TCM Diet – As Nature intended and Fertility Enhancing Foods
"Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food."
We have finally reached a time when development has begun to hinder us. Agricultural and technological advances have ushered in a way of living which has stripped us of our ability to discern what nature intended our bodies to consume. We live from the outside in, rather than the inside out. It’s time to change that.
There was a time when our ancestors chose their food by seasonal availability and needs which came from our deep sense of knowing what our bodies required. Our ancestors lived off the land
and died from natural causes. Technological advances and medical science have certainly helped us avoid some of nature’s greatest pestilential diseases, but the price we’ve paid is that we have lost touch with that sense of knowing what our bodies need. We eat what is fast. We purchase our food according to how appealing the picture looks on the cover of the grocery store box of processed chemicals. We are conditioned to buy what advertisers sell us. We have become plagued with modern disease states like cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, and inability to reproduce. Our lives are destroyed by the very methods we once utilized to improve life through industrial, chemical, medical and pharmaceutical advancements.
Our diets consist of processed carbohydrates, antibiotic and hormone laden meat and milk, excess starch, and canned ‘produce’: the very things which destroy our fertility. We know we aren’t eating right, so we take pills and chemicals to alleviate the symptoms which have been caused by our poor eating habits. The dietary pyramid we learned in grade school was promoted by the agricultural industry, not by dietary wisdom. We have learned to eat as we have learned to live – from the outside in. As children, we believed that bright colored sugary cereal with dancing leprechauns will be magically delicious. Then as our little pre-teen carbohydrate processing factories saw the models on T.V. and compared our budding pubescent bodies to them, we switched to eating low-fat granola bars (starch, sugar, carbohydrates), further destroying our already overworked pancreases, part of the endocrine system. We drank diet caffeinated sodas, which leached calcium out of our bones and constricted blood vessels to our internal organs. We stuck our chests out and sucked our bellies in (further constricting blood flow to the reproductive organs), and learned that what mattered was how we looked.
Is it any wonder we have lost touch with our innate selves – that wisdom which resides within and tells us what we need in order to be healthy? Health is not about taking
the right pill or about reading labels. We have already become rather inefficient processing plants, as we keep piling synthetic substances in our already over-burdened bodies. Almost everything we consume abounds with synthetic, harmful xeno-estrogens. Most pesticides are estrogenic chemicals which not only keep the little pests from reproducing, but our bodies as well. The chemicals abound in mass produced crops, and wash into our water supply. Cows are fed prophylactic antibiotics, which kill everything - even the good bacteria. They are stuffed with estrogen so they will fatten up quickly and their flanks can express the marbled appearance we have grown to expect and even demand. We believe the misinformation we have been fed by our teachers, media, and politicians, and we become the consumers who keep this rather seductive system going. The result is that our health is suffering, and our fertility is rapidly declining. The answer isnot more drugs to cause our sick, imbalanced ovaries to hyper-ovulate malnourished eggs which become "poor quality" embryos (and therefore have a highly likelihood of miscarriage, birth defects and infant death.) The answer is to stop it.
Many fertility impairments – hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, fibroids… are due to a scenario called "estrogen dominance." Yet we aren’t taught, nor do we seem to care, from whence this estrogen dominance arises. Our doctors just give us more drugs to override it! And still we don’t conceive. We load up our bodies with more drugs, more hormones, and spend billions of our out-of-pocket dollars to support the biggest cash industry in medicine – reproductive technology. How can we stop this madness? Let’s begin by learning to put our perfectly made bodies into balance. Let’s make sure we put nature’s perfectly made substances into our bodies, and nothing else. We can overcome this estrogen dominant state by consuming more plant phytoestrogens – found in products like soybeans. Edamame. Tofu. Not concentrated soy isoflavone pills or supplements, (which can slaughter our body with too much soy isoflavones), but food. We can eat more brightly colored organic vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables contain di-indolylmethane (DIM), a compound which stimulates more efficient use of estrogen by increasing the metabolism of estradiol. When our bodies contain too many hormones, our liver gets congested, and cannot efficiently metabolize the excess. I recommend my patients also include a liver de-tox or milk thistle tea during their periods.
Whatever we put into our mouth will have an effect on our being - somewhere. As soon as we start chewing a rice cake, for example, it is already being broken down by salivary enzymes and absorbed into the blood stream as glucose (blood sugar), which is stored as fat. Even fruit juice, which has a high degree of sugar, immediately raises our blood sugar levels. Unstable blood sugar levels crash, and cause the release of adrenocortical (stress) hormones, which once again, works against our fertility.
Guideline #1: Eat less sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Guideline #2: Eat less refined carbohydrates and starch.
Shop at local farmers or produce markets. Go to the healthier grocery stores. Or turn your attention to the periphery of the supermarket. Fresh produce – fruits and vegetables, organic if possible. Try to consume food produced locally. Our bodies were
meant to eat food which was grown naturally and harvested ripe. As the Chinese say, it has more qi when it is recently picked.
Buy meat at a local butcher shop. Make sure animal products which you intend to consume are not treated with hormones or antibiotics.
Our bodies were not intended to drink milk. Calcium comes from many other sources – almonds, broccoli, bok choy – which are easier to digest than from cow’s milk. The calcium in cow’s milk is bound to a protein called cassein, which gives many babies colic. Yet we wait through the colic in our parental ignorance (which we learned on TV – "Just drink milk!"), not even paying attention to the wisdom in a body which is closer to nature than ever. When I was breast feeding my son, he had horrible colic. It wasn’t until I cut cow’s milk completely out of my diet for three full weeks that his colic went away. Look how many of us are ‘lactose intolerant’, yet we take pills to force our body to endure the insult rather than choosing to live without milk.
As much as it may sound, I am really not the picture of an earth mother. I don’t boycott Nestle’s, and I’m not much of a health food fanatic, either. Yet when I lost touch with my own wisdom, my life didn’t work out as well as when I learned to listen to it. How did I learn to listen to it? By developing a life threatening disease, going through the agony of impaired fertility, and suffering two miscarriages. Sometimes wisdom comes at a price. I want you not to have to pay that price. I want our daughters not to have to pay that price. We are at a crossroads where our entire society has become so industrialized, busy, and basically – yang, and itmust respond as all the rest of the physics of the universe does – when yang reaches its zenith, it must transform to its opposite – yin. That’s us. That’s our female nature: nourishing, nurturing, and returning to nature, where our wisdom resides.
We all know somewhere deep inside, when we can learn to tap into it, what our bodies need. Because of our fast, tense, high-paced lives, it’s hard to listen to that place inside. Our brains and highly strung nervous systems have been demanding the sugar and fast food just to survive. We literally live out our stress, keeping the treadmill of nervous tension going. When we feel depressed, nervous, or anxious, we experience the nervous system’s disstress disguised as hunger. We put something – anything in our mouths. We associate food with comfort. What we really need, though, is less stimulation. We could use a nap, or a meditative walk. Or perhaps some deep breathing and a break from our chaotic activity. But because we are programmed to keep going, we fuel the process with a piece of candy, which causes more blood glucose to stimulate the brain and release more stress hormones which further agitate the nervous system And when the sympathetic nervous system is constantly stimulated, the reproductive system is starved of its fuel. Its blood supply is diverted away, the hormones become unstable, and we literally cannot feed the developing follicles during their ever important growth phase (where protein synthesis occurs - 90-days before the egg is ovulated.) As we learn to pay less attention to our brains and frenzied thoughts and more attention on our body and soul, we can reverse this process.
Consider what happens when you develop a head-cold. Most of us are programmed to force ourselves out of bed, take a decongestant, combined with cough suppressant, antihistamine, and coffee to overcome the effects of the antihistamine, and go to work. Now let’s think about what your body really needs. Listen to its signals. Let’s see if you can take this simple little test to see if you possess innate physical wisdom.
The scenario: The alarm rings. You reach over and slam it off, forcing your eyes open. First bit of wisdom - your attention is immediately brought to symptoms your body wants you to notice. It wants you to care for it. [NOTE: Now these are just symptoms, mind you, not the disease itself. The disease may have been caused by overworking, lack of sleep, and not eating right, weakening your immune system’s defense. Because of your lifestyle, you have become susceptible to a virus, which not everyone has caught, by the way. Just you.] Your head is throbbing. Your throat is phlegmy and sore. You are shivering. Your nose is glued shut and you can’t breathe. Pay attention. What does your body need?
Wisdom is much easier than knowledge, and much easier to access. The food we take into our bodies travels through miles and miles of intestinal plumbing, where certain molecules are extracted from them. Yet, these food molecules must contain combinations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, familiar and yielding substances, which are then converted into one common molecule, Acetyl Co-A, from which the building blocks of the body (protein, fat, and glucose) are then made.That’s all we need!
Yet our bodies become confused if we fill it with all these peculiar manufactured goods that are contained in packaged, processed foods, and the medications we have come to rely on. Yet, we live from the outside in, and haven’t learned how to discern which will be healthier – an apple, bright green canned applesauce, or apple scented candy. These preservatives, synthetic pharmaceuticals, and petrochemical products leave baffling messages inside our bodies, confounding its wisdom. Our innate physiology has no experience with these substances, has little inkling of how to process them, and thus will try to detoxify and excrete them. If it can’t, it may attempt to barricade the offending substance, creating new metabolites, which in turn may have quite harmful effects.
Carbohydrates and dietary fat get broken down to Acetyl Co-A and rearranged to form the molecules our entire body needs to function, because this is how we have been functioning for all of our existence as a species. We cannot and do not function optimally under the influence of chemicals, processed foods, or synthetic hormones. Our reproductive systems, being the lowest system on our survival hierarchy, are the first to suffer. Our bodies do not want us pregnant when we are under stress – physical, mental, or chemical. We know how to process carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. We know what to do with complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. That’s all. Water, plants, and meat. Our bodies have been using these foods as efficient fuel and medicine for thousands of years. Our bodies know exactly how to break down ingested protein (from plants and animal sources) into its component amino acids. Our genes then provide messages to rearrange these amino acids which:
Birth defects, miscarriages, and most of the fertility challenges that we experience arise from our failure as women to respond to Mother Nature as she intended. We have the wisdom which responds to nature. It is our bodies’ reproductive systems which respond to the pull of the moon. It is we who are made up of the spirit, soul, and substance of nature itself. When we become as our advanced, manufactured, technological world has instructed us, we respond as it does. We become confused, disordered, and empty.
As plants need the ultimate yin (water) and yang (sunlight) to live and grow, we humans, like all other animals on this planet, have these same simple needs to thrive and reproduce. Let us return to the wisdom of the ages – the wisdom of Mother Nature. She will show us how to eat.
Make the bulk of your diet come from whole, organic vegetables and fruits. Eat whole grains, limiting the amount of wheat, which contains lectins, causing the blood to agglutinate, and can trigger allergies. Many women with autoimmune conditions react to wheat in the diet, because once again, of the confusion our bodies have been fed. Limit the amount of wheat products you consume, and substitute other grains like brown rice, barley, oats, quinoa, and spelt. Eat limited amounts of fruit in their whole form: off the tree or bush. It is easiest to digest fruit on an empty stomach, therefore eat fruit by itself on an empty stomach as a snack.
If you are prone to yeast infections, do not consume fruits which mold easily, sugar, any leavened bread, alcohol, or vinegar. Supplement with probiotics (acidophilus, bifidus…), which restore the intestinal flora and keep the yeast in check.
Eat mindfully. Eat when hungry, not when distressed. Chew thoroughly. We tend to gulp down globs of food on the run and pour liquid (coke, coffee, milk, beer) on top of it. This is not an efficient way to process and metabolize. Digestive enzymes which help us break down food are contained in the whole food itself, and in our salivary enzymes. Chew the food until it feels moist enough to swallow. Drink water throughout the day, but not during a meal. Sit down, and really be with your food. Keep your attention on what you are doing. Even eating can become a meditation. Look at the cells which make up each segment of an orange. Experience the miraculous structure of a lettuce leaf. That’s Nature. It has everything inside that we need: qi, enzymes and all. If you eat meat, eat it mindfully. Know where it came from. When Native Americans killed an animal for food and clothing, they prayed to the spirit of the animal whose life was given to provide them with health and sustenance. That’s mindful eating. That’s where the true concept of giving thanks arose. Let us give thanks for the spirit of the Buffalo, the spirit of the apple tree – who, like us, derive their energetics from the ultimate yin and yang of nature – water and sun, earth and sky. Let us be still and mindful. Let us give thanks. Not for our provisions, but for being a part of this process of life and death. Let us embody the concept of grace, which is without judgment, opinion, or belief. After all, does a flower care if it we smell it? Does a grape care if we eat them? Their job is to simply be. To express their ultimate nature, to come from the earth through the heavenly energetics of the universe and then to return to their source – the earth.
Every living thing in the universe is composed of energy. Energy keeps electrons circulating around protons, and causes molecules to combine. Energy causes plants to grow. All plant and animal sources have varying energetic potentials. So do we. If we are experiencing difficulty conceiving, there IS an energetic imbalance preventing the full expression of our innate reproductive ability. Restore balance. Don’t medicate it. That will only throw you and your potential child further off balance.
The Infertility Cure (Little, Brown & Company, 2004) provides a diagnostic checklist to help you identify these patterns of imbalance, and thus correct them. Food has an amazingly curative ability. As certain processed ‘foods’ like chips, cookies, desserts, and fast foods can act as poison, so also can the proper consumption of the right foods act as medicine.
Please don’t get too rigid with these dietary recommendations. They are gentle guidelines to help you allow the right foods into your body. However, if they become a means of obsessive control, they defeat the purpose of opening up and letting go. Remember, these are not rules or equations. If you start to feel deprived or fixated, you may be substituting a militant dietary regimen as another form of self-imposed stress. I have an 80%, 20% rule. Try to follow these guidelines approximately 80% of the time. Let yourself enjoy the foods you love the other 20% of the time. Remain mindful and positive. The 20% melds into the 80% as your efforts to follow this dietary plan simply become a new way of life.
The healthiest eating plan I can recommend resembles the way we ate in China. Most of the meals consisted of soup, vegetables, rice, beans, and a smattering of meat – all fresh and unprocessed. Fruit was consumed as a snack between meals. Macrobiotic, unprocessed, vegetarian eating plans originated in the East. Keep it simple, keep it smart. Don’t get caught up in the details.
I have broken down the conditions of imbalance into patterns of deficiency and patterns of excess. Many of these patterns of imbalance will overlap each other. Therefore, if you have spleen deficiency and dampness, I will recommend that you don’t eat sugary fruit like bananas. Yet, if you have kidney yin deficiency, fruit like watermelon helps to nourish the yin. When you run into variances in pattern recommendations, rely on your own inner wisdom. Don’t become frenzied and get on the internet to find out how to which pattern you should follow – spleen or kidney. Not only should you learn to seek your own internal answers, you should never rely on someone else’s rules, even mine. The only Truth you’ll ever be able to live is your own.
Remember these are guidelines. They are dietary pointers to find your own wisdom within.Return to top of page