In Eastern wellness philosophy, food is considered equivalent to medicine. It is believed that overall health and wellbeing is correlated to what is put into the body. Here are some daily dietary habits we can incorporate from Zoey Gong, a nutritionist, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner and chef to elevate your mind and body.
"Food is medicine or poison"
Sun Si Miao, Chinese Medicine Physician, 600 AD
1. Drink warm liquids - limit ice intake
In Eastern wellness philosophy, drinking hot tea and warm bone broth are tablestake habits. Drinking warm liquids may sound like an old Chinese lady’s thing, a myth without scientific evidence, and an almost impossible change to make to your morning or post work-out routine. However, as a TCM practitioner who has seen the positive effect of warm water on my clients, friends, and myself, I want to encourage you to know the benefits of drinking warm liquids and consider limiting your usual iced beverage intake:
• Better circulation: Cold congeals things, leading to symptoms like “brain freeze”. By contrast, warm liquid can promote the flow of Qi and blood, making you feel relaxed and reducing pain.
• Easier digestion: Body-temperature liquids will not shock your digestive organs like iced liquids do. During a meal, warm to hot liquids emulsifies the fat to aid smooth digestion and reduce bloating and food retention. It also helps to relieve constipation.
• Weight management: Warm liquids can curb appetite much better than cold liquids. They also increase your core body temperature to promote more vigorous metabolism.
• Increased hydration: In a study published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, researchers found that drinking hot water could help improve swallowing in people with achalasia. Give warm water or tea a try and you may be surprised how much more water you can drink.
To build this habit easier, invest in a kettle and a thermal bottle at home. Mix hot boiling water with room temperature water to reach the perfect warm-to-hot water without having to wait for it. Add tea, TCM herbs like goji and chrysanthemum, or just simple lemon is a great choice.
2. Eat according to 24 Seasonal Points
Seasonal eating is a key part of Eastern wellness diet and nutrition and it is a bit more than just eating your seasonal farmers market’s produce. The East Asian calendar divides the year into 24 seasonal points 二十四节气 (also called “Solar Terms”). These 2-week long seasonal points make up the 5 seasons - spring, summer, late summer, fall, and winter. There are certain foods that are more suitable for a particular seasonal point. By eating seasonally in this Eastern wellness way, you will feel your body become very in tune with nature and you will feel your energy and mood elevate after incorporating seasonal eating for as soon as two seasons. I’ve summarized the basic seasonal eating guide and seasonal eating calendar here on Five Seasons TCM. It becomes so much easier when you have a guide to refer to constantly.
3. Change Your Cooking Method
As a chef, I find Western cooking methods use a lot of direct flames and dry heat: baking, grilling, frying, charring and roasting. In TCM these cooking methods are called “heating”, meaning inflammatory in biomedical implication. When it’s accumulated in the long term, TCM views it as one of the main causes for fatigue, bloatedness and chronic inflammation. I recommend switching up your cooking methods to include more water, such as steaming, stewing, porridge-making, broth-making, and sprouting. Invest in a rice cooker or a multi pot that can make soup, porridge, and multi-grain rice with the ease of pressing buttons.
These tips are meant for you to make them into a lifestyle, rather than just a one-time thing. Take your time to explore. Patience is another dietary habit that can transform your life. Current day wellness trends are very “impatient” in my personal opinion: salad, smoothie, juicing, weight loss pills, powder. These trends make wellness seem like a quick fix solution - the faster, the better. When it comes to wellness, however, tonifying and nourishing can take time. I invite you to cultivate patience by trying these tips. Find a way to make these work for you and your unique body.
Zoey Gong is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, TCM chef and nutritionist. Born in Shanghai, China, she now lives in New York City, where she pioneers pop-up medicinal dinners to broaden the reach of the wisdom of medicinal cooking. She is also the founder of Five Seasons TCM, a boutique wellness brand that shares and modernizes the knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) food therapy through educational content, functional products and its avant-garde aesthetic.