I have a friend who went on a popular “lifestyle change” program and started to live on diet soda and 1 point “diet” cookies.  She admitted to being somewhat happy when she began to have diarrhea because it might mean that she would lose a few pounds.   She did lose weight after a few months of this diet, and everyone praised her for how great she looked.  But I could see, within the new thin appearance, a sallowness of the skin and a puffiness to the texture of her muscles.  Her stomach and spleen, the organs that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) deem responsible not only for digestive health but overall health in general, were seriously depleted.

We all know that the typical American diet, which emphasizes an overindulgence in greasy meat-centric foods, is responsible for a lot of the ailments of the 21 Century, such as diabetes and heart disease.  But what about all of you who are striving to be thin?  Are you doing so by relying on processed and de-natured “health” foods?  We need to start thinking of our health and recognizing that what we eat will dictate not only our digestive health, but our longevity.  We need to start getting pretty from the inside out.

If we can absorb all of our nutrients from our food and get rid of what we don’t need (that’s right — by pooping it out), then we can have healthy digestion.  The first step is eating nutrient-rich food.  When we eat “food” that’s free of any type of nutritional value, our bodies don’t recognize that we’ve eaten!  We can eat 1,600 calories and still be starving for nutrients!  Bloating after eating, craving sweets, waking up with a puffy face, constipation, diarrhea, inability to lose weight?  These can all be signs that your digestion is not where it should be.

Here are a few steps to strengthening your digestion, reducing food cravings and bloating, and staying healthy.

1. Choose real food, food grown in the earth, with ingredients you recognize.  

Try to choose fresh foods, not from packages or containers.   At least 60% (but preferably 80%) of your daily dietary intake should consist of whole foods, or foods that have not been tampered with.  Eggs, Vegetables, fruits, lentils, beans – recognize the abundance of nature.

2. Your animal proteins should be organic or locally raised, without added antibiotics or growth hormones.  

You ARE what you eat.  Our cells absorb what we eat, and it becomes a part of us.  Do NOT eat meat that can be potentially riddled with cancer.  Eating meat and dairy with added hormones will most likely affect your own hormone balance, which can affect fertility.  Eating meat and dairy from animals who were pumped up with antibiotics to prevent getting infections from the poor conditions in which they were raised will affect your own immunity.  Be smart when you choose your food.  If it’s too expensive, then limit your meat intake and rely more heavily on plant-based protein.  Meat is hard to digest, so especially if poor digestion is your complaint, lessening your reliance on animal protein will make a difference.  

3.  Cut out or Significantly reduce Dairy from your diet.

Dairy is one of the nation’s biggest loves.  We love cheese.  We love ice cream.  We love milk and yogurt and cream in our coffee.  But think about what it feels like on your tongue, that kind of thickness that coats your mouth and throat.  You know what that feels like?  Mucus!  In Traditional Chinese Medicine we call it dampness.  And that’s exactly what dairy creates in your body.  Dairy is like sludge.  It slows down all of our inner workings and makes our organs feel like they’re functioning in a fog.  I know that the idea of eliminating dairy can be terrifying, but dairy will wreak havoc on your health.  Sluggish or irregular digestion, sinus problems, migraines, allergies, asthma, skin problems — dairy is often the culprit in these conditions and many many more.  Give yourself two months to cut out all dairy (eggs are NOT included in this category) and see if you notice a change.  

4  Eat consistent amounts at consistent times throughout the day.

When digestive weakness is your issue, it is also imperative that you eat at regular times throughout the day.  The spleen loves and needs regularity.  This means eating consistent quantities of food at consistent times throughout the day.  An easy way to do this is to space your calories equally across the day in three hour intervals.  I’m not advising that you count calories, but I am advising that you don’t have coffee and toast at 8 am and then a huge meat lasagna with a side of garlic bread at 7pm.  Your digestive organs should know what to anticipate when meal time arrives.  Your body should know the appropriate amount of digestive enzymes to release, and respond with the appropriate amount of insulin.  Again, the purpose of this blog is not to give you a physiology lesson, so I won’t get crazy specific.  I’ll give you an example of  “perfect” day below.

5. Eat with the seasons.

Have you ever eaten a salad on a cold day, thinking you were being healthy, and ended up feeling bloated, tired and cold?  It’s best to think of our digestive organs as a furnace — we have to keep those digestive fires burning to process all of our food.  Constantly eating cold and raw foods will eventually put out that fire!  I know, this is totally anti the whole raw food craze.  Raw is okay if it’s hot out and your digestion is good.  But if it’s cold outside, keep your body warm.  Soups, stews, lightly sauteed veggies, root vegetables — these are all great for staying healthy in the winter.  A great trick to eating seasonally is to just eat what’s local — if you can’t get mangoes and pineapples from your local farmer’s market, then it’s best that you’re not eating them anyway.    

6. Do something good for your body and spirit.

Often, our digestion is off because our lives are out of balance.  If we’re tense and pent-up, it’s only natural to get constipated.  If we’re frazzled and worried, we may have diarrhea.  So treat your body right — take some deep breaths, get a massage, get acupuncture, take a yoga class.  Don’t be hard on yourself.  Know that your body acts up to let you know you need to change things up a bit.  Listen to your body — it’s kind of brilliant.

You remember my friend I was telling you about? Her digestion was so depleted from lack of nutrients and processed “diet” foods that she ultimately gained all of her weight back, plus a couple of pounds for good measure.  I got her on a regimen of digestion-strengthening herbs and supplements, including probiotics and digestive enzymes, and she committed to three months of weekly acupuncture treatments.  I bet you’re wondering if she re-lost the weight.  She did, but that’s not the point.  The point is that she got HEALTHY.  Radiantly, glowingly and yes, thinly healthy.

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