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I wrote a while back about the sweet craving-comfort food connection (in cookie monster post) and how traveling can be a trigger.
Well, here I am, traveling for the holidays. I’m on vacation, and tempted by the wonderful sweets here in Mexico. Flan. All kinds of cookies and treats from the bakeries. Churros. Hot chocolate. Yum. Yum. Yum.
Why is it that my hand didn’t go out at all the fruit stands? Hmmm… However, I did buy whole fruit–apples, tangerines and guavas– at a market — which was a bit of a walk out from the center. Fortunately, I was staying in an apartment with a kitchen, so I could wash and cut these to eat. Today, I’m in a new town, and no kitchen or knife, either.
This is all to say that in addition to missing home and being drawn to sweetness, there’s a convenience factor that goes with a sweet tooth on the road.
Reminder for future travels.
Bring along a plastic knife, or pack a real knife if I know I’m going to check my luggage.
Load up on fruit whenever I can. It satisfies the sweet craving, before I feel the urge for flan.
Bring or buy dried fruit. (Difficult for me now since I’m wearing braces, but normally a great alternative.)
Awareness and intention. I can’t use the excuse that I’m on vacation to take a vacation from taking care of myself!!!
In Chinese Medicine, the end-of-summer “season” (as well as all the “end-of” seasons) is associated with the Earth Element. It’s the time when some things come to a close, while other things begin.
At such a time of transition, the Earth Element reminds us to be grounded; think about healthy roots that help weather the uncertainties of transitions. The Earth Element is also about being centered; after all, the earth is the center of the other elements: metal, water, wood and fire.
Here are some ideas to support you in being more grounded and centered at summer’s end, and on any day.
Do you find yourself at times craving sweets more than usual? When I feel stressed or wanting some “comfort”, I’m mightily tempted to indulge in my favorite almond croissant. The flavor associated with the Earth Element is sweetness, so that sugar craving can signal a state of being uncentered. The problem is that sugar can add fuel to the fire, by throwing you off balance even more with spikes in blood sugar and energy. Consider some natural sweetness: add honey, instead of sugar, to sweeten your tea; treat yourself to the natural and healthier sweetness of dried dates.
Acu Point: Hara
This point is a couple of fingers’ width below your bellybutton. This is your “energy center”, the place from where you have greatest balance. If you have lots of thoughts and ideas flying around in your head, you might feel light, ungrounded. If you’re dragging your feet, heavy on the ground and sluggish, your energy needs some uplifting, to be centered. Next time you feel uncentered, take a seat with your feel on the floor, or stand with your weight evenly on both feet, and rest one or both hands gently on your belly, under your navel. Take a few long deep and slow breaths. Learn more about this.
Grounding Through Routine
In Chinese Medicine, routine is associated with the Earth element and the idea of “home”. Do you have a daily routine that feels “homey” to you? A daily morning walk, afternoon yoga practice, or bedtime reading… I talked about this earlier in terms of the benefits of routine for healthy travel, but consider that every day of your life is a journey.
I love to learn about the healing value of food. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, plants and foods are an important healing source in the form of herbal medicines, and in teaching us about what foods can help us get back into balance. The basic tenet of eating healthy is to go with the flow of nature.
And I believe that is the essence of what Michael Pollan writes of in an article for the New York Times that begins, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
A helpful blog posting on inspired protagonist has paraphrased Pollan’s rules.
- Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
- Avoid food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best.
- Never eat food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, or more than five in number. Or that contain high-fructose corn syrup. These are all signs that the food has been heavily processed.
- Do as little of your shopping at the supermarket as possible. Farmers Markets are much better food sources.
- Pay more, eat less. It’s a lot healthier to eat less high quality (i.e. expensive) food than it is to eat a larger quantity of poor quality food. It’s like beer. Better to drink one really great craft-brewed ale than a whole six pack of swill that costs less than that single bottle.
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
- Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. People who eat by the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t healthy, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around.
- Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it.
- Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases.
To the last point, I would add, eat like a rainbow-eater. Eat the (natural) spectrum of food colors.
In the last minutes of 2006, I was in a car accident. We were just about to cross the Oakland Bay Bridge to go home after a warm and lovely New Year’s Eve dinner, and the car I was driving was hit by a truck.
Fortunately, no one was injured. The man who hit us was calm and friendly, which helped calm my startled nerves, and I trust that the insurance matters will all work out alright. When the clock struck 2007, we were still on the side of the road, but had a great view of the fireworks display across the Bay.
Nevertheless, my spirit has been a bit off-kilter today, the first day of 2007. Worried about the repair requirements, wary about driving, rattled that the transition to the new year was accompanied by such a jolt. However, I remind myself of the healthy intention I set for myself yesterday, before the accident.
That is, to practice some yoga and meditation every morning, even if only for 15 minutes. I ALWAYS feel better when I do that. I know this supports all aspects of my life.
And this morning, even though I was feeling a bit tentative and sorry for myself, and my neck and shoulder were a bit uncomfortable–from the accident? from stress and worry?–I did my practice. I felt better afterward, in body and spirit, and I believe it allowed me to enjoy the visits with good friends through the day as much as I have. My morning practice also probably helped to recognize my “off-kilter” state, and just let it be, rather than getting more worried about that.
So, I invite you to consider setting a healthy intention for yourself.
- Not a goal, which sets up a specific expectation. Here’s a familiar example: I must diet and lose x pounds by y-date.
- But a guiding principle that helps you with what to do in every moment. It might look like this: My intention is to pay attention to when I am actually hungry, and eat food that is nutritious and delicious, enough to satisfy my hunger, and no more.
When you pay attention to the joyful or peaceful and restful moments in your life, what healthy intentions can you set?
I have been p a t i e n t l y waiting for my shipment of dried dates. I called The Date People in August, to get on their list. I called in September. In October. In November. And today, ahhh, sweet bliss.
And the sweetness is key, because I’ve been craving something sweet during this sugar-saturated social season. I’ve been following my friend Mary’s holiday-sweets strategy of keeping a mental list of all the tempting holiday goodies I haven’t indulged in, in anticipation of these wonderful dates: sun-filled packages of natural sweetness and nutrition.
These particular dates that landed at my door today, are from The Date People, who grow 300 trees on six acres in southern California, not far from the Mexico border. Sustainably and veganically grown according to their informative newsletter, which you can see on their website: www.datepeople.net. (760)359-3211
By the way, my 15 lb box of halawi dates cost only $41.50, plus shipping! (Pricing info is in their newsletter; last page. ) I repackage the dates into ziplock baggies (about 1 lb each) and freeze them. Do you have recipes using dates to share?
Since I’ve been writing about seasonality, and we’re heading into the deep-dark-madness of the (artificially-created) “holiday” season, let’s talk about Staying Healthy with the Seasons. This classic integrative medicine nutrition/wellness book by Dr. Elson Haas gives a wonderful introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and to related nutrition and mind/body-balancing concepts.
A chapter on each season describes the related TCM Element, meridians (energy channels,) organ function from allopathic as well as Chinese medicine perspective, nutrition information, recipes… For example, on December 21, the winter season begins. In TCM, it’s the season of the Water Element and its associated Kidney and Bladder organs and energy meridians. The life force is store in the Kidney’s according to Chinese medicine; the Bladder energy channel runs from the head down the middle of the back, on both sides of the spine, down the legs and out through the pinky toe.
In winter, it’s easier to be less active and quiet. And it’s easy to get run down with over-activity from the demands of the holidays. Try to work in some stretches to keep your back supple; the keep your Bladder energy channel flowing. Simple twists. Cat-stretches.
One caveat about this book is that Dr. Haas is a strong proponent of cleansing diets. I did the Master Cleanse that he recommends, in the Spring, which is also Nature’s time of cleansing. It was a great experience (I did it for 6 days,) but I think it’s important for each person to decide what works for her/him. Also, Dr. Haas recommends the Master Cleanse at other times of year, but I would caution against doing such a fast during a cold season. Your caloric intake is lower than normal and it can be difficult to stay warm. At least, this was my experience.
Otherwise, I recommend this as an excellent resource book. And an excellent holiday gift; one that will continue to give throughout the year and over the years! Staying Healthy with the Seasons, by Elson M. Haas, M.D. (1981, Celestial Arts)
Last night I cooked up a deep orange and dark green dish–sweet potatoes and chard from the farmer’s market. Simple and fulfilling, the colors remind me of autumn. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the seasons are as much about us and our bodies and hearts, as it is about the natural world. And so we can learn from Mother Nature, eating the bounty she gives us.
Apples, persimmons, potatoes, squash… brussel sprouts on the stalk… all from the Alemany Farmer’s Market in San Francisco. We’re lucky to have year-round access to local produce here in the Bay Area; it’s where I go to learn how to eat healthy with the seasons.
Here’s a separate post on a book recommendation about Staying Healthy with the Seasons.