Elimination Diets: A Chinese Medicine Perspective

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In February of this year, I began a journey with an acupuncturist for a variety of personal reasons, and took his advice greatly to heart. What has confounded me with this advice, from a Chinese Medicine perspective, was his dietary recommendations and how I was essentially put on an elimination diet. I was told to avoid the following foods: gluten, white carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, corn, etc.), sugar, raw salads/juices, frozen foods, nuts, dairy, alcohol and caffeine. I was allowed limited amounts (one to two servings per week of whole grains such as: quinoa, brown rice, black rice; and moderate amounts of berries, apples, pineapple and, butternut squash, summer squashes, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.

I didn’t necessarily see this new way of eating as a problem, unlike some friends and family who exclaim, “what do you eat?! Why are you doing this to yourself?!” I did have one tiny caveat with accepting this new way of eating fully: the loss was my comfort and snack foods, namely: butter with rice or potatoes, yogurt with fruit, cheese and gluten-free crackers. Nearly everything I ate was prepared at home from local and/or organic ingredients, and I very rarely ate junk food. Sure, on the outside this doesn’t seem all that terrible; yet, there I was, walking along thinking “I’m eating super great because I cook a lot and eat tons of veggies and fruit”. While not bad, this wasn’t right for my current health goals: wrapped up in much of the seemingly “healthy eating” is the undeniable fact that one can indeed suffer from digestive weakness in the form of Spleen Qi Deficiency with Dampness.

Instead of deeply examining the why of each recommendation, I solely focused on following my acupuncturist’s instructions – despite what my previous training had taught me regarding my health situation. Over time though, I developed questions regarding this approach as so much of what we as Chinese Medicine practitioners recommend is based on ancient ideas of diet, and practitioners of Chinese Medicine avoid one-sided recommendations such as: diets high in raw foods as a means to work with all digestive problems, or fad diets and “one-size fits all” plans and pyramids. In light of research and nutritional insights regarding blood sugar stabilization, the Chinese Medicine practitioner’s approach may be refined beyond the standard excess/deficiency guidelines.

In Chinese Medicine, and Ayurvedic Medicine, our digestive process is the fuel and fire of our body. It is where our life force comes from, it is where the dictum “you are what you eat” began. Eating foods that are in line with the individual’s needs is of the utmost importance: food can heal or food can harm.

Physiological and Chinese Medicine Processes of Digestion

The Chinese Medicine Organ Systems most closely associated with the digestive process are what are commonly called the Stomach and the Spleen1. The Stomach is formally known as the Wei organ system that is a Yang organ, and is Fu (or empty) and the Spleen is formally known as the Pi organ system that is a Yin organ, and is Zang (or solid); for translation’s sake, the Wei and Pi organs have been renamed as the Stomach and Spleen. The capitalized organs denote the Chinese Medicine Organ Systems, which have somewhat analogous functions to the physiological organs, yet they also have functions that are unique to the Chinese Medicine system. If an organ is not capitalized, it indicates the physiological/ anatomical organ.

Physiologically, the digestive process begins when food is masticated in the mouth and mixed with the saliva’s enzymes, this masticated food goes into the stomach where the stomach breaks down the food into chyme with the help of hydrochloric acid…

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