Thursday, January 5, 2017

Winter tip #5: Cover up and down (protect your neck with a scarf, and keep your belly, low back, and feet warm) - it will literally keep colds away.

  • This will sound rather obvious: the best prevention against colds is… to stay warm.
  • In TCM, we consider that the neck is a sensitive area. We are more likely to get sick if our neck is exposed to cold, drafts, and wind. It is therefore a good idea to zip up our coat and wear a scarf in the winter.
  • The lower abdomen is, in Eastern traditions, where we have a very important “centre of energy”. In TCM, the Yin of the mother mixes with the Yang of the father at conception, and the essence of this new being is stored in the TCM Kidneys, physically below the belly button. Mechanically, the area is our centre of gravity, a point of balance. All Eastern traditions cultivate this area through abdominal breathing practices. It’s not a good idea to keep it exposed to cold. For teen girls, wearing low waist pants and tops that expose their belly button is a very bad idea, and can negatively impact their menstruations and future fertility.
  • As for the low back, it is considered the “palace of the Kidneys” in TCM. Each TCM Organ has a preferred season, and the season of the Kidneys is the winter. So again, protecting your low back is good for your Kidneys. Think of how you may be more prone to low back pain in cold weather.
  • And last but not least, keep your feet warm. When it is cold, you have less energy to naturally warm up your extremities, so covering them is also important.

Winter tip #4: Eat cooked foods and stay away from the raw and the cold, and always eat a very substantial breakfast with healthy proteins and fibers - you'll digest better and will have more energy throughout the cold months.

  • Eating cooked? But I’ve always been told to go for raw, that it is the best way to benefit from the fresh nutrients in my food, and that cooking degrades vitamins and important phytochemicals. Actually… no, raw is not better than cooked, it is actually worse, and this is why.
  • TCM has advised for millennia against eating raw. It hurts our “Spleen-Pancreas” digestive organs system. That’s a long story, so let me try to summarize. Think about eating a raw apple: once in your stomach, it takes a lot of mechanical work to break it down to the level of small chunks that your small intestine can absorb. That’s taking energy from your system. The same food, cooked, will be a lot easier to break down.
  • Additionally, when you eat something cold, your body first needs to raise its temperature to 37 °C. That’s also taking energy from your system. Digestion can’t happen without digestive enzymes, in conditions where they can work optimally. And to work optimally, they need 37 °C (98.6 °F), not less. When you eat at room temperature, you probably consume food around 18 to 20 °C. It takes 1,000 calories to raise the temperature of a liter of water (about 4 cups) by 1 °C. So if you absorb a 250ml smoothie (about a cup), at 20 °C, you’ll need over 4,000 calories to bring it to 37 °C. If your food comes straight out of the fridge, brrr! That’s a lot worse… Most probably, you won’t fully warm it up in your stomach, your enzymes won’t be able to transform your food, and a lot of it will pass through you incompletely transformed & absorbed. Maybe your stools will be loose, maybe you’ll feel sluggish. Worse, instead of absorbing all your food, you might store a lot of it as fat.
  • That’s actually what TCM says, cold and raw foods prevent the transforming of food into energy we can use and blood that nourishes our tissues. Raw foods “clog” our system and result in the formation of what TCM calls Dampness, an unprocessed by-product of unabsorbed food that weigh down our entire system.
  • Why do we hear so much about the benefits of raw foods? – I am not sure… Maybe it’s an easier way to prepare vegetables? Even in traditional diets that have been proven to result in very low incidences of cardiac diseases or cancer (such as the Mediterranean diet, or the Japanese diet), raw foods are adjunct foods for appetizers and deserts, but a meal is never entirely raw and cold.
  • I finally heard an interview of a paleontologist a few years ago about the subject. He was asked another question to start: is man carnivore or herbivore (ie eating meat versus eating plants)? Carnivore animals have powerful jaw muscles, strong jawbones, and deadly teeth. We don’t. So maybe we are not well suited to a meat-based diet. But herbivores have a much longer gut than we do, cows even have 3 stomachs. Grass is so hard to digest that they need to ruminate. We don’t. Well… we are not very adapted to a plant-based diet, apparently? What’s left? Cooked foods! We have evolved (or have been created - same thing) to do well with cooked food, and it is an advantage. Whether animal or plant based, a diet with cooked food takes less energy to digest, it requires neither an extra long digestive tube, nor powerful jaws.
  • The best diet includes lots of vegetables, a good balance of healthy carbs, fats and proteins, and mainly cooked foods. Steam or broil your vegetables to keep them slightly crunchy, and you’ll get the best of both world: freshness plus ease of digestion. That’s what we can observe from the traditional Chinese diet: food is cut in small pieces and slightly cooked.
  • Now when should we have food in the course of a typical day? I won’t spend much time on this one, but again TCM provides some good wisdom, that can be summarized in the saying: “For breakfast eat like a king. For lunch like a prince. And for dinner like a pauper”. TCM says that late eating hurts our Spleen-Pancreas digestive organs.
  • Why did I mention proteins for breakfast? If we only have carbs for breakfast, such as toasts or cereals, these carbs will be quickly turned into blood sugar. Including a protein not only makes the meal a more balanced one, but it slows down the transformation of the carbs we eat, avoiding a sharp raise of the levels of our blood sugar. This way we don’t have a dip in our energy in the middle of the day, and we don’t have cravings when we start being tired from the day. So think of adding an egg (cooked without trans-fats), nuts, or a good whole protein to every breakfast. You’ll have more energy for the rest of your day.

Winter tip #3: Make time for introspection - you'll find new riches within.

  • With the extra rest, and a break or two to restore your energy, you’ll naturally find yourself day dreaming, as well as thinking about your life. It’s a good time to alternate creative thinking, playing with ideas as they spontaneously come to you, and structured reasoning about where you are, and where you want to go in the coming year and beyond. Like the tulip bulb concentrates its essence and the nutrients needed for the spring and for sprouting, you too can reflect on what’s essential to your life, and prepare things that will make you feel you are living according to your values. Start with something simple, and let it grow!

Winter tip #2: Rest, give yourself plenty of time to sleep, take breaks - You'll achieve more in the long run.

  • In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is the most Yin time of the year. It means that in the cycles of seasons, this is the time for slowing down and resting, for cooling down. And that’s quite critical for us: we need our winter extra rest so that we can experience our full energy potential when spring and summer come along. If we’d just follow how we truly feel, we all have a tendency to sleep longer in the winter. Think of a tulip bulb: if you store it in a dark cool place in the winter, it will come out strong in the spring. It needs that break to concentrate its essence, and though winter looks like a dead time, it is actually when nature rejuvenates. In the winter times, our ancestors spent long hours by the fire, doing minor repair jobs for their tools, preparing for the spring, telling stories, and relaxing. With unlimited access to artificial light and power for heat, we have created for ourselves a modern hasty lifestyle that does not respect our natural rhythms.
  • Am I reading your mind? – Nice in theory, but it just does not fit my busy schedule! I have important things to do, I can’t relax now, it’s the busiest time for me, etc. Well, you can take care of what’s important for you, and still plan a few moments that will allow you to rest and rejuvenate. I am pretty sure you can realistically plan some time for breaks between November and March. It’s really a matter of planning, and it is key to your health.
  • I find that if I take a few days off early November, and then again a week or two at Christmas, or in February, my energy stays good throughout the winter, I do not dread year-end, I rarely get sick, and I enjoy winter sports in February without feeling drained.