steady work happening right under our feet as the earth’s energy moves deep underground to nourish and renew itself.  In this way winter can be likened to sleep; a time during the yearly cycle to renew oneself by resting. In order to be healthy, humans and animals should follow earth’s example and utilize winter time as a time to replenish ourselves through rest and practices that repair/renew our bodies and minds.

According to Chinese dietary principles, there are particular foods and ways of eating which are most helpful during these colder days. To get a sense of this, let’s do a contrasting exercise.  What we might naturally be hungry for on a hot, sweaty day during the summer? Mmmm...watermelon! Hot days call for us to eat watery foods to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat. Watermelon is one such food. It physically cools us down and help us to rehydrate. No wonder it tastes so good during summer picnics!

But our nutritional needs are very different during the winter. Watermelon doesn’t seem that appealing when it’s cold outside. Slow-cooked, warming food and drink like soup flavored with ginger, garlic and black pepper or a mug of sweet and spicy chai are what we crave when it’s chilly, and these are healthy choices that feed our bodies well during the cold months.

Warming the digestive fire

If we picture our digestive system as a steady fire that warms and breaks down our food, then it is important to note that this digestive fire functions at different levels according to the time of year. Summer is the height of our digestive fire and many of us enjoy and have no issue digesting plenty of raw, fresh foods at this time of year. We can eat salads and watermelon with abandon because our higher level of digestive fire will “cook” our food internally, meaning it will process food into the nutrition our bodies need.

But if we tried to eat similarly during the winter? Well, our tummies would not be very happy! Winter is when our digestive fire is operating at it’s lowest level. Our digestive systems need food which is already broken down and easily made into nutrition for our body. Cooking our food efficiently breaks it down before it enters our body, and our digestive fire is not taxed beyond its seasonal ability. Thus, we need to make sure the bulk of our food is eaten warm and well cooked when it is cold outside

I like to think of this as similar to pulling your sweaters and long pants out of storage for the winter, while packing away your tank tops and shorts; we change our wardrobe to match the season, so why wouldn’t we change the foods we eat and how they are prepared?

Want to learn more?

Interested in how to select and enjoy foods for the winter? Each practitioner at Constellation Acupuncture and Healing Arts is trained in helping you to eat seasonally and utilize food as medicine. If you’d like to dive deep into Chinese food therapeutics schedule a 60 minute Food Therapy session.  We’d love to meet with you and talk more!

*The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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